Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm on the Pavement Thinkin' 'bout the Government

According to an article on the Propublica site, the ACLU is reportiong that the watch list has now reached one million names. (via Patrick) This is the same watch list that Naomi Wolf so eloquently spoke about in the video I posted the other day.

The American Civil Liberties Union held a news conference this morning to commemorate what it says is the addition of the millionth name to the nation’s terrorist watch list. The number is a calculation based on a 2007 Justice Department inspector general report, which said the database had 700,000 records and was growing by an average of 20,000 a month.

Of course the FBI denies this. Chad Kolton, spokesman for the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, says the figure of one million is far in excess of the actual 400,000 he admits are listed. I wonder if he was able to say that with a straight face; to me it sounds like a sick joke. Mr. Kolton defends the program claiming that it has enabled law enforcement personell to exercise front-line preventative measures in the war on terror.

That large net ensnares many innocent travelers, leading to an erosion of civil liberties, the ACLU argues. People flagged by the watch list have reported having to go through extra screening or having to answer numerous questions to prove they are who they say they are. Others have been prevented from getting on planes.

Personally, I'm more concerned with the government's over-reaching policies than I am about another terrorist attack. Of course we need reasonable policies in place to protect people, but it seems to me that since 9/11, the federal government has gone too far.

What do you think?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cities Can't Ban Guns From Public Parks, Ohio Says

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer there's an article about an important and fascinating ruling. It seems the Ohio Supreme Court has decided that local municipalities cannot ban guns from public parks. Naturally, as with any gun legislation, this is an extremely controversial ruling. From the juridical standpoint, it's all about local legislators being subject to the larger government, in this case the State government. The fact that the ruling favors gun owners makes it somewhat ironical, I think. Aren't the gun owners the ones who usually disparage big government? Aren't they the ones who usually support individual rights to self governance? I'm really not being sarcastic with these questions; I find this situation somewhat complicated.

Two of the local residents summed up the opposing viewpoints pretty well, though.

"People should be able to carry guns wherever they like, as long as they're registered and within the limits of the law," Mike Marx, 42, of North Royalton, said while eating lunch at Lakewood Park. "Parks, public places - if someone feels the need, they should have one."

Across the table, Lisa Herhuth, 28, had the opposite view. "I don't believe anyone should carry guns at all," the North Olmsted resident said. "I don't want to see them in public places or parks, either, especially where children are playing."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Conservative or Liberal; Right or Left

The L.A. Times has a wonderful article on the idea that people are pre-disposed genetically to be conservative or liberal. At first it sounds a little crazy, but the more I read, the more I thought they were talking about me.

They found to their surprise that opinions on such contentious subjects as gun control, pacifism and capital punishment are strongly associated with physiological traits that are probably present at birth.

But then I noticed that the experiment included 46 subjects. It reminded me of something I've been admonished about on this blog. I took my own individual gun experiences and tried to extrapolate a general theory from them. Of course that's a faulty proposition, or at least it's likely to be. The same problem may exist in this case.

As I read more, though, I realized the experiment was a truly incisive glimpse into the differences between conservatives and liberals. What could be more irrefutable than eye blinks?

In a second experiment, researchers measured eye blinks -- another indicator of fear -- as subjects responded to sudden blasts of noise.

People with strongly conservative views were three times more fearful than staunch liberals after the effects of gender, age, income and education were factored out.

I'm pretty much ready to write this one off as another kooky idea to come out of California. But, I do like this idea:

Fowler said the study added to the growing research suggesting that over millions of years, humans have developed two cognitive styles -- conservative and liberal. Cautious conservatives prevented societies from taking undue risks, while more flexible liberals fostered cooperation.

"For the species to survive, you need both," he said.

What's your opinion? Feel free to leave a comment.

The Manliest Mailbox

(h/t to

Is Fascism Coming to the United States?

