Not Very Smart


Something else needs to be said about the Elizabeth Smart case that—as best I can tell—is not being said. Taking events at face value, the whole episode was close to self-inflicted.

Lois Smart broke two cardinal rules of living in a modern, metropolitan area. One, never give money to panhandlers, especially ones in long flowing robes. And two, never, ever invite them to do work for you at your home. This goes double if you have young children at home. And if you have an achingly beautiful teenage daughter, well, puzzle it out.

It might seem cruel to point these facts out, but Ed Smart is on a crusade to get Congress to pass a national "Amber alert" law. Such federal action would help save kids like his daughter, he avers.

Let's just assume that is true—another federal law that makes everyone safer. OK. Heard that. The law would still be no substitute for parental awareness of the threats their kids may face. We're not talking raging paranoia, just common sense.

Is there a homeless shelter or drug treatment center nearby? A lot of construction going on in the neighborhood? Other commercial traffic or workers? Who are your kids' peers? What are their brothers and sisters and moms and dads like?

And is that street preacher in flowing robes following you home?


NEXT: Partial Truths

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  1. Since when is it a cardinal rule to refuse to give money to panhandlers? I choose not to give to panhandlers, but that’s just my personal preference.

    The circumstances of this case are so extreme and bizarre that it’s basically useless to try to draw any conclusions from it, other than the fact that we live in a big world, sometimes some really weird shit happens, and there’s nothing we could have feasibly done to prevent it. You seem to understand this basic point later when you point out the silliness inherent in passing a federal law because of this one case.

  2. What I learned from the Elizabeth Smart case

    FACT: “Mitchell, 49, a self-described prophet to the homeless, and a companion identified as Rhonda Eileen Barzee were taken into custody by police in the Salt Lake suburb of Sandy while 15-year-old Elizabeth was reunited with her parents and her five siblings.”

    LESSON: If your resume includes “Self-Described Prophet to the Homeless” – you probably shouldn’t be hanging around a Salt Lake City suburb. UNLESS you’re trying to get in good with the Mormons who believe that Jesus (the one and only prophet to the homeless) will return to SLC briefly to rap with the Latter Day Saints right before the end times start rolling — in which case you’re exactly where you need to be.

    FACT: “Elizabeth’s mother, Lois Smart, has said she met Mitchell in downtown Salt Lake City in November 2001 when he asked for money. She gave him $5 and hired him to help her husband work on the roof. He worked for about five hours, and family members say they didn’t see him again.”

    LESSON: Never, ever, ever hire a bum to do work AT YOUR HOME. Note that Lois is a repeat offender. If anything she should be at fault for putting her kids at risk. “Honey, did you bring home another drifter again? We’re running out of home improvement projects for them…”

    FACT: ‘”It was a religious thing,” a police source told The Seattle Times. “This guy just wanted another wife, and God told him this was the one.’

    LESSON: This is probably an acceptable form of courtship in Utah.

    FACT: “They had been living in the mountains, a police source said, because “Old Testament prophets lived in the mountains, and that’s where he thought he should live.”‘

    LESSON: Crazy people live in the hills.

    FACT: “For months, the top potential suspect was Richard Ricci, a handyman and convicted felon who had once worked in the Smart household. He insisted he had nothing to do with the kidnapping. Ricci died Aug. 30 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while in prison on a parole violation.”

    LESSON: If you’re a convicted felon and you’re “lucky” enough to land a job as a handyman working for an affluent, rich, white family in the suburbs with 5 kids – know that the moment ANYTHING goes wrong in their suburban paradise you’ll catch the blame. Also – the cops will gladly lock you up and throw away the key.

    IN CLOSING: If Elizabeth plays her cards right she’ll be able to bank on this crazy nine month odyssey for some time to come. I see T-shirts (“I was kidnapped by a prophet to the homeless and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” or “Handymen do it in the mountains”), tv appearances, book deals (“How to prophet from being a teenage bride”), and a movie of the week (“Love: Drifter Style.”)


  3. “Achingly beautiful teenage daughter”? For cryin’ out loud, Jeff, you’re starting to sound like a pedophile yourself.

  4. What we really need here is an instant system to immediately tell me here in Milwaukee that some kid in southern California has been kidnapped. I’ll see these every freakin’ day until I get to the point where I ignore them (like the posters at Wal-Mart or the back of the milk carton). It’s a good system…as long as it’s LOCAL.

