criminals. Justice hardly enters into the discussion.rnIn the case of violent or potentially violent crimes—assaultrnand armed robbery, for example—a graduated scale of punishmentrnfor repeat offenses is both practical and just. A bo)-, afterrnall, might be pardoned for one misguided attempt to rob arnliquor store, but a man who makes a habit of threatening deathrnto clerks who refuse to turn over the contents of the cash registerrnhas forfeited his right to live. If California were to pass arnthree-strikes law that laid down the death penalty for the thirdrnoccurrence of crimes in which death or the threat of death wasrninvolved, such as non-accidental homicide, armed robbery, arson,rnrape, and kidnapping, the state would have demonstratedrnits commitment to justice.rnHowever, in fact, the most common offenses are (in order)rnrobbery and burglan,’, possession of a controlled substance, second-rndegree burglar), and possession of a weapon. Last January,rnthe case of Michael Wayne Riggs came up before the U.S.rnSupreme Court. Riggs, who had a string of convictions forrndrugs and theft, received a 25-year sentence for shoplifting arnbottle of vitamins from a California supermarket. The Court,rnin an unusual states’ rights decision, refused to hear the case,rneven though 25 years is cruel and unusual punishment for pettyrntheft anywhere this side of Saudi Arabia.rnAmerican jurisprudence, in pursuing its obsession with therncauses and consequences of crime, has succeeded in obscuringrnthe matters of fact that lie at the center of justice. The laws ofrnthe Romans, the Greeks, the Jews, and the Germanic tribes ofrnEurope all emphasized the facts of a crime or tort and designedrnpenalties that corresponded, in principle at least, with the gravityrnof the crime that had been committed. Motives were not ignored,rnand even the Germanic codes distinguish between accidentalrnand willful homicides; social consequences also playedrntheir part, in distinguishing between the murder of an armedrnwarrior and that of a peasant and in imposing terrible penaltiesrnon arsonists, but questions of circumstance and social utilityrnwere not supposed to take precedence over retribution itself,rnwhich is the one universal foundation of justice.rnEven Kant, not a philosopher I should ordinarily cite (muchrnless recommend), insisted thatrnjudicial punishment may never be used solely as a meansrnto promote some other good for the criminal himself orrnfor society, but instead must in all cases be imposed on arnperson solely on the ground that he has committed arncrime.. .. and woe to him who rummages around in thernwinding paths of a theory of happiness looking for somernadvantage to be gained by releasing the criminal fromrnpunishment or bv reducing the amount of it.”rnThe same strictures apply to schemes that aggravate, as well asrnthose that mitigate, the penalties that a criirtinal has deserved.rnThe goddess of justice (Astraea) was the last of the immortalsrnto leave the earth, according to a conceit of the poet Aratus, andrnRoman writers composing their panegyrics on the gangster-emperorsrnof the late Empire inevitably claimed that the dead or deifiedrnruler had brought justice back to earth. If we expect ourrnown rulers to reestablish the rule of law, Americans will have arnlong wait. As Judge Learned Hand once pointed out, “WlienrnPlato tried to define justice, he found he could not stop short ofrnbuilding a commonwealth.” For us to recover the meaning ofrnjustice, we shall have to reestablish our own commonwealth.rnDICTATIONSrn”A^rnJ. XiirnRegrets Onlyrnny loss of life is regretted,” announced Col.rnManfred Freytag, after a NATO pilot fired arnbnissile into a bus carrying civilians across arnbridge about ten miles out of Pristina. The official voicernis unmistakable, even in Our Man Fridav’s unnerving accent.rnIn the official language of the New Order, truernstatements arc always put into the passive voice, lies intornthe active. “Mistakes were made,” chirped the First Familyrnin its first term in reference to one or another of theirrnpeccadilloes—who can keep track? But when the Presidentrnwants to lie, he has to use the active voice to avoidrnthe suspicion that he is being evasive: “I never had a sekshallrnrelationship…” True to lorni, the Man who is Fridayrndeclared: “I want to imderline that we did not bombrnthat bus.” Similarly, we did not bomb the Albanianrnrefugees, insisted Jamie Shea, who also said we were notrngoing to bomb Serbian television.rnSerbs learning English —and .Americans learningrnSerbian—are told to avoid the passive voice. But Serbs,rnlike Italians, have a useful reflexive construction at theirrndisposal whenever they vvant to avoid the moral burdenrnimposed by a direct statement in the active. Stoppingrnpeople on the street and asking directions is alwa’s embarrassing,rnif only because of the direct nature of the appeal;rnwalking out of the train station in Florence, yournwant to ask: “Can you tell me where Santa Maria Novellarnis located?” (You feel like a complete fool, by the way,rnwhen the stranger points across the street.) It is somehov’rncleaner and less entangling to use the reflexive —”Sirnpotrehbe dire . . . ” — which is even less direct than:rn”Would it be possible to .say?”rnli’rench and C^.crman equivocators can rely on theirrn”on dit” and “man tut,” but an American cannot get awayrnwith “one says” or even “it isn’t done.” Some wiseacre isrnbound to ask: “Wlio says?” or “By whom isn’t it done?”rnBut, bombs be praised, the NA TO empire has given us arncomplete grammar of lies: the feminine yin of the passivernvoice, coupled with tlie masculine yang of the lie direct.rnChinese, of course, does without the verbal complexity ofrntense, mood, and voice, but in view of the Clinton admini,rnstration’s decision to withliold no military secretsrnfrom the People’s Republic, we may all hae to start boningrnup on Mandarin.rn— llumpty Dimiptyrn12/CHRONICLESrnrnrn