communicative punishment of non-criminal "sex offenders"

Ohio is establishing a registry of sex offenders who weren’t criminally convicted of sex offenses.  The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, reported:

A recently enacted law allows county prosecutors, the state attorney general, or, as a last resort, alleged victims to ask judges to civilly declare someone to be a sex offender even when there has been no criminal verdict or successful lawsuit.

The rules spell out how the untried process would work. It would largely treat a person placed on the civil registry the same way a convicted sex offender is treated under Ohio’s so-called Megan’s Law.

The person’s name, address, and photograph would be placed on a new Internet database and the person would be subjected to the same registration and community notification requirements and restrictions on where [the person] could live.

Especially with the Internet, the government declaring a person to be a sex offender is a potent communicative punishment.  Most persons consider sex offenders to have committed some of the most vile crimes imaginable.  Ohio’s electronic sex offender registration and notification system communicates detailed, immediate information about sex offenders’ movements to interested parties.  “Visitors to the {Ohio sex offender Internet site} can register to have an e-mail message sent directly to them any time a registered sex offender moves within a mile of any specified address.”

The political incentives to impose such communicative punishments are relatively strong.  The first sex offender registry was established in New Jersey in 1994 (Megan’s Law).  Within a decade, sex offender registries were established across the U.S.. Such a registery is now under consideration in the U.K. (Sarah’s Law).  The story of a young girl viciously raped and killed easily attracts public attention.  Protecting children is a propitious basis for legislation.  Even better, legislation that imposes communicative punishments don’t cost much public expenditure. Communicative punishment is much cheaper than imprisonment.

Given these circumstances, communicative punishments merit strict scrutiny for due process.  What about “the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel in his defense”?  Forget about those rights.  A declaratory judgment, based on the preponderance of the evidence, is all that is necessary for the government to communicate powerfully that a person has joined the heinous category of sex offenders {see Sec. 2721.21 of the Act}.

Ohio’s civil communicative punishment of sex offenders seems to have been the product of a sordid deliberative failure. The Blade reported:

The concept was offered by Roman Catholic bishops as an alternative to opening a one-time window for the filing of civil lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse that occurred as long as 35 years ago.

The Ohio Supreme Court a few months earlier issued a ruling affirming a time limit for filing abuse cases.  This matter is more awful than the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk.  It’s more awful because priest have in fact awfully abused children.  I would guess that was also true in the early nineteenth century.  From 1950 to 2002, however, about $650 million has changed hands in judgments against Catholic churches and religious communities concerning sex abuse. This new legal development provides new motivation to address the serious problem of sex abuse.  The solution that the Roman Catholic bishops proposed in Ohio shows that the problem concerns everyone.

Protection of civil liberties are central to the rule of law.  But perhaps the only deliberative fate worse than being an accused sex offender is being accused of defending accused sex offenders.  The Blade reported:

No one in attendance voiced opposition to rules {concerning civil denunciations of a person as a sex offender} submitted by Attorney General Jim Petro’s office to the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, consisting of members of the Ohio House and Senate.

In fact, you can find right in the New Jersey State Constitution this text:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution and irrespective of any right or interest in maintaining confidentiality, it shall be lawful for the Legislature to authorize by law the disclosure to the general public of information pertaining to the identity, specific and general whereabouts, physical characteristics and criminal history of persons found to have committed a sex offense. {NJ Constitution, Art. IV, Sec. VII, para. 12, added Dec., 7, 2000}

This text essentially states that the rest of the Constitution does not apply to persons “found to have committed a sex offense.”  And what does it take to make such a finding? In Ohio, it’s a civil declaratory judgment based on preponderance of the evidence.  Liberty under law, including liberty from personally damaging government communication, should be more secure than this.

carnival of the bureaucrats #2

Featured this month as Bureaucrat-of-the-Month is Funtwo. That’s not Fun2.0, but Funtwo. Bureaucrats have no need of superfluous precision.

You can see Mr. Funtwo working intensely in front of his desk in the video below (or here). With characteristic bureaucratic modesty, he appears faceless.

Mr. Fun continues in the tradition of bureaucrats that have made Korea a world broadband leader. I predict a great future for this young man in the Korean Ministry of Information and Communication.

The fruits of his work are for all to hear. Sweet child o’ mine, purple haze envelopes purple motes, free bird flying on a stairway to heaven, all along the watchtower, watch this! Bureaucrats rock!!!

Other submissions:

The Obvious? laments:

As I get to see more and more organisations I sometimes get overwhelmed by a feeling I can only describe as melancholy at the number of clever, well meaning people in business who spend their working lives making it harder to get things done.

Cheer up, sir. That’s called private-sector job creation.

Pope Benedict XVI offers St. Gregory the Great as a model for public administrators. But why aspire to be just a servant of the servants of the public? I’ve already achieved several bureaucratic levels lower than that! Additional insight for old media leaders: Gregory the Great, by reaching out to the so-called “Barbarian” peoples, fostered the development of a new civilization.

