Saturday, November 13, 2004

Not Big County
California's least populous county (1,208 residents) led the state in voter turnout earlier this month, with 86 percent of its eligible voters doing their civic duty. (You'll note I didn't say "going to the polls" -- Alpine County is so sparsely peopled, voting is done by mail.) But what I found interesting was that once again, newspapers could not resist calling it tiny Alpine County. Even before this latest story popped up, Google returned 94 instances of Alpine tinization.

By the way, Alpine County was blue, one of the few inland counties in California to go Kerry's way.

UPDATE: Sacramento Bee story avoids use of "tiny"! Calls it "little Alpine County."
A decade ago I couldn't avoid the O.J. trial. I was working on the desk at a tabloid-style newspaper and Ito, Cochrane, Clark et al. provided us headline fodder for months. But like you, Thinking Reader, I tend to find these high-profile, media-soaked celebrity prosecuctions to be debasing to anyone who gets near them. So it wasn't until a couple of months ago that I paid any real attention to the Scott Peterson case. When a colleague of mine explained the situation -- the body found 80 miles from the couple's home, and just where the husband had happened to go fishing on Christmas Eve, the day the wife went missing -- I said: "Of course he did it." For a brief second I entertained the idea that actual evidence connecting Peterson to the crime might be necessary, but I quickly dismissed that thought. Of course he did it, I was surprised to believe, was good enough for me.

In the weeks after arriving at this view I thought a few more times about the case, testing myself to see if I really believed instinct was sufficient to convict a man of murder. To my continued amazement, I kept saying yes. I heard excellent arguments as to the danger of my view, but to me these arguments began to sound like silly intellectual exercises. Yeah, gut reaction is no way to run a system of justice, and going down that path could be mighty dangerous. But what about the danger of ignoring overwhelming human intuition? What about turning our back on what we know to be true? I remained comfortable with the idea that the pure implausibility that anyone other than Scott Peterson committed the murder was enough to convict.

Now, a jury apparently agrees.

My first reaction upon hearing the news yesterday was relief. The election results had left me wondering about my worldview. Twelve people in San Mateo County agreed with me. Excellent.

Then I saw the paper. The crowds cheering outside the courthouse. The glee at the conviction. The treatment of the trial as a sporting event and the verdict as Our Side winning.

Now I'm a bit scared where this might be taking us.