Friday, October 3, 2008

Do Gangster Movies Glorify Gangsters?

On the wonderful blog called Welcome to My Soapbox today I read this post. I hadn't been aware of the "Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement," but I'm sure it's a fascinating side trip from the casino action, next time you're in Vegas. Her post explores the difference between traditional mobsters called gangsters and the modern ones called gangstas.

What we have here is a major racial and class divide. On one side we have white gangsters who are glorified in film and now their very own museum. On the other side we have people of colour who may be glorified in music and certain categories of film, but who are blamed for many of today's social ills, including high rates of violence in high schools and drive-by shootings, specifically in lower-class areas.

I have absolutely no problem with her analysis, my only complaint might be the spelling of the word "color," but I wouldn't want to quibble.

What it made me think of, though, is the long-standing debate about whether this genre of films harms the reputation of Italian-Americans. I've heard of folks who bad-mouthed Mario Puzo for having done more to hurt the standing of the great Italian people than anyone ever.

For me, the cinematic entertainment is too good to pass up. I suppose in Middle America, where there are very few ethnic people, the complaint could have some merit, but personally I don't care much. The two Godfather movies alone would make it all worth it, as I've said before.

What's your opinion? Do movies have that much power? Should they? Do Spike Lee movies glorify blacks? Do mafia films denigrate Italian-Americans?

O.J. Simpson's Case Goes to Jury

The Las Vegas Sun reports that the O.J. Simpson case has been sent to the jury. Last time we talked about this one, I mentioned in the comments that I think the kidnapping charges are trumped up and that I fear there's no such thing as an impartial jury for O.J., especially an all white one.

O.J. Simpson's fate and liberty now rests with nine women and three men from Clark County.

The 12-member jury will on Friday morning begin deliberating the 12 robbery, weapons and kidnapping charges faced by Simpson and his alleged co-conspirator, Clarence "C.J." Stewart.

One fascinating coincidence is that today is the anniversary of his famous aquittal in 1995.

I give O.J. the benefit of the doubt in this one. I think it's completely plausible that the stuff was his and that he went there to retrieve it. Arranging to be escorted by a couple tough guys with guns, which I know he denies, makes perfect sense to me. I'm not convinced that would even constitute a crime.

So, if we see a conviction in this case, I believe it'll be another miscarriage of justice. Whether he got away with murder 13 years ago or not, should have nothing to do with today's deliberations.

Here's what the spin doctors over at CNN have to say about it. The picture of O.J. is enough to understand their opinion.

What's your opinion?

It Happens in England too

CNN reports on the resignation of UK's top police officer, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair.

Two weeks after the bombings, four bombers tried but failed to carry out similar attacks on London's transport system, putting the city and country even more on edge. Officers staking out a suspect's home in south London saw and followed Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, wrongly believing he was a suspect.

The officers trailed de Menezes as he traveled on a bus and into a subway station, where they chased him and shot him dead.

Immediately the Blue Wall of Silence went up, or in this case it was the old Blue Wall of Coverup. Blair announced that the suspect had refused to stop when the officers ordered him to. This turned out to be false. Last December police anti-terror chief, Andy Hayman, resigned claiming that he was responsible for not informing his superiors, but it looks like that wasn't enough to protect his boss. Blair still claims he wasn't given the whole story until the following day.

What do you think about the responsibility of officers for the actions of their men? In a case like this, should the trigger-happy foot soldier be let off with a reprimand and his bosses fired? Or, is it right to fire these guys for trying to coverup what was a legitimate mistake?

Leave a comment if you like.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

L.A. Times Scorecard of Violence

This is a challenge. I would suggest that the most passionate pro-gun advocate, if he were to make a sincere attempt at reading this report with an open mind, would have to ask himself a question:

Is the proliferation and availability of guns in America part of the problem?

