“The Tao of Traffic: Go with the Flow”

I wrote in the previous post that red lights were the source of traffic congestion; then this afternoon I received my bi-weekly issue of Science News (aka “Reality Check News”).

Sidebar: The issue arrived via USPS a week or more late. One day last week I got two issues of The Chronicle of Higher Education on the same day. Sometimes I never receive credit card bills. Sometimes I never receive letters from editors and agents accepting or rejecting my work. Often I receive other people’s mail, including important tax and financial info. Why do postal workers get such huge pensions and then shoot up their places of work? Why do taxpayers put up with this?

An article by Rachel Ehrenberg titled “The Tao of traffic: Go with the flow” confirms my intuition and logic. In honor of Science News’s wisdom, I recommend you subscribe to it, if you’re interested in forensic science.

Leyritz Trial—On Red-Light-Camera Enforcement

The Florida trial of baseball hero Jim Leyritz is expected to feature evidence from a red-light-control camera. These robo-traffic-cop systems have recently become controversial in this corner of the world (northern Illinois). One Chicago suburb, for example, installed very short traffic lights that caused shoppers at one of the nation’s largest shopping malls to trigger red-light violations at such a high rate that retailers in the area demanded the city shut the cameras off. They were driving shoppers away from the mall. In Chicago proper, drivers often claim that yellow-lights have been shortened so that more red-light violations are triggered.

These cameras are like speed traps in rural towns: the cops rig the system to boost traffic violation revenue, not to improve public safety.

The Leyritz Incident

I’m not clear on the details of the late-night accident in which Jim Leyritz’s car hit another car in a Fort Lauderdale intersection, but among the bits of information I heard on In Session recently was pre-trial testimony of an expert on traffic-enforcement cameras. Most of what she told the court involved the time stamps on the video frames.

But it seems to me that the length of the lights might also be relevant. If Chicago’s yellow lights were shortened when traffic cameras were installed, it might also be possible that Florida’s yellow lights have recently been shortened, too.

Obviously, experienced drivers are acclimated to yellow lights of a fixed duration. If some yellow lights are shorter than others, that would pose a hazard.

The city of Chicago has a very informative (and defensive) page about robo-traffic-cop lights. It explains that the system (in Chicago, at least) relies on two triggers: 1) a sensor in the pavement right in front of the white stop line and 2) the light turning red. The Chicago faq states:

The digital cameras are tied into the traffic signal system and sensors beneath the pavement, just before the white stop bar.  The cameras are triggered by a vehicle passing over the sensors only after the light turns red.  The cameras take still and video pictures of the rear of a vehicle, including the license plate.

The faq also states that Chicago’s yellow lights are 3 to 4 seconds long, depending on the speed limit of the street. Supposedly this yellow-light duration is “well within” the federal Department of Transportation guidelines. Nonetheless, the city has received complaints about this and received requests to lengthen yellow lights. The Chicago faq says:

Why not just make yellow light [sic] longer?

Changing signal timings will not solve the problem of drivers running red lights.

The purpose of the yellow light is to warn drivers that the light is turning red.  It is not intended to promote speeding or risk-taking.  Unfortunately, too many drivers believe that yellow is a sign to speed up — when in reality it should be a sign to slow down.

Extending the yellows won’t solve the problem because motorists will learn that they now have an additional second or two, and will still treat the yellow as an extension of the green.  The behavior that some drivers exhibit—running red lights—will not change.  Longer yellow lights will not be beneficial to the overall safety of the intersection.

Additionally, a timing change would have a negative impact on traffic flow throughout the city, increasing congestion and reducing travel times.

Of course, the issue isn’t really the length of yellow lights, it’s different lengths at different intersections and also allegedly shortened yellow lights when traffic cameras are installed.

BTW: The idea that longer yellow lights would increase congestion is ludicrous; red lights are what increase congestion in the city’s busiest intersections. Reducing the length of red lights might actually reduce congestion. Why? Imagine a street in the Loop during rush hour. Traffic is “wall to wall” in both directions. A long red light on one street permits more traffic to pile up in front of it, usually producing a line of cars longer than the city block along which it runs. The traffic comes to a dead stop. Cars (taxis, especially) enter the intersection on the yellow light and stop in the middle before the light turns red, blocking the intersection for the green-lighted traffic. That’s why Chicago stations traffic cops at all the intersections, to direct traffic and over-ride the traffic lights.

