Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Caracas Venezuela, Murder Capital of the World

CNN reports that Caracas Venezuela has topped of a very dubious list.

Foreign Policy magazine said in September that Caracas tops the list of five murder capitals of the world, with an official tally of 130 homicides per 100,000 residents.

The article mentions that the numbers are somewhat lower than the reality. No prison murders are included and no police-brutality killings are included.

To put it into perspective, London is supposed to have 2.4 per 100,000 and the overall U.S. figure is 5.5. Those numbers, which I included in a previous post, were quite illuminating because I'd been so often told the UK has worse troubles than we do in America, in spite of, or on account of, their strict gun laws. As usual though, common sense prevails. Fewer guns means fewer murders.

But what about Caracas? What could possibly explain such an incredible number of murders? The month ending today saw 510. And we thought Tijuana was bad. What could it be about Caracas Venezuela?

The government is co-responsible for there being so many firearms. There is no good gun control, there are no permits and there is no good control over the militias.

Now, I realize my gun-loving friends are going to poke more holes in those statements than you'll find in an Amarillo road sign, but once again, I appeal to your common sense. In a society where there are lots of guns, you're liable to have lots of murders. Am I right?

I'm also wondering if some of those 130 per 100,000 murders were really defensive gun incidents swept up into the general stats. Or would they be over and above the 130? Imagine if we counted all the "justified" killings, all the police murders and all the prison deaths. That is some city!

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.

8-Year-Old Incompetent Says Expert

MSNBC reports on the determination by the defense-appointed psychologist that the 8-year-old Arizona shooter, who recently turned 9, is incompetent to stand trial.

A psychologist found a 9-year-old murder suspect incompetent to stand trial and determined the boy's age and intelligence keep him from understanding the premeditated murder charges he faces, the boy's defense lawyer said.

The mental health expert nominated by the defense also said the boy could not be restored to competency within the time allowed by law, attorney Benjamin Brewer said this week.

When discussing this case before, here and here, I think just about everyone was in agreement that the police did not conduct themselves properly and that something was wrong with prosecutors talking about premeditated murder in a case like this. There were those, of course, who commented about the accountability that must always follow one's actions, even one as young as this.

My own observation is that in this recent report which very well may lead to dropping the charges and getting the boy the help he needs, there still seems to be some kind of stubborn reluctance on the part of arresting officers and prosecutors to recognize the ridiculousness of charging a child in this manner.

Prosecutor Brad Carlyon said he expects the case to either go to trial or end with a plea deal by March or April, unless the boy is found incompetent with a chance of rehabilitation. That could delay the case by months while efforts are made to restore him to competency.

I offer a big hat tip to the Preaching to the Choir site for her common sense views. Sarah said, "this case might soon get out of the criminal justice system and the child can get into the kinds of therapy and social support programs that might really be able to address his needs." I could not agree more.

What's your opinion? Is 10 years of age a good point at which to consider kids responsible for their actions? What do we do with the younger ones? Is it possible for a young kid to commit acts of violence and not have had violence done to him first? In other words, is there such a thing as a bad seed, a kid from a fairly normal family who just goes bad?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Debunking Myths

The New England Journal of Medicine published a very interesting article earlier this year. The following is a small excerpt.

Since 2005, a total of 14 states have adopted statutes that expand the range of places where people may use guns against others, eliminate any duty to retreat if possible before shooting, and grant shooters immunity from prosecution, sometimes even for injuries to bystanders.

Such policies are founded on myths. One is that increasing gun ownership decreases crime rates — a position that has been discredited.2 Gun ownership and gun violence rise and fall together. Another myth is that defensive gun use is very common. The most widely quoted estimate, 2.5 million occurrences a year, is too high by a factor of 10.3

In many of our discussions about guns I've questioned these very issues. Does gun ownership add to the problem, and if so how? Are defensive uses of guns as frequent as people say? I've always relied upon my own common sense, basing much of what I conclude on stories that appear in the main stream media about gun incidents. Today for the first time I went looking for support, and it shouldn't surprise anyone, in about 5 minutes I came upon this, what appears to be a rather erudite article in a reputable medical journal written by Garen J. Wintemute, M.D., M.P.H.

The article by Dr. Wintemute even disputes the oft-cited failure of the Washington D.C. gun laws. To me that was a bonus. I was quite pleased enough to find evidence that more guns leads to more gun problems, which is exactly what I've been saying all along.

Big hat tip to The Reading Blog.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Murders Up Among Young Blacks reports on a study conducted by Northeastern University. Although violent crime and murder have decreased overall, the incidents among young black men have actually gone up.

Among their findings: an increase of more than 39 percent in the number of black males between ages 14-17 killed between 2000 and 2007 and an increase of 34 percent in the number of blacks that age who committed homicide. The increases for white male teens, meanwhile, were nearly 17 percent and 3 percent, respectively.

So, even for white teens there have been increases, but not nearly as much as among their black counterparts. As usual, a few simple statistics and you can go nuts drawing conclusions. For example, would it be fair to conclude that among young men in their twenties and thirties there have been significant decreases? That must have been the case to offset the teenagers' behavior.

What else can we conclude? All the teenagers' weapons would have to be illegal, right? That would bring us back to the same old question. Where are all those guns coming from?

I think there's another factor in all this. Inner city neighborhoods populated by blacks have been written off. The lawmakers, the voters, the average citizen moves away from there and stays away, if at all possible. A little speech from the Godfather comes to mind. After Don Corleone got out of the hospital and wanted to bring Michael back from Sicily, he convened a meeting of all the major dons. Don Zaluchi had this to say:

I also don't believe in drugs. For years I paid my people extra so they wouldn't do that kind of business. Somebody comes to them and says, "I have powders; if you put up three, four thousand dollar investment, we can make fifty thousand distributing." So they can't resist. I want to control it as a business, to keep it respectable.

[slams his hand on the table and shouts]

I don't want it near schools! I don't want it sold to children! That's an infamia. In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloreds. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.

The professors who published the report, James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt, have called for an infusion of government money to beef up police forces and restore mentor, sports, after-school and summer programs that withered as federal funds were redirected from cities to homeland security after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

What do you think? Is redirecting that money which was curtailed during the Bush Administration going to be enough? The article goes on to conclude that absentee fathers and the general breakdown of the family are to blame.

I say what about the guns? How can an article like this, which states that "guns are overwhelmingly the weapon of choice for young black offenders and are now used in nearly 85 percent of all homicides they commit, matching 1990s levels," not go on to question the provenance of all those guns? To me that's an infamia.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Please Don't Talk in the Movies

CNN reports on the story of a Philadelphia shooter who opened fire in a movie theatre on a man who was talking during the film. I suppose the incident was preceded by frequent or continual talking and perhaps even a verbal warning or two to cut it out. But at a certain point, the offended film-goer had had enough.

James Joseph Cialella, 29, was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and weapons violations, a police report said.

