Saturday, January 10, 2009

Lillo Gets 10 Years

CNN reports on the sentencing of Lillo Brancato, the Soprano's actor who was convicted of burglary in connection with the break in which resulted in the death of an off-duty policeman.

In our previous discussions of this case, here and here, we went over the question of culpability of an "unknowing" accomplice in a murder case. I feel the benefit of the doubt should be given whenever possible, that only the trigger man should pay. Others feel differently.

Today perhaps we can discuss the merits of severe sentencing, which is what I think happened here. I was hoping he'd get out on time served, having already been in for three years. My idea is that if any hope of rehabilitation exists, it is inversely proportional to the severity of the sentence. In other words, the circumstances of Lillo's case, his addiction, crime, arrest and conviction followed by sitting in jail for three years might have combined to sufficiently get his attention and turn him around. Perhaps this could be determined through psychological testing. In such a case, serving another five or so years might do more harm than good.

Another aspect of this case is the cop-killer liability. I wonder if the fact that the victim was an off-duty police officer contributed to the judge's decision. Even though Lillo was not guilty of the murder, perhaps a message was sent nevertheless, cop-killers pay a heavier price than regular killers. What do you think?

Do you agree that his 10-year sentence is a heavy one? Do you think cop-killers should be punished more severely? Do you see any similarity between this situation and the O.J. one?

Please leave a comment.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Year of the Diamond Dogs - 1974

Twenty-one years old, not a care in the world, I was cruising along in South Jersey one sunny afternoon when I came within range of the Philadelphia radio stations. David Bowie was appearing in the Tower Theater, said the DJ. As a special promotion, he explained, listeners could send in a self-addressed stamped envelope in order to win four free tickets. Three weeks later my friends and I sat in the front row having received what must have been the very first tickets issued, Row A, seats 1 through 4.

That was July 1974. The album, David Live, was recorded there. Looking back, what amazes me is that Bowie was just 27 years old then, already the author of a huge body of artistic work.

Yesterday was his 62nd birthday. Happy Birthday David. May you have many many more.

Here's a wonderful interview from a few years ago where he talks about growing older, about where the idea of "Ziggy" came from and about his father.

Houston Police Shoot Unarmed Robbie Tolan

CNN reports on another tragic police shooting. Houston police shot Robbie Tolan, the son of the famous baseball player, Bobby Tolan who played with the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was 2 a.m. on December 31 when Tolan and his cousin, Anthony Cooper, were confronted in the driveway of their home by Bellaire, Texas, police officers. Police officials say the officers suspected the two young men were driving a stolen car.

Bellaire is a prominent, mostly white suburb in southwest Houston.

What the police described as an altercation took place. In the end, a white cop shot an unarmed black man, again.

I guess this story has been in Texas papers but only now, nine days later is it hitting the national media. Just the other day, Preaching to the Choir posted an essay about police violence, even offering the benefit of the doubt: "Or are our police doing the best they can at a difficult and dangerous job?"

Here's my comment to her post in its entirety:
My idea is that many police officers are unfit psychologically. These need to be weeded out or given desk jobs. New hires should meet higher standards; there must be ways to screen for extreme racism or the tendency to abuse power.

However, all that should always be accompanied with recognition of the fact that most officers are "doing the best they can at a difficult and dangerous job," as you said.

I'd like to add something to that. I think it may be about power. It may be about how people tend to abuse their power. What better examples are there than policemen shooting unarmed "suspects?" But, involved in this age-old problem of power management, if you will, is the continually expanding attitude in America of violence, or the threat thereof, being the answer.

Our frequent commenters who promote arming citizens as the best response to the violence in our society, I feel, have it wrong. They are perpetuating an increasingly bloody cycle which has no good end. I can understand, let's say the shop owner in Newark or Jersey City, who has to close up the store late in the evening, alone on the dark streets walking to his car with the days receipts in pocket. I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about the rest of you.

What's your opinion? Should young Tolan have been armed to protect himself from the police? Would that have helped?

Do you think there's a connection between the legitimate gun owners and all the misuse of firearms we read about, whether by the police or by criminals?

Please leave a comment.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Canada Prosecuting Polygamists

CNN reports on the landmark case in British Columbia Canada in which the government has decided to go after the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or FLDS.

Two leaders of a Canadian polygamist sect were arrested Wednesday and charged with polygamy in what could be a landmark case, said Wally Oppal, attorney general of British Columbia.

Winston Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, were taken into custody in Bountiful, a western town of about 1,000 residents, Oppal said.

Blackmore has married 19 women and Oler married five, the official said.

The men are members of the polygamist sect known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or FLDS church, he added.

The immediate reaction on the part of many, myself included, is this is too much government interference. It's not so much that I buy into that "religious freedom" argument, as much as I just don't feel comfortable with the federal government butting into people's private lives.

However, in discussing the famous case of Warren Jeffs a few months ago, I came to a conclusion. Perhaps it shouldn't have taken me so long; my only excuse is my deep distrust of the Feds.