According to Naomi Wolf it's already here, almost. In a thought-provoking article the Star News Online describes the dire situation as Wolf sees it. (h/t to Patrick in California)

Comparing coups from the Nazis' rise to power in Germany to the Pinochet regime in Chile, Wolf identified key 10 steps in the fall of democracy. Among these: the invoking of a terrifying external threat, the creation of secret prisons, a rise in domestic surveillance, the harassment of citizens' groups, a crackdown on the press and the treating of dissent as treason.

It would certainly be hard to deny the signals she cites, but does that mean we're headed down the path to the kind of government control described so forcefully in George Orwell's 1984? Even folks who break no laws and have never suffered harassment of any kind have noticed the frightening and ever-increasing video surveillance.

The first video talks about The List which is ostensibly maintained for airport security. The second video describes how Blackwater has been mandated for domestic security work.

Watching these from the vantage point of Europe makes me wonder if I should come home to the US, change my stance on personal weapons and prepare for the upcoming fight or if perhaps I should move even farther away. What would you do if you were me? Do you think this is paranoia? Isn't there too much money invested in America's capitalism to allow something like the government taking over? Is it a valid comparison to say the US today is like the Germany of 1931?

FBI Agent on Trial for Murder and Conspiracy

CNN reports on the complicated trial of an FBI Agent mixed up with a Boston hit man who was convicted of killing a gambling czar in Miami in 1982. John Martorano spent just over 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to killing the former World Jai-Alai president John Callahan and admitting to 19 other murders. Now free, the 67-year-old's agreement with prosecutors requires him to testify against John Connolly, former Agent with the FBI.

CBS Springfield has a good description of the intricacies of the case.

A hit man for Boston's notorious Winter Hill Gang pulled the trigger that killed John Callahan, but Connolly was equally responsible, prosecutor Fred Wyshak told a jury. Wyshak is a Boston federal prosecutor working as a special assistant in the Miami trial."He gave sensitive information to gangsters, who used that information to protect themselves. And (they) used that information to kill people. One of those people was John Callahan," Wyshak said of Connolly.

Connolly, 68, faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and murder conspiracy charges.

What occurs to me is that people like this hit man, Martorano, are much more culpable than some of the other characters we've discussed on this blog. Joseph Edward Duncan III, for example and Richard Cooey are men who have committed horrible crimes, for sure, but should be considered to have diminished capacity. The viciousness of their actions alone could be evidence of mental illness, but I'll bet there's a history of childhood abuse in both their cases. Little boys don't grow up to do that stuff otherwise.

The mob hit man, on the other hand, who received a sentence of 12 years, was recruited for the job because he was friends with the target. He "reluctantly" agreed to kill Callahan in Miami. To me that's more frightening and horrible than anything a mentally deranged young man might do.

The FBI Agent, Connolly, who's on trial now, not only fingered people to be murdered, but in so doing betrayed the public trust of his oath of office. That's far worse in my opinion than what the sickest murderers out there get up to.

Even in these cases, I oppose the death penalty. But in an attempt to establish a hierarchy of evil behaviour, I put these characters at the top, and then we can list the others.

What's your opinion?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Too Fat To Execute, Inmate Says.

CNN reports on the latest death row inmate claiming that he's too fat to execute.

Richard Cooey said in a death row interview that his execution cannot be carried out humanely under current state procedures because his veins are hard to reach.

It seems Richard gained a bit of weight while awaiting execution and claims that his veins would be hard to access. He says if it would make people feel better they could legally shoot him in the head with a .45. To me that sounds like typical convict nonsense. The fact that it gets so much attention is amazing to me. I discovered a blog called Lukie's Ludicrous Lore which has a couple posts about this guy and several comments, none of which I can agree with.

It always amazes me how people talk about convicted men. "we have supported this monster for the past 22 years, his free ride is up." says Lukie. Prisoners are referred to as "these animals." About Richard Cooey's headaches, Lukie says "I am sorry but migraines are a [sic]inconvenience that a prisoner should have to live with."