Much of what has been written about this Christmas Day incident has been sympathetic to the gunman. No one likes that kind of inconsiderate behavior in the movies, cell phones going off, too much talking, etc. As an example, Writes Like She Talks contains several such comments. I think they're somewhat tongue-in-cheek, though. I can't believe people would be less disturbed by a gunshot than by some talking during the movie, however disturbing it was.

What interests me is the arrest on weapons charges in addition to assault and attempted murder. Does that mean he had no concealed carry permit, but was a legal gun owner? Is concealed carry available in PA? Does it perhaps mean he owned the gun illegally? His photograph is quite impressive. Even though you can't judge a book by its cover, he could play a thug or hit man in the movies, no problem.

A question comes to mind which has been touched upon in a number of our other discussions. We usually talk about two groups, the legal gun owners and the criminal gun owners. I think we need a third group. These would be the people who own guns but not for criminal purposes. The hoops one must jump through, especially in certain states, are formidable to say the least. There must be many people who have decided to say the hell with all that paperwork and bureaucratic nonsense and pick up a gun or two illegally. Technically they would be criminals by this very fact, but I'd say if their only crime is the way they procured the firearms, they belong in another distinct category.

So, it goes like this:

Group A is legal gun owners.
Group B is gun owners who haven't followed all the rules.
Group C is criminal gun owners.

I'd bet Group B is a lot larger than you'd think. And the problem, as I see it, can be more easily described using this formula: the movement or flow of people and weapons from Groups A and B to Group C.

Does that make sense to anybody? Do you agree that Group B exists and that its numbers might be significant? Do you agree there's a movement of people and weapons the way I've described? Is that movement offset by the defensive gun incidents that occur in which someone from Group A thwarts someone from Group C?

What's your opinion?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Santa Shoots Up the Joint, Eight Dead

CNN reports on the tragic shooting that took place in California in which a man dressed as Santa Claus killed eight people and himself.

Dressed as Santa, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo walked up to his ex-in-laws' home in Covina, California, on Christmas Eve and knocked on the door.

Pardo, 45, with a gun in one hand and a wrapped present in the other, began shooting indiscriminately, police said at a news conference Thursday.

He sprayed the living room with bullets.

Apparently bitter over an ugly divorce, Pardo snapped. After shooting up the in-laws' place, he reportedly went to a friend's house and turned the gun on himself. One report said two handguns were recovered at each scene, but no mention of where they came from or what he was doing with four guns.

I find those questions of interest. Perhaps it will come out later, but I suspect Mr. Pardo was one of the millions of law abiding gun owners; at least he was until two days ago. The stats that have been presented on this blog by commenters indicating how rare an event this is, to me are suspect. Although this is an overly dramatic example, the problem is still too many guns in the hands of too many people, many of whom are ill equipped to handle the responsibility.

Another way to look at it is if the misuse of guns by the lawful gun owner is really rare, we've still got a big problem for the simple reason that there are so many gun owners. A small percentage of 100 million, for example, is a big problem

Let me be perfectly clear. My own, extremely biased opinion is there are too many guns in the hands of too many people and something should be done about it.

What's your opinion?

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Thanks to Il Principe for a fascinating analysis, I guess we can say Italy is not all good food and museums. There are terrible problems here with the organization, the bureaucracy is almost impossible to navigate, for example. But it's in the political world that the major problems exist. Corruption, they say is rampant. And in the article I've linked to, it's nothing less than Freedon of Speech we're talking about.

...due to the Prime Minister controlling over 45 percent of the private airwaves, power to appoint directors to the public television stations, and the related print media Silvio Berlusconi controls, anyone can see why the people are not marching in the streets demanding a change in government.

What's your opinion? Is the 1st Amendment right to Freedom of Speech unique to the United States? Do other 1st world countries, even if it appears in their constitutions ignore it for all practical purposes? Is America still the bastion for this type of freedon in the modern world?

Regardless of those questions, I do love living here, as I've said before.

Please let us know how you feel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Problem: Weak Gun Laws

The New York Times published an op-ed article yesterday about a study which, according to them, should quiet the voices that say gun laws don't stop gun crime.

For years, the gun lobby has defeated new gun control laws partly by arguing that stronger laws do not deter crime. A study prepared by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a bipartisan group headed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston, should finally put that myth to rest. The study analyzed trace data for guns used in connection with crimes during 2007. The data reveal a strong correlation between weak state gun laws and higher rates of in-state murders, police slayings and sales of guns used in crimes in other states.

Naturally, the stats presented by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns are to be taken with a grain of salt, but to me they make perfect sense. What is referred to as the "iron pipeline" is responsible for a flow of illegal guns from states with lax laws to those with stricter ones.

One of the main points of contention seems to be the registering of firearms transactions. The argument against it is that it's really a transparent prelude to gun confiscation. I don't believe that for a second. I believe the reason for suggesting such legislation is exactly what they say: to make it harder for criminals to get their hands on guns.

What's your opinion? Is there something wrong with registering all gun transactions? Do you think it would lead to eventual gun confiscation? I think that's total paranoia mixed with a little grandiose victimism, but I'd love to hear your opinion.

The mayors bring up other questions which we've discussed around here. Exactly where do you draw the line on civilian ownership of weapons? Those powerful sniper rifles and the famous assault weapons are mentioned. According to the anti-gun folks, there's no legitimate reason to own those. What do you think?

Accomplice Liability in Felony Murder Cases

The New York Times published an article about the difficulty juries face in murder trials when the defendant did not do the killing personally. The Lillo Brancato case, which we've been following was cited along with another, the Lee Woods case.

In Lillo's trial the jury determined that he may not have known his accomplice was carrying a gun. In the Lee Woods case, another defendant was convicted of doing the fatal shooting from a car in which Woods was a passenger. Both cases involved the killing of police officers.

The Brooklyn case ended in a mistrial. The defendant, Lee Woods, 30, was charged with aggravated murder and other crimes for what prosecutors said was his part in the killing of Officer Russel Timoshenko during a traffic stop last year. Prosecutors said that Mr. Woods, who will be retried, had not fired a gun but was a willing partner of the men who did. On Monday, when the mistrial was declared because a juror fell ill, other jurors said they were still debating the murder charge.

What do you think about these cases? Is it right to punish an accomplice in a crime for a murder he did not commit? Personally, I've always had a problem with that I'm glad things may be changing a bit in New York.

I find it interesting that both cases involved the killing of policemen. Perhaps this marks a departure of sorts from the traditional severity with which cop-killers have been treated in the past. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lillo Brancato Not Guilty of Murder

CNN reports that the Soprano's actor Lillo Brancato was acquitted of the murder of Daniel Enchautegui. In discussing this case before, the vast majority of commenters disagreed with me and felt that Brancato should be found guilty. I'm happy to report the jury agreed with me.

Brancato, 32, was also acquitted of two counts of burglary, but could face three to 15 years in prison on the attempted burglary charge. He has already served three years, according to his attorney, Joseph Tacopina.

