Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lionel Ritchie

Obama's Iraq Withdrawal Speech

President Obama is the greatest political speaker I've ever heard, and that includes J.F.K., whom I happen to be old enough to have heard live, and of course many times since his assassination. I found the following comments about the troops both sincere and satisfying. What do you think? Are these comments adequate? Are they sincere?
I also want to acknowledge all of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. That includes the Camp Lejeune Marines now serving with - or soon joining - the Second Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq; those with Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force in Afghanistan; and those among the 8,000 Marines who are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. We have you in our prayers. We pay tribute to your service. We thank you and your families for all that you do for America. And I want all of you to know that there is no higher honor or greater responsibility than serving as your Commander-in-Chief.

One of the impressions I had during the campaign was that he is sincere, at least more than your typical politician. I have had some doubts since his taking office, but I'm still holding onto hope. Whenever a politician speaks like this, naming hard dates and clear goals, he leaves himself dangerously open to failure and criticism. It's bold. If his intentions are not sincere, then saying things like this would be nothing short of foolhardy. What do you think?
As a candidate for President, I made clear my support for a timeline of 16 months to carry out this drawdown, while pledging to consult closely with our military commanders upon taking office to ensure that we preserve the gains we’ve made and protect our troops. Those consultations are now complete, and I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.

Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

After those comments he went on to talk about the "transition period" and our being "advisors" in Iraq. I thought, "Oh, brother, here we go again." But, the President went on to make it right. He continued with these remarks.
Through this period of transition, we will carry out further redeployments. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.

He told the troops they would receive a pay raise, earning an explosion of cheers and applause from the Marines in attendance. He went on to describe the heroic deaths of two young Marines who died to protect their comrades. The crowd was hushed, tears welling up. Overall, it was one of his best speeches. What's your opinion? Did you think he was sincere to name dates like that, or foolish? What was your overall impression?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Eric Thompson vs. Paul Helmke

Here's a debate which aired sometime after the Virginia Tech shooting, pitting Eric Thompson, on-line gun dealer against Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign.

What possible motivation could Mr. Helmke have other than what he says? Does anyone really think he's lying when he says, "when you put more guns into a situation, whether it's a home, a city or a college campus, you're going to have more gun violence?" Don't you think he believes that? I certainly do. And what's more, I agree with it.

In fact, I was saying exactly that before I knew who Paul Helmke was. I think we're both really saying things we really believe, with no sinister or ulterior motives, really.

On the other hand, we have Mr. Thompson, who said in a carefully worded comment that he was "warmly received by many of the students." Although that may be true enough, I find it hard to believe that the loved ones of the 32 dead kids would have "warmly received" him. What do you think?

Do you think Thompson is a bit cold-blooded in claiming that his company didn't help provide the gun but simply sold a legal product? Do you have any problem with that?

Helmke said, "We make it too easy for dangerous people to get guns." Do you agree or disagree?

Please leave a comment.

The New Abolitionists

Diann Rust-Tierney, the Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty posted a wonderful article on The Huffington Post. In it, she made an interesting connection between the Abolition of Slavery movement of old, and the Abolition of the Death Penalty of which she is the leading spokesperson.
The late A. Leon Higginbotham, the first African American judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, elaborated on the death penalty double standard in his book, "In the Matter of Color, the Colonial Period." If a slave killed his master or another white person, or raped a white woman, the penalty was automatic death. If a white person killed or raped a slave, the punishment might be imprisonment or a fine. Most crimes by whites against slaves went unpunished.

Recently, when we discussed this issue, I mentioned how Ms. Rust-Tierney had helped me realize something. The idea that capital punishment is wrong just doesn't work for many people. For me, it's the chief reason for opposition, but for those who don't agree with that, the racial disparity in its application, the possibility of executing an innocent person, as well as the exorbitant cost involved can be persuasive. What do you think about that? If you believed capital punishment is acceptable, could you be swayed by these other considerations?

In the HuffPo article, there's a Martin Luther King quote, which I found delightful. Of course I would like it because it perfectly supports my view. The death penalty is just plain wrong.
In the 20th Century, death penalty abolition was embraced by major civil rights movement figures. Ebony Magazine quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957 as saying, "I do not think God approves the death penalty for any crime -- rape or murder included. God's concern is to improve individuals and bring them to the point of conversion. Even criminology has repudiated the motive of punishment in favor of reformation of the criminal. Shall a good God harbor resentment? Since the purpose of jailing a criminal is that of reformation rather than retribution - improving him rather than paying him back for some crime that he has done -- it is highly inconsistent to take the life of a criminal. How can he improve if his life is taken? Capital punishment is against the best judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God."

What's your opinion?

1-gun-per-month Law Stalls in NJ Senate

NJ.Com reports on the failure to pass the Senate vote of a law which would have limited handgun purchases to one per month in New Jersey.
The bill was held by its sponsor, Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-Hudson), after it received 20 votes, one shy of the 21 needed for passage. No Republicans voted for the bill, drawing a rebuke from Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex).

Why do you think the vote was so clearly divided along party lines? I thought there were Democrats who are pro-gun, as well as Republicans who are anti.
Cunningham and other supporters argued the bill would cut down on "straw" buyers who purchase guns for criminals. The bill (S1774/A339) would allow the purchase of up to 13 guns a year, one every 30 days.

New Jersey would be the fourth state to adopt such a limit. Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, had pushed for the bill earlier this month, saying it was "close" to approval.

On the surface, that seems to make perfect sense. I've never doubted that gun flow from the legal to the illegal is a very real and significant part of the problem. But, the antagonists of this bill point out that in New Jersey there are already so many restrictions and requirements to purchase a gun legally, the chances of straw purchases taking place in large numbers are very remote.

I agree with that. So what could be the explanation for all this hoopla?

Beans 71 tells us in his comment.
Everybody knows that straw buyers by their guns in bulk from states like GA and TX where you dont need a permit to buy a gun and you can buy as many as you want with no waiting period, just a quickie background check.

I don't know if Mr. Beans 71 is a cop or a criminal, but he sure seems to know what he's talking about. The goods come right up I-95 and onto the Jersey Turnpike in the trunks of cars. Newark and Camden are adequately supplied, business as usual.

So where does that leave us with New Jersey legislation? I'd say my former home state can be proud to be one of the strictest in the nation for gun control. If Georgia and Texas and all the other gun-friendly states had similar laws, the flow of guns into the criminal world might be diminished to the point where the police could do their jobs.

What do you think? Would the one-gun-a-month law have hurt legal gun owners in New Jersey if it had passed? Is there anything to that anti-gun question: "who needs to buy more than one gun a month anyway?"

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Out-of-control Police or Defensive Gun Story

On the wonderful site called the brain police there's a post up that's just too good to resist. It's got one of our favorite themes, the out-of-control police. But it turns tragic when one of our other favorite theses comes in, defensive gun use.

I don't want to make light of such a terrible situation, but what's the lesson here? Should the poor woman have had heavier fire power? What would have happened if she had had no gun at all? I'll tell you, she'd probably be alive and those cops would be in a lot less trouble than they're in right now.

What's your take on this bizarre story?