I believe such chop-logic is rampant in “traffic science”: When I recently requested a 4-way stop sign at a dangerous corner near my house, the village supposedly “studied” the traffic patterns and concluded that “as studies have proven” too many stop signs cause people to run stop signs. Hmm, no stop sign is dangerous but a stop sign is more dangerous.

How long should a yellow light be?

The Department of Transportation’s guidelines for yellow lights—not surprisingly—aren’t all that easy to locate or to interpret. I found a listserv discussion on the DOT website with the following information:

The ITE recommended practice (ITE Technical Committee 4A-16, "Recommended Practice: Determinging [sic] Vehicle Change Intervals," ITE Journal, May 1985) for determining the appropriate length of a yellow interval is:

y = t + (85th percentile speed)/(2a + 64.4g) where:

  • t = driver reaction time in seconds (1.0 second is a commonly used value for this parameter)
  • 85th percentile speed is in ft/s
  • a = deceleration rate of vehicles, fps^2 (10 fps^2 is a commonly used value for this parameter)
  • g = grade of approach, expressed as a decimal (ie 2% downgrade = -.02 64.4 = 2 times the acceleration due to gravity

The rule of thumb expressed in the previous post of .5 seconds for every 5 mph results in a value that is less than recommended for 85th percentile speeds of 35 mph or less and a value that is larger than recommend for 85th percentile speeds greater than 35 mph for intersections at level grades.

I’m not a lawyer and I’m even more not a mathematician. I doubt that the people who install traffic cameras are either. Try as I might, I could not parse this supposed equation.

The “rule of thumb” calculation the author disparages makes more sense. At 30 mph that equation would result in a 3-second yellow light, but the DOT commenter says that’s too short. If so, the city of Chicago’s claim that a 3 second light is within guidelines is incorrect.

Back to Baseball

My question is, how long was the yellow light that preceded the red light Jim Leyritz is accused of running?

If he was speeding, as well as DUI, he might have entered the intersection while the light was yellow, thinking he could beat it. This, of course, would weigh heavily against him—not that he entered the intersection on a yellow light, which is legal, but that he was speeding and drunk.

If he wasn’t speeding an
d if he was below the legal limit, he might have legally entered the intersection on the yellow light, and that would mean the other car was the one running the red light, not him. That might exonerate him.

But if the DOT can’t explain its recommendations for the length of yellow and red lights to the traffic department of Chicago, how will the Leyritz jury be able to understand the issue? I’m fairly certain that none of the lawyers in the Leyritz trial is any better at math than I am.

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Evidence denied to juries

One of the biggest complaints of all jurors is that judges hide evidence from them. Jurors are supposed to be “the finders of fact,” but judges often bar crucial evidence from trials. Apparently that’s what has happened in the Jim Leyritz vehicular manslaughter trial.

Several days ago during the evidentiary hearing, the defense submitted evidence to Judge Marc H. Gold (see Linda Trishcitta of the Palm Beach Post), who rejected it, because it shows that the driver of the other car may have broken several traffic laws herself, including DUI. His justification for this is a principle in law that information about victims is irrelevant to culpability of the defendant. It’s one of those “blind justice” principles: justice is not concerned with the flaws in a victim’s character; it doesn’t matter who the victim is.

In the Leyritz case, though, by excluding evidence about the victim, the judge has severely restricted the defendant’s right to an affirmative defense (at least I believe that’s the term for it—I am not a  lawyer).

Leyritz’s planned defense was that he was not solely at fault in the accident. As I understand it (and I could be entirely wrong about this), Leyritz contends that while he had been drinking that night, he was not over the legal limit at the time of the accident. Furthermore, he may have entered the intersection where the collision occurred while the light was still yellow. The victim’s car may not have had its headlights on (a traffic violation); the victim may have been on her cell phone, perhaps texting while driving; the victim was not using her seatbelts (also a violation in many jurisdictions), which may have resulted in the seriousness of her injuries; and most importantly, the victim was over the legal limit herself.