Police officer Daniel Enchautegui, 28, was killed trying to break up a burglary attempt at his neighbor's house in the Bronx in December 2005.

Since he's served so much time already, I suppose chances are good that he'll be out soon. An admitted drug addict, Lillo will now have important choices to make in his life. I'm hoping that this incredible fork in the road, this getting out now rather than spending the next 20 years in jail, will motivate him to do the right thing. Rehabilitation surely doesn't come from the penal system, but for a person who wants to change, help is available.

What do you think? What are Lillo's chances? Do you think that a good scare like this can help a person turn their life around?

Please leave a comment.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Festival of Zappadan 2008 Closes

With the birthday of Frank Zappa, December 21st, the yearly International Festival of Zappadan came to a close. In keeping with many of the discussions we've enjoyed here, I'm posting the Larry King interview in which Frank talked about his ideas on the 1st Amendment and censorship.

This interview took place about a month before Frank testified before the Senate of the United States, in which he made clear he was representing no one but himself. On that occasion he mentioned several Washington Wives, Tipper Gore in particular, who were behind the movement to label records. Frank pulled no punches in describing his opposition to this practice.

With Larry King, he seemed to point more to the conservative religious right as being those responsible for this movement. Maybe the Senators' wives he mentioned and the religious conservatives were one in the same.

What's your opinion? Is record labeling a problem in terms of the 1st Amendment? What about the movie rating system? As a parent I find that useful, but as Frank pointed out, with music censorship we're talking about words, with films it's a bit more than that.

The other thing I find useful, personally, is to spend time with my children. As they grow into adolescence, I hope to have the kind of rapport with them that will address these situations in as good a way as possible. It's certainly a far different world from the one I grew up in. I recall in about 1964, giggling in the back row of my grade school classroom over an unabridged dictionary which contained words like "shit" and "piss."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"The Experiment Requires That You Go On"

CNN ran a story today about the so-called "shock" experiment that took place at Yale University in the early 1960s. The legacy of Stanley Milgram, who died 24 years ago on December 20, reaches far beyond that initial round of experiments.

His experiment in its standard form included a fake shock machine, a "teacher," a "learner" and an experimenter in a laboratory setting. The participant was told that he or she had to teach the student to memorize a pair of words, and the punishment for a wrong answer was a shock from the machine.

The teacher sat in front of the shock machine, which had 30 levers, each corresponding to an additional 15 volts. With each mistake the student made, the teacher had to pull the next lever to deliver a more painful punishment.

While the machine didn't generate shocks and a recorded voice track simulated painful reactions, the teacher was led to believe that he or she was shocking a student, who screamed and asked to leave at higher voltages, and eventually fell silent.

If the teacher questioned continuing as instructed, the experimenter simply said, "The experiment requires that you go on," said Thomas Blass, author of the biography "The Man Who Shocked The World: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram" and the Web site

About 65 percent of participants pulled levers corresponding to the maximum voltage -- 450 volts -- in spite of the screams of agony from the learner.

Mr. Blass concludes that most people when confronted with a legitimate authority figure will act against their conscience if called to do so. Do you think that's true? Would anyone offer a comment admitting that he or she could be one of them? Not me, I hasten to tell you.

In my personal experience, I have two situations that relate. One is a lifelong observation of people in positions of power. My belief is that 95% abuse that power. Much of that abuse is minor, I grant you, a tone of voice, a disparaging look, but it counts as abuse in my book. On the other extreme of the spectrum are cases of police brutality, domestic violence and such. The CNN article talks about the Stanford Prison Experiment which addresses this tendency. And, of course, that famous aphorism, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," covers it too.

Another personal experience is the tendency of people working in bureaucratic organizations who go into what I call "compliance mode." This is when explicit or implicit orders come down from above and the middle level manager blindly obeys, too often enthusiastically. Sometimes these policies or instructions are badly thought-out, I suppose the ones making these decisions are too far removed from the ones who will actually implement them to have a real feel for their efficacy. The result is ever increased difficulty wading through the already difficult paper shuffling.

I'm happy to report that I've resisted both of these types of behavior, usually as a recipient by expressing my opposition in various ways, and sometimes as a doer by simply trying to avoid or diminish the problem. How about you? Have you seen these things at work? How have you reacted and what have you done?

As a prison guard, would you abuse your power? If it's true that most would, what does this say about the prison guards working today? Should something be done about that?

Please feel free to comment.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Miguel Roman Freed

The Hartford Courant reports on the release from prison of Miquel Roman. I spotted the story, which we've discussed before, only by reading Sarah's wonderful site. Why would this not be a major headline in the main stream press? Some of our gun enthusiast friends accuse the press of being biased against them, of suppressing defensive gun stories and the like. Is this the same thing? Do the major outlets of news shun stories which work against the criminal justice system?

Earlier this year, Innocence Project lawyers asked that DNA evidence used against Roman be retested. The retesting, with new technology, appears to have exonerated Roman and pointed to another man, Pedro Miranda, 51, who was charged on Dec. 5 with killing Lopez and two other teenage girls from Hartford in the 1980s. Miranda's DNA had been stored in a state database as a result of his convictions on felonies for sexual violence against women.

What could be a more fascinating lead story than that?

What's your opinion?

The War on Drugs is Vamping Up

CNN reports on the incredible story in which The United States and Mexico pledged Friday to redouble efforts in the war against drugs.

The $1.4 billion plan, proposed by President Bush in 2007, funds training, equipment and other assistance for Mexican law enforcement. Congress recently approved an initial $197 million, which the Bush administration made available to Mexico this month.

Could any program be more doomed to failure? Is this anything more than an attempt on the part of a lame-duck administration to spend a bunch of money before the end of the year? To me it's a pathetic joke.

"The United States and Mexico have reaffirmed a commitment to enhanced partnership, cooperation, training, assistance [and] information-sharing, built on the premise that we have a shared responsibility to confront these criminals and protect our citizens, and that success requires increased cooperation," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after the group's first high-level policy meeting.

That's the world famous Condoleezza who said that, the one whose track record speaks for itself.

We've discussed the problems in Mexico before. What's to be done? How can we diminish the hunger for cocaine that exists in America? Would legalizing the drug help? Is it really so difficult to intercept these huge shipments of coke or is it simply a matter of corruption? In which case, how can we combat the corruption that allows the drug business to flourish?

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Teah Wimberly Pleads Not Guilty

The Miami Herald reports on the second court appearance of Teah Wimberly, the 15-year-old accused of murder. She's the one we discussed before who allegedly killed her best friend who'd recently broken off the friendship.

Police said Wimberly told them she shot Amanda because "I wanted her to feel pain like me."

The family of Amanda Collette, the murdered friend, have called for increased security at the school, specifically mentioning metal detectors. As far as I can see, no one is talking about arming the teachers. Sadly, in a case like this, it probably wouldn't have helped anyway.

