Friday, September 5, 2008

Blog Hiatus - One Week

I'm going away tomorrow on family business which will take me to Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It's not that I don't expect to find a good internet connection there, that's a joke because what we have to put up with here in Italy is awful, it's just that I expect to be busy with family and friends.

Please feel free to keep the commenting going on the other threads. God knows, we've certianly not exhausted them yet.

I leave you with this:

Condemned Man's Trial was Tainted

The New York Times reports on an interesting legal battle going on in Texas. A convicted murderer, Charles D. Hood, 39, is scheduled to be executed on Wednesday for the murder and robbery in 1989 of a couple he lived with in Plano, just north of Dallas. So far nothing out of the ordinary; sounds like business as usual for Texas.

The problem is that long-standing rumors have been circulating that the judge, Verla Sue Holland, and the Collin County district attorney at the time, Thomas S. O’Connell Jr., were having an affair during the 1990 trial. Blocked by a solid wall of silence, Greg Wiercioch, one of Mr. Hood’s lawyers finally got a break this year.

In June, Mr. Hood’s lawyers got a sworn affidavit from a former assistant district attorney, Matthew Goeller, who said the romantic relationship “was common knowledge in the district attorney’s office, and the Collin County bar, in general,” at the time of the trial. Mr. Goeller said the affair was going on when he came to the office in 1987 and continued through 1993.

Naturally motions were put forth earlier in the summer, but with time running out any obstacle could be disastrous.

That motion landed in the courtroom of Judge Robert T. Dry, who last week set a hearing date for two days after the scheduled execution, remarking, “In reality, you are exploring a civil lawsuit for the estate of Mr. Hood.” Judge Dry also acknowledged that he knew Judge Holland and Mr. O’Connell well. “It is likely that every local judge knows them,” he wrote.

On Wednesday, Judge Dry suddenly recused himself, saying he had also been close friends and business partners with Judge Holland’s former husband, Earl Holland, who is now dead.

The upshot is this:

On Wednesday, 22 prominent former judges and prosecutors — among them the former F.B.I. director William S. Sessions — urged Gov. Rick Perry to put off the execution to allow more time for a hearing to determine if the claim of an affair is true.

It makes me wonder why is it so difficult to play by the rules? If we tell people don't go around killing each other, then turn around and kill them with lethal injection, I say something's wrong. If we demand that the citizens adhere to certain norms, but the judges and prosecutors do whatever they want, I say something's wrong. And what is this wall of silence? Isn't that kind of covering up illegal? We're talking not only about people's lives, but about the reputation of the great state of Texas. Judge Dry recusing himself at the eleventh hour, the presiding judge and prosecutor carrying on during the trial, these are shabby behaviors which we cannot afford. I understand capital punishment is legal, but it has to be administered in as clean and upright a manner as possible. Otherwise we take an already barbaric practice and turn it into a true travesty of justice.

What's your opinion?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

McCain/Palin Would Remove Abortion Rights for Women

Over at Hullabaloo, Tristero has posted an article entitled "Teen Marriages," which cites the New York Times at some length. Their point is that teen marriages don't fare very well statistically. The chances of ending in divorce, and often very quickly, are much higher for teenagers than for older folks who get married. I don't think we needed the NY Times to tell us that. It sounds like common sense to me.

The real problem as Tristero explains it is if the Republicans have their way and Roe is overturned, it's the poor and underprivileged who will suffer.

Wealthy, well-connected families will always have access to safe reproductive choices including accurate information, effective contraception, and several abortion choices. If McCain is elected, the poor and lower middle class will not.

Wealthy, well-connected families will always have ways to support a child who becomes pregnant and chooses to take the pregnancy the term. The poor and lower middle class often do not. A vote to continue the repellent ideology of Bushism, a vote cast for McCain to extend the hateful policies of the current administration is a vote to repeal Roe and eviscerate necessary social services. A vote for McCain is a vote to continue the class war against the poor and blue collar workers.