There's no shortage of sites like this, I just found Lukie's from the link on CNN. The comments are even worse. There we have , "Kill the waste of space and taxpayer dollars!" And the banal, "have a big trucker named Bubba come into his cell one night, rape him, and then murder him in cold blood."

Sites like this remind me of the so-called hate sites, you know the ones with the vilest words imaginable against Jews or Blacks or Gays. The thing is most reasonable people, even if they identify with some of the sentiments, don't consider this kind of talk politically correct. I guess death row inmates don't count.

My own opinion is that we should deal with all people, even the worst of the worst, with respect. The death penalty should be abolished because it's morally inconsistent with our laws that say it's wrong to kill. Bad boys like Richard must be treated with all due process of law. To fail in any of these things damages us, lowers us, diminishes us. Civilized society should not have to resort to such a brutal sanction in order to protect itself. And in civilized society we certainly don't need to call people names and cry out for vengeance like a bunch of Salem witch hunters of the 17th century.

The crime, committed when he was 19 years old, was truly horrible.

Cooey and a co-defendant kidnapped Wendy Offredo, 21, and Dawn McCreery, 20, after disabling their car by dropping a chunk of concrete on it from a highway overpass. They choked and beat the women to death after repeatedly raping them, then carved X's in their abdomens.

My deepest and sincerest condolences go out to the Offredo and McCreery families.

The Great Gun Survey

After reading the comments to my post about Las Vegas, and reflecting a bit, I realized my so-called score card of gun experiences was a bit overly simplified. I scored twenty to zero, the twenty being negative experiences and the zero being positive ones, or the lack thereof.

Here's the new survey. Whoever is kind enough to respond will be included in the compilation. Three columns: A: bad, B: neutral, C: good.

Column A - Bad will include any first hand experience with a gun that was negative, like the 20 I described before. Included will be not only any killings or shootings but also potential ones. If someone drew down on others in anger or as a threat and you were there, it belongs here. Listed will be illegal possession of firearms by people of questionable competence and responsibility, like my nephew.

Column B - Neutral will be the largest for many folks. Included will be any military or law enforcement training. Listed would be legal gun ownership or even illegal gun ownership by responsible people. Hunting and shooting range experiences will go here.

Column C - Good will be the times when a gun saved the day. Thomas already mentioned some of them to Brit Girl. Included here would be any experience of self defense utilizing a gun, any time of thwarting a crime. If you personally knew that granny in PA who held the burgler until the police arrived, you'd mark her down here.

Now, a couple thoughts before we begin. This doesn't have to be rocket science or perfect in any way; there's no need to over-analyze this thing. Estimations are fine. Columns A and C should get the most attention and accuracy, naturally for comparison purposes.

Here's mine:

A. 20 - already described in some detail. Includes the murder of a good friend by his wife, the non-fatal shooting of another buddy when we were 25, I'm counting Tupac because I was at the same red light just the other day and as an example of how loose we can be with this thing. My nephew is on this one, which someone else might put on Column B or C, but I already told you I think he's not responsible enough to own a gun.

B. 2 - Marine Corp training, summer of 1970. I'm counting it a one, but it was a lot more than that as some of you know. And, I had about five or six trips to the shooting range in Indiana using legally owned guns, one of which was used on my friend who made it on Column A.

C. 0

Please give us your numbers in a comment with as much explanation as you feel comfortable with. Everyone is the judge of his own, but of course we might want to challenge each other about the logic - we've been known to do that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Art for the Anti-Death Penalty Movement

Over at the Delicious Ghost there's a fascinating story about a Texas death row inmate who has agreed to donate his body for art. The New York Times ran the story about Gene Hathorn, who was convicted of killing his father, stepmother and stepbrother in 1985, and has given his consent for the Danish artist Marco Evaristti to use his body as an art installation.

Mr. Evaristti said he hoped the piece would contribute to a wider project against capital punishment. He told The Art Newspaper: “My aim is to first deep freeze Gene’s body and then make fish food out of it. Visitors to my exhibition will be able to feed goldfish with it.”