I say yes. I say yes, after reading countless comments to the contrary, always with the open mind on my part. I understand the "gun is just like any tool" argument, and partially agree. I understand that free citizens are responsible for protecting that freedom in the event that the federal government oversteps its bounds, and I agree. I understand that responsible gun owners should not be penalized because of the criminal sub-culture, and agree wholeheartedly. I've heard all the snide remarks about gun control people simply suffering from a fear of guns, and reject that with a simple qualification. Some may be operating out of a type of fear, some even from a phobia, but many are sincerely trying to find a solution to a complicated and dangerous situation. I could easily turn it around and ask if the gun folks are not the ones suffering from fear. Yet, when reading the chronicle of what's happened in Los Angeles over these last weeks, I can understand that fear, or concern, if you prefer.

I say that although many of these crimes were committed by criminals who might have used other means to commit their respective crimes had no gun been available; in some cases the lethality of the gun which was readily available made the difference.

My questions are these: where did all those guns come from? What percentage came from the huge pool of legal weapons now in circulation? Were some of the guns used in LA this month legally owned? Is there a connection between the philosophy which preaches "meet potential violence with greater violence" contributing to the problem?

What's your opinion? Are you not moved by shock and horror to read what's happened in Los Angeles recently? Tell us in a comment.

Security Guard Guilty in Joe Cool Case

The Miami Herald reports that the Hialeah security guard on trial for murder in the Joe Cool case has been convicted, but not of murder. As some of our astute commenters pointed out, just bringing the gun on board doesn't necessarily mean he was responsible for the murders.

Now, I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt and I always suspect the government and police of overstepping their proper boundaries, but to me this guy seems totally involved.

An exhausted Miami federal jury Tuesday convicted the defendant in the Joe Cool murder trial of providing the gun used to kill four people -- but deadlocked on whether he took part in their kidnapping and murder.

Guillermo Zarabozo was just 19 years old when the older and slicker Kirby Archer enticed him with tall tales and elaborate schemes.

Defense attorneys made an impassioned case to jurors that Archer, ''a liar, manipulator and predator,'' had fooled the then-19-year-old Zarabozo into thinking he was a CIA operative.

It seems to me quite incredible that Zarabozo would not have known of Archer's criminal intent before getting on board the ill-fated Joe Cool. Apparently a number of the jurors agreed with that as evidenced by their deadlocked status on most of the counts.

Perhaps in this case justice is served in a roundabout way. If Zarabozo was duped by Archer, which seems to have been the case, a lighter sentence might do him some good. I certainly wouldn't like to see too much punishment meted out for stupidity and gullibility.

Stay tuned for the sentence.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Wall Street Bailout according to Marcy Kaptur

I haven't written about this because I don't know enough about it to say anything. I can't help but like this video, though, and tend to agree with what the Democratic Representative from Ohio Ms. Marcy Kaptur has to say.

Don't miss those few seconds of George Bush at the end.

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association celebrates the last week of September each year as Banned Books Week.

BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.

By glancing at the list of the most frequently challenged books of 2007, it seems that some don't agree. Crooks and Liars has a post which includes a video about the controversy in 2006 in which a Texas school attempted to ban Fahrenheit 451. Now how's that for irony?

What's your opinion? How far do we go with the old First Amendment? Is there nothing that should be banned?

The War on Drugs - Mexican Style

CNN reports on the war on drugs in Mexico. President Felipe Calderon is proposing stronger laws.

The plan would better coordinate federal and local police, seek to root out corruption and establish bases "so we are all integrated into a system of national public security," Calderon said.

Calderon is urging the regular citizens to get involved.

"To win the battle against crime, it is fundamental that the society get involved in this fight," he said.

Sounds like the same old blah, blah, blah to me. Stronger laws, citizen involvement, yeah, that should do it.

Lest I be thought of as one of the many who criticize without offering a solution, here is mine. Basically, what I'm saying is legalize drugs. With regards to Mexico, if drugs were legal in the US, those Mexican gangsters, as well as the Colombian ones would be out of business practically overnight.

What's your opinion? Do you think if drugs were legal we'd be giving tacit approval to their use? Whatever problems the legalization program created, don't you think they'd be offset by the tremendous monetary gains? I'm thinking not only of the taxes, but imagine how much stuff is sitting right now in the security lockers of all the police stations. It could be turned in and processed into legal product, a type of recycling.