Now, I'm certainly no one to argue with Tristero, who is one of the experts I go to for information and analysis. But, although I always find this argument compelling, I don't think it's the best reason. The fact that lower and middle class women will suffer while the upper class will not, many of whom are among the McCain/Palin and Christian Right throngs, is not the primary reason to safeguard women's rights to reproductive services. The primary reason is because it's a basic human right. If women are free citizens of the Republic, with all the attendant rights and privileges, then no one should tell them what they can or cannot do with their own bodies, not a husband, a father, a minister or certainly not the State.

This argument is not unlike the one we often have about capital punishment. It is discriminatory. A disproportionate number of blacks and poor are put to death. But that's not the reason to abolish it. The reason to abolish it is because it's morally unacceptable in a civilized society to do state sanctioned killings.

I'm pro-choice for women and anti-capital punishment for everyone.

What about you? What do you think?

Woman who Microwaved her Baby Spared the Death Penalty

CNN reports on China Arnold, the Ohio woman convicted of having microwaved her infant baby to death. The jury could not reach a unanimous decision concerning the punishment phase.

After about five hours of deliberation, the jury told Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Mary Wiseman that it couldn't decide whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison, and that it wouldn't be able to make such a decision even if it deliberated through Thursday.

Wiseman is now limited to sentencing Arnold to life in prison without parole, life without parole for at least 30 years, or life without parole for at least 25 years. She plans to impose her sentence Monday.

The defense attorney, Jon Paul Rion is still protesting China's innocence. He says that his client had never been in trouble before and that it's ridiculous to charge her with a crime such as this. I don't think however, that questions like this could have influenced the jury's decision to not recommend the death penalty. Since China was convicted, they must have considered other factors. What could they have been? Perhaps there were lingering questions about her soundness of mind. Supposedly she was drunk at the time of the tragedy. Are these mitigating circumstances? Perhaps, in spite of the prosecution's efforts to select jury members capable of recommending capital punishment, some of them had doubts about it.

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Wonderful Story by Dick Cavett About Fighting

The New York Times published a beautiful story by Dick Cavett. I'm not quite as old as Dick, nor quite as young as some of our frequent commenters, but the story really brought me back.

What passed as a fight in those days, even among the big guys, bore no resemblance to a fight now. There were no knives, chains, brass knuckles, blackjacks, saps, clubs . . . none of the current props employed in performing what was once termed, among gentlemen, “fisticuffs.”

And there were no guns. Guns were things you knew from the movies, unless dad was a hunter. I didn’t know anyone who’d ever seen a handgun except on police. In that innocent time, could you even imagine a day when you could get shot dead in a dispute over a parking place?

Comment number 107 by a man named Beer Belly Buddah, really got me thinking.

The situation we find ourselves in now, wanting to arm the teachers, wanting to go around armed ourselves, wanting, I suppose, to be prepared for violence, may have had its genesis in the days described by Mr. Cavett and Mr. Buddah. Back then, and perhaps it even predates the 40s and 50s and 60s, boys were taught to fight back, to defend themselves against bullies. We even heard it from Joe Biden the other night at the Democratic National Convention when he proudly thanked his mother for teaching him these manly lessons.

One thing I'm wondering is where are all these bullies coming from? Are they not a product of these very same lessons? I can understand that our dads taught us to fight back and we taught our sons the same thing, but who are we doing all this fighting against? And when does it end?

Another thing I'm wondering is why has the violence level escalated so much. Dick Cavett said there's "no resemblance." In some of our other discussions we've said that there's no such thing as turning the world safe again because it never was safe. But, we've also said that when some of us were young, like Cavett and Buddah, things were a lot different. Why is that? Did it start back in those simpler days in the school yards of America where boys were taught, "be a man?" I think maybe it did.

I say we teach a different lesson to our kids: violence is not the answer. At best it'll work in the immediate short-range, but over time it begets only more and greater violence. I say, we've got to teach our boy children a different definition of manhood. A man is one who can get along with his neighbors as well as his family members. We teach this first by example. I believe if we teach our boys that it's normal and healthy to be afraid in certain situations we can then teach them that they need not be paralyzed by that fear, that when necessary they can fight back, but only as a last resort. Once those lessons have been grooved, we can say with Mr. Buddha:

The only answer I have ever been able to offer is let no man bully you — but balance your response to the threat at hand.