Of interest to me is the gun, not because I think it's an evil inanimate object with a frightening power all its own, but simply because it's availability to the young jilted Teah made this tragic incident possible.

It remains unclear how Wimberly obtained the gun -- a .22-caliber chrome pistol -- used in the shooting. Fort Lauderdale police said they would not release information about the gun or its owner until the grand jury hears the case.

Do you think Teah Wimberly committed a crime of passion? Does a spurned lover who lashes out at the object of her affection enjoy full mental capacity? Should such a person receive psychiatric help or should she just cool their heels in the state penitentiary for a good long while? What's your opinion?

Many people think I'm too soft on criminals, but in my defense I remind you of cases in which I agreed the violent repeat offender should not be on the street. But doesn't Teah qualify for compassion?

What do you think? Please leave a comment.

Snow in Las Vegas

CNN reports on a rare snow storm that hit Las Vegas. It reminds me of a day in about 1978, perhaps the last time it snowed there which the article refers to. I was playing cards during the afternoon in a small casino on the Strip. There was a window facing the street through which fluffy snowfall could be seen, white and beautiful. As the afternoon passed, and my chips slowly disappeared, the snow lent a dream-like effect to the scene. Driving home in the early evening I saw groups of adults, threes and fours of them, out playing in the snow like children. There were snowball fights, people running and sliding on the sidewalks. Some must have been transplants from the Northeast reliving their childhood. Others were natives who'd never seen snow in their lives. A rich memory it is.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

No Commutation for Arnold King Says MA Governor

The Boston Globe reports on the hard line taken by the Massachusetts governor in the case of Arnold King.

Governor Deval Patrick yesterday denied the first commutation petition to come before him since he took office, concluding that a man serving a life sentence for shooting a Boston political aide to death in 1971 received "just punishment."

This decision came in spite of unanimous support by the Parole Board, various community leaders and interested academicians for his petition. During his 36 years behind bars, King earned undergraduate and master's degrees, mentored fellow inmates, and participated in programs counselling youths about the pitfalls of drugs and violence. Nevertheless the governor felt this case did not meet the exceptional circumstances necessary for executive clemency.

By the age of 18, Arnold King had already proven to be a violent repeat offender. In the intervening years, however, he seems to have turned his life around. Can good behaviour while incarcerated be interpreted as really turning one's life around? Is it possible that for three and a half decades he was faking his rehabilitation and if released would return to his old ways? What do you think?

Should the decision of a Parole Board be set aside by a governor? I thought the governor relies on their judgment and just rubber stamps it. What's your opinion?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Festival of Zappadan

Zappadan is a yearly festival to celebrate the life and music of Frank Zappa. It begins on the anniversary of his death, Dec. 4th and ends on his birthday, Dec. 21st. I first read the word on Litbrit, which led me to several wonderful sites, The Brain Police, Steven Hart, Alan Colmes, Fossil Apostle and The Aristocrats, all big fans of Zappa.

Frank was known for his innovative musical genius and his outspoken support of the 1st Amendment. I've always liked him because he didn't play the commercial game, you never see him on MTV, for example, and for his great music.

I picked up these two videos just because they appealed to me. The first, Cosmik Debris, is Franks "reply to spiritual hucksters," according to the Fossil Apostle. The second, Trouble Coming Every Day, was inspired by the Watts riots in 1965. The lyrics are there if you like.

The mystery man came over
And he said Im outta sight!
He said for a nominal service charge
I could reach nirvana tonight
If I was ready, willing and able
To pay him his regular fee
He would drop all the rest of
His pressing affairs and devote
His attention to me

But I said look here brother
Who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Look here brother, dont waste your time on me

The mystery man got nervous
And he fidget around a bit
He reached in the pocket of his mystery robe
And he whipped out a shaving kit
Now I thought it was a razor
And a can of foaming goo
But he told me right then when the top popped open
There was nothin his box wont do
With the oil of aphrodite, and the dust of the grand wazoo
He said you might not believe this, little fella
But itll cure your asthma too

And I said look here brother
Who you jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now what kind of a guru are you, anyway?
Look here brother, dont waste your time on me
(dont waste your time)

Ive got troubles of my own, I said
And you cant help me out
So, take your meditations and your preparations
And ram it up your snout!
But I got the crystal ball, he said
And held it to the ligh
So I snatched it, all away from him
And I showed him how to do it right

I wrapped a newspaper round my head
So I looked like I was deep
I said some mumbo-jumbo, then
I told him he was going to sleep
I robbed his rings and pocketwatch
And everything else I found
I had that sucker hypnotized
He couldnt even make a sound
I proceeded to tell him his future, then
As long as he was hanging around
I said the price of meat has just gone up
And your old lady has just gone down!

And I said look here brother-who you
Jiving with that cosmik debris?
Now is that a real poncho or is that a sears poncho?
Dont you know, you could make more money as a butcher?
So, dont waste your time on me
Dont waste it, dont waste your time on me

Well I’m about to get sick
From watchin’ my TV
Been checkin’ out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean they say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it’s gonna change, my friends
Is anybody’s guess

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ‘em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Wednesday I watched the riot…
I seen the cops out on the street
Watched ‘em throwin’ rocks and stuff
And chokin’ in the heat
Listened to reports
About the whiskey passin’ ’round
Seen the smoke and fire
And the market burnin’ down
Watched while everybody
On his street would take a turn
To stomp and smash and bash and crash
And slash and bust and burn

And I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ‘em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Well you can cool it,
You can heat it…
‘Cause, baby, I don’t need it…
Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all THOSE unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head began to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsmen say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so
And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They’ll be the first to tell
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

And if another woman driver
Gets machine-gunned from her seat
They’ll send some joker with a Browning
And you’ll see it all complete

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ‘em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Hey you know something people
I’m not black
But there’s a whole lotsa times
I wish I could say I’m not white

Well, I seen the fires burnin’
And the local people turnin’
On the merchants and the shops
Who used to sell their brooms and mops
And every other household item
Watched the mob just turn and bite ‘em
And they say it served ‘em right
Because a few of them are white,
And it’s the same across the nation
Black & white discrimination
They’re yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
And all the other crap they hand me
In the papers and TV
‘N all that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight
You know we gotta sit around at home
And watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many left
To see it really end
‘Cause the fire in the street
Ain’t like the fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people
Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no great society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store
You know that five in every four
Won’t amount to nothin’ more
Then watch the rats go across the floor
And make up songs about being poor
Blow your harmonica son!

In Las Vegas - Road Rage or a Hit

The Las Vegas Sun reported on an incident which happened the other day.

A motorist stuck in traffic Tuesday morning in the central Las Vegas Valley exited his vehicle and fatally shot another driver also waiting in traffic, police said.

At first it appears to be an obvious case of the old road rage. But as the story unfolds, one has to wonder.

According to a witness on the scene, police said, the victim was in his vehicle waiting to go west on Owens when a man who was also in traffic left a white Nissan and walked up to the vehicle, then shot the victim multiple times. Police said the gunman calmly walked back to his vehicle and left the scene, making a U-turn eastbound on Owens.

