There must be a word for the phenomenon of a word, phrase, or expression losing all meaning. Some people, for instance, use the “F” word so much that it loses all emotional impact, and is just sort of a meaningless filler of verbal space, like “uh” or “like.” Judging from this set of opinions in today’s Antelope Valley Press, discussing Michael Vick’s tawdry conviction for animal cruelty, it appears that the phrase “maximum sentence” is not understood to mean exactly what the words say it means – the greatest amount of prison time that the law authorizes a judge to impose upon a convicted criminal. Judging from the comments, it seems that there are a significant number of people who think the phrase “maximum sentence” really means “basic unit of punishment.” They seem to think that “minimum sentence” means “no punishment at all.” Take, for example, this opinion: “Of course Michael Vick should get the maximum sentence possible. He committed a crime and so he needs to be punished the same way anybody else who did that same crime would be punished.” The first sentence is a defensible opinion; the second is a truism – and one which contradicts the first sentence. The whole point of not having mandatory sentences is that not everybody is similarly-situated; some people should get the minimum time, some people the maximum time, and some people should get somewhere in between the minimum and the maximum. For Michael Vick, the difference between minimum and maximum sentences is six months, so it’s not like we’re talking about a huge amount of time here. (Yes, that’s right – because the Feds were after him for the gambling operation, not for the animal cruelty. The State of Georgia will handle the animal cruelty crimes.) A big part of the reason society hires judges is so that they can make those kinds of decisions, on a case-by-case basis. If you read the comments to the end, someone said that he pled guilty, so he should get the minimum sentence, so there are people who get it, too. And I also like the guy who found a way to attack the “liberal media” for its biased reporting of Vick’s criminal activities, but that’s what you get with the local paper here.