Now, I'm normally in full agreement with anything that will further abolition of the death penalty. But in this case, I don't know who's worse, the out-of-options death row inmate, the kooky Danish artist or his fans that will eventually feed the goldfish.

What do you think?

Sarah Palin and Amy Winehouse are Twins

The crack investigative team at mikeb302000 have uncovered this fascinating story. It seems the adorable twins were separated shortly after birth, raised on different continents and only reunited this week. Amy, the younger by two and a half minutes, was watching Fox News as part of her latest rehab treatment program when she recognized her twin on the screen. "It was more of a, like, visceral thing," said the beleaguered pop star. Sarah Palin, at first visibly shaken to learn that her biological mother had given her up for adoption before fleeing to the UK with her twin, rebounded quickly and issued the following statement: "The important thing here is that Amy and I are now reunited, which proves that our mother had international foreign policy experience as well as a pro-life philosophy. My running mate, who is don't forget, the only man in this campaign who ever fought for his country, has welcomed Amy and her entourage to join me and the entire Palin clan on the campaign trail."

Richard Wright, Pink Floyd Keyboardist, Dies

Today the sad news was announced that Richard Wright, the keyboard player of Pink Floyd has died. Richard was one of the founding members of the seminal psychedelic rock band. Their greatest commercial success was the album The Dark Side of the Moon, which made them practically a household name. My personal favorite is Meddle, or at least it was at the time, which tells something of where I come from.

Rest in peace, Richard.

Monday, September 15, 2008

O. J. Simpson Trial Begins in Las Vegas

CNN reports on the O. J. Simpson trial, which started today in Las Vegas. To me it seems like some of the charges are trumped up a bit, but what caught my attention was the guns.

Prosecutors say the tapes will show that the armed confrontation was planned in detail -- including the use of guns.

Simpson has told police he had no idea the people with him were armed. But former co-defendant Alexander has testified that Simpson asked him if he could get "heat" in case things went wrong.

Another former co-defendant, Michael McClinton, also said Simpson asked him to bring guns and told him his role would be to act as "security."

Of course, I'm always interested in the easy availability of the guns. I think something's wrong with that and whatever steps we need to take to remedy it, I think we need to take. But, this particular case is loaded with other fascinating elements, not the least of which is that I can't believe there's any all-white jury in the world that can be free of prejudice in the case of O.J.

What do you think? I'd love to know.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Las Vegas, Guns and Me

Some of my time away was spent in Las Vegas where part of my family lives and where I myself had lived from 1978 to 1981. Since then I've visited fairly frequently. During this trip I noticed how often guns came up, sometimes it was just a memory or a reflection, other times it was stuff I experienced or a conversation I had.

Through the years Vegas has had its share of shootings, like any big city. The killing of the famous Rap singer named Tupac was a big one. It came up in conversation just the other day. We were stopped at a traffic light on the Las Vegas Strip and my friend said this is the place Tupac got shot. "Yeah, car pulled up, couple guys got out and blasted the shit out of his car. No one was ever arrested." My friend blamed that on the fact that the players were all black and the cops would be just as happy to let them kill each other off.

A close friend of my family, a man whom I'd met a few times, killed himself with a handgun at the shooting range. This was a few years ago. The story was that he'd met a beautiful young girl from his home country, Hungary. She cleaned him out in some kind of scam. So he went to the range. The real shocker just now was while searching for the story I came upon this and this.

I knew a girl once named Lori. She was an innocent beauty, the type that frequently gravitates to Vegas and all too often gets roughed up in the process. I watched her get in with the wrong crowd, get into coke, but in those years none of that was too shocking. After I left, I'd heard she'd gotten strung out and started turning tricks. That just made me shake my head with sadness, blaming one guy we all knew. He'd corrupted her, I felt. Then it got much worse. She was walking down the street and a stranger came up to her and shot her in the face. I knew there was more to the story than that but never heard the rest of it. I saw her on a visit the following year. Miraculously, the .22 bullet had entered the front of her temple by the end of the eyebrow and somehow did very little damage and left very little scarring. She was different though: harder, tougher.