Assault Weapons Ban - Here We Go

Thanks to Jeralyn at Talk Left I read this story on ABC News.
The Obama administration will seek to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 during the Bush administration, Attorney General Eric Holder said today.

"As President Obama indicated during the campaign, there are just a few gun-related changes that we would like to make, and among them would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons," Holder told reporters.

Of course for some people, any excuse to bash the President is a good one. I've already heard his being criticized for having said during the campaign that he supports the 2nd Amendment Rights and is now pushing a gun control agenda. Didn't he always qualify his support of gun rights by saying things like we will have "common sense" laws? That's what I remember.

It seems that some of the most vociferous critics among the pro-gun crowd are the same ones who pointed fingers at liberals for criticizing Bush for his various disasters. I'm seeing a lot of that double standard lately. Is that a peculiarly conservative thing?

What do you think about this type of restriction? Would this inconvenience law-abiding gun owners too much? Is their main problem with this the fear that it's just the beginning of gun bans in America? What could be the next to go?

Do you agree with the Attorney General that a ban of this type can fall within the purview of the Heller decision? Do you think the Obama administration plans to go further with additional bans? Do you think they should?

Please leave a comment.

Gun Flow into Mexico - Part 2

The New York Times has it on the front page today because the George Iknadosian trial is about to begin. He's the licensed gun dealer in Phoenix who's accused of supplying guns to the Mexican cartels. I'll bet, during the trial he says he's not responsible for the violence. What do you think about that? Does the gun dealer bear some responsibility for what people do with his product? What if he knows, like in this case, that his weapons are going to gangsters? I've always said that all pro-gun people bear some of that responsibility, but what about a guy like this who is a bit closer to the bloody action than, say your average Joe who goes to the shooting range on Saturdays?
Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of what I keep hearing from the gun guys. The gun laws used to be really strict in Washington D.C., yet the gun violence was out of control. They never mention that right across the river in Virginia there are extremely lax laws. The other one is Chicago. Same story, tough gun laws, bad crime, but what they don't readily admit is it's a short drive to Indiana, which like Virginia, is a gun-friendly state.

It seems to me on an international scale, we have the same situation with Mexico and the U.S.
What is more, the sheer volume of licensed dealers — more than 6,600 along the border alone, many of them operating out of their houses — makes policing them a tall order. Currently the A.T.F. has about 200 agents assigned to the task.

Here's the other thing. Pro gun apologists like to portray themselves as responsible and law-abiding citizens, which I'm sure is truly the case on the whole. But it took months of blood, sweat and tears on this blog to get a reluctant agreement on the fact that gun folks are just like any other folks, some of them have the kinds of problems that don't mix well with guns.

It seems like it might be a tad worse when discussing gun dealers. Over 6,000 have set up shop along the Mexican border, as Iknadosian did, to do what? Have they flocked there in such numbers to provide a legitimate service to the locals? Obviously not. In this situation opportunistic greed has done its part to worsen an already dreadful situation. That is, unless you feel like FatWhiteMan who said, "Who really cares what happens in Mexico anyway? That's their problem."

What's your opinion? Do you care what happens in Mexico? Do you think there's something wrong with American gun dealers profiting from the Mexican drug wars? Do you think the kind of licensed gun dealer who would have no scruples about supplying guns to gangsters across the border would be the type to conduct clean and respectable business in all other areas?

Please leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Death Penalty Legislation

We've discussed the idea of accomplice liability in the Lillo Brancato case. Down in Texas they call it the Law of Parties. When a murder takes place the lookout man or getaway driver is equally guilty, that's the idea. From The Daily Texan Online, hat tip to TChris at Talk Left.
Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, presented a bill Tuesday that would end death penalty sentences under the Law of Parties.

Dutton said there have been at least 12 people executed under the Law of Parties and possibly as many as 20. He said he has seen cases in which a convicted murderer had been released from prison while members of his party were still on death row.

Twenty-five other states have the Law of Parties, but Texas is the only state that allows the death penalty for defendants convicted under the Law of Parties.

The Talk Left article pointed out that while Texan legislators are trying to restrict the use of the death penalty, in Virginia the exact opposite is taking place. Fortunately Governor Kaine has promised to veto the bill. From the Washington Post article:
The General Assembly once again passed a bill that would eliminate the triggerman rule, making criminals who participate in a murder eligible for the death penalty even if they didn't actually commit the killing.

And once again the governor has pledged to veto it.

But the vote on Tuesday has cast a spotlight on an unlikely opponent of expanding the use of the death penalty: Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, a conservative law-and-order Republican from Fairfax County who hopes to become attorney general.

Senator Cuccinelli II is a supporter of capital punishment who even favors its expansion in certain cases, but who opposes the Triggerman Rule because he "said juries could be too easily swayed by the heat of a capital prosecution, overlooking nuances of guilt to punish someone whose intent was perhaps ambiguous." Good for you, Senator.

What's your opinion? Is the general direction of the country moving away from capital punishment? What do you think the Obama administration will do with Capital punishment during these next years? Is it an important issue, in light of all the other problems, in your opinion?

Please leave a comment.

Wikipedia, Sure Font of Truth

On the wonderfully opinionated blog, Opinione, I found this very useful essay on Wikipedia, and the internet in general.
Some examples of altered wikipedia entries altered from computers with IP addresses linked to wikipedia entries critical of them include the wikipedia page on Wal-Mart from the original posting on wikipedia, which states: Wages at Wal-Mart are about 20% less than at other retail stores. Founder Sam Walton once argued that his company should be exempt from the minimum wage. A computer with a Wal-Mart IP address was found to have changed it to, The average wage at Wal-Mart is almost double the federal minimum wage (Wal-Mart)

Other examples given had a more conspiratorial flavor, the CIA and FBI of course as well as the site for Dow Chemical.

I personally don't worry about this too much because I treat everything I read on Wikipedia and the rest of the internet just like I treat any statistics I come across. If it doesn't mesh with my pre-conceived ideas, out it goes. It's obviously biased.

What's your opinion? Are there internet sites you trust to deliver unspun truth? Or is it all suspect?

Switzerland to Banish Guns from Homes

In beautiful Switzerland they're preparing for a referendum concerning the famous gun laws. Service in the militia is compulsory for men aged between 19 and 31 and in between call-ups they store their weapons at home. CNN reports.

A coalition led by the country's Social Democrat party and the Greens has collected nearly 120,000 signatures to force a national referendum on whether the weapons should be stored at military bases.

The coalition of 74 groups says the weapons are involved in too many suicides and murders in the country and tighter controls are needed.

Switzerland's armed forces consist of just a few thousand permanent full-time staff, with the rest essentially a militia.

Perhaps it would be easier to discuss this issue using another country as the backdrop. I found it very interesting that the Swiss coalition behind this initiative seems to think the availability of guns causes an increase in suicide and murder rates. I guess the Brady Campaign and I aren't the only ones singing this song. What do you think about that?

Another interesting aspect of this story is that in 2007 the law changed, banning the storage of ammunition in homes. Doesn't that beg the question of how, if there's no ammunition allowed, do so many people use these weapons to commit suicide and murder? I guess the miscreants had some ammo left over from before the 2007 law, or perhaps bullets aren't that hard to come by. What do you think?