Because the judge excluded the evidence showing the victim was DUI, not wearing seatbelts, and did not have her headlights on, he has limited the information the jury will have—severely. And if the jury finds Leyritz guilty, I guarantee you that they will be outraged when they learn what they did not know.

Victims are Victims

I understand why a crime victim’s character is irrelevant. For instance, the fact that a rape victim is a prostitute is completely irrelevant, and I resent it whenever I hear accused rapists claim their victims are promiscuous or enticed them.

At the same time, rape defendants are entitled to claim that no rape occurred, because it was consensual, and murder defendants that the homicide was justifiable. Surely a manslaughter defendant should be able to claim that the accident in which he was involved was caused by the victim.

That’s what the jury is supposed to decide, not the judge: the jury is supposed to decide who was at fault or more at fault—in every violent crime, whether rape, murder, or vehicular manslaughter.

Yellow Lights

I believe I heard during the Leyritz evidentiary hearing that there was a question as to whether or not the light was red when the defendant entered the intersection. On In Session I saw a squad-car videotape in which an eyewitness seemed to say she saw the victim’s car flip over and then looked up and saw the light was red. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it was red when the two cars collided.

The witness’s remarks are evidence, but not proof of guilt. The jury is supposed to decide what the facts were: was the light yellow or was it red when Leyritz entered the intersection?

I can almost hear the prosecution’s closing arguments now: “If the light was red when the victim’s car flipped over, then it must have been red when the defendant entered the intersection; otherwise the victim would have had a red light and would have stopped before she entered it.”

Of course, if the victim was drunk, she might not have noticed the red light herself, or might not have reacted properly to it. If her car had no headlights, then the defendant likely did not see it as it entered the intersection (whether he had a yellow light or not) and so could not slam on his brakes in time. If the victim was fiddling with her cell phone, she probably wouldn’t see the traffic lights at all.

Unfortunately, recently I had a similar experience. I entered an intersection on a yellow light that turned red when I was in the exact center. A car in the oncoming turning lane whipped out in front of me the instant he had the green light, and we both had to slam on the brakes.

Now, it so happens in Illinois that the law says that even when a light turns green a driver must wait until the intersection is clear before proceeding. I was not in violation of the law; the car that turned in front of me was. Had we collided, I’m sure the damages would have had to be settled in court.

(The whole incident was caused by a blinding sunrise behind me: the sun in the other driver’s eyes probably blinded him so that he did not see me. Furthermore, I don’t normally drive through yellow lights, but the light changed behind a drooping tree branch, and by the time I was in the intersection—right behind another car—I suddenly realized it was yellow. I don’t like cars—my father died in a car wreck. I find this kind of thing really frightening. It’s even scarier to think what might have happened if the car that turned in front of me had had a DUI driver at the wheel.)

Sidebar: Somewhat ironically, when I visited CNN’s In Session blog today I found a post by a staff writer (Rae Oglsby) who had been called to jury duty and was ultimately rejected because she would likely know too much about crime and trials to be impartial. I could have told her this would happen: judges and lawyers treat jurors like mushrooms (in the dark, etc.). The more ignorant a person is, the more the courts like them.

Clues are not evidence

Clues are not necessarily evidence, and evidence is not necessarily proof, but recently I’ve heard clues presented to juries as if they were evidence and in closing arguments as if they were proof. I suspect this confusion of concepts pervades the justice system, and I also suspect the source of the error is law-school textbooks.

Judges decide what can be presented in court as valid evidence for juries to consider. As I understand it (and I am not a lawyer), before a trial begins, the judge holds an “evidentiary hearing” during which both sides argue the validity and legality of the evidence (wiretaps, fingerprints, DNA, crime scene photographs, etc.). Witness testimony is also vetted in the evidentiary hearing, based on pre-trial affidavits. Typically, certain types of witness testimony are excluded from the trial, including various types of  hearsay.

In these hearings, the judge’s evaluation of the evidence is based on a number of “rules of evidence,” which come partly from English common law, from prior judicial decisions (precedents), frrom Supreme Court decisions, and in some situations from state and federal statutes. However, these precedents, high court decisions, and statutes are almost all derived themselves from English common law—unwritten law, that is, tradition.

Judges learn about English common law from law textbooks such as McCormick On Evidence, which is so well-respected as a source of information about evidence that Supreme Court decisions have cited it.

