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."

Please leave a comment.

Where Indian Fights are Colorful Sights

More about Phelps

The Las Vegas Sun reported yesterday what probably wouldn't make the national news. Michael was scheduled to speak at an IBM convention, but cancelled the appearance himself. The saga continues.
Olympic medalist Michael Phelps, who has been embroiled in scandal following the emergence of photos showing him taking rips off a bong at a college party, backed out of a scheduled appearance at IBM Pulse 2009 today in Las Vegas. According to a CNET blog, IBM hired Phelps as a keynote speaker. The company had decided to stick with Phelps as previously scheduled. However, according to the post, Phelps called last night to cancel, saying he was, "going through a tough time."

In the referenced CNET article, the author takes a strongly critical attitude towards Michael. He says IBM stood by the beleaguered swimmer and in return Phelps handled it very badly: "By kicking IBM in the teeth at the eleventh hour."

What do you think? Could Michael Phelps, the man of steel who had the strength not to waver even in that race he won by one hundredth of a second, could that Michael Phelps be suffering from all this business?

Does anyone agree with the Jon Oltsik when he said Michael demonstrated "juvenile and embarrassing behaviour?" Is he right to say that IBM "stuck by" Michael as if they were the only ones?

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bullet-ridden Road Signs

What is it with these shot-up signs? I've seen them a hundred times, and I'm a city boy. In rural parts of North Jersey and Pennsylvania, these bullet-ridden signs are ubiquitous. I imagine if you add up all the blasted road signs in all the rural areas in America, we'd be talking about hundreds of thousands or rounds of ammunition, or millions, perhaps.

Who do you think is doing all that shooting? Is it ghetto kids who like to get out of the big city for a country drive? Is it illegal gun owners, perhaps drug dealers or mafia guys? I don't think so. I think these are your regular lawful gun owners, usually the hunting types. I picture them drinking beer, hanging out the passenger side of moving vehicles, shooting at signs or anything else that strikes their fancy.

Most of these signs are indeed in rural areas, far removed from other roads or homes, but not all. I'll bet a certain percentage of these poor signs are within shooting distance of a parallel road or even a residence. Of course, there could always be other people in the background. Is this what the gun apologists call responsible behaviour? Does this comply with the Four Rules of gun handling?

What percentage of gun owners occasionally engage in this kind of diversion, do you think? It must be higher among hunters, wouldn't you say? Does this kind of thing represent a danger? Is it OK to do it?

Do concealed-carry gun owners approve of this kind of shooting? Do these country "cowboys" who shoot up the road signs give the rest of you a bad name? What do you think?

What motivates someone to do this anyway? It's hard for me to be objective, of course, but I think this kind of behaviour indicates a mental problem.

What do you think?

New Mexico Trying to Abolish the Death Penalty

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty reported that New Mexico is moving towards abolition.

This was a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, which ultimately passed the bill and sent it to the floor with an 8 to 5 vote.

For me this is great news. Although New Mexico is not the hotbed of death penalty ethos, abolition there may send a message to the resto of the country. On Wikipedia there's a fascinating table of statistics. Why would Texas have had 400 times more executions than New Mexico since 1976? What could possibly explain such disparity.

On the NCADP site there's a link to a group called Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. This link offers twenty testimonials, which to my mind represent the best of the religions conservative movement. These are people who have lost loved ones to murder and who are not demanding vengeance. To me this is always one of the most interesting aspects of a death penalty case. I'm gratified to see that not everyone responds like the ones typically highlighted in the news.

Monday, February 9, 2009

William Shatner on Guns

I will never forgive my pro gun friends for not tipping me off to this fantastic clip. You must have seen it. I've been a William Shatner fan for 40 years. (H/T Uncommonsqualor)

The Michael Phelps Saga

Bruce Mirken, writing for Alternet, posted an article the other day entitled, Kellogg's Wimps Out Over Phelps's Bong Hit: What Century Are They Living in? A number of others whom I read and respect have expressed similar opinions, foremost among them is Daisy.