Generative Transformation reviews Henry David Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience. Thoreau’s 1849 essay begins:

I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto,—”That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—”That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Under Rule 6, submissions to the carnival of the bureaucrats may not include the phrase “‘mindless bureaucrats,’ or any other similar terms.” The sentence “That government is best which governs not at all” does not directly use the phrase “mindless bureaucrats.” However, it has connotations similar to that of “mindless bureaucrats” except if the former phrase is interpreted to mean that conscientious bureaucrats will do nothing. But that interpretation is not tenable, because most bureaucrats in fact work hard. Based on the preceding analysis, this particular submission is rejected by us as not meeting the requirements of the applicable regulations, which do not necessary preclude future submissions concerning civil disobedience, which we recognize has served the public interest in certain circumstances, which will not be described herein by us.

That concludes this edition of the Carnival of the Bureaucrats. Submit your blog article to the next edition using our carnival submission form. Submissions should conform to the Carnival regulations. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

get off the couch

The Anti-Humbaba Action Coalition has staged a few small and futile protests outside DC art establishments. Walking in ragged figures while holding poorly drawn signs, they chanted:

what do we want
to liberate?
Art Art
Art in action,
art in use
hanging on walls,
ain’t no excuse!

Apparently disgruntled handicraft workers, they’re easy to dismiss as cranks. But they offer a powerful critical perspective on Conversions, a juried group exhibition at the Ellipse Arts Center in Arlington through Sept. 29, 2006.

Most of the works in Conversion are attached to walls. Joan Sarah Wexler’s “Tearooms and Restaurant Interiors” are photographs arranged on a wall, as are Susan Eder / Craig Dennis’s work, “Which Image Never Fades Away?” Lisa Kellnor’s “Oil Spill,” constructed from pins with large yellow heads, is firmly tacked to the wall.

Amy Glengary Yang attached to a wall an array of cyanotypes (images made with an early photographic process) mounted in lightboxes. Protruding in front of the lightboxes is a bell jar containing a neon-lighted sea urchin skeleton and topped with an air pressure gauge. It’s an enchanting work, set against a wall.

Some works, such as Michele Kong’s “Reticula” and Amy Martin Wilber’s “Three Fates,” hang from walls to cover windows. “Reticula” is an exquisite lace of translucent glue. Kong made her boundary from wire. Only a few strands are oriented like a fence, while many are coiled around those few.

Tai Hwa Goh’s luscious intaglio on hand-waxed paper hangs from a wall like ponds compressed into a multi-layered scroll. Yet when she moved her intaglio away from the wall, she formed it into cubes.

One work is attached to a free-standing panel. M. Sedestrom Guthrie’s “Through the Glass” arranges photographs horizontally on one side of this panel. The photographs are views of a working window-washer through the glass of the window he is washing. The work also included some text. The text, which I’ve forgotten, was far too self-consciously serious for me to take seriously. I walked around the panel and found only a white plane on the other side. Life is usually not that disappointing.

Another work meets a wall in a more interesting way. Tomás Rivas’s “Erechtheum Uno, Dos y Tres” features delicate carvings into the surface of drywall panels leaning against the gallery wall. I particularly liked that Rivas included penciled outlines, some uncarved. I see in the drywall panels effects of a mundane call for beauty, modulated by the unchanging, supporting wall of the gallery. According to his biography, “His ongoing investigation of the representation of space addresses the complexity of art production today, where the ‘center’ and the ‘periphery’ vie for political clout within the mainstream.” Indeed!

One work offers a view into a long, narrow room. Kathryn Cornelius’ work “Address” lines this room, which is only about five feet wide, with roughly twenty white plastic chairs attached to the walls about four feet above the floor. Projected onto a wall just outside this room, a video evokes mass-market clothes hanging in a retail outlet.

An art reviewer writing in The Washington Post described “Address” as “making a statement about the violence and trauma that occasionally underlie the quiet domestic exteriors of our homes.” That’s a hackneyed interpretation. My sense is that this work evokes the tedium and worthlessness of many jobs. Working in retail, like blogging, forces you to confront ignorant and annoying opinions of ordinary persons. Just buy that one — it looks best!

Even worse are jobs involving endless, meaningless meetings. Cornelius has arranged the long, narrow room to provide a critical viewpoint on the center of this enterprise — the long, narrow table of the board room. Imagine if your family’s livelihood depended on an address that you had to make to lines of empty suits strictly ordered around the bored room table. You’d want to scream like you were on a amusement park ride. But if you did that, you’d be fired. March forward through the marble corridors of power, and do your job!

Views of Renee Butler's Movement in B Flat

The best work in the exhibition, it seems to me, is Renee Butler’s “Movement in B Flat.” Forms with different shapes and reflective properties hang from the ceiling and break up video projected from orthogonal points. The effect is to ramify points of view on the projected (mundane) scenes and make those points of view physically explicit. At the same time, the whole ensemble, including the rectangular tiles and grated florescent light fixtures in the ceiling, forms a pleasing, dynamic harmony.

In the room containing “Movement in B Flat,” two couches rest against walls near where they meet in a corner. They signal a shift in viewing modes: from “look at art on the wall” to “watch television.” These are not the only possibilities. With care and respect for the construction of “Movement in B Flat,” you can move around it and even into it in some places.

Persons moving challenge the idea of points of view. Mobile phones have integrated space-annihilating communication with persons moving through the real world around themselves. Artists interested in spatial interpretations and points of view should take seriously this distinctively modern experience of communicating.

Get off the couch. Go see Conversions. And be sure to walk through “Movement in B Flat.”