That part about "calmly walked back to his vehicle," makes me think. Maybe I'm watching too many gangster movies, but I can't help but wonder if the guy wasn't a hit man following his quarry and calmly blowing him away at a red light.

No, it was probably road rage and just another example of the evil inanimate object causing harm all by itself.

What do you think road rage or a hit? Do you think there are too many guns out there or not enough? Should the victim have been armed himself for protection, or maybe the other witnesses?

Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trigger Happy U.K. Policemen Return to Duty

The Guardian reports on the decision to allow the Police Officers who killed the Brazilian man in the subway to return to duty.

Scotland Yard will allow two firearms officers who shot and killed Jean Charles de Menezes to return to frontline duties, even though an inquest jury fundamentally rejected their account of the shooting and criticised almost every aspect of the police operation, the Guardian has learned.

Thanks to our frequent commenter Tom for the heads up. I had missed this story, interestingly it does not appear on the BBC, but if you remember we had discussed it before. At that time I referred to these cops as "trigger-happy," and questioned if it was right to only punish their superiors. It now seems clear that is exactly what's happening. But, given the public uproar, and the international attention, the police officers involved may not escape unscathed.

Crucially, the jury did not believe the testimony of C12, the specialist firearms officer who fired the first shot. He said he had shouted the warning "armed police" at de Menezes, and that the Brazilian had stood up and moved towards him aggressively, as if to close down the distance between them. They also rejected the testimony of officer C2, who said he shouted "armed police" as he put his gun to de Menezes' head and fired. None of the civilians in the carriage heard the warnings.

It sounds to me like this is just another example of people abusing their power. I understand the heat-of-the-chase factor and the incredible stress associated with pursuing a possible terrorist, but that's exactly why police officers have to be held to a higher standard. These cops are more culpable than many of the killers we enjoy discussing and dissecting.

What's your opinion? Do you think this has something to do with the general tyranny which is taking over the U.K.? That seems to be Tom's point in commenting yesterday.

If you told people in the UK 20 years ago that their entire lives, from emails to phone conversations would be monitored, down to having the highest number of CCTV cameras per capita of any place on earth after having been forcibly disarmed by their government for "their own good" they would have laughed at you. Where are they now?

I've yet to meet a British person who feels that way. What do you think?

Lavenston Horne Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

The Miami Herald reports on a surprising decision reached by a jury in Miami. A Miami-Dade jury reached an extremely rare verdict, finding a Miami man not guilty of murdering his parents by reason of insanity.

Johnnie Horne was fixing dinner on July 8, 1996, when his troubled younger son walked into the kitchen. Horne's wife, Mary Anne, was on the phone in another room when she heard the first gunshots. When she rushed into the kitchen where her husband lay dying, her son turned the gun on her. After killing his mother, Lavenston Horne took aim at his sister, Inga, shooting her over and over again.

"Who's the king now?" he yelled at her.

That's a pretty insane thing to do. But when he was arrested, Horne claimed his father did the shooting and turned the gun on himself. That most improbable lie, according to the lawyers, made an insanity defense very difficult because it indicated an understanding that killing was wrong.

Nevertheless, the defense team was able to convince the jury to send the killer to the state mental hospital instead of the penitentiary. One theory as to why the jury came to this decision is the way the defendant appeared in court. Often that has a greater impact on their decision than the actual inciden itself.

I mark this as another indication of the positive direction we're moving: away from the death penalty. As Sarah wrote the other day, cases like these can one day result in "the death knell for the death penalty."

What's your opinion? Should killers who are completely crazy be held accountable? Should they be judged with the same standard as say the mafia hit man who does it for money?

Please tell us what you think.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bill of Rights

I learned on that today is the day in 1791 that the Bill of Rights was ratified.

The Bill of Rights is commonly viewed as consisting of the first ten articles of Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. But it is the specific guarantees of individual liberties in the first eight amendments that the public normally regards as the Bill of Rights.
It seems like I hear more about the 2nd Amendment than any of the others, of course that could be due to what I'm reading. The whole thing seems a bit antiquated to me, I must admit. Haven't many of these Amendments been variously interpreted through the years? There are ones about the nature of an accusation, about the “assistance of counsel” for the defense, the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, and the Amendment which protects individuals from punishments that are too harsh and fines and bail that are too high. Haven't these rights been treated in an extremely flexible manner throughout the centuries?

Why then is the 2nd Amendment spoken of with such reverence, as if it were an untouchable right, certainly not something up for interpretation or even discussion?

In 18th Century America weren't there a number of laws that have since been changed or actually repealed? Why would the 2nd Amendment be considered inviolate? Why do I so often here about the "Founders," as if that should lend weight or credibility? Aren't they the same guys who had slaves and denied women basic human rights? How does that work?

I'm sure these simple questions have been asked and answered, but indulge me if you would.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Colombian Drug Kingpin Extradited to Miami

The Miami Herald reports that Diego León Montoya Sánchez, was extradited Friday from Bogotá to Miami on federal charges of trafficking cocaine, laundering money and murdering witnesses.

At the peak of his power during the past decade, ''Don Diego'' commanded a narco-trafficking empire that exported at least 1.2 million pounds of cocaine to the United States and raked in $1 billion in illicit profits, authorities said. Montoya Sánchez's organization rivaled that of earlier generations of Colombian traffickers, from the Ochoa's operation in Medellín to the Rodríguez Orejuela's syndicate in Cali.

Since the defeat of the Medellín and the Cali cartels and now the extradition of this guy, perhaps the War on Drugs is succeeding. What do you think?

According to the article, back in the 1990s Montoya Sánchez took advantage of the demise of his former bosses in the Cali organization. Does that mean there's someone stepping up right now to fill his spot? It is said he controlled "export corridors along the southwestern Pacific coast." Does that sound like Mexico to anyone? Could this have something to do with the other discussions we've been enjoying lately.

I suspect in the big picture, arresting these guys and bringing them to justice costs a lot and does no good whatever. This is the War on Drugs at its worst. I suppose, attacking the problem at the source, at the place where the coca is grown and processed is as futile. That leaves only one aspect of the complex problem to focus upon: the hunger for drugs in the U.S. Can't something be done about that? What do you think? Is addressing the drug problem in America as much a waste of time as the other efforts that make headlines?

What's your opinion?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nichols Gets Life not Death

CNN reports on what could be viewed as a victory for the anti-capital punishment movement. The jury in Atlanta could not agree unanimously on the death penalty for Brian Nichols. We discussed this case before plus on Daisy's site there's a post with some fascinating background.

Nichols, 37, was convicted last month of 54 counts for a deadly shooting rampage that began in the same courthouse where he is standing trial. Nichols shot three people at the downtown courthouse and a federal agent in neighboring Gwinnett County.

Defense lawyers said Nichols, who confessed to the killings, suffers from a mental disorder.

