Paris Hilton’s Punishment


"We” can be the most deceitful word in the English language. Politicians employ it all the time —“we must stay the course in Iraq,” for example, or “we need to hire more police”— to promote a false impression that their constituents have identical interests. Under the umbrella of “we,” all distinctions of class, gender, age, race and even outlook disappear. The word generates its own bandwagon effect; those who don’t wish to be included have to actively opt out.

Contrary to C.W. Nevius’s front-page assertion in the San Francisco Chronicle that “we” all applauded the reincarceration of Paris Hilton, there are some who think the denial of house arrest by born-again Judge Michael Sauer was due to prejudice on his part and an attempt to create a false image of equal justice under the law.

Nevius’s June 9 column cited two UC Berkeley academics who backed his thesis. Linguistics professor Robin Lakoff told him, “if you stopped average people on the street, they probably couldn’t tell you why she was sent to jail but say she ought to stay there.” Rob Calo of the Journalism School said, “O.J. was about something. And Diana was about something. This is about nothing.”

I happen to know an average person and she said that Paris Hilton was in jail for driving on a suspended license. Isn’t the plight of people who get their licenses suspended “something?” This society provides no other feasible means of getting to work, picking up the kids, shopping, etc. Obviously Paris Hilton could afford a chauffeur, but Calo’s point was that the case was about nothing other than her celebrity.

Drinking (another “something” that the story is “about”) may be the most common reason why people get their licenses suspended, but many simply can’t afford to pay their tickets. They get stopped again, inevitably, the fines escalate, their licenses get revoked, they have to keep driving, they wind up in jail. Paris Hilton had her license suspended after she was caught weaving en route to get a hamburger. This didn’t deter her from driving and she was stopped on two more occasions, leading to her 45-day sentence from Judge Sauer, whose fellow worshipers gave him a standing O the following Sunday.

According to Calo, Paris Hilton “is a shallow, dumb blonde who flaunts her lifestyle. But we can’t fault her. We’re the ones who decided that this is entertainment.” Calo’s use of “we” reveals an identification with those who decide what gets broadcast and published. And his use of “dumb blonde,” in context, seems racist and sexist. Pardon the expression.

Lakoff describes Hilton’s punishment as “a Judge Judy moment.” Nevius explains: “Television’s Judge Judy Sheindlin became a minor sensation by cutting through the baloney and calling smug, spoiled and clueless defendants on their behavior.” On those occasions that I have caught Judge Judy on the small white TV set that sits atop the refrigerator in the Average Person’s kitchen, she was viciously hectoring people who were relatively poor and powerless. They’d try to say something in self-defense and Judge Judy would shut them up with “You’re lying.” Judy suffered a brief p.r. setback in 2000, while promoting a book in Australia. She gave a speech described needle exchange as a project of “liberal morons.” How would Judge Judy cut through the baloney? “Give ‘em dirty needles and let ‘em die… I don’t understand why we think it’s important to keep them alive.”

Isn’t it the job of the University of California and the San Francisco Chronicle -the academy and the press- to sustain our historic memory? In the movie “Men in Black” the government agents have a spray that causes people to forget what just happened. In Nevius’s column, he and Lakoff are squeezing the handy dispenser. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith were doing it metaphorically in the movie. Nevius and Lakoff were doing it for real on the front page of the Chronicle.

More Lakoff as cited by Nevius: “’We all identify with that sense of justice. [Another revealing and untrue “we.”] Years ago, Mommy wasn’t looking, and the bad sibling got away with things. But Judge Judy always gives the bad sibling justice [Especially if the bad sibling has AIDS.] Paris has become more interesting because of this sense of justice denied. We don’t want to see her in that damn miniskirt, smirking with self-satisfaction. We want to see her in a striped jail suit, doing hard time.”

Robin Lakoff is a professor of linguistics and she doesn’t even know the meaning of “we.” Her comments reek of envy. It’s not necessarily the specific envy a middle-aged woman might feel towards a young beauty; it could be the more general envy of anyone, man or woman, young or old, who can’t stand to see others having fun and having sex. That’s how it is with Judge Sauer and his fellow congregants. They must pray to some Jesus other than the one who consorted with shamed women. My average person source says, “Soften your heart, Mr. Nevius. You usually seem like a sensible father. Paris Hilton is a little girl, young for her age, a little spoiled, obviously, but who has she ever harmed? We live in a country founded by Puritans, full of mean, bitchy people like Judge Judy.”

According to sensible Sheriff Mike Hennessy of San Francisco, “Paris Hilton is a very typical, low-risk, non-danger to the community, admittedly a bad driver (but) an absolutely perfect candidate for home detention. Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca has been denounced in the media for ordering her early release in defiance of Judge Sauer’s 45-day sentence. “The only thing I can detect as special treatment is the amount of her sentence,” said Baca.

Grandstanding LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo loudly called for Hilton’s reincarceration. “We cannot tolerate a two-tiered jail system where the rich and powerful receive special treatment,” he told the media. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what exists. Punishing Paris Hilton to the max creates a false impression of equal justice -by which the prosecutor and the judge mean equally harsh justice. Yo, Rocky: equal justice could be achieved more economically by offering house arrest to poor women, too.

Cannabis Specialists Foresaw Dangers of Sanofi’s Weight-Loss Drug in 2004

An FDA panel of experts this week unanimously recommended rejecting Sanofi-Aventis’s application to market a weight-loss drug that works by blocking one of the body’s own cannabinoid receptors –a decision that caught many stock analysts by surprise, according to Bloomberg News.

But the FDA panel’s 14-0 vote against Sanofi’s “Rimonabant” came as no surprise to California doctors who have made a specialty of treating cannabis-using patients. In a front-page article in O’Shaughnessy’s (Autumn 2004), the journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical Group, Jeffrey Hergenrather, MD, of Sebastopol stated, “The consequences of interfering with the cannabinoid receptor system have not been evaluated in normal human physiology.”

The receptors that Rimonabant blocks respond to endocannabinoids -“the brain’s own marijuana,” to borrow Scientific American’s term. They are concentrated in the cerebellum and the basal ganglia (responsible for motor control, which may help explain why marijuana eases muscle spasticity in disorders like multiple sclerosis), the hippocampus (responsible for storage of short-term memory), and the limbic system (emotional control).

In clinical trials conducted by Sanofi, subjects experienced increased rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and suicidal ideation. Multiple sclerosis flare-ups were also reported. Sanofi proposed a risk-management plan that would screen out patients with a history of depression and epilepsy.

Patients would be required to visit their doctors five times during the first year of treatment. Anything to get a foot in the door …

Before FDA approval is granted, said Hergenrather in 2004, “It would be ethical to design longitudinal studies to assess the consequences of interfering with the cannabinoid system.” This is what the FDA is now likely to require -shooting down Sanofi’s hopes for marketing Rimonabant in the U.S. in the near future.

It was news to me that Jim Clark —the sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama, who led the attack on voter-registration marchers in Selma in March, 1965— later did nine months in prison for marijuana smuggling. In his segregationist heyday, Clark wore a button that said “Never” next to his badge. At the Pettis Bridge in Selma his posse assaulted non-violent marchers with dogs, fire hoses, whips, nightsticks and tear gas. Eighty-four people were injured.

Clark died June 4.

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