  5. Wasn’t there an article about how the numbers of abductions have not risen dramatically (if they’ve risen at all) over the past 20 years? Wasn’t the summer of kidnappings just a sequel to the summer of shark attacks the year before? With 35 all news channels, there has to be some place to stake a camera crew out and go to for live updates, right?

  6. I must say, the Amber Alert is kinda cool. I was driving down I-684 in New York on Friday afternoon and the flashing alerts told me to look for a grey Daewoo with a given Jersey license plate. Shortly afterward, I spotted a grey Daewoo with a Jersey plate, so I had to change lanes and speed up to get close enough to read it. It wasn’t the guy (who got caught the next day) but it was pretty exciting playing highway patrol nonetheless.

    I must add this pearl of wisdom, given the lessons being discussed above:

    Marge: Is every drifter we meet going to move in with us?
    Homer: Of course not. We’ll decide that on a drifter-by-drifter basis.

  7. being a regular attender to a Baptist church, I have many times heard people talk about helping the homeless, giving a hand-up, etc. One particular person regularly brought home drifters and other assorted to live above his garage. He encouraged others in the class to do the same.

    Yeah, right. I got a wife and kids. I’ll donate to charities, volunteer at Christ kitchen, work on habitat for humanity, but I draw the line at inviting them home. Maybe not perfect, but sensible.

  8. The Smarts are very, very Mormon.

    And very, very stupid.

    Give ’em money, fine. Though one should always follow one rule about that: Never give money to a beggar within a 10-block radius of your home.

  9. Big sign telling you what sort of vehicle to look out for?
    Worked well for the whole “white van” thing, didn’t it?

  10. Big sign telling you what sort of vehicle to look out for? Worked well for the whole “white van” thing, didn’t it?

    A child abduction alert was being displayed on the freeway signs on the I-5 in San Diego this morning. The car to watch for was described as a brown Datsun, and the make and license number were given.

    So yes, Ted, I do tend to think that that would work better than vague warnings about “white vans”. And in the future you should learn how the alerts work prior to yapping about their presumed uselessness.

  11. > Ed Smart is on a crusade to get Congress to pass > a national “Amber alert” law.

    Since all of us who travel on the LA freeway system were treated to an amber alert just this morning, it is interesting to consider how the amber alert system would have functioned had the Salt Lake City authorities tried to use the amber alert system in elizabeth smart’s case.

    In this mornings amber alert, the alert contained information on the missing person (a young girl), the abductor (“alleged abductor? “), the vehicle (a brown nissan 200 sx) and the vehicle license #.

    In the case of his daughter, a national Amber alert system would have made no difference at all,
    since at no time did that authorities know who the “alleged abductor” was. The amber alert for elizabeth smart would have thus read “missing fourteen year old girl possibly in the company of a possible abductor, who may be male, female, or both”. No car information, no license information, no abductor information.

  12. Jeff, be careful what you think and even more careful what you say. Next incident the activist parent will push for a federal law making it a felony to voice any appreciation of a young girl’s beauty. Punishable by mandatory reeducation, close monitoring and a place on the offenders’registry. You’ll also have to surrender a DNA sample, just in case

  13. that amber alert shit sounds kinda creepy. what happens when the wrong car gets tagged and a few right minded citizens kill an alleged – but innocent – abductor?

  14. Finding a 15-yr old “young lady” attractive is not pedophelia. Pedophelia is being sexually attracted to pre-pubescent children. Adolescents (teenagers), unlike children, think about sex all the time because they are sexually mature (not emotionally or physically mature–sexually mature). I don’t know if there’s a word that’s defined by “a sexual attraction to girls between the ages of, say, 14-17”; but an appropriate epithet might be “suspended adolescent”.

  15. Hey gang – let’s pass an unenforceable, pointless law that will unnecessarily violate the Constitutional rights of the innocent and serve no practical purpose, except to the demagogue politicians who proposed it.

    It’s easy, you know: just name the law after a child…

  16. Will wrote:
    “LESSON: If you’re a convicted felon and you’re “lucky” enough to land a job as a handyman working for an affluent, rich, white family in the suburbs with 5 kids – know that the moment ANYTHING goes wrong in their suburban paradise you’ll catch the blame.”