I don't think anyone could argue with the need to keep a guy like Nichols off the street, I certainly wouldn't. He was on trial for rape when he made the daring and bloody escape. He's cool enough under fire to shoot people dead, one after the other. Yet, somehow the jury contained three members who would not agree to the death penalty. I mark that as a hopeful sign that we can move away from the vengeance and convenience factors inherent in capital punishment.

What do you think? Do you think the other nine jurors were right? If so, why? One thing missing in this case, at least in the reports I read, is the vengeance-seeking family member of the victims. Do you think they got a bad deal with this decision?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Joan Armatrading

I got turned onto Joan Armatrading in 1984 while living in Santa Monica. I've never been the same since.

The Novaks

I usually like my rock and roll from an earlier generation, but The Novaks are, well, just listen.

Teah Wimberly, 15-year-old Shooter Charged as an Adult

The Miami Herald reports on the Dillard High School shooting which we discussed before.

Teah Wimberly, the teen accused of shooting and killing her best friend at Dillard High School last month, will face second-degree murder charges as an adult, prosecutors announced Thursday.

Wimberly, 15, will also face one count of felony possession of a firearm on school grounds.

In our previous discussions I tried to point out that, as I see it, by the time a teenager picks up a gun to do something like this, it's way too late. The time to address this problem was 10 or 14 years earlier. It's the parents who more than anyone else teach kids how to deal with conflict, how to respond to frustration, how to accept disappointment. Once a kid is this age and so damaged she's capable of this, it's too late.

Collette, 15, had recently ended the two teens' long-standing friendship and the shooting may have been retaliation, friends of the two said afterward.

Wimberly confessed to the shooting and told police she wanted Collette to ``feel my pain.''

Where did a 15-year-old ever learn to respond to rejection like that? Is she fully responsible for her actions? Did we ever decide on that line when discussing the 8-year-old killer in Arizona? At 8, he's an abused boy but at 15 she's fully responsible? I don't think so.

I say any and all mitigating circumstances need to be considered in a case like this. Trying a teenager in adult court, ensuring the probability of doing time in the adult penitentiary cannot be the answer, in my opinion. What's yours? What do you think about this case?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Assisted Suicide on the Air

A British TV channel aired a documentary showing a terminally ill man committing assisted suicide.

The film follows retired university professor Craig Ewert during the last four days of his life in 2006, when he visited a Swiss clinic with his wife, Mary, in order to die.

The 59-year-old suffered from motor neurone disease (MND), which deprived him of the use of his arms and legs and caused him to be on a ventilator, Mary Ewert told The Independent.

Naturally the film was controversial. Some felt it was a macabre attempt on the part of the television network to boost ratings, others felt it was a great opportunity to take "death" out of the closet, to make the subject less taboo. What's your opinion?

The man himself was quoted as having said:

"I truly expect that death is the end, that there is no everlasting soul, no afterlife," Ewert says. "This is a journey that we all must make at some time. I would hope that this is not a cause of major distress to those who love me and I expect that my dear sweet wife will have the greatest loss, as we have been together for 37 years in the deepest intimacy."

Does that mean it's easier for an atheist to commit suicide? But, if death is the end, what "journey" is he talking about? He said, "This is a journey that we all must make at some time." This statement makes me wonder about his mental state.

I would think the deeply religious person who is sure of going to his or her everlasting reward would be able to do it easier than the atheist convinced that this is the end. What do you think?

Another consideration is that the Ewerts must be wealthy people to be able to afford this whole thing. What about the poor folks? Is it like abortion in places where it's illegal? Do the poor people have to make due with homemade solutions or clandestine operations? What do you think? Is the need or desire for euthanasia wide spread enough to even worry about?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guns for Food in Los Angeles

Yahoo News reports on an annual event in Southern California.

The annual Gifts for Guns program ended Sunday in Compton, a working class city south of Los Angeles that has long struggled with gun and gang violence. In a program similar to ones in New York and San Francisco, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department allows residents to anonymously relinquish firearms in return for $100 gift cards for Ralphs supermarkets, Target department stores or Best Buy electronics stores.

Authorities said Sunday that a record 965 firearms and two hand grenades were handed in during the two weekends the program was in operation. That's more than in any other year and easily eclipses last year's total of 387 guns collected over both weekends.

The Gun Guys have a comment or two about this. I couldn't have said it any better.

SAY WHAT? Two hand grenades? And the gun lobby thinks we don't need stronger gun laws?

Perhaps this is the gun lobby's new strategy: start pushing the wacky notion that we now have a Second Amendment right to possess hand grenades. And, of course, gun owners should be able to exercise that "right" by carrying concealed hand grenades into child daycare centers, hospitals, and schools for "protection."

Now, I realize the Gun Guys are talking to legitimate gun owners about the misdeeds of criminals, but questions arise. Do we draw a line somewhere? Can citizens own hand grenades, surface to air missiles, how about artillery-type weapons? Does the same argument of self-protection extend to these weapons as well?

What's your opinion? And while we're at it, what percentage of the 965 weapons turned in during the Compton Gifts for Guns program started out legal? My contention is there must be a continual flow of guns from the good guys to the bad guys. What do you think?

Murders in Mexico Double in 2008

The New York Times reports that the murder rate in Mexico during 2008 has doubled since the previous year. We recently talked about Tijuana.

Killings linked to Mexico’s drug war have more than doubled this year compared with 2007 and are likely to grow even further before they begin to fall, Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora said Monday.

The prosecutor tied the sharp increase in deaths to a battle for control among cartels and a power vacuum created by a series of high-profile arrests and seizures.

The number of gangland killings reached 5,376 from the beginning of the year until Dec. 2, a 117 percent increase over the 2,477 killings in the same period in 2007, Mr. Medina-Mora said in a luncheon meeting with foreign correspondents.

I was especially interested to see the statistics of "Mexico’s overall homicide rate last year, 11 deaths per 100,000 people, was a small fraction of the rates in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Brazil, he said." That makes the U.S. with 5.5 seem like Disneyland by comparison. Of course, you know how I feel about statistics.

It's not easy for poor Mexico, living in the shadow of its giant neighbor to the north.

Taking on the cartels that supply most of the illegal drugs consumed in the United States has been a frustrating exercise for Mexico. Officials complain that the guns the criminals use are coming from the United States and that the billions of dollars in drug profits have corrupted many institutions in Mexico.

So what does that mean? Not only are the guns in the U.S. flowing into the U.S. black market, they also supply Mexico? This does come as a bit of a shock because I've been told that the illegal guns in America come from countries like Mexico in shipments of drugs. But, suddenly we have a different theory. The incredible abundance and availability of guns in America flows out, in a type of cross-commuting. Drugs come in, guns and money go out.

Something must be done. Do you agree?

School Shooting Thwarted

In Pottsville PA, a 15-year-old student has been arrested for planning to shoot his enemies at school. CNN reports that Richard Yanis had planned the massacre for right after New Years.