We'd like to hear your opinion. Feel free to leave a comment.

Another Shooting Spree

The New York Times reports on 6 deaths in the latest shooting spree, this one in Washington State. The shooter is described as a 28-year-old man with a history of mental illness.

State Department of Corrections officials identified the man as Isaac Zamora, 28, who had served a six-month Skagit County jail sentence for drug possession. Zamora was released Aug. 6 and was under community supervision by Corrections officers, spokesman Chad Lewis said.

Dennise Zamora, mother of the perpetrator, says she desperately tried to get help for her son. I imagine doing six months in county lock-up was the last thing Isaac needed, given his history of mental illness. The result: six dead including an understanding deputy who had tried to help the family.

The slain deputy was identified as Anne Jackson, 40, whom Mrs. Zamora described as a sympathetic figure who had tried to help the family in the past.

''She was very gracious,'' Dennise Zamora said. ''She knew exactly what we were going through, said her brother was going through some similar stuff.''

I say it's time to stop treating drug addicts and mentally ill people like criminals. Unless we want to start executing them at the first offense, we only make matters worse.

What's your opinion?


CNN reports a few more details.

Preppie Killer get 19 Years

Yesterday the news hit that Robert Chambers, the so-called Preppie Killer, was sentenced to 19 years for selling coke to an undercover policeman and resisting arrest. We discussed his case before on Wordpress.

CNN reports that the 41-year-old Chambers pleaded guilty in exchange for the 19 years. The alternative was to face life in prison due to New York State's tough drug laws.

Chambers, now 41, became tabloid fodder in 1986 after the death of Jennifer Levin, an 18-year-old graduate of the exclusive Baldwin School, during a tryst in Central Park. The slaying made headlines as a story of a handsome, privileged prep school youth gone bad.

Chambers pleaded guilty in 1988 to manslaughter and was released from prison in 2003 after serving the maximum 15 years because of discipline problems behind bars, including dealing drugs.

What it amounts to is that Chambers was sentenced more harshly for selling coke and resisting arrest than he was for killing his girlfriend in Central Park. Something is wrong with that if you ask me. I know it's a complex problem, what to do with a guy like this, but this just isn't working for him and many others like him. In prison they get worse, not better. What kind of person will he be when he's released at 60 years of age?

What's your opinion?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Unrest in Minneapolis

The reports of clashes with police and numerous arrests sounds more like 1968 than 2008. CNN reports that the situation is quite serious.

At least 56 people were arrested Monday after police fired projectiles and used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse a crowd demonstrating near the site of the Republican National Convention.

5,000 demonstrators marched peacefully, but as often happens, a small splinter group broke off, began damaging private property, and earned the attention of law enforcement personnel.

According to the New York Times, it was a bit more than a splinter group, and more than 56 were arrested.

Thousands of protesters, many of them demonstrating against the war in Iraq, marched on Monday through the streets outside the arena where the Republican National Convention is being held, with some smashing windows and battling with the police in clashes that led to more than 250 arrests.

Not unlike the questions which arose in the sixties, one could ask if the police in Minneapolis started the problem with their heavy-handed approach. The internet was aswarm with stories of pre-emptive raids on peaceful groups of would-be demonstrators. And if the so-called anarchists came planning to make trouble, could it not be explained by the police-state tactics of the federal government over the last decade or so? Some believe that when the government is oppressive, the people have an obligation to respond forcefully.

Daisy wrote about demonstrations on her wonderful blog, Daisy's Dead Air, which was cross posted at Feministe, where she's been a guest blogger. She concluded her account of personal demonstration experience with the following thoughts and questions.

I have seen precious little coverage of any demonstrations in Denver. Are activists saving their ire for John McCain and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis? One can only hope. Or are demonstrations simply not the happening thing these days? Why do you think that is? Certainly, we didn’t have blogs and the internets to broadcast our POVs in those days. Climbing up on the proverbial soapbox, starting a picket line or writing commentary in alternative newspapers were our only outlets.