I believe these are, in many cases, middle aged men who are hiding behind the facade of church and religion to act out their lustful pleasures. Warren Jeffs married a twelve-year-old. I'd be interested to hear the ages at the time of marriage of the 19 wives of Mr. Blackmore.

What's your opinion? The pro-Mormon site, Messenger and Advocate made a big deal about the fact that Canada supports gay marriage but opposes polygamy. Do you think that's a valid comparison? I believe their idea is that homosexuality is an abomination, while polygamy practiced within their church is blessed. How does that work for you?

Please feel free to comment. The commenting policy on this blog is very easy to live with.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hudson County Murders - Interactive Map

The site has a fascinating interactive map of the murders which took place in Hudson County in 2008, 36 in all. The details of each case were of particular interest to me for several reasons:

One, I graduated from St. Peter's College in Jersey City, just walking distance from most of the murder sites. I remember in the 80s, between the PATH train and the school, I was most impressed with the litter and debris left on the street and sidewalks. There was an awful degredation in the neighborhood. It seemed there was a large Egyptian population in the area.

Two, so many of the murders were by stabbing. One of the commenters in the article provided the count: more knife killings than gun killings. I must admit, I found this surprising; there were even several by strangulation.

Three, almost all of the names looked Hispanic.

What does it all mean? If I had to attend St. Peter's College today, twenty years later, would it be more dangerous than it was back then? Would I want to carry a gun? Perhaps.

On the other hand, perhaps 38 murders in Hudson County in one year is not all that big a deal. What do you think?

Isaac Asimov Quote

All the quantum mechanics in the world cannot make it possible to predict the behavior of one lone electron, only the average behavior of many.

Isaac Asimov
Prelude to Foundation
page 16

Charlie Daniels' Wager

What Would Pascal Have to Say?

The New York Times has a report on an unusual ad campaign in Britain in which atheists are trying to reach the people. The idea was born in response to the Christian advertising already in place.

The advertisement on the bus was fairly mild, just a passage from the Bible and the address of a Christian Web site. But when Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer, looked on the Web site in June, she was startled to learn that she and her nonbelieving friends were headed straight to hell, to “spend all eternity in torment.”

I'm not completely objective in this, but comparing the two messages, one threatening hell and the other suggesting to enjoy life, I have to side with the enjoy life crowd.

When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey in the 50s and 60s, the standard fare at Catholic school was pretty much the same and the Christian message cited above. Only baptized Catholics who died in the state of grace could get into Heaven, they said. I think that was the very first thing I rebelled against. Something deep inside me knew God would never have it that way. And, I'm happy to report the Catholic Church has lightened up on its teaching in this area since the Second Vatican Council.

What do you think about this spending "all eternity in torment" bit? Isn't it self-contradicting to preach "love thy neighbor" while threatening something like this? If there really is a God, wouldn't he or she be bigger than that? If God could create the universe and keep it running, wouldn't the same God be able to reconcile that which the little human mind finds irreconcilable?

Pascal made it very simple.

What's your opinion?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Miami Trial Begins in Turnpike Slayings

The Miami Herald reports on the start of the death penalty trial of Daniel Troya and Ricardo Sanchez Jr. Danny Varela and Liana Lee Lopez will stand trial as well on drug charges that could bring life sentences for each if convicted. All four allegedly were involved in a massive drug-trafficking operation managed by Jose Luis Escobedo.

Murdered was the entire Escobedo family of four.

The Escobedo slayings became national news on Oct. 13, 2006, when the family's bullet-riddled bodies were found a few feet from the turnpike. Investigators found Yessica's arms wrapped protectively around her sons, 4-year-old Luis Damien and 3-year-old Luis Julian, but the mother's body failed to shield the boys from multiple gunshots.

It seems to me there's a big difference between a crime like this and that of George Jenewicz, for example. Although I oppose the death penalty in any case, the crime committed here, the cold-blooded execution of an entire family, comes about as close as one can. Men who kill for a living are the worst.

What's your opinion? Do you think Jose Escobedo had it coming, being that he was in the drug business? That's how Hyman Roth would see it.

Another Guantánamo Survivor

The International Herald Tribune reports on the release from custody of Muhammad Saad Iqbal. His incredible story is now coming to light. Arrested in Jakarta in 2002, he was shuttled around the world to different American-run prisons, aggressively interrogated and ended up spending almost 6 years in Guantánamo. Not unlike the Muslim family we talked about the other day, this guy was arrested for having said something suspicious.

But the full stories of individual detainees like Iqbal are only now emerging after years in which they were shuttled around the globe under the Bush administration's system of extraordinary rendition, which used foreign countries to interrogate and detain terrorism suspects in sites beyond the reach of American courts.

Iqbal was never convicted of any crime, or even charged with one. He was quietly released from Guantánamo with a routine explanation that he was no longer considered an enemy combatant, part of an effort by the Bush administration to reduce the prison's population.