Removal of the right of part-time soldiers to keep their weapons at home is not the end of it. The dreaded registration of all guns is what the coalition is really after.

Green lawmaker Josef Lang said more than 1.5 million unused weapons were kept in Swiss homes.

Lang said their presence "at the heart" of the population could not be justified.

He said a national register had to be created to keep track of the weapons, something police had long been seeking.

Lang said the weapons had to be "banished" from homes.

Is "banished" the same as "banned?" Maybe that's our problem in America, we're using the wrong term for what to many people is a common sense operation. Josef Lang says quite simply, keeping all those guns in homes "could not be justified."

What's your opinion? Is the Swiss move to "banish" guns from homes some sinister movement akin to treason, as David Codrea says? Do the Swiss lawmakers who are striving to make these changes motivated by anything other than what they say, to reduce suicide and murder? What do you think?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Billy Joel on Relationships

In the introduction to this song in a more recent concert, Billy said it's misoginistic but that doesn't mean he didn't know someone like this. I find the images in this song to be wonderful metaphors for all difficult or complicated relationships. How about you?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan

Unconfirmed reports say that as many as 600 "enemy combatants" are being held in detention at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The BBC reports on the Justice Department ruling which came down last Friday stating that these prisoners have no constitutional rights. (h/t to Jeralyn at Talk Left)
The move has disappointed human rights lawyers who had hoped the Obama administration would take a different line to that of George W Bush.

On the ACLU site there's even stronger talk.

"The Obama administration did the right thing by ordering Guantánamo closed. But a restoration of the rule of law and American ideals cannot be achieved if we allow 'other Gitmos' to be maintained around the globe," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "Detainees at Bagram, like at Guantánamo, are under U.S. control and custody. It is therefore the responsibility of the U.S. to ensure that basic fundamental rights apply there. As its review of detention facilities continues, we strongly urge the Obama administration to reconsider this position."

What's your opinion? Should prisoners in military detention centers receive the same human-rights treatment as their counterparts do in the States? Do you think this Bagram development indicates some back peddling on the part of Obama's team? If you were the President, wouldn't you make sure to steer clear of this kind of problem?

Does anyone, besides me, know what the motto of the Department of Justice is, and more importantly what it means? This is at the heart of the problem. When politicians take there marching orders from on high, whether that be "Domina Justitia" or God Himself, terrible excesses can be easily justified.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Race and the Death Penalty

I've never really appreciated the anti-capital punishment arguments which say it's too costly or that innocent people may be executed or that it's disproportionately applied to minorities. My focus has always been on the fact that it's morally wrong.

Recently I've had an exchange of e-mails with Ms. Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the NCADP (The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty). One thing Ms. Rust-Tierney wrote really opened my eyes.
There will always be people who believe the death penalty is not morally abhorrent -- but these people can come to see and agree with us that the death penalty should be repealed-- either because it is more trouble than it is worth or because the other harms that it causes outweigh any measure of good they believe the death penalty provides.

The following video really captures the idea of harm outweighing good. It closes with a wonderful quote from the former Supreme Court Justice, William J. Brennan, Jr.

"We remain imprisoned by the past as long as we deny its influence on the present."

The Oscars

Once again this year, I've succeeded in not seeing even one of the big films. Partly it's because I live outside of the United States, but more than that it's just that I have an extremely hectic lifestyle which rarely permits an evening at the movies.

I follow the stories though and was pleased to see Sean Penn win best actor. Not only is he one of the great talents working in films today, in my opinion, but the homosexual theme of the film made it a sort-of liberal cause that I support.

But, for me, Mickey Rourke is the greatest. On The Huffington Post site I found this story about his winning the Independent Spirit Award for Best Actor. His acceptance speech is a wonderful display of the down-to-earth, likable character that he is. Here's the video and below that, his shattering performance in The Pledge.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Another Young Shooter

CNN reports on another tragic story in which an 11-year-old boy shot and killed the fiancée of his father who was eight months pregnant.

Police say the boy shot Kenzie Marie Houk, who was eight months pregnant, once at pointblank range in her farmhouse in western Pennsylvania.

The boy, whose name was withheld by CNN because he is a juvenile, was charged with one count each of criminal homicide and homicide of an unborn child in the death of Houk, 26, Lawrence County District Attorney John Bongivengo told CNN.

In an odd twist, CNN withheld the boy's name because "he is a juvenile" but the State of Pennsylvania will charge him as an adult. In PA, over 10, you're an adult.

On the Greenwich Diva site, we learn that the boy's name is Jordan Brown. This site, by the way is a treasure trove of crime stories; I've bookmarked it.

As I was reading the story on CNN, I thought it was another example of what we've been discussing a lot lately. I'm always interested in the availability of guns and how that factor can make the difference. Thinking this was yet another example, I was shocked and chilled when I read the following piece of information.

The weapon was a youth model 20-gauge shotgun, designed for use by children, that belonged to the boy, according to investigators.

The "youth model," I suppose is smaller and lighter and must have an easier trigger pull. I'm just guessing, of course, because not one of my pro-gun friends ever mentioned this to me. In our numerous discussions about kids and guns, when we've talked about "gun-proofing" the kids instead of "kid-proofing" the guns, no one ever mentioned this fascinating little tidbit of gun lore. And I guess I have only my own naiveté to blame. What good-ole-boy, macho, home-protecting, animal-shooting, 2nd Amendment Rights believer worth his salt wouldn't want his ten-year-old to have his very own shotgun, you know, the one "designed for use by children."

Needless to say, I find this abominable. I now realize there must be many households in which the pre-teen boys have their very own deadly weapons and only rarely does one of them blow away the future step-mother, but I find it sad and pathetic and peculiarly American.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Kids and Guns

The Universary of Michigan has a very informative site about kids and guns. I got to thinking after Weer'd's comment the other day when we were talking about the young Arizona shooter. Weer'd said the following:

"Add in a media frenzy over a VERY rare and unique story (That right there is the exception that proves Mike is barking up the wrong tree. How many children live in houses with guns? How many crimes of this sort do we see? Did THIS crime even occor??)"

Here's what the University of Michigan posted, attributing the stats to the National Safety Council.

  • In 1999, 3,385 kids ages 0-19 years were killed with a gun. This includes homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries.
  • This is equivalent to about 9 deaths per day, a figure commonly used by journalists.
  • The 3,385 firearms-related deaths for age group 0-19 years breaks down to:
    • 214 unintentional
    • 1,078 suicides
    • 1,990 homicides
    • 83 for which the intent could not be determined
    • 20 due to legal intervention
  • Of the total firearms-related deaths:
    • 73 were of children under five years old
    • 416 were children 5-14 years old
    • 2,896 were 15-19 years old
I appreciated their transparency in categorizing the tragic figures by age bracket. I guess they agree with Bob S., who pointed out recently that the older teenagers should be considered in a different way from the younger kids.

The questions arise, in Weer'd's words, "How many children live in houses with guns? How many crimes of this sort do we see?" I suppose his point is there are millions of households with kids and guns and only about 500 deaths a year. Did I hear that right: "ONLY about 500 deaths a year?" That's not counting the 15 to 19 year-olds because they're presumed to be gang members and druggies. But the truth is at least some of them should be counted with the "children."