Part of the problem, though, is that textbooks aren’t “gospel.” Textbooks can and do perpetuate errors. As I have demonstrated in an earlier post, McCormick’s On Evidence was cited as the authority for the Supreme Court’s decision that firmly established “beyond a reasonable doubt” as the standard of proof of guilt, even though the textbook’s claim that the phrase was firm common law by the late 18th century is not documented  (i.e., it gives no evidence that the phrase comes from English common law).

Modern textbooks are especially unreliable. I know, because I was once a college teacher and an editor of books for academics. Most modern textbooks are simply revised and updated editions of older ones, many of whose authors are now dead. Academic publishers no longer invest in quality editorial services. Many textbooks aren’t even fact-checked; instead their publishers rely on “peer review,” which means only that a friend of the textbook author gave the manuscript a read-through and thumbs up.

Clues

Clues are discrete, little facts that provide investigators with hints. Clues aren’t evidence. Every mystery writer knows the difference between clues and evidence. We don’t sprinkle evidence throughout a story; it would spoil the surprise. We sprinkle clues—hints, suggestions—many of which are intentionally misleading.

Clues in criminal investigations are like scientific data: some clues are meaningful data points, but most clues are just meaningless noise.

Sherlock Holmes’ great talent is identifying the meaningful clues. It isn’t every flake of tobacco that points him to the culprit, but only the rare pipe tobacco that few men in London smoke.

Modern cops aren’t all Sherlocks, though. CSIs may vacuum up all the tobacco flakes at a crime scene (not the cops) and then identify their source (perhaps). A police detective must then analyze all the clues (data) and decide which may help him to track down the culprit. Unlike Sherlock, most cops aren’t really very good at this analysis.

Clues are for developing hypotheses, not for proving a case. A certain type of pipe tobacco may lead a detective to hypothesize that a male pipe-smoker could be a suspect, but it isn’t proof of guilt. Connecting all the relevant clues may lead a detective to a suspect, but then the detective must gather solid evidence of the suspect’s guilt. The flakes of tobacco may or may not be among the evidence. The flakes may turn out to be noise. Just because a certain pipe smoker at some unknown time left a flake of tobacco at a crime scene does not mean he is the culprit.

Trial of Baseball Star

CNN/Tru TV’s In Session is covering the trial of Jim Leyritz for vehicular homicide. It provides a perfect example of a judge not understanding the difference between a clue and evidence.

A key piece of evidence for the defense is a videotape of the intersection where the accident occurred, which was taken by a traffic-enforcement camera. This, in conjunction with cell-phone evidence that suggested the victim had been texting while driving, was evidence for the defense that the accident was at least partly the fault of the victim.

The cell-phone evidence shows the precise time at which the victim was on the phone, because cellular technology is precise about the times and durations of each phone’s communications. The videotape’s time stamps, however, were not well-calibrated: traffic cameras are designed only to show that a traffic violation occurred (usually running a red light), where it occurred, and which vehicle committed the violation.

The defense argued that the time stamp on the video was wrong; the accident could have occurred seconds or a minute or two after the victim was proven to be on her cell phone. If so, she may have been distracted and not operating her vehicle with sufficient care when she entered the intersection.

In the evidentiary hearing a few days ago, an expert witness testified that the video time stamps not only could be many minutes off, they undoubtedly were.

Unfortunately for the defense, the judge clearly could not tell the evidence from the noise in this situation. He questioned the witness at length about the video time stamps, despite her repeated assertions that there was nothing in the technical systems that could prove with any certainty when the relevant frames were actually taped.

The judge even went so far as to argue with her that—if nothing else—the individual frames could be used to determine the speed of the vehicles. He pointed to pedestrians in several frames, extrapolated a typical walking speed, and compared the walking speed with the speed of the vehicles. When the expert explained that the number of frames per minute on the videotape were not calibrated either, he said it didn’t matter because of the pedestrians in the background.

The expert tried to point out that there was no way of telling what the walkers were doing between frames (traffic cameras take only a few frames per minute). She said they could have sped up, paused, or turned around briefly, for instance. The judge refused to accept (or maybe could not understand) what the expert was saying. To him, the speed of the perhaps inebriated pedestrians was evidence.

