Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Steven D. Levitt in his books Feakonomics and Super Freakonomics asks and answers some provocative questions. For example: What school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? How is a streetwalker like a department store Santa? What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common? He does this in a spirit of scholarly detachment, without intent to disparage anyone. In the spirit of Levitt’s Feakonomics I ask “How is a Federal Judge like a Taliban warlord?”

Back before we became entangled in Afghanistan the Taliban ran the country. Being easily offended by religious icons, the Taliban decided to destroy some historic pieces of art—gigantic statues of Buddha carved into a mountain overlooking the Bamyan Valley. Despite international pressure to relent and save these priceless works of art, the Taliban dynamited the statues. [See After 1,700 years, Buddhas fall to Taliban dynamite]. I’m no Buddhist, but I was appalled at the destruction of these monumental pieces of art.
Afghanistan Statua di Budda 1.jpg
One of the Bamyan Buddhas in 1976*
Fast forward to the present, and we have a Federal Judge in California who displays a Taliban attitude toward another treasured piece of art—a gigantic cross on the top of Mount Soledad near San Diego. He has ordered that the cross be taken down. [See Judge says giant cross must come down from San Diego mountain]. Of course, the judge himself may not have a Taliban attitude, he may just feel that legal precedent constrains him to accede to the wishes of a group of plaintiffs who have a Taliban attitude toward religious iconography. After all, the government is not in the business of financing the production of religious-themed art.
The Mount Soledad Cross*

Not so fast. If the judge had done his research, he would have found well-established precedent for the government not only condoning, but actually financing religious themed art.  Back in the eighties the federally funded National Endowment for the Arts actually contributed money toward the production of “Piss Christ,” a picture of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine.  [See WH Silent Over Demands to Denounce ‘Piss Christ’ Artwork]. This offensive piece of “art” is still making the rounds and no Federal Judge has seen fit to enter an order for its destruction.

Do we as Americans have our collective heads stuck so far up a warm, dark place that we condemn pious religious imagery while celebrating impious religious imagery? Apparently so. The Godless old Soviet Union had a healthier attitude toward religious iconography than we do. Remember when the Reagans visited the Gorbachevs and the two first ladies had a dust-up over Eastern Orthodox iconography that the USSR celebrated as great art while ignoring its religious message? [See Nancy, Raisa in "Mexican standoff"].Perhaps we should ask another question: “Why do Russian atheists have a more tolerant attitude toward religious iconography than American atheists?”
File:Execution of John the Baptist icon02.jpg
The Execution of John the Baptist, an example of Russian Orthodox Iconography*
Destroying artwork of any type is boorish, and it is doubly boorish when it is done in the name of religious intolerance. I am no Catholic, but I was offended when I visited the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Bath, England (aka Bath Abbey). Two beautiful statues, one of St. Peter and one of St. Paul flank the doors of the main entrance to the church. At least they would be beautiful if St. Peter had a face. Some early modern Protestant smashed St. Peter’s face. If memory serves me (and it often doesn’t) Our guide told us that St. Peter lost his face to a Puritan iconoclast from the time of Oliver Cromwell.

The Entrance to Bath Abbey
(If you look closely at the figure on the left, you
will see that someone has made a crude
attempt to carve a new face for St. Peter
in the wreckage of the old one)
I’m not suggesting that the Mount Soledad Cross is artwork of the quality of a giant stone Buddha carved into a mountainside or a life size statue of St. Paul carved into the entrance of a church, but it is artwork nonetheless, and the quality of that cross exceeds the quality of “Piss Christ” by a greater degree of magnitude than the quality of the stone Buddha exceeds the Mount Soledad Cross. If our Federal Government can pay to have a crucifix bearing the figure of Jesus dipped in urine and called art, it can tolerate a stone cross that was already on a piece of land when the government acquired it. If, however, we must remove the cross, then I say for the sake of consistency we must also destroy “Piss Jesus,” which was paid for by our Federal Government. I’ll donate the gasoline and matches for the job.

* Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Last Friday I spoke to the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. We flew into Minneapolis on Thursday and stayed through Monday. It was 81 degrees F when we left Lake City and -11 when we arrived at the airport in Minneapolis. As a lifelong Floridian who has seen more snow on faulty picture tubes than on the ground, I was not prepared for the drop in temperature. I saw a number of prosecutor friends I hadn't seen since they closed down the NDAA National Advocacy Center back in the early 2000's. The Center, which was subsidized by the Federal Government, served for many years as an elite training school for prosecutors, but it fell victim to budget cuts several years ago. I served as faculty there on several occasions and have nothing but fond memories of the place. I understand that there are plans to open a reincarnation of the Center in Utah, and I wish them the best of luck with the endeavor.

The View from Our Hotel Room
I was the last speaker on the MCAA agenda, and I was afraid that I would be speaking to an empty room as everyone checked out of the hotel and headed for home. I was pleasantly surprised to see a full house of approximately 200. I spoke for almost two hours on the investigation and prosecution of Ted Bundy, and the lecture seemed to be well-received. The main topic of the talk was the problems a prosecutor confronts in handling a high-profile serial murder case.

I was pleased to hear several prosecutors praise Cross-Examination Handbook: Persuasion, Strategies, and Techniques, which I co-authored with Ron Clark and William Bailey. The book was a labor of love, and I am gratified that practitioners find it useful for planning and conducting cross-examinations.

Lane (my wife) and I didn't get out much in the sub-zero weather, but we did get an opportunity to visit the Mall of America, a shopping center with an aquarium in the basement, an amusement park on the ground floor, and a multiplex cinema on the fourth floor. It also had a huge Lego store with the biggest Lego model I have ever seen (a gigantic robot). Except for the bitter cold, it was a pleasant trip.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I have said in an earlier post that I contribute to a blog on cross-examination. Here's my latest post on that blog.

Cross-Examination Blog: SUICIDAL REDIRECT EXAMINATION: There’s an old saying that cross-examination is more often suicidal than homicidal. The saying refers to the fact that many lawyers do


ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S ALMANAC TRIAL: LINCOLN THE CROSS-EXAMINER: The centerpiece of the legend of the Almanac Trial is Lincoln’s cross-examination of the eyewitness to the killing. Was he really a good ...