My opinion is, I don't care how many households there are with guns and kids, for me that 500 is way too many. How about you?

The next question to arise is, obviously, what can be done about this. I've heard the incredible advice that one should teach the kids to be gun-proof and then one wouldn't have to worry. Here's what the article says about that.

What if I've taught my kids not to touch a gun if they find one?
A number of studies [9], [10], [11], [12], suggest that even kids who are trained not to touch guns can't resist, and that parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids' behavior around guns.

Where does that leave us? We could follow the oft-proffered advice to gun owners, repeated several times in this article. Guns should be kept locked and stored separately from the ammunition. Now, even I can see that's not going to work. There's no point in having the damn gun in the first place if you do that.

I'm sorry to report that we're left with only one solution:

How can I keep my child safe from gun injury?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way to keep your child or teen safe from gun injury or death, is to never have a gun in your home, especially not a handgun.

What's your opinion? Do you think the University of Michigan has an agenda other than children's safety in preparing an article like this? What about the National Safety Council, are they biased against guns and therefore "cooking" the numbers? Do you think the American Academy of Pediartics is up to no good here?

Please leave a comment.

George Carlin on Toy Guns

George Carlin Predicts the Future

Friday, February 20, 2009

Montana Trying to Abolish the Death Penalty.

I saw this report today on Talk Left.

From the New West Politics site we have the following wonderful news.
With a 27 to 23 vote, Montana State senators on Tuesday approved a bill that would abolish capital punishment. Montana is one of 36 states that currently has the death penalty and bill sponsor, Democrat Dave Wanzenried of Missoula, hopes that will change. His bill would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

For me that's a little too close for comfort. The bill, sponsored by the Democrats and opposed by the Republicans, must pass another vote before heading to the House.

As reasons, Wanzenried cited the facts that keeping someone on death row is costly and cumbersome, with appeals of the sentence wearing on a victim’s family. Why is it that no one seems to talk about the inherent contradiction in killing someone for killing someone? If the first act is wrong, how can it be addressed by the same kind of wrong? Is this too philosophical to sell to people?

Diann Rust-Tierney, Executive Director of the NACDP (National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty) posted a statement on Google News yesterday.

In her statement, Ms. Rust-Tierney mentions the oppressive costs as well as the awful prospect of executing an innocent person. She mentioned the stress caused on the victim's family, as did the Montana Senator. They both mentioned that with a life sentence without the possibility of parole, you have an immediate conclusion, or at least as soon as a trial can be undertaken, whereas with the death penalty you have nearly interminable appeals and decades of waiting for the final result.

I hadn't thought of that as a benefit. Do you think that would work? I don't. Aren't the surviving family members usually interested in vengeance, or as they often describe it, "justice?" A life sentence just wouldn't do it for them, regardless of how quickly it's delivered. The sad irony is that I don't believe the execution gives them satisfaction either.

Missing in the comments of Diann Rust-Tierney, in my opinion, is that elusive idea of the death penalty just being wrong, morally and ethically.

Someone who gets it exactly right is Aundre Herron. The following text accompanies the video on Youtube.

The California Commission on the Fair Administration held its first of three public hearings on California's broken death penalty on January 10, 2008. Representatives from California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty spoke at the hearing, including former prosecutor Aundre Herron. In this video, Herron describes her initial reactions to her brother's brutal murder, as well as why the death penalty does not help victims. To learn more about Aundre's story, and the stories of other victim survivors, visit:

What's your opinion? Is there something to that idea of giving the family members quicker results by abolishing the Death Penalty and finalizing the whole awful business with a speedy trial and a life sentence? Would that be less traumatic and stressful for them?

What about the cost? Often people say keeping someone in prison is too expensive, we should just execute them. But with our "broken" system, it actually costs more to bring a murderer to the point of execution. What do you think about that? Should we just fix the system to make it more expetitious and more cost-effective?

Or should be abolish the Death Penalty?

Security Guard Guillermo Zarabozo Guilty in Joe Cool Murder

The Miami Herald reports that the Hialeah security guard Guillermo Zarabozo was found guilty of murder in the Joe Cool case, which we've discussed before.
[The] one-time security guard, Miami-Dade police applicant, CIA wannabe -- didn't flinch as 16 guilty verdicts for four murders and other crimes on the high seas were read aloud in a federal courtroom Thursday.

The Hialeah High School grad -- his tearful mother, head bowed, seated a few rows behind him -- faces spending the rest of his life in prison for the 2007 fatal shootings of four Miami Beach charter boat crew members.

Zarabozo, 21, convicted of conspiracy, murder, hijacking, kidnapping, robbery and using a firearm in those crimes, will be sentenced May 6. Jurors deliberated for eight hours over two days in the retrial, reaching verdicts in lightning speed compared to the first trial in September, which ended with a hung jury and four guilty verdicts thrown out.

One of my theories is that at 19 years of age, Zarabozo was duped by the older Kirby Archer into participating in the ill-fated Joe Cool adventure. All that talk of clandestine operations in Cuba and whatever else might have been promised would have been enough to spin the head of any young CIA wannabe. I felt leniency for young Guillermo was in order, but the jury disagreed.

One thing I would like to make clear, lest anyone think I'm obsessed with idea of gun availability, that guns are the problem, and all that. In this case we've got the kind of premeditation that does not rely on gun availability. Guys like these, or at least Archer, would be able to commit murder even if guns were diminished by 90%.

What this story does illustrate however is how a lawful gun owner, one licensed as a security guard to carry a weapon, can go bad. This is the second type of "flow," the first being of weapons, this one being of people. How rare is it, is the only question.

What's your opinion? Do you think Zarabozo ended up killing two of the victims himself? Do you think he received a proper conviction? What sentence do you predict on May 6th?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Arizona Boy Pleads Guilty

CNN ran the story today of what may be the final twist in this bizarre case.
A 9-year-old Arizona boy charged with fatally shooting his father and another man pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of negligent homicide under terms of a plea agreement that does not specify jail time but places him on "intensive probation."

The boy, who was 8 when the deaths took place in November, entered the plea in an Apache County (Arizona) Superior Court hearing. In exchange for the plea, two counts of murder were dropped.

When we discussed this case before, one of the main points everyone agreed upon was that the police and prosecutors didn't do right by the boy. We also thoroughly covered the question of what age a person must be in order to be held responsible for their actions, but on that we came up with quite varying ideas.

Here's a video which aired on local TV a while back. It certainly illustrates the twists and turns this case has taken.

What we haven't mentioned in reference to this shooting, I suppose because there were so many other fascinating elements, is the availability of the gun he used and how that might have played a part. The old argument about the gun just being another tool and if someone really wants to kill, they can find a way to do it, for me is total nonsense. Perhaps "total" is too strong. It's nonsense though, and for the simple reason that most murders are not like that at all. Even in cases were there is some degree of premeditation, the extreme efficacy of a gun as a killing "tool" often makes the difference. The old argument that the killer will always find a way to kill only works in those rare cases, percentage-wise, in which the killer is clearly determined to do the deed. In most cases, there are swirling emotions, mixed feelings, second thoughts. In some cases, it's a completely spur-of-the-moment act. In all of these the availability of the gun is critical.