Well, it certainly looks like some of the activists turned out for McCain, at least according to the mainstream media. One interesting idea that came out of Daisy's post is that perhaps the activists of today are more likely to be found in front of a keyboard than on a picket line. For decades the question has been asked did the sixties activism have any lasting effect on society? Or was it inexorably absorbed and crushed by the increasingly-powerful government? Will today's anti-establishment voices be heard any better through the new media at their disposal?

What do you think?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bristol Palin Pregnant at Seventeen

CNN reports on the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's seventeen-year-old daughter, Bristol. According to the article, this represents no threat or problem, John McCain even knew about it beforehand. In fact, the whole Palin family is fine with it, the only important thing being that the "A" word is not even mentioned. Keeping the baby is all that counts.

Sarah and Todd Palin issued a statement saying they are "proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents."

How about admitting it's a difficult moment for the family? What is all this nonsense about being proud? What about all the screaming and tears that goes on behind closed doors in situations like this? Or are these people robots? I haven't met too many parents who are OK with their teenage daughter having premarital sex, especially if those parents are on the right religiously and politically.

And what is it with all this emphasis on her "keeping the baby." In a family where the mother is a pro-life politician experiencing global attention, was there any other possibility? Did young Bristol consider abortion and go to mom for advice? I seriously doubt it. So why keep repeating the "keeping the baby" bit.

The McCain aide insisted a key point to keep in mind is that Bristol decided to keep the baby, a decision "supported by her parents."

I think they're shameless political spin doctors, whoever is responsible for the repetition. Serious pro-life folks have no option and no need to keep repeating it.

I'm pro-choice. The best argument for pro-choice that I've heard, and heard many times from the feminists is that they do not want the government controlling their uteruses. Amen to that.

What's your opinion. Please leave a comment.

What I Love about Rome (part I)

The food is enough reason never to move. The olives and olive oil, the pasta at almost every meal, the bread, coffee, in-season fruits and vegetables, all these and more are a great part of why I love living in Italy. More than the quality and deliciousness of the food is the attitude of the Italian towards it. The food and the meal are not exactly considered sacred, but there's something of that in their attitude. We Americans often note how Italians sit for much longer than we normally do at the table. For an occasion like a birthday or anniversary it's not uncommon to sit at the table for three or four hours. Now this is something I never really mastered, but when watching it in action, I marvel at their priorities. They value the company of one another. A simple lunch-time conversation seems to them more important than whatever might be scheduled for afterwards. I like that.

The driving in Rome is quite a shock for the newly arrived expat. Immediately the excessive speed and reckless maneuvers on the part of the Roman drivers make quite an impression. Upon reflection, what's missing is the police presence. Growing up in New Jersey, our driving lives were spent with one eye on the rear view mirror on the lookout for the dreaded State Troopers. My ambivalence about the pros and cons of driving here is typical of much of what I love and hate here. I don't like the inconsiderate recklessness and even dangerous stunt driving some of them do, but I like the freedom to make an occasional deviation myself from the established driving norms, the rare u-turn, the double parking or even parking on the sidewalk - only when necessary, of course.

These days on the news there's a lot of talk about the malady of coming back to work after summer vacation. They've actually named it "mal di rientro." According to the experts, a full 50% of Italians suffer from this insidious disease. Symptoms: headache, irritability, inability to concentrate, sometimes even nausea or backache. My first reaction is what a bunch of wimps. But then I remember their way is better. Considering leisure time more important than the career is a good thing.

The Italian family is more in tact than it's counterpart in America. Divorces are less commonplace and the grown-up children usually live with the parents until age 30 or more. The low divorce rate must be a vestige of the Catholic influence on society. The kids staying home is usually due to economic necessity. This situation has given rise to a mildly pejorative word, "mammoni" which describes young men who are overly attached to their mothers and usually live with them until marriage. We would say "mamma's boys." Putting the American judgment on it, we quickly disparage the entire society which encourages this. But, once again, theirs is a better way.

