Monday, July 09, 2012

"Oh, My Offense is Rank!"--Justice for Javier

Tonight's trivia question: who was Xavier (Javier) Alvarez?*

Ooh, memories are short. He's Mister "Stolen Valor:" the guy who claimed, falsely to be a medal-of-honor winner, when in fact he was just a member of a municipal water district.  The feds prosecuted him  under a statute called the "Stolen Valor Act." Alvarez took a conditional plea bargain, reserving the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statute.  Two weeks ago (two weeks?) the Supreme Court held the act unconstitutional as a violation of free speech.  Not everyone was pleased: the vote on the court was six-three, with Scalia,Thomas and Alito in dissent.  At HuffPost, a commentator harrumphed "The Supremes Say It's Okay to Steal Your Valor."

But did they?  My friend Allison points me to a blog labelled "This Ain't Hell but You Can See it from Here"--a moniker that probably already gives you a clue which way this narrative is going.  Anyway, the good folks at "Hell" have cooked up something called the "Stolen Valor Tournament," in which egregious instances of stolen valor are pitted against one another for (what, exactly?--Oh, never mind).

And here's a twist:  in this competition, the "regionals" are named after Supreme Court justices--specifically, the justices in the majority who visited this (as it would appear) monstrosity upon us.  "The Justice Kennedy Regionals," etc., you get the idea.

I take it that the sponsors are less than highly amused at the court's decision in this case.   I think I can understand their disappointment, although to be candid, I think the court got this one right.  "Stolen valor" maybe a sorry piece of business, but I don't fancy the idea of the court's--any court's--messing around with the truth or falsity of particular utterances.

But here's the thing.  I hate to think what it says about me, but I have to tell you I find the "Hell" website simply hilarious.  The petty pomposities that people will stretch for--oh, my, I'm sure a nicer person than I am would feel some compassion for these poor devils (no women, so far as I can tell), but I simply cannot restrain the giggles. Here's a guy with  a navy cross and two purple hearts on his utility uniform.   Here's an ex-gunnery-sergeant who after 32  years' "service" is still wearing his stripes upside down.   And here's a "former Marine colonel"  charged with rape of a minor.  The charges were dropped for lack of evidence; he asked the local paper "to write about the good he’d done in his community and not the allegations against him."  Dutifully motivated, the paper checked the military record and found he never advanced beyond Pfc.  And my particular favorite: of the whole motley parade on "Hell's" roster, there's exactly one--one--who faked service in the Coast Guard.  Were I the commandant, I think my feelings might be hurt.

And do you anticipate my point here?  Recall HuffPost, saying that it's okay to steal valor.  But it's not okay, and the Supremes never said  it was okay.  What they said is that you can't prosecute and convict.   Which leaves open what I should think is the preferred remedy, on libertarian and general prudential grounds--the remedy of public mockery and derision.   For isn't this the ultimate message: one thing we know about these guys is that they aren't important enough even to send to prison.
*In an earlier iteration, some lunatic gave the defendant's name as "Lopez."  Apologies to Javier Lopez and all who love him.


Jonn Lilyea said...

Thanks, Bruce. For a minute there, I thought you weren't going to "get" us, but you got it right. I consider TAH the stocks and dunking chair of the internet's public square. The tournament is heads on pikes on the road into town to warn others.

Ken Houghton said...

There's no question they got it right: privileging lying of a certain stripe over all others (or, in this case, declaring that it is worse than all others) as a matter of law is hardly, er, a Federal case.

That society may well choose to scorn people who tell a certain type of lie ("I was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Merchant Marine") over those who tell other types of lies ("I matriculated from Indiana University" [instead of took two courses, finishing one, at IU East] or "My operating system will work better than all the ones you see now" [and thus the Blue Screen of Death became a cliche]) is at most a civil matter, not a criminal one.

Otherwise, Joe Walsh (R-IL, not the James Gang guitarist) would be in jail for disparaging his paraplegic opponent for having a military record.

Ken Houghton said...

And, of course, those of us who are old enough see the name Javier Lopez and think of the man who was the catcher for the no-hitter Kent Mercker threw the night Kurt Cobain died.

New York Crank said...

I rarely find myself agreeing with the conservative members of the Supreme Court, but I do in this case. Stolen valor is a license to commit fraud.

Yes, if caught I'll be ridiculed. But if not caught, former Major General and Medal of Honor winner that I am, I can, for example, recommend to a city that it purchase certain highly technological weaponry for which it has no need whatsoever, and my opinions will gain undue consideration.

And from there it isn't a long step to awarding myself some military legal credentials, and getting some poor wretch thrown in prison for the rest of his life, or perhaps even sentenced to death, by the act of defending him.

I'm sorry, but I must run. As a former Captain at Walson Army Hospital in Fort Dix, I have just been called upon to do some very delicate pediatric thoracic surgery on a six-year-old child, since this was my specialty at Fort Dix. Don't be nervous. I got a book out of the library and read up on how to do it.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crank

P.S. This new blog format sucks.