When this 8-year-old boy decided to put an end to the spankings, or to lash out at his dad for some other reason, if there had been no gun around, if he had not been raised in a gun-saturated environment, everyone would be alive today, perhaps receiving the psychological help they need.

Instead we've got this mess. There's your gun culture.

On the other hand, maybe he didn't even do it, as S suggests.

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Toledo's Bible Reading Kidnapper

I saw this bizarre story on the Alan Colmes' Liberaland site.

Here's the story from the Toledo Blade.
A 34-year-old man accused of holding a woman captive in his West Toledo apartment for three days and reading Bible passages to her will be arraigned Tuesday in Toledo Municipal Court.

Troy Brisport of 4127 Secor Rd., Apt. 105 was charged with kidnapping and felonious assault, police said. He was being held without bond Monday night in the Lucas County jail.

The victim's name is Shykea Boykin, 22 years old. The story goes that Brisport picked her up in Detroit, she had no place to go, fell asleep in his car and ended up in his Toledo apartment. There's got to be more to it, but even as it is, the story contains some of our favorite elements, bible reading and Toledo Ohio. The only things missing are the gun and a concealed carry permit.

What do you think about this guy? Is he just like the fundie folks we know and love but just a little bit further along the spectrum? Or is this simply an extension of that preachy approach some fundamentalists seem to have little control over.

Or is it Toledo?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Wrongly Convicted Joshua Kezer Gets Out

In Jefferson City MO, the dramatic events leading up to the release of Joshua Kezer have come to fruition. The Miami Herald carried the story.
A man who spent half of his life in prison for a 1992 slaying was freed Wednesday after a judge ruled that he was wrongly convicted and had to be retried or released.

Joshua Kezer, 34, left the Jefferson City Correctional Center on Wednesday afternoon when Scott County prosecutor Paul Boyd said he would not seek a new trial.

The victim was Angela Mischelle Lawless, a 19-year-old nursing student at Southeast Missouri State University. Kezer was 17 at the time, and apparently a gang member with a bad reputation. His conviction was partly based on testimony of another suspect in Lawless' death who said he saw Kezer at a nearby convenience store on the night of the killing.
But Mark Abbott, who is serving a 20-year drug sentence in federal prison, gave conflicting testimony in police interviews and subsequent statements.

Three Cape Girardeau County jail inmates also claimed that Kezer had confessed to killing Lawless, but they later acknowledged lying in hopes of getting reduced sentences on their own charges.

In his ruling, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan criticized the special prosecutor who helped persuade a jury to convict Kezer of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death of Lawless. Callahan ruled that special state prosecutor Kenny Hulshof improperly withheld several key pieces of evidence from Kezer's defense attorneys.

On the Talk Left site there was an article posted about this case in December during the hearings that led up to yesterday's ruling. One of the comments was especially illuminating. It was by Jeralyn Merrit (here's her bio). What she shared with us is that Mr. Hulshof while working as prosecutor was no stranger to bending the rules a bit in order to get his man. This is not the first time he's had murder convictions reversed. When asked about that he said that he remained, "convinced that Joshua Kezer, a member of the violent Latin Kings gang, is guilty of this crime."

Even I can see the logic in this kind of thinking. A kid is in a gang, he's well known to other young thugs, he might have done the crime at hand and certainly has done others. For the good of society, and even for his own good, you get him off the streets. You do it any way you can. That's the way they think, isn't it?

Here's what Preaching to the Choir had to say about it. Including a quotable quote: "I think jailhouse informant testimony is worth less than my IRA."

What do you think about that? Is it good for society in the long run? Isn't this the same rationale some use for the death penalty? It's expedient, they say. Mistakes are kept to a minimum, and overall we're way ahead of the game.

I believe these attitudes which are quite prevalent among prosecutors, policemen and judges need to be changed. When they go too far like in the cases of Mr. Hulshof, they need to be prosecuted themselves. When a person lies or conceals the facts in order to achieve his goal, I say that's criminal, or it should be.

As far as motive goes, I think we'd be generous to presume that the ones who engage in this are all doing so for the good of society. In many cases I would imagine personal gain through career advancement is the true motive, which would make it all the worse.

What's your opinion. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Death Row Inmate Dies of Natural Causes

The Los Angeles Times published a story about the death row inmate who was able to avoid punishment long enough to die of old age.
The killer of a 12-year-old Orange County girl who has spent 22 years fighting execution has died on death row, escaping what the victim's father termed "the justice the world deserved."

Thomas Francis Edwards, 65, died of natural causes Saturday at San Quentin State Prison's medical facility, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported Monday.

Edwards was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 shooting of Vanessa Iberri in Cleveland National Forest, where the girl and a friend, Kelly Cartier, were on a camping trip with Iberri's mother. Cartier also was shot but survived.

It's not possible to read this story and not feel compassion for the father of the victim. I was struck once again by the way he seemed to become obsessed with the murderer, following the trials and appeals, waiting for "justice." I suppose that's a common way of dealing with the unimaginable grief that must be involved in something like this.

A fascinating aspect is the failure to find a motive. In the lengthier article that Carol J. Williams published last November, there are more details, including the fact that Edwards had "spent 14 years as an adolescent and young adult at a Maryland correctional facility for sociopaths."

The Times article describes the controversy surrounding California's Death Row at San Quentin. It is the largest in the country housing 677 inmates and is badly in need of an overhaul. All executions were halted because of a problem that isn't limited to them.
The state had called off the execution of San Quentin inmate Michael Morales 10 months earlier after questions were raised about whether some of those executed by the three-drug formula had been fully anesthetized by the first injection before receiving a paralyzing agent and finally a dose of potassium chloride that stops the heart.

What's your opinion? I know we discussed it before, but I still find it weird that they keep talking about these chemicals. Do these people not know what every junkie knows? If you shoot up a little too much heroin that is a little too pure, you die. What is the big deal with this three-chemical cocktail?

What's your opinion on the death penalty? In a case like this, a man who probably suffers from some form of mental illness, is execution our best option? What do you think?

What about the father of the victim? What do you think about his way of dealing with the grief? He was quoted as having mentioned "justice" several times. Did it sound like justice to you or more like vengeance? It said he "cheered that his only child's killer was now burning in hell with Satan." Is all of this consistent with the Christian philosophy? Where does forgiveness come into it? Isn't that the true message of the Bible?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The President of Ceasefire NJ vs. Evan Nappen

I discovered this fascinating video on Youtube, posted by a certain NJCSD. It contains a short debate which took place last summer on the show called Real Talk with Megan Vega.

I noticed the title, Anti-Gun Group Backpedles, and figured the poster was a gun supporter. The following written description accompanied the post. Notice only the gun-rights attorney is named, and actually lauded with the appellation "Noted." I thought that was downright shabby. Attorney Thomas Jardim is the President of Ceasefire NJ but was not named except by Megan Vega in the introductions. Do you think this kind of petty slighting of the competition is necessary? Why would people who feel they have the winning argument resort to tricks? Or could it have been just an oversight? Here's the text.