    ESPECIALLY if another drifter also did handyman work
    at the home, a drifter who is a Mormonoid messiah
    nutcase. In that case, you’re sure to get the blame.

  17. “Hey gang – let’s pass an unenforceable, pointless law that will unnecessarily violate the Constitutional rights of the innocent and serve no practical purpose, except to the demagogue politicians who proposed it.”

    Hey Jim, perhaps you’d care to enlighten us all as to which “constitutional” rights you think an AMBER alert system would violate? Color me dumb, but my copy of the Constitution doesn’t say anything about AMBER alerts.

  18. I think that the Smarts should be brought up on charges of child endangerment. Their actions concerning of bringing home bums were grossly negligent and irresponsible. Were is Child Protective services in all of this?

  19. Hmmm, I think it was kinda dumb to bring the bum home, too. If he was willing to work for food, buy him a cheeseburger and have him wash the car.
    But it seems “Imanuel” didn’t pose any danger during his work or meal, he was never alone with any kids. He came back some time afterward, and at night. I mean, it’s not like the Smarts gave him a set of keys–the guy broke in through a window.
    Would you like a have a law that says you can’t invite anyone into your home, if you have kids, unless you’ve known them at least 3 years and have done an FBI background check on them?
    Madman Mitchell and his side-kick Creepella are to blame. The Smarts did something stupid, but having some child endangerment law forbidding people who that lawwould have to define for us as “strangers” from entering our own homes would require a Constitutional amendment to abridge property and assembly rights.
    No more Tupperware parties.

  20. “Color me dumb, but my copy of the Constitution doesn’t say anything about AMBER alerts.”

    That was Jeff’s point exactly.

  21. “Ephebos” is the Greek word for teenaged boy, so, no, it would only apply to homosexual relationships. “Ephebophilia” was not a word that the Greeks ever used (nor “paedophilia,” though there was a verb “paidophilein”; paedersaty was the usual noun…by the way “pais” can mean boy or girl though in this context, to the Greeks if not to us, it means only boy), though they did have an adjective “philephebos,” or “fond of young men.” Fascinating language, Ancient Greek. Remind me to tell you all about the liquid futures sometime.

  22. The little sister was in on it.

  23. Evan, fascinating! But, bottom line: is there a Greek prefix we could use to define sexual attraction to achingly beautiful adolescent chicklettes? Not that I’m losing sleep…I’m just askin’…*ahem*

  24. Jeff Taylor,

    Giving work to itinerate and the homeless is a form of charity of long standing in rural America, especially in the west. The practice preserves the dignity of the person receiving the charity and reinforces the cultural work ethic. It evolved out of the common practice of hiring short-term labor on farms. For rural households, the tradition poses little danger since rural household are “hard targets” i.e. they’ve all got dogs and guns.

    Given his religious obligations and western traditions there was nothing odd in Smart’s behavior. Sadly, I am forced to agree with you that the tradition no longer works for an urban area, even one as safe as Salt Lake.

  25. I think the term you’re seearching for is hebephilia.

  26. Tuning Spork:
    At the height of the priesty sex abuse scandal, the word “ephebophilia” was used to describe sexual relations with adolescents, although I can’t remember whether it was limited to homosexuals or could be used for heterosexual acts as well.

  27. OK.. geophile… I withdraw my unfortunate use
    of the term “fascist”…

    I actually support the implementation of an
    Amber Alert system.

    I saw both Mr. Smart’s attack on Congressman
    Sensenbrenner and his response on TV. I would
    prefer that our laws be made by people that are
    not emotionally involved and after some careful

    Also, in the context of what we now know, is it
    not likely that the police (who are, in fact, very smart) considered the possibility that Elizabeth was a pseudo-runaway… and allocated resources in that context.

    I think a lot more about this case is going to
    either come out or be actively covered up…

  28. Parthanophelia (a love of virgins)is fine, I guess.
    But, I must say, I’m partial to “korephelia”; the love of girls…’cause any teeny-bopper-gal who’d have relations with an elder man would likely earn the title of “skank”; pretty un-virginal.
    t’anks, Evan

  29. Couldn’t ‘hebephilia’ just be a strong attraction to Jews? Kinda like the opposite of shiksappeal?

  30. Ephebophilia doesn’t necessarily have to apply only to homosexual activity. Plenty of adult women have had sex with underage boys. That teacher that got pregnant from one of her students is an excellent example of ephebophilia.