Your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What is the Thrill of Hunting?

The L.A. Witness web site has an interesting article entitled Blood Lust, which leads me to ask the question, "What is the Thrill of Hunting."

The gray wolf had been on the Endangered Species List until last March. So successful was their comeback that it was determined, over the protests and predictions of environmentalists, that they could safely be removed from protection.

The species had flourished, its population growing by about 20% a year since wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in 1995. This was proof the Endangered Species Act worked, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said when it delisted the wolf in March.

What they didn't count on, apparently, was the efficiency with which hunters would reverse the thriving situation of the wolves.

Some wildlife biologists say the damage is already done. Nearly all of the known wolves in Wyoming’s free-fire area were killed in little more than a month.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began the process needed to put wolves back on the endangered species list.

What I'd like to know is what the attraction is in this so-called sport? It occurs to me that stalking and shooting animals is nothing more than an acceptable version of doing the same to other humans. There were several films about this, you know, the eccentric millionaire who kidnaps people and sets them free on his property giving them a head start before he comes hunting them. Is that it? Is it a way to act out fantasies that are pretty much denied?

Do you think there's a similarity between the good guys who hunt and the criminals who commit crimes with weapons? Or is it just a sport like target shooting but more challenging?

Please tell us your opinion.


CNN reports that today three western states have returned the gray wolf to the list.

The blogs all seem to be in agreement. Maximum Likelihood, Michelle's Live Journal, and with a humorous touch, Seriously Guys. Where are all the hunters?

Suicides among Army Recruiters

CNN reports on the grim story of a disproportionate number of Houston based army recruiters committing suicide. There have been four in the last three years.

"The United States Army Recruiting Command is deeply concerned by the instances of suicide within the Houston Recruiting Battalion," said a statement released by the Recruiting Command. "The board's objective will be to prevent future suicides, increase suicide awareness, analyze trends and highlight additional tools and resources to combat suicide within the Recruiting Command."

The Army's examination comes after a sergeant first class, a member of the Houston Recruiting Battalion and an Iraq combat veteran, killed himself at his home earlier this month.

It seems strange to me that recruiters would be particularly hit. Their work doesn't seem to be especially stressful. It begs a larger question: what is the suicide rate at large among service men and women and veterans of recent wars.

Due to the recurring deployments that have proven necessary to sustain operations in the Middle East, it is likely that a large majority of our recruiters are also veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The recruiter suicides come at a time when the total number of suicides in the Army's ranks has been growing, Army officials said. Through August there had been 93 active duty suicides in the Army.

Last year there were 115 active duty suicides, the highest for the Army since the Vietnam War, according to Army statistics.

Why do you think this would be happening? My first thought is that, not unlike Viet Nam, these engagements have become extremely unpopular. Perhaps that awareness has filtered through and has infected the troops themselves, like it did forty years ago. On the other hand, that may be too complicated a theory.

A simpler theory is this: the stresses associated with war are perhaps heightened by a number of factors. The continual fear of suicide bombers, although this did exist during Viet Nam, in recent years it's become a major concern. I guess we can thank the Israeli / Palestinian conflict for that. Another interesting thing I read is the number of battlefield casualties who live is at an all time high. This is due to improved medevac equipment and procedures. The result is a higher number of damaged individuals returning to society. I'll bet they make up a good percentage of the suicides.

What do you think? Part of my solution is to get out of Iraq, a war we never should have been involved in in the first place. I'd get our foreign combat activity down to a bare minimum. Isolationism might be preferable to the breath-taking costs of sustaining these wars.

Monday, September 29, 2008

John McCain the Gambler

The New York Times has run an exposé over the last two days of John McCain's gambling ties . He has been involved in the intricate and ruthless business of casino gambling in America for decades both as a behind-the-scenes wheeler dealer and as a player.