Noted gun rights attorney Evan Nappen debates anti-gun President of CeaseFire, extracting admission that the 2nd Amendment protects an individual right, contraverting their long held position that gun onwership is reserved only for those serving in the Militia - seemingly the Armed Forces or law enforcement. Trust us, folks, they were wrong then, and they're wrong now. Everything they say is a lie and the bit about "gun violence" is intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Now, here's the video. Tell me which one seems shrill and hysterical? Which one stutters and stumbles for the right words? Which one interrupts and bullies?

More importantly, which one do you think is right about the laws in New Jersey? Are they about to be overturned as Nappan says?

Time Capsule Opened

The New York Times reports on a 100-year-old time capsule that was opened at the Paris Opera House recently.
On Dec. 24, 1907, a group of bewhiskered men gathered in the bowels of the Paris Opera to begin a project that by definition they could never see to fruition. First, 24 carefully wrapped wax records were placed inside two lead and iron containers. These were then sealed and locked in a small storage room with instructions that they should remain undisturbed for 100 years.

This fascinating musical experiment was undertaken by the Gramophone Company, ancestor to the modern-day musical giant EMI. The recordings have been digitized and will be released shortly on CD.
Most intriguing is the repertory chosen for posterity, and here the surprise is the lack of surprises. Wouldn’t any opera season today also offer evergreens by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini as well as by Bizet, Gounod, Wagner and Mozart? And won’t many concert programs this year include instrumental pieces by Beethoven and Chopin?

The great source of internet Truth, Wikipedia, has a wonderful article about time capsules. It seems the concept is quite ancient. In fact, says Wiki, "The Epic of Gilgamesh, among humanity's earliest literary works, begins with instructions on how to find a box of copper inside a foundation stone in the great walls of Uruk - in the box is Gilgamesh's tale, written on a lapis tablet. There were other time capsules 5,000 years ago as vaults of artifacts hidden inside the walls of Mesopotamian cities."

The best time capsule story I know of happened recently, at least it began recently. In the 1939 New York World's Fair, the Westinghouse Corporation buried a time capsule that is to be opened in 5,000 years. At the time of the 1965 World's Fair, they added another one.
This first modern time capsule was followed in 1965 by a second capsule at the same site, but 10 feet to the north of the original. Both capsules are buried 50 feet below Flushing Meadows Park, site of the Fair. Both the 1939 and 1965 Westinghouse Time Capsules are meant to be opened in 6939.

What do you think about this practice? Isn't it a fascinating concept? The stuff from 100 years ago is so antiquated, what would a 5,000 year time capsule seem like?

Is it too optimistic of the Westinghouse people?

Please leave a comment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Guns and Church

Tampa Bay Online has a report on the legal battle going on in Arkansas (H/T to Alan Colmes).

Under current Arkansas law, holders of concealed weapons permits can take their guns anywhere they want except bars and houses of worship. A bill in the state Senate would let churches decide for themselves whether weapons should be allowed.

"I believe it would disturb the sanctity and tranquility of church" said Pastor John Phillips, a bill opponent who was shot twice in the back as he finished a service 23 years ago. If a church opts out, "Do you want ushers to stop you at the door and frisk you?"

The bill's supporters say the issue isn't gun rights but a constitutionally protected right for churches to set their own rules. Opponents say worshippers should be allowed to pray without worrying whether the person next to them is armed.

Apparently, it was the state government at some time in the past that decided guns should not be allowed in churches. This is what's being disputed now and perhaps due to a few tragic incidents in churches over the past couple years, most churches seem to be in agreement.

How do you suppose it will work? The State law prohibiting guns in churches will be repealed and then it'll be up to the individual churches? What if a certain pastor announces that he doesn't want guns in his church, would the gun-carrying parishioners respect his wishes when the law and the Constitution and logic itself is on their side?

Is the country moving in the direction of more guns in more places, generally? Last year it was Harrold Texas that began allowing teachers to come to work armed. Do you think this is good for the country?

What's your opinion? Is Arkansas the only state that has a law like this? I've heard about guns being prohibited in the post office, but I didn't know the states sometimes also speak for the churches. Is this an anomaly in the state legislation that needs to be corrected?

Please leave a comment.

Prostitution Crackdown in Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Now site has an article about the crackdown on prostitution taking place in Vegas.

With little fanfare and no public announcement, Las Vegas Metro Police have launched a crackdown on repeat-offender prostitutes in the Strip resort corridor. So far 29 suspected prostitutes have been arrested and are being processed through the criminal justice system.

Metro says the economy is just one of the reasons it is launching this enforcement effort now. With tourism numbers down, the department says it wants to keep visitors from being victimized by crimes related to prostitution. That means cracking down on repeat offenders and making sure they get tough sentences.

"To keep visitors from being victimized by crimes related to prostitution." It seems to me it would be hard to come up with a more ridiculous story than that. The "crimes related to prostitution" mentioned in the article are basically stealing from the clients. I seriously doubt that happens very often. I would think the working girls in Vegas are happy to turn tricks and generally don't ask for trouble by ripping off the source of their income. So, if we rule that out, the question remains, what's really going on here?

Las Vegas has been known since the time of its inception as a type of sin city. Prostitution is actually legal in Nevada outside Clark County, which is where Las Vegas is. In the city of Vegas, gambling is encouraged of course, drinking too, prostitution is generally tolerated, although technically illegal. So, it's difficult to reconcile the nature of Las Vegas with this type of initiative on the part of the Metro Police. If it's some kind of moral crackdown, in a place where folks are encouraged to be morally uninhibited, it's just absurd.

It does bring up some interesting questions though. What about the clients? Are they not being targeted? If not, why not? In an encounter between client and prostitute, are both in the wrong? Is one more in the wrong than the other? Is neither? What's your opinion?

Working girls in Las Vegas are often women who come there because they think it's "a proper venue to make an easy buck," as the police spokesman said. As such, they would seem to be operating with autonomy and agency and calling their own shots, at least more than your typical teenage hooker in a Tijuana brothel, let's say. What do you think about that? Is it possible for a woman to work as a prostitute without being a victim of the system, economic or otherwise?

In the article I linked to there is an amazing "slide show." It consists of photographs; I suppose trendy new color mug shots, of the girls who were arrested in the sweep. The amazing thing is that under each picture there's the number of views, the same way Youtube shows you how popular videos are. Combined with the fact that there was no mention of the clients except as poor victims of being ripped off, this vulgar display of the arrested girls along with their popularity rating made it clear in what low esteem this article, and perhaps Las Vegas itself, holds these women. What's your opinion? Is there another take on that slide show that I missed?

Please leave a comment.

The Amazing New Internet

The New York Times reported on the work being undertaken in Stanford University to create a new internet. The article traces the history of internet viruses, cyber attacks and spam, many of which we're all too familiar with. One of the best examples of the problem was Conficker.
That was driven home late last year, when a malicious software program thought to have been unleashed by a criminal gang in Eastern Europe suddenly appeared after easily sidestepping the world’s best cyberdefenses. Known as Conficker, it quickly infected more than 12 million computers, ravaging everything from the computer system at a surgical ward in England to the computer networks of the French military.

Some experts believe that the internet, as we know it, is doomed to ever-increasing problems of this nature and the only solution is to scrap the whole thing and start anew. To me that sounds a little drastic. Yet, the possibility of millions of "captured" computers working in unison for some nefarious purpose is indeed daunting. What do you think?