I wasn't going to write any more about this because we covered it pretty well when we did discuss it, but I just wanted to add my voice to those who say Kelloggs made a mistake here.

From the Alternet piece:
Are they kidding? In 2004, Phelps pleaded guilty to drunken driving, but apparently that offense -- just as illegal, and which actually could have resulted in someone being hurt or killed -- was not an issue for Kellogg's.

Let's get real here. If Phelps had been photographed hoisting a Budweiser, no one would have said a word. But there is simply no question that if one wants to relax with a mood-altering substance, marijuana is far safer than alcohol.

I believe this was Daisy's point also. Alcohol is far more damaging, yet acceptable. Can anyone explain that to me? Do the people espousing these hysterical attitudes about pot, not agree with that? When I was a kid, people used to say "pot leads to heroin." Do people still believe that?

What's your opinion? Was Kellogg's within their rights to drop Michael over this? Will it help them to have done so?

Please leave a comment.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

18-Year-Old Sentenced to 30 Years

The Miami Herald reports on the stiff sentence handed down in the "dirt-biker" murder.
On his way to prison for manslaughter, Joshua Ladson barely looked up.

He slouched in a Miami-Dade courtroom jury box Friday, glaring at the bereaved. Through their tears and applause, Ladson never winced. When given a chance to speak, he said nothing.

What happened took place in 2006, when the shooter was 15 and the victim 14. Giovanny Mayoral, a Cuban American boy, rode his dirt-bike motorcycle too close to the armed black youth. In what I suppose was an attempt to avenge the act of disrespect, Ladson opened fire, hitting the younger boy in the back as he rode away.

An unspeakable tragedy it was, which made me think about the youthful offenders. There must be a time when they can still be reached, when the right person or circumstances can help them to choose a better path. Perhaps on sentencing day it was too late for the 18-year-old Ladson. He'd already spent two and a half years in jail awaiting this day when all he could do is silently glare at the victim's family.

The other idea that came to mind is the inevitability of this kind of violence repeating itself over and over again. One of the best depictions of it I've seen was on The Wire. Black kids growing up in the projects can too easily be seduced by the lifestyle. In the first season we saw the characters D'Angelo and Wallace try to come to terms with the violence in their lives, only one of them succeeding. I found it quite touching and ample reason for us to seek rehabilitation rather than punishment. What's your opinion? Is the availability of guns a factor? Is the easy access to guns by these young gangsters the price we pay for preserving the 2nd Amendment? Or is there no connection at all?

Please leave a comment.

Buffalo Springfield Drummer Dewey Martin Dies

The Huffington Post published the obituary of Dewey Martin, who died of natural causes at his Van Nuys home. (via Crooks and Liars)

Martin was found dead Sunday by a roommate in his Van Nuys apartment, longtime friend Lisa Lenes said. She said Martin had health problems in recent years and she believed he died of natural causes.

Martin, along with Young, Stills, singer-songwriter-guitarist Richie Furay and bassist Bruce Palmer, formed Buffalo Springfield in Los Angeles in 1966 and quickly became one of the hottest live acts on the West Coast, helped in part by the grinning, blond Martin.

Not only was the group Buffalo Springfield important to me and most of us who were paying attention to the music scene in the late 60s, but the founding members of the group went on to do musical things that had repercussions for decades, some of which continue even today.

The band broke up in 1968 amid tension between Young and Stills, but several members went on to even greater success and Buffalo Springfield's stature grew over the years, with Young often expressing regret they didn't stay together longer.

Young has had a highly successful solo career and also joined with Stills in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Furay formed Poco, another early country rock band. Jim Messina, who replaced Palmer on bass, teamed with Kenny Loggins and had several hits as Loggins and Messina.

Martin continued performing under various incarnations of the band. He and Palmer toured as Buffalo Springfield Revisited in the mid-1980s, and for a time in the 1990s he played shows as Buffalo Springfield Again. (Palmer died in 2004.)