(Big H/T to George)

As a two-time chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, Mr. McCain has done more than any other member of Congress to shape the laws governing America’s casinos, helping to transform the once-sleepy Indian gambling business into a $26-billion-a-year behemoth with 423 casinos across the country. He has won praise as a champion of economic development and self-governance on reservations.

Once the Native American Gambling Business grew to this extent, largely due to McCain's efforts, the Senator's patrons in Las Vegas began to be concerned.

In the spring of 2005, Mr. McCain announced he was planning a sweeping overhaul of Indian gambling laws, including limiting off-reservation casinos. His campaign said Las Vegas had nothing to do with it. In a 2005 interview with The Oregonian, Mr. McCain said that if Congress did not act, “soon every Indian tribe is going to have a casino in downtown, metropolitan areas.”

Carl Artman, who served as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary of Indian Affairs until May, said Mr. McCain pushed him to rewrite the off-reservation rules. “It became one of my top priorities because Senator McCain made it clear it was one of his top priorities,” he said.

The new guidelines were issued on Jan. 4. As a result, the casino applications of 11 tribes were rejected.

Besides being involved behind the scenes, John McCain himself is a high-stakes player. From Arizona, he was known to make weekend jaunts up to Vegas, about once a month, where he was wined and dined like any High Roller with influence in Washington.

Perhaps one of the unspoken implications of the NY Times piece is that the kind of person who gambles by playing Native American interests against those of Las Vegas, the kind of person who personally likes to throw the dice in high stakes crap shoots in casinos, would bring that "maverick" attitude into the White House, should he be elected president.

What do you think? Is taking weekend trips to Vegas to let your hair down incompatible with the Office of President? Is there something disonorable in representing Native American interests then changing teams and going to bat for Vegas? Do you think taking Sarah Palin on as a running mate was an example of reckless gambling? Is gambling a vice?

Please leave us your thoughts in a comment.

Home Invader Killed

The Indy Channel reports on the death of a would-be rapist.

A man who police said broke into a home with the intention of sexually assault a 17-year-old girl in her bedroom died early Sunday morning after a struggle with the girl's father.

David Meyers (pictured), 52, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after officers arrived following a report of a home invasion in the 3500 block of West 79th Street at about 3:20 a.m.

It seems Meyers, who had already served 10 years of a 20-year sentence for criminal confinement and sexual deviate conduct, entered the house with every intention of raping the teenager.

Indianapolis police Sgt. Matt Mount said Meyers had come into the home naked, except for a mask and latex gloves.

"He had rope, had a knife, had condoms, had a gag," Mount said.

I guess bringing a rope, knife, condoms and a gag to the scene is supposed to be proof of his intentions. What I'd like to know is, how exactly did he carry all that stuff while climbing through the window? Could all that rapist equipment be held in one hand while he pulled himself into the house with the other? Maybe he held the knife between his teeth.

In any case, the story is this: the evil sex offender climbed into the house, at 3:30 a.m., adrenalin pumping, wide awake. The father, Robert McNally, awoke out of a sound sleep by the sound of his daughter screaming and did what any father would do in this situation. He subdued the bad guy, who was ten years his junior and a hardened ex-con, and killed him with his bare hands. Now, I don't know about you, but to me this sounds preposterous. Maybe Mr. McNally was a tough 64 year-old karate expert who worked out at the gym three times a week, but it didn't say that in the article. Maybe he got lucky.

It seems to me there's more here than what's reported. Nevertheless, it brings up some good questions. Should more good guys be armed for home protection? Should sex-offenders be released after serving half their sentence? Is there something wrong with the sex-offender registering program? Can those guys ever be rehabilated?

What do you think?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Best Scenes from the Godfather and Godfather Part II

Just these two scenes, the first and the last, would be enough to consider these two movies among the greatest ever made. But what comes in between, the hundreds of memorable lines, the dozens of poignant moments, the actors who have become as familiar to us as our own relatives, places these two on most top ten lists.

Which are your favorite movies? What are your favorite moments in the Godfather movies? And let's not forget the late great John