Back in those days I knew two guys who worked in L.A., good friends of mine. They got themselves into some trouble, basically it was a misunderstanding, but their lives were threatened by some connected people. What did they do? They came over to Vegas to get guns, of course. For a couple hundred bucks they picked up an old revolver-type pistol, I guess it could be called a Saturday night special, and a six-shot pump action shotgun, the kind referred to as a riot gun. I don't remember the details of how legal these transactions were. A couple days later, back in the jungles of L.A., whenever exiting their home or place of business, the one guy would go first with the handgun at his side, finger on the trigger I suppose, and the other guy, the main target, would warily follow holding the loaded shotgun at his side in its cloth case with his finger on the safety button, ready to press it, swing the gun up, feel for the trigger and fire through the carrying case. Somehow, no one got killed or injured. Whatever happened to the weapons, you may ask? The pistol no one remembers what happened, but the shotgun was in the trunk of a car that was stolen in Miami about a year after those guys made it out of L.A. The car was recovered, but of course the shotgun was gone along with the tape deck and spare tire. I wonder what mischief that gun got up to in the subsequent years.

A few days ago my Las Vegas family was gathered for the birthday of my sister-in-law. I introduced the subject by asking if any of them had guns. They were all responding in the negative when one of them fired the question back at me. I said simply, "No, I'm against guns." Then my nephew piped up that he has a gun. I guess my brother knew it, maybe my father too, so no one seemed too surprised or concerned. The kid's 24 years old. I asked him, taking care not to be contentious about it, what he has it for, going to the shooting range or for home protection. He said both and that he's thinking about applying for the Concealed Carry Permit because his work as a locksmith sometimes takes him into bad neighborhoods at night. That was it, no one seemed particularly into the subject one way or the other. But now I'm thinking. My nephew is like a lot of young people, got a DUI a couple months ago and got away with a few others. My father, in his gruff way, says the kid's a slob and can drink scotch out of the bottle. He lives with a couple other guys in a rented house. My idea is this is not the kind of person who should have a gun at all. He's not a squared away ex-marine who knows what he's doing with weapons. He's a typical 24-year-0ld.

Once I dated a girl in Vegas who's pocketbook weighed so much that I said what have you got in there. She pulled out a huge handgun, explaining that she had been raped once and the guy is getting out of jail soon. That's just a flash memory.

Last week I came upon an advertisement for this place, which I mentioned in the comment I left the other day. It made me wonder. I can't help but think there's a connection, just like I can't help but think there's a connection with what some of the frequent commenters on this blog profess, and the problem of gun violence. I've read every comment and every link, and I've done so with an open mind. I often find the arguments compelling, but I can't help but think arming the teachers, arming ourselves, playing with guns at the shooting range, all exacerbates the problem, the problem being the guy who shot Lori with a .22, and my two L.A. friends who could so easily have hurt or killed someone, the problem being my nephew and his buddies getting drunk and doing some of the crazy stunts that a lot of young people do.

Although I find the 2nd Amendment argument and the self-protection argument valid and compelling, I have to put more weight on my own personal experience. The things I mentioned above are only the few Vegas related incidents I could recall while writing this post. There are many more. I've lived in several other places. But, there is not one single positive gun story in my experience. Maybe my old girlfriend who'd been raped got to use that gun to protect herself, but I never heard that. Maybe my nephew will end up needing that gun of his, maybe his life will depend upon it, but that hasn't happened yet.

I ask the gun proponents, how can you discount this chronicle of violence? How can you not see that the right to gun ownership, while certainly wholesome and acceptable in theory, has turned into a major problem in America? And I ask you, how is it possible that gun advocates claim to be totally free of these types of experiences? Are you downplaying the problems to win the argument?

Please let me know what you think.