The problem seems to be in the explosive growth of the internet. What started out as an academic and military research network has become the depot of the entire world’s communications and commerce. The invention and expansion of the internet, for me, is one of the true wonders of the modern world.

The proposed solutions don't sound too attractive. Basically, they sound like larger versions of the private intranet systems many businesses and organizations now use. These can be controlled and made secure, at least compared to the free-for-all that is the internet at large.

But, isn't that what we like about the internet? Isn't it that very openness that makes it so exciting? One time I wrote a post about Teah Wimberley, the teen shooter in Florida. We had a lively discussion going on when all of a sudden a comment came in from Lucille, a fellow student at Dillard High personally acquainted with the girls involved in the shooting. That's the internet.

Another time I wrote about a former evangelical minister who now works as an itinerant evolution apologist. His mane is Michael Dowd and he himself commented on the post, thanking me for what I had to say. Now, that's the internet.

I realize there's a lot more to it than the insignificant little moments I've described above; they're just personal examples of my own experience as a simple user. The point is, more than sharing photos with family and friends, or communicating by lightning-fast e-mail instead of old fashioned letters, it's the possibility of reaching out to strangers that makes the internet so much fun.

What's your opinion? Is it doomed to self-destruct in some kind of implosion? Do you think there'll be a virus one of these days that will bring the whole thing down?

The article talks about the future internet being a sort-of gated community to which you'd have to be a member. Does that sound inviting to you?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Charges Dropped Against Miami Defense Attorney

Another one of those pesky Amendments is the 6th.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

The Miami Herald reports on the dismissal of charges against a prominent Miami Attorney, Ben Kuehne. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke made this controversial ruling which has far-reaching ramifications for the 6th Amendment.

Kuehne, 54, was indicted earlier this year after vouching for a Colombian kingpin's legal payments to his defense attorney, Roy Black, in a major cocaine-trafficking case in 2001-03. The payments totaled $5.2 million.

Federal law makes it a crime for anyone to receive more than $10,000 from illegal activity such as drug trafficking. But Cooke ruled that a congressional exemption in the money-laundering statute for lawyers' legal fees applied to Kuehne, saying it was critical to a defendant's constitutional right to counsel.

What happened was, Roy Black, who is practically a household name in legal defense circles, was representing Ochoa, infamous narco-trafficker from Colombia. Black hired Kuehne to investigate the origin of the $5.2 million in legal fees from Ochoa. Kuehne was paid $200,000 for this service and reported the money clean. Ochoa was convicted and sentenced to 30 years, Kuehne was indicted for money laundering. Black, I suppose, received his fees and bought another yacht.

What does all this mean? We already knew that a poor black kid from Liberty City has very little chance of circumventing justice, but even guys like Ochoa go down. How's that work? I thought in America you can buy your way out of trouble like this?

What about Kuehne? He's no innocent. Even housewives in Des Moines know that the Ochoa family is in the cocaine business. How could that $5.2 million be considered clean? Is that a crime? Should it be a crime? Is limiting the amounts defense attorneys can easily receive to $10,000 an unfair restriction given the high legal fees?

What if Ochoa was found not guilty? That must happen sometimes, the top lawyers who receive huge legal fees, find ways to get their clients off the hook, clients who everyone knows are guilty. Would that make a difference? In a case like that, the drug kingpin gets off, the lawyers make money and the government wastes time and resources in a vain prosecution. Is that the price we pay to preserve that part of the 6th Amendment which promises counsel for the defense?

Do you think Judge Cooke made a good ruling in this case? Is this a case, as one commenter to the Miami herald article said, of rich judges protecting rich lawyers, and therefore a distortion of the true intent of the 6th Amendment?

What's your opinion?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Another Shooting in Miami

The Miami Herald reports on another tragic shooting which took place yesterday.

Just weeks after the Liberty City shooting, four people were shot in a North Miami neighborhood by a man who police say wounded three young men and an 8-year-old boy. All were seriously injured.

Witnesses said that a young man pulled out a rifle and shot at the group as they stood outside a duplex at 1345 NE 127th St. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue took the victims to the Ryder Trauma Center.

North Miami police spokesman Lt. Neal Cuevas said the suspect was a man in his 20s whose dreadlocks were held in a ponytail with a rubber band. Police did not find the shooter, who may have had an accomplice.

Cuevas said each victim had been shot several times.

About 20 ammunition cartridges were found scattered across the duplex's courtyard, including AK-47 and pistol rounds, according to officials.

Obviously this has nothing to do with law abiding gun owners who simply want to protect their families, nothing directly, at least. I say it has a lot to do with them indirectly. As vehemently as gun owners deny any responsibility for these criminal acts, I say they are complicit for the simple fact that guns are so available. If it weren't for the powerful gun lobby, supported by the numerous gun owners of America, we'd already have had the the necessary restrictions to lessen the flow of guns into neighborhoods like Liberty City in Miami and there would be less bloodshed.

In a nutshell, that's my position on guns, gun availability and gun laws, but I can't help but wonder about some of the things reported in the news. Does the Miami Herald like to use the term "AK-47" too freely, perhaps as a sort-of buzz word of the anti gun movement? In describing the last major shooting, they used the terms "AK-47" and "assault weapon," yet one eyewitness report had the shooter pulling the gun out of his waistband.

I'm opposed to that kind of sensationalism, not only because it's dishonest, but because it's unnecessary. There are enough common sense arguments for gun control without giving the entire movement a bad name by resorting to cheap tricks.

What's your opinion? Can spent cartridges recovered at the scene identify the gun as having been an AK-47? Where does a kid in Miami get such a gun? Are there places where one of those can be purchased legally? Gun owners like them for protection and for fun, but is it worth it? I say no. I say legitimate gun owners deny the "flow" theory in order to continue their unconscionable denial of involvement in the problem.

What do you think?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Le Vent Nous Portera by Noir Desir

This intriguing video was aired frequently on Italian MTV a year or so ago. Microdot will have to confirm what the message is. I say "all things shall pass" or something about the transience of things. But, like many music videos, the song lyrics and the video images might leave us with many unanswered questions.

What do you think? Haunting? Enigmatic? Cool?

Happy Darwin Day

On a site called Darwin Day Celebration, I discovered this wealth of information about the great scientist.
Darwin Day is a global celebration of science and reason held on or around Feb. 12, the birthday anniversary of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth.

I especially appreciate that they said "on or around Feb. 12," because as usual I'm a day late and a dollar short. I guess I've been reading about guns too much again.

One of my other favorite subjects is the, what I always find a bit shocking, debate between the creationism crowd and the evolution folks. One of the fascinating aspects of this debate is that often it seems that both sides argue as if it's an either/or situation. Why can't both be right? Why couldn't there be a God who created the beginnings of life, I guess it would have been around the time of the Big Bang, and oversaw the entire business in a sort-of Divine Omnipotence, allowing evolution to run its natural course all the while, including the development of men's free will which accounts for so much trouble?

What do you think? Is it an either/or discussion?

I myself can actually see the atheistic scientist's argument better than I can the hard-line creationist's. What about you?