Noisy Trials

Most of the trials covered on cable TV contain clues presented as evidence. For instance, in the Scott Peterson trial, the lead detective read a list of clues on the witness stand that had caused him to suspect Peterson of murdering his wife; among these was an indentation in a duvet on the couple’s bed.

In the first Raynella Dossett-Leath trial, a neighbor testified that the defendant had waved at her from her car on the morning in question and had never done that before. Friends of the deceased testified that he was in a very good mood before he died, and this was presented as evidence against the defense theory of suicide. The deceased’s heir testified that her father did not believe in cremation and that made the defendant’s decision to cremate her deceased husband suspicious.

In both trials these highly questionable facts were clues that apparently led the detectives to suspect the defendants, but they were not evidence of any crime, let alone the guilt of the defendants.

In the Juan Mendez, Jr., trial, male DNA from the defendant’s family was found at the crime scene. (DNA is always presented as solid evidence these days.) In the Mendez trial DNA was not only presented as evidence, it was presented as positive proof that the defendant was guilty, even though he had lived in the house previously and his son lived in the house at the time of the murders.

If that isn’t noise, I don’t know what is. That kind of DNA ought not even to be a clue. The only relevant DNA in such situations is unidentified DNA or DNA from blood stains on a murder weapon or a victim.

In the Mendez case, the DNA ought not to have passed muster in the evidentiary hearing. IMHO: The judge who admitted it into the trial ought to be removed from the bench as incompetent.

How can I say this, when I’m not a lawyer? Well, because I have brain. The Florida grand jury also had a brain, apparently: they refused to indict Mendez because of the insufficiency of the DNA evidence. The prosecutor then lowered the charges to second-degree murder so he could indict Mendez on his own and try him before a six-person jury. Then he sent the samples back to the lab for more testing; in the interim the sensitivity of the tests had increased, so the lab was able to identify new DNA where before they had found none. As a result, the prosecutor was able to submit the new “evidence” of Mendez-family male DNA. The lab had not identified new clues, let alone evidence of the defendant’s guilt.

Entropy

I’m not a lawyer and I’m even less a physicist. Lawyers don’t believe in systemic entropy, and physicists don’t use the term except to mean a specific physical state that’s capable of being described mathematically. I am, though, a bit of a computer geek, so I use the term in the sense of loss of data in communications and the tendency toward chaos that arises out of complexity.

The American justice system is collapsing under the weight of its chaotic complexity. The more laws that are written and the more judicial decisions that are written interpreting and twisting those laws, the less law and order we have.

During the English Civil Wars of the 17th century, the rebels called for “root and branch reform” of government, because it had degenerated into a state where life was “nasty, brutish, and short.” (Yes, scholars, I know that Hobbes was a monarchist.) IMHO the American justice system needs root and branch reform now, too. It’s nasty and brutish, but, even worse, it’s endless, like the law suit in Dickens’ Bleak House.

Congress apparently wishes to be the purveyors of the needed change. Recently it passed the National Criminal Justice bill, which will fund (from what monies?) a committee to study the problems in the justice system. As the source of our mare’s nest of laws, I hardly expect any good to come of any such Congressional effort. The feds can’t force much of anything on the states, which have the responsibility for crime control and punishment.

Our only hope, I suspect, is the U.S. Supreme Court. The criminal appeals process needs to be used to strike down many of the state statutes and centuries of judicial precedents that have warped the system. And the very first of these precedents I would like to see go is the Supremes’ decision in Daubert v. Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U. S. 579 (1993), which established junk forensic science as legitimate: the decision relies on “peer-reviewed” publications as the gold standard for science! 

A small step in this direction was taken by the more recent Supremes’ decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, No. 07-591 (2009), which requires lab technicians who conduct tests to testify in court, rather than simply submitting a report to the prosecution. That it should take until 2009 for this to be required is horrifying, though.

How many people are in prison now because of junk-science lab tests that were never cross-examined in court? Raynella Dossett-Leath is one of these: the prejudiced ME in her case sent a vial of the deceased man’s blood to the TN state crime lab for analysis. The lab returned a report saying the blood contained a near-fatal level of barbiturates. In court only the ME testified about this report, not the lab technician. Worse yet, by that time the lab had lost the blood sample and cannot now prove either that the test results were valid or that they even tested the correct blood sample.