And how about the sites? During the first five years I lived here my lifestyle allowed me to explore the art and architecture daily. Today I still drive around the Coliseum regularly and marvel at it's grandeur. Here's a video I found which shows some of the main attractions, every one of which I've walked around and investigated and snooped into countless times. What a city!

Gustav, Another Katrina?

The evacuation of New Orleans is in full swing, as reported by CNN. Having learned so much from Katrina three years ago, today's evacuation numbers are impressive.

About 1.9 million of Louisiana's 2 million coastal residents had fled ahead of Hurricane Gustav by Sunday evening in the largest evacuation in state history, Louisiana's governor said.

The Republican National Convention activities in Minneapolis for Monday have been mainly suspended. But I wonder if anyone really believes McCain is talking straight. Isn't he just concerned that the country will associate the John McCain folks with the ineptitude that tainted the Bush administration three years ago?

"This is a time when we have to do away with our party politics and we have to act as Americans. We have to join the 300 million other Americans on behalf of our fellow citizens. It's a time for action. So, we're going to suspend most of our activities tomorrow except for those absolutely necessary," said McCain, speaking from St. Louis, Missouri.

And it seems even Bush himself has learned something from the past mistakes. This time he's acting even before the devastation.

The president ordered federal aid to supplement state and local efforts in the areas in the forecast path of Hurricane Gustav. Bush and his administration were heavily criticized in 2005 for not moving fast enough to send federal help to the Gulf Coast when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Over at The Riff Blog there's a very entertaining series of articles entitled, "God Understands Irony." The story includes a link to the hysterical speech, although he was seriously trying to make his conservative point, by Stuart Shepard encouraging people to pray for rain to drown out Obama's speech. It's really funny that the very type of rain he was describing for Obama, is actually interfering with the Republican activities. That's irony and schadenfreude all rolled into one.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Why Sarah Palin?

On the wonderful Blue Marble Blog there's another story about the polar bears. I'm not so sure it's about the polar bears, really. It's about a mindset. The same mindset that can deny global warming and insist that the jury is still out, can also deny evolution and align with the fundamentalist Christian right.

"Science will tell us," her spokesman said. "She thinks the jury's still out." If by "jury" she means "the Bible," then yes, the jury is still out. But if "jury" means scientific consensus, then Palin needs to check out the IPCC's site or pick up an issue of Nature.

At the Daily Kos there's a good explanation of why the fundamentalist Christian right are happy with her nomination. It makes perfect sense that a savvy political choice like this had the effect of garnering for McCain the not insignificant fundamentalist vote.

In this article in the New York Times, Gail Collins convincingly writes that McCain's choice of Palin as VP was probably not about the female vote.

The idea that women are going to race off to vote for any candidate with the same internal plumbing is both offensive and historically wrong.

If she’s only on the ticket to try to get disaffected Clinton supporters to cross over, it’s a bad choice.

According to Ms. Collins, it was about Sarah Palin's executive experience as governor of Alaska.

He [McCain] was looking for someone who was well prepared to fight against international Islamic extremism, the transcendent issue of our time. And in the end he decided that in good conscience, he was not going to settle for anyone who had not been commander of a state national guard for at least a year and a half.

If that's true, he may have failed as badly as if he'd chosen her to win the ex-Hillary supporters. Palin describes herself as a soccer mom who got into politics relatively recently to combat corruption. Her experience fighting terrorism and her capacity to do so, is very limited to say the least.

This brings us back to the religious right. I agree with those who say this is what's behind the choice. In winning over the huge conservative Christian movement, John McCain has much to gain. But, is that the kind of person we want as Vice President to an aging cancer surviving president? Considering McCain's age and health record, I'd say her chances of taking over the number one spot are greater than many vice presidents in recent history. Haven't we had enough of mixing church and state? I know these concepts have always been there, annuit coeptis novus ordo seclorum and the Manifest Destiny, but in recent years the fundamentalist Christian movement has achieved unprecedented influence in government. I say enough is enough.

What's your opinion?