  31. What’s wrong with this picture?

    Elizabeth was not “brainwashed”. She made no attempt to escape her captors. She did not seem to care about the hell her family was going
    through. Even when arrested, she did not seem
    to want her adventure to end.

    IMO, her behavior is typical of extremely
    sheltered/controlled teens imprisoned in a very
    religious family… who then taste relative
    freedom and the chance to be “bad” for a whle.

    I felt exactly this way when I was 16…

    And the real, fascist Ed Smart comes out when he
    attacks specific congressmen for not bypassing
    our legislative system and just giving him what
    he wants.

  32. Be realistic gzt. For a grieving father to come out in favor of legislation that could be used to help other children escape murder and rape is hardly fascistic, fascist though he may be. (And despite the fact that the amber alert wouldn’t have been much good in this case.)

    On other counts I tend to agree, adding that to a person already indoctrinated in the Mormon ways, a schizophrenic “street preacher” might not seem that much weirder. Perhaps she did considered that a legitimate way to rebel, not unlike the child of a run-of-the-mill Democrat becoming one of these radical/socialst/green poseurs when in college.

  33. Hebephilia? I’m not sure who you’re talking to, anon., but “hebe” is generally has a masculine connotation, I believe (in spite of my shameless performance above, I’m really much more of a Latinist). My dictionary definines “hebe,” a feminine noun by the way, as “youth, prime of youth; vigour; young men; manhood.” (There are are also “hebedon,” manhood, and the inchoative verb “hebaskein,” to reach puberty.)

    Girl-specific, I would recomment korephilia, from “kore,” girl, or, better yet, parthanophilia, from “parthanos,” virgin.

  34. Language (and girl) lovers, I just did a closer inspection of my Greek lexicon and I discovered a fairly decent Greek word already existing, if not in English, for our puzzle, though it tends toward the na?ve end of the spectrum. As my instinct had it, it is derived from parthanos, not kore. Behold: parthenopipes, meaning, literally, “one who looks at maidens,” though also, evidently, “seducer.” For the general act (cf., the difference between pedophile and pedophilia), I’m not quite sure how that class of nouns derives into abstract forms, but I tentatively suggest parthenopiptaia. There is also a paidopipes, “one who stares at boys.” You heard it here first.

  35. Achingly beautiful is not necessarily a term I would apply to young Elizabeth Smart. But for Jeff to use the term hardly implies latent pedolphilia as one guy posted. There is an enormous difference between an 8 year old and a 14 year old. In the west we generally use the term puberty to recognize and define that chasm. A denial or failure to recognize that some 14 year olds are attractive is a denial of both reality and biology. Aside from that, Jeff is right on with his observations. Bad judgement isn’t a jailable offense but it can sure ruin your week, as then Smarts have discovered.

  36. I think a general rule, to prevent ‘hard cases make bad laws’ kind of reasoning, is that no laws should be passed if a) the case in question is already illegal by some sufficient standard, and b) it ends up on national news, because it’s probably a really rare occurance. It’s been well documented that the vast majority of ‘child abductions’ are non-custodial parents taking a child from the custodial parent in a dispute over custody or visiting rights. The number of ‘children’ genuinely abducted by those that mean them harm in any given year can be counted on one hand (or maybe two if it’s been a busy year for sickos).

    I used the quotes on ‘children’ to differentiate between teenagers, who also have a greater propensity to run away from home since they have a greater likelyhood of being able to find a way to survive independent of their parents. They may end up hanging out with crazy or criminal types like Smart did, but they’re at least there somewhat voluntarily.

    Taking someone by force is kidnapping and is illegal, regardless if Elizabeth eventually found herself sympathetic to her captors. That meets the ‘sufficiently illegal’ standard. All other suggestions I’ve heard put forth to ‘prevent’ this from happening again are just silly, or worse.

  37. Looking at the pre “kidnapping” pics and videos of Elizabeth Smart, she didn’t look very happy at home. I have a gut feeling that her father may be a little on the gay side. Maybe thats why they allow all kinds of males to come to the house to do chores. I feel like something is going on in that house that made Elizabeth want to get out. I don’t feel that she was kidnapped, I feel tht her sister and she knew what was going down. That why the sister didn’t say anything til a few hours later. I think Elizabeth will have many heavy emotional problems now with all that.

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