A Pennsylvania teen has been charged as an adult for allegedly planning to kill classmates he did not like before turning the gun on himself in a high school shooting spree, a Pennsylvania prosecutor said Tuesday.

Richard Yanis allegedly stole three handguns from his father and told police he planned to "shoot students in the school and then himself" at Pottstown High School, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said in a press release.

Yanis, 15, was charged with attempted murder in adult court because juvenile law in Montgomery County excludes crimes committed with a deadly weapon, Ferman said.

Now, I don't know about you, but that attempted murder for a future event sure reminds me of Tom Cruise in Minority Report. I thought that was science fiction. And not only is the kid being charged with attempted murder, but it'll be as an adult. Why? For the simple reason that the "juvenile law in Montgomery County excludes crimes committed with a deadly weapon."

On the Fooqu site there's not much opinion, but they have posted a lovely picture of Richard. He looks like just the kind of kid they should send to the State Penitentiary. I say shame on those prosecutors who what to try him as an adult. Shame on all the law and order guys who think accountability for one's actions is paramount.

And what do you think about the "secured" guns that were stolen from the father? What kind of security is that supposed to be? In all the reports I read it was always stressed that the guns were "secure," I guess to say that the gun-loving father has no responsibility.

I say the gun-loving father has plenty of responsibility. Not only were the guns NOT secured properly, but he raised a boy so damaged that at the tender age of fifteen he wanted to kill his classmates and himself. Shame on you too, dad.

What's your opinion? Is it so difficult to properly secure guns in the home? Does a father bear some responsibility for the mental outcome of his children? What do you think about the friend who threw the guns in the creek? Even I cringed at that one.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Military Execution Stayed

CNN reports that the first military execution in 47 years has been stayed.

A federal judge has stayed what would be the nation's first military execution since 1961, saying the U.S. soldier -- who was convicted of rape and murder two decades ago -- should have more time to pursue a federal appeal.

Pvt. Ronald Gray has been on the military's death row at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since 1988. A court-martial panel sitting at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, unanimously convicted him of committing two murders and other crimes in the Fayetteville, North Carolina, area and sentenced him to death.

Gray was scheduled to die by lethal injection on December 10th, but has received a stay by U.S. District Judge Richard Rogers of Kansas so that Gray can pursue his federal appeal. The last time we discussed this case, our friend Bob S. made the following observation:

So, despite the fact that in civilian prisons beatings are common, male on male rape is common, that prisoners are occasionally abused by guards; all this cruelty combined with caging a man up for his lifetime is okay with you....because you are upset over the death penalty.
Well, my answer is simple: for me abolishing the death penalty is non-negotiable. As far as the conditions prisoners are faced with, something should be done about that, no question, something other than killing them.

What's your opinion?

Miguel Roman Wrongly Convicted of Murder

I was alerted to this story by reading Sarah's wonderful blog called Preaching to the Choir. Miguel Roman has been behind bars since 1988 for killing 17-year-old Carmen Lopez. The only problem is, recent DNA testing pointed to another man. The Innocence Project reports the following:

Prosecutors in Connecticut arrested a 51-year-old man on Friday in connection with the 1988 murder of a 17-year-old girl after DNA testing of evidence from the crime scene pointed to his involvement.

One of the points Sarah makes, about which I agree totally is that further delays in releasing Mr. Roman are unacceptable. The Innocence Project is working on the case, but supposedly additional DNA testing is to be done prior to any decisions about his release.

This would then bring up the question we discussed before of proper compensation. Not only monetary assistance would be required, but all the other kinds of help one would need to re-enter society after languishing in prison for decades. To right that wrong is not a simple matter.

The man arrested for the crime is Pedro Miranda. He is also accused of killing Mayra Cruz, a 13-year-old who went missing 21 years ago while walking to school. According to the story in the Hartford Courant, the girl's mother has waited all these years for this arrest.

"I prayed all the time that something would happen before I die. I never gave up hope," Cruz said Sunday night.

Last week her prayers were answered when detectives from Connecticut knocked on the door of her Springfield home and told her they were about to arrest Pedro Miranda, 51, a man who had lived in the same Collins Street apartment building as the Cruz family, in the death of her daughter.

"Mayra was a nice, quiet girl and that's why God did this for her because she couldn't rest in peace," Norma Cruz said.
Here's that fascinating vengeance factor again, that "rest in peace" idea. I realize I have no idea what it must feel like to lose a child to violence, but I always find this attitude amazing. What do you think? If the mother is convinced that the deceased daughter can only "rest in peace" if the killer is brought to justice, then perhaps the mother benefits from it. Perhaps she, the mother really gets some kind of closure and peace. What do you think?

And what do you think about Pedro? It sounds like he did rapes and kidnappings and murders his entire life long; often young teens were his victims. What's to be done with him? Do you think he's more of a sex offender or a murderer? I know he's accused of both, but do you think there's a difference between the two? Should the sex offender who murders be treated differently than the violent murderer who isn't driven by lust?

What do you think? Please leave us your opinion.

NYC Officer Accused of Assault

The New York Times reports on the case which was initially described as sodomy with an antenna. Michael Mineo claimed that he was rousted in the subway by several of New York's Finest and among other things sodomized with an object he thought was an antenna. At the time it sounded like a most unlikely story, but brutal things like that have happened before. Now it seems the charge is a simple assault in which the nightstick of Officer Richard Kern came in contact with the rectum of Mr. Mineo.

Mr. Mineo, whom the police suspected of smoking marijuana, told investigators he was sodomized with an object while the officers grappled with him. A transit officer who took part in the arrest testified that Officer Kern touched Mr. Mineo’s buttocks with his baton.

Colleagues and supervisors of Officer Kern's have come out in support of him. They say he is a good officer with a clean record, definitely not someone who would do something like this. Yet...

Twice previously, Officer Kern was accused of using excessive force. but his lawyer said he was cleared in both cases by the Civilian Complaint Review Board. One of the incidents, in 2007, prompted two lawsuits that the city agreed to settle for a total of $50,000.

Officer Kern was accused of making unlawful arrests and manhandling people washing their coats in the laundry room of a Brooklyn housing project.

Like the two earlier lawsuits, it alleges that Officer Kern struck Mr. Acuna with his gun, unnecessarily sprayed him with Mace and choked him.

What's it sound like to you? I'd be the first one to point out that cops who do wrong should be given the benefit of the doubt like anybody else. But, shouldn't they be held to a higher standard? Shouldn't the public trust placed upon them demand more than it does of a regular citizen? What do you think?

What I think is Officer Kern is just 25 years old, has been on the job only a couple years, and has already been involved in several questionable situations. This doesn't happen to straight cops who conduct themselves properly. He sounds like a violent, dangerous young man with a badge and a gun. I don't know who's more frightening: guys like him or the criminals he's supposed to protect us from.

And what do you think about that Blue Wall of Silence, the colleagues and supervisors who unequivocally stand behind him. Only one Transit Cop reported that he'd seen something untoward. Cops protecting each other even when wrongdoing occurs, is what, some kind of loyalty? What do you think?