9-Year-Old Killer Set to Plead

The Arizona boy who killed his father and another man is back in court these days. ABC out of Phoenix has the latest in a fascinating case that we've discussed before, here and here. In those discussions, one of our commenters said, "I do prefer a bright line rule that any kid under 10 can't be charged criminally, even as a juvenile." That was S who said that, speaking from lawyerly experience. Nevertheless, Arizona seems determined to do just that. First it was questions about the boy's competency.
The judge did not want to discuss the motion until after a competency hearing was held.

That is the hearing that would determine if the 9-year-old understands the charges against him, and if he can contribute to his own defense.

A defense expert already said the boy is incompetent and cannot be restored to competency in the time allowed by law.

We have yet to hear from the State’s expert.

While those discussions were ongoing, the plea agreement was finalized. The linked article explains in simple language that the plea agreement in this case is the type that allows the State to raise these charges again at a later time. Apparently, there's another type that would be final.

What could possibly motivate the prosecutors to do something like that? To me it seems weird to say the least. Are they that unbending when it comes to personal responsibility? Does someone have to pay for the crime? Is that the mentality?

One commenter to the ABC article suggested that it's because the prison industry is now big business and there's money to be made in sending folks to jail, like this boy when he's 18. What do you think about that? Does it sound plausible given that there seems to be en endless supply of grist for that mill?

Another commenter referred to the case as something I'd never heard before. Undaunted, I immediately went to that infallible source of vocabularic truth, The Urban Dictionary.

Indeed, if this case is anything, it is one big Goat Rope.

What's your opinion?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Satellites Collide

The Huffington Post reported on the collision which took place of two satellites in space.
Two big communications satellites collided in the first-ever crash of its kind in orbit, shooting out a pair of massive debris clouds and posing a slight risk to the international space station. NASA said it will take weeks to determine the full magnitude of the crash, which occurred nearly 500 miles over Siberia on Tuesday.

"We knew this was going to happen eventually," said Mark Matney, an orbital debris scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston.

One of the objects involved was an active satellite operated by Iridium Holdings LLC. The other is believed to have been a defunct Russian satellite. The crash generated additional "space junk," the extent of which scientists are studying.
At the beginning of this year there were roughly 17,000 pieces of manmade debris orbiting Earth, Johnson said. The items, at least 4 inches in size, are being tracked by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network, which is operated by the military. The network detected the two debris clouds created Tuesday.

Litter in orbit has increased in recent years, in part because of the deliberate breakups of old satellites. It's gotten so bad that orbital debris is now the biggest threat to a space shuttle in flight, surpassing the dangers of liftoff and return to Earth.

Are you at all concerned about this? Is the problem of space pollution too far removed from the never-ending problems we have right here on Earth? Do you think we're doing the same thing in space that we've always done on the Earth, environmentally?

The article said the Iridium Company has 65 satellites orbiting the planet, including "eight in-orbit spares," from which a replacement will be selected. It's cute how this mega-company refers to their fleet of satellites as a "constellation."
"The Iridium constellation is healthy, and this event is not the result of a failure on the part of Iridium or its technology," the company said in a statement.

Wikipedia adds this: "The SSN [Space Surveillance Network] currently tracks more than 8,000 man-made orbiting objects."

Does any of that bother you?

The Holy Words Will Be Obeyed

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Brady Campaign Stats

I decided to link to The Huffington Post's article rather than the Brady Blog one in order to capture the comments, which are typically divided. Paul Helmke starts off his essay like this.
With over 100,000 gun deaths or injuries every year in America, it is clear what we're doing now to reduce gun violence is not working. Last week, the Brady Campaign released our State Scorecard for 2008, the latest in our annual rating of the 50 states. Each state is evaluated according to a detailed set of gun violence prevention laws that it does, or does not, have. You can read the Scorecard here.

Some gun enthusiasts call this kind of report a pack of lies. Others pick it apart piece by piece, refuting every part of it in a terribly painstaking exercise. Both types are well represented in the HuffPo comments. I personally think it makes perfect sense to enact common sense gun laws and expect them to impact on the availability of guns to criminals.

One thing Mr. Helmke said is that pro-gun folks often lament that there are already too many gun laws. I've actually heard bizarre numbers quoted, I suppose adding up every single law in every single jurisdiction, even obsolete and overlapping legislation. Mr. Helmke pointed out that there are only a few that truly affect criminals, universal background checks for example.

Why are gun enthusiasts so adamant in their opposition? Are they really convinced that these are only the first steps towards confiscation? Does anyone really believe that? I certainly don't.

What's your opinion? Even allowing for bias, doesn't some of what this report offers make good sense?

Please leave a comment.

Tennessee Church Shooter Sentenced

Sara has written a wonderful post on the Orcinus site about the sentencing of Jim Adkisson in Tennessee. He's the guy we've discussed before who shot up the Unitarian Church in Knoxville last July, killing a couple parishioners in the process.
Many of us intuited at the time that Adkisson's rampage was exactly the kind of rancid fruit that would inevitably take root in an American countryside thickly composted with two decades of hate radio bullshit, freshly turned and watered with growing middle-class frustration over the failing economy. That suspicion that was verified in the days that followed, when police searched Adkisson's apartment and found it filled with books and newsletters penned by Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and other right-wing hate talkers.

The connection between conservative talk-radio and the shooter's actions became even more evident with the release at his sentencing of a 4-page hand-written minifesto. In it he lays out his thinking, which as chilling as it may be, makes you wonder how prevalent it is.
"Know this if nothing else: This was a hate crime. I hate the damn left-wing liberals. There is a vast left-wing conspiracy in this country & these liberals are working together to attack every decent & honorable institution in the nation, trying to turn this country into a communist state.

"I thought I'd do something good for this Country Kill Democrats til the cops kill me....Liberals are a pest like termites.

In the Orcinus post, Sara seems to be saying that this Manifesto and the future writings of Adkisson are liable to become as popular as the Turner Diaries with the hate crowd. Which, by the way, Wikipedia explains was "initially only available through mail order and at gun shows." Do you think that's true; is this guy bound to become a hero to some?

She makes no bones about blaming the talk radio crowd.
Nicely done, Messrs. Hannity, Goldberg, Limbaugh, Savage and O'Reilly -- and all your lesser brethren who keep the hate speech spewing 24/7/365 across every field and into every shop in the country. There is no more debate to be had, no more doubt about it: What you did in the name of "entertainment," and for the sake of the almighty ratings, raised and animated a monster like Jim Adkisson, gave him a list of targets ("the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book"), and was directly responsible for the deaths of two brave and decent people. Adkisson was clearly angry and crazy -- but his "manifesto" draws the clearest, brightest line possible between the media he consumed and his actions that terrible Sunday morning.

Is it fair to blame them? What's your opinion on that? Do you think Jim Adkisson is an anomaly, or are there many just like him, ready to blow?

The last time we talked about this, I said, "The problem seems to be when these lethal weapons get into the wrong hands, whether those are the hands of a ghetto drug addict or an unhinged right wing bigot, we've got trouble. I say the fewer guns the better."

He did the crime with a shotgun, which as far as I know, no one is seriously suggesting we ban. But, perhaps this case illustrates another phenomenon we've often touched upon. Presuming he owned the shotgun legally and previously had been a law-abiding citizen, on the day of the shooting he became part of the "flow."

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