Justice removes her blindfold only to discover the court is dark

I searched the web for the origin of the aphorism that “Justice is blind,” but couldn’t find it. If anyone knows, please email me. Apparently even the Online English Thesaurus of Phrases doesn’t know: http://www.phrases.org.uk . The consensus seems to be that the origin lies in artistic representations of the Roman goddess Justitia wearing a blindfold: http://lib.law.washington.edu/ref/themis.html .

Because the origin of the concept of blind justice is so vague, it inspires many interpretations of the symbolism (of course, symbolism is by nature vague). Most people interpret the symbol to mean that justice is no respecter of persons; it’s applied equally regardless of individuals’ status. I suspect most people involved today in the American justice system believe our laws and courts apply justice equally, but most of us on the outside—I regret to say—see it differently.

Sidebar: At best, I interpret the phrase “Justice is Blind” to mean that law must not target individuals or classes of individuals: Laws must not be written to punish specific people for their specific acts, nor must laws be written to give special protections that are unavailable to others to specific people or classes of people. Of course, we all can name specific individuals who have inspired laws to punish them specifically (Drew Peterson’s Law enabling hearsay evidence to be admitted in his trial) and classes individuals who have inspired laws to protect them specifically (hate crime laws and special copyright laws for Disney and for pop singers).

Yesterday I voted early. On the ballot were candidates for several circuit judgeships and for the Cook County Sheriff, in other words, some rather critical positions in the justice system. In addition, the ballot asked whether or not about fifty judges should be retained in office. I voted no to all retentions, and I have spoken to other people in the neighborhood who said they planned to do the same.

The retention of people in any office by a binary vote (yes, no) is absurd. Where did this idea come from? Well, a web search didn’t turn up a great deal of information about this issue, either.

It appears that our Founding Fathers wanted judges to be appointed (as some still are), pretty much for life (as in England). (The Federalist Papers include a discussion of the issue). In the mid-19th century a highly politicized Congress and state legislatures decided otherwise: here’s a page from PBS.org with some hints about what might have transpired then: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/justice/howdid/ .

This doesn’t answer my question, though: What idiot thought up the idea of voting yes or no on retention of judges in office? (My guess: a judge.)

I don’t know that it’s worth the effort to track the culprit down, though, unless it turns out that someone in American history whom everyone hates now is the guilty party. Then maybe it would be easier to make a change in the policy. (I found a hint that it might have been Pres. Andrew Jackson’s bright idea, and since I have Cherokee ancestors I think he might qualify for the role of whipping boy. He needed the collusion of federal judges to confiscate Cherokee land.)

Why is voting yes or no on retention of lists of judges (by name only, not party, not place of residence, not even law degrees and licenses) stupid? Let me count the ways:

  1. Judges in Illinois (and most states) are nominated by a party or appointed by a politician. Once they’re in office, no one pays any attention to what they do on the bench, other than a few local bar associations that sometimes print lists of recommendations.
  2. The voters blindly vote yes or no. And this is not supposed to be one of the ways justice is blind.
  3. In Illinois, a judge needs 60% yes in order to be retained—60% of the votes cast, not the ballots cast. But most voters simply decline to vote (skip the item on the ballot). Unfortunately, if a voter declines to vote it increases the likelihood that the judge will be retained, because his or her cronies will vote yes.
  4. If a 60% majority of voters vote no to a judge’s retention, what happens? Well, it has never happened in Illinois, as far as I can determine.  But I suspect there’s a politician somewhere who would make an interim appointment, someone such as a presiding or senior judge on the circuit. If so, I suspect he simply temporarily reappoints the “not retained” judge, who is probably a golfing buddy.
  5. What if all the judges were “not retained,” because all the voters did what I did yesterday—vote no to them all? It’s absurd, isn’t? It’s absurd, because there is no answer to the question. Our wonderful politicians have devised an infallible scheme for cramming the justice system with their cronies.

If you haven’t voted yet, you might want to take a look at a website, such as Choose Your Judges, that provides information about the judges whose names will be on the ballot or contact your local bar association.

Down the legal rabbit hole with Alice

“One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small; and the pills that mother gives you don’t do anything at all. Go ask Alice.”