Rest in Peace James Whitmore

I know I'm a few days late on this, but when I saw this video on Urantian Sojourn I couldn't help but want to post it. From a great flick it is.

DNA Testing Exonerates Dead Man

CNN reports on this interesting story. A Texas district court judge Friday reversed the conviction of a man who died in prison nearly a decade ago, almost two decades into a prison sentence for a rape, as it turns out, he did not commit.

Timothy Cole was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1985 rape of 20-year-old Michele Mallin. He maintained his innocence, but it was not confirmed by DNA until years after his 1999 death, when another inmate confessed to the rape.

In the courtroom of Judge Charlie Baird Friday afternoon, Mallin, now 44, faced Jerry Johnson, the man who confessed to the rape.

"What you did to me, you had no right to do," she told him angrily, according to Austin's KXAN. "You've got no right to do that to any woman. I am the one with the power now, buddy."

What happened was, the real rapist, Jerry Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for other sex crimes, decided to confess. He wrote a letter to Cole, not knowing that he had already died. When it arrived at the Cole family home, the complicated process of reversing the conviction began.

One thing that came out in the process, was that Ms. Mallin, surely traumatized by the experience, identified Cole as her attacker. She felt sure he was the rapist. After that, Texas justice took over, effectively railroading the young man for a crime he hadn't committed. The prosecutors and everyone else involved overlooked the little fact that Cole had asthma and Mallin testified that the attacker smoked continually.

I call that railroading and I call that Texas justice, although to be fair, it's surely happens in places other than the great state of Texas.

In this entire ugly case, I feel it's the prosecutors and judges and lax defense attorneys that are most at fault. Mallin's making a bad ID, for me is totally excusable given the circumstances. But, the officers of the court who failed to achieve any semblance of justice, should answer for this.

What's your opinion? Is it wrong when prosecutors approach their work as if it were a numbers game with so little concern for the truth? Or is that another misreading on my part, being a bleeding-heart liberal who always takes the part of the criminal? In this case, I hasten to point out, Cole was not a criminal.

What do you think about the anger expressed by the victim? We often talk about the closure that victims and the family members seek. It seems this case illustrates how elusive that closure can be even when one's attackers receive severe sentences. Do you think it's the same in Capital cases? After the execution, do the family members achieve that famous peace of mind and closure? I think not. I think the kinds of wounds people sustain at the hands of these violent offenders in most cases can never be healed. What do you think?

Woman Arrested in 40-Year-Old Murder Case

The Denver News (via CNN) reports on a fascinating case.
A 65-year-old woman wanted in 40-year-old slaying at a Denver bar was arrested Friday in Dayton, Ohio, where police say she had been living under an alias.

Tina Louise Lester was arrested at her home on suspicion of first-degree murder,Denver police spokeswoman Sharon Avendano said. Lester is accused of fatally shooting 36-year-old Ronald E. Schlatter in 1968.

According to the few details released in the Denver article, it all happened in 1968. Young Tina was shooting pool, things went bad for some reason, she took out a .22 and shot Schlatter in the chest. He then took the gun from her fired a few times, missing we presume, and then died. She got away.
Avendano said "good police work" and the use of new technologies led to Lester's arrest.

"A determined police officer followed up on the case and was able to find her," she said. "How that was, I don't know exactly."

I don't know, does that sound like good police work to you? I think there's more to it than Officer Avendano is telling, which is fair enough.

An interesting element is that the shooter was female. This makes it a rather rare murder case, but combined with the fact that she made another life for herself for 40 years, it's a truly amazing story.

The most fascinating part of the story is the comments section. They seem to be about 10 to 1 in favor of throwing the book at her. Only one person said clearly that after 40 years she should be left alone. What's your opinion? Should there be a stature of limitations on murder like there is on other crimes? Isn't one of the main ideas to prevent future recurrences of the bad act? In a case like this, how would that work?

Just for fun, did anyone else see this connection? It made me wonder if the whole story were a joke. If you don't know what I'm talking about, the answer is at 45 seconds into the video.