The Palm Pistol

The New Scientist Blog reports that a new weapon has been developed to assist people with arthritis.

A US company claims to have received federal approval to market a 9-mm handgun as a medical device and hopes the US government will reimburse seniors who buy the $300 firearm. But the US Food and Drug Administration says there are currently no formal designations of the gun as a medical device.

Called the Palm Pistol, the weapon is designed for people who have trouble firing a normal handgun due to arthritis and other debilitating conditions.

It sounds like the only question is whether or not the folks who buy this gun will get reimbursed from Medicare. What do you think about that? Are there many older gun enthusiasts who have had to curtail or even give up their gun use due to arthritis in the index finger? What if the disease strikes the thumb joint? What then?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cleaning Up Amsterdam

CNN has been reporting over the last couple days that Amsterdam is undergoing some kind of clean-up.

Amsterdam unveiled plans Saturday to close brothels, sex shops and marijuana cafes in its ancient city center as part of a major effort to drive organized crime out of the tourist haven.

The city is targeting businesses that "generate criminality," including gambling parlors, and the "coffee shops" where marijuana is sold openly. Also targeted are peep shows, massage parlors and souvenir shops used by drug dealers for money-laundering.

"I think that the new reality will be more in line with our image as a tolerant and crazy place, rather than a free zone for criminals," said Lodewijk Asscher, a city council member and one of the main proponents of the plan.

I'm not sure if I understand how this initiative is going to make Amsterdam more in line with their "image as a tolerant and crazy place." Is the Councilman talking about keeping the tolerant and crazy places limited to certain areas of the city? Or is he just giving lip service to the tolerant and crazy idea while his real agenda is something else?

Besides, I thought closing businesses like these is what generated crime. Isn't that how it works in America?

What do you think? I've never been to Amsterdam, what's it like first hand? Does legalizing things like prostitution and drug use take some of the pleasure away? Isn't part of the thrill the fact that it's clandestine?

Over on the Kickin' and Screamin' site there's a post entitled THE PRICE OF MORALS-FREE LIBERALISM. I guess his opinion is right there in the title.

What's your opinion? Is Amsterdam an example of failed liberalism? Or is something else going wrong over there? Prohibition against alcohol in America failed, does that mean that other prohibitions fail in the same way? Are they all manifestations of liberalism?

Please let us know what you think.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Happy Birthday Tom Waits has Tom Waits listed among those who celebrate birthdays today. He's 59. I posted about him once before including a few videos. Today, I'll leave you with this one and say Happy Birthday, Tom.

Robert Bisaccia Dies in Prison

The New York Times reports on the death of Robert Bisaccia the underworld figure who inspired the character played by Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.

Anthony Margotta Jr., a horse trainer in New Jersey was the nephew of Bisaccia.

“He was one of the most loving uncles in the world — funny, charming, one of a kind — and his advice was always to do the right thing. Always. Don’t do anything shady. Don’t do anything wrong.”

Alas, that’s not the way Mr. Bisaccia is remembered by law enforcement officials in New Jersey who had stalked him since the 1960s. They say he began as a minor figure in the Gambino family who rose to become John J. Gotti’s powerful capo in New Jersey, and was admired and feared for his toughness, ferocity and willingness to do whatever was asked of him.

The thing that interests me in the article is the reference to his being a "traditionalist," meaning that he "would have taken a bullet rather than rat out a friend.” The idea of "honor among thieves" has always fascinated me. I wonder if the ones who were able to hold on to that so called honor are only the ones who weren't offered a sweet enough deal by the government. Ratting out his friends worked pretty well for John Martorano.

Perhaps the key word is "friends." If one stops being your friend, he's fair game for testifying against. Maybe that's how it works. What do you think?

I appreciate, perhaps more than most, the mystique of the North Jersey or Brooklyn tough guy who spits in the eye of Johnny Law like James Cagney in Angles With Dirty Faces. But, I'm afraid it's a total myth. What's your opinion?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

O.J. Gets 9 Years

My career as a legal prognosticator is off to a flying start. Just the other day in discussing this case I said the following:

What I predict will happen is he'll get 10 years or so and a year from now it'll be overturned in the Appellate Court and he'll get out.

CNN reports that the former football great who thirteen years ago was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and boyfriend was sentenced to serve a minimum of 9 years for his recent conviction of robbery, assault and kidnapping.

The Las Vegas Sun has a fascinating article about the ambiguous nature of the sentencing guidelines in cases like this.

I'm sticking by the second half of my prediction. In my opinion there have rarely been charges as trumped up as these. The kidnapping is absolutely ridiculous and the robbery and assault left plenty of room for doubt. We'll see you next year in the Appellate Court. Of course, District Judge Jackie Glass doesn't think so.

"When you take a gun with you and you take men with you ... in a show of force, that's not just a 'Hey, give me my stuff back,' " Glass said. "That's something else. And that's what went on here, and that's why we're all here.

"I have to tell you, it was much more than stupidity. ... You went to the room, you took guns -- meaning you and the group -- you used force, you took property, whether it was yours or somebody else's, and in this state, that amounts to robbery with the use of a deadly weapon."

I say it may amount to robbery in
Las Vegas to do that, but depending on who's got your stuff, you may very well want to bring armed men along to retrieve it. What do you think? Could that idea constitute reasonable doubt? How much time do you think he'll serve?

What if the judge and jury in this case really did give him payback for what they feel was a wrong acquittal 13 years ago? How would you feel about that?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Prop 8 The Musical - Jack Black as Jesus

Via two wonderful sites. Thank you Litbrit, who I wish would comment on some of our UK discussions, and who credited TRex with this fabulous video, although it's all over the internet.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

I think Jack Black is pretty funny. How about you? And the script for this video seems to cover all the bases. What do you think?

UK DNA Database Shot Down by EU

CNN reports on the EU ruling that prohibits the police in England from keeping DNA samples of suspected persons.

The British police practice of keeping DNA records of anyone they arrest is a human rights violation, The European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously Thursday.
I wondered how this fits into our recent discussions about tyranny coming to the UK. Some of our commenters feel that the draconian gun laws in the UK are a prelude to out and out tyranny. The fact that the police had been building a database of DNA samples, not only of convicted and proven miscreants, but of innocent people exonerated of any guilt, seems to add credence to the theory. Is tyranny coming to the UK?

Like many of our discussions, I think there's a big gray area in this one. How much privacy are citizens entitled to? How much of that would they be willing to give up for increased security? Video surveillance is an example. It's become commonplace, especially in London they say, and we accept it as doing more harm than good. Or, do you oppose the video cameras? Do you oppose DNA databases for criminals? They have a right to privacy too, don't they?

I'm in agreement with the Labour Home site, which says the following about the EU ruling:

In fact it was the unanimous decision of a court of seventeen judges!

This decision is excellent news.

What's your take on it?