Jefferson Airplane, 1967

I’m really, really old. I’m over fifty. I used to say I wanted to die before I was fifty. (Like the Who, “I wanna die before I get old . . . .”). Big mistake. Think again.

I also love men. I’m a woman. I believe in women’s rights. That makes me a feminist, I guess. (“I am woman; I am strong . . . .”)

Deep breath:

Today Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife at long last asked Anita Hill to apologize for accusing her husband of sexually harassing her. Justice Thomas is the justice whom presidential candidate Obama said was not qualified for his position on the Supreme Court, despite the fact that Justice Thomas is the only African American justice on the court (and President Obama wanted to be the post-racial president, and at the time Justice Thomas was only the second African American justice in history).

Sidebar: What was going through the President’s mind when he said this? Surely not that Justice Thomas is a conservative African-American. Surely not.

All this is all absolutely stunning—stunning not as in beautiful. Stunning as in mind-numbing. As in a hammer hits you in the forehead.

I’m so old I actually remember watching Justice Thomas’s confirmation hearing in 1991. The TV in my office at work was on non-stop. Everyone in the office was glued to the screen when Anita Hill described the pubic hair on the soda can.

Sidebar: As Moon Unit Zappa said: Gag me with a spoon. (Isn’t a knowledge of history brilliant?)

In 1991, though, it wasn’t the justice’s race that was at issue; it was his gender. And it wasn’t Anita Hill’s “plight” that enthralled the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which now Vice-President Biden sat. In fact, in 1991 the male senators could have cared less about Ms. Hill’s plight. They spent their time ridiculing her, not criticizing Mr. Thomas’s conservatism.

Senators like Joe Biden ridiculed Anita Hill’s complaints of sexual harassment. That’s right. The issue was the way the male senators (including Democrat Biden) humiliated and ridiculed Anita Hill. Ridiculed her claims of sexism and sexual harassment.

So egregious was Biden’s questioning of Ms. Hill and IL Senator Alan Dixon’s questioning of her, that an African-American woman named Carol Mosely-Braun won Dixon’s senate seat the next year. (Unfortunately, Mosely-Braun later helped her mother cheat on public funding of a retirement home and she lost her Senate seat, but, well …).

Sidebar: The hearings convinced me that Biden is an idiot. I would have voted for Marge Simpson in 1992 for Senator instead of Biden or Dixon.

We’re in the rabbit hole still. The Mad Hatter is in charge—was in charge and still is.

I honestly believe now that Anita Hill lied. Maybe she even fantasized her experiences with Justice Thomas. I now believe he was innocent. But why didn’t the the Senate committee explore this possibility at the time without treating her complaints with such sexist zeal?

Justice Thomas is now known as the justice who sits silent while arguments are made before the Court. Can you blame him? Justice Thomas is the justice who never receives kudos for his learnedness, his wisdom.

Frankly, I believe all this is racist. I have read his decisions. Justice Thomas is brilliant. A very crystal-clear thinker. You may disagree with him, but he knows the law, history, and the Constitution.

Anita Hill needs to step forward and admit her error.

But she won’t apologize.

Actually, the people who really need to apologize (to America) are the senators who sat on the committee and ridiculed Anita Hill. Their ridicule angered every woman in America. Every one of us. Justice Thomas became our scapegoat. But the real culprits were the grand-standing politicians who didn’t want a conservative, African-American justice on the Supreme Court.

Maybe Juan Williams should give Mrs. Thomas a call. Apparently African Americans these days aren’t permitted to have any opinions that don’t match the President’s word for word.

Women can’t admit these days that sometimes their female friends lie about sexism. And no men can admit that women are treated like s*** all over the world.

Women, do you really disagree with Juan Williams that sometimes Moslem garb in airports is disturbing?

Sidebar: I was traveling by air on 9/11. I got on a plane in O’Hare Airport on 9/8. In the gate area where I was boarding a Moslem man took out a prayer rug and began genuflecting to the East before he boarded the plane. It was the first time in all my years that I saw such a thing. It disturbed me. 9/11 was three days in the future, but it surprised me, nonetheless. Now, yes, overtly religious behavior before a flight bothers me.

Do you really want Moslem women to show up in airports covered head to toe in bags? What if those burkas hide bruises? What if the women behind the veil are weeping?