How far should the American Security Forces go to protect us from terrorism? Do you feel like Cheney said last week that it's acceptable to torture people? Wasn't America supposed to be a safe haven from this kind of activity? Weren't we called "The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?"

One thing occurs to me about this is that it's not only Muslim men who look like Iqbal who have been subjected to this kind of treatment. We've got a long history of incarcerating real Americans who turn out to be innocent, as we've discussed before.

Please leave a comment.

The Airplane, Anyone Remember Them?

In loyalty to their kind
They cannot tolerate our minds.
In loyalty to our kind
We cannot tolerate their obstruction.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Pat Robertson and the 700 Club reports on the 2009 predictions by Pat Robertson (H/T Alan Colmes' Liberaland). He said socialism is coming to America, which will probably end up being a judgment call; he mentioned oil and gold going up to levels they've already reached in 2007. But this is the thing that caught my attention.

On Friday, Robertson said God told him Islam was losing its grip on Muslims repelled by the violence and bloodshed of a "religion of hate."

First of all, I ask myself about this "hearing the word of God" business. Doesn't his broadcasting these Divine Communications to the 700 Club and to the world, turn something that should be sacred into something very profane? In other words, a believing person who actually achieves communion with God in his heart through prayer and meditation would possess something of awesome value, something more fit for the written word perhaps but not to be blasted out over the air waves and the internet like this.

Secondly, there's the content of the message. It reminds me of the outrageous scandal of a couple years ago when he called for the assassination of Chavez. In this message he's calling Islam a "religion of hate." Aren't there rules against saying things like that? Common sense for one thing, would indicate that it's simply false. Furthermore, the underlying premise is also false, that Islam is so replete with "violence and bloodshed" that its adherents are being turned off. This is not the Islam that I know about.

I tend to agree with the commenters I've read in both Liberaland and the Boston Herald who ask, "Does anybody take this guy seriously?" Unfortunately I think I know the answer, so my question is, "why?"

What's your opinion?

First Marijuana Citation in Massachusetts

The Boston Globe reports on the first citation issued for possession of marijuana since the voters decided it should be decriminalized. This particular case involved other drugs, however.

A Holyoke man could be the first person in Massachusetts cited for possession of marijuana, an action that lost its criminal status Friday because voters approved a decriminalization referendum in November. However, 29-year-old Jose Burgos could still face prison time on charges of trafficking cocaine and possession of a Class A substance with intent to distribute.

I find it a bit funny that the first guy to "benefit" from the new law won't benefit at all. The actual practical application of the law is yet to be worked out. In theory it'll be much like a traffic citation.

Sergeant Richard Perry of the Bellingham Police Department said officers expect to issue tickets for possession, but have not worked out the logistics.

"I can tell you that they're working on how we would fine the person," Perry said. "So right now it would be pretty much the way most departments are handling it: We'd confiscate [the marijuana] and identify the person and send them on their way."

Under the marijuana decriminalization law, offenders who are caught with an ounce or less of marijuana get a ticket for a civil violation, but are not criminally charged. Juveniles have to pay the $100 fine and attend a drug abuse counseling course, or the fine will be increased to $1,000.

What do you think about that? Should we be concerned that it sends the wrong message to young people? What about other drugs? If they are in small enough quantities to indicate personal use, shouldn't they be handled this way too? What about out and out legalization? Wouldn't that allow for better control and taxation? We talked about that before.

What's your opinion?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Security in America

Preaching to the choir has published a thought-provoking post about the Muslim family that was removed from and Air Tran flight because other passengers overheard some of their conversation and reported it to the authorities.

In the past few months, I have heard many people say one thing we have to acknowledge about the Bush presidency is that it has kept us safe from terrorist attack. I disagree with that premise and I think this case highlights what the real legacy of the Bush administration will be on terrorism. The administration has succeeded in fostering a culture of fear that leads to neighbors eavesdropping on neighbors and to innocent American citizens being pulled off planes. This is not safety. Not if every Muslim American or American of middle-eastern descent has to monitor public conversations so as not to risk being misconstrued and reported to the FBI.

Does the Bush Administration deserve some credit for the fact that since 9/11 there have been no major terrorist attacks in the U.S.? Do you think we've gone too far with the invasion of privacy, in this case private conversation, but frequently it's digital and electronic surveillance? Can this kind of thing be justified by an honest effort on the part of federal law enforcement to keep us safe?

I tend to agree with Sarah that they've "succeeded in fostering a culture of fear." The fact that Bush and Co. were so quick to capitalize on the fear and shock which followed the destruction of the World Trade Center Towers made me question their true intentions. While claiming to have American security as their chief goal, they mounted an intricate campaign to increase fear in order to generate support for invading Iraq. And it worked. Sad and pathetic is what I call it, and dark days in American history.

As the years passed, each one accompanied by a diminished percentage of support for the war and the administration, we're left with this legacy: "neighbors eavesdropping on neighbors and innocent American citizens being pulled off planes."

What's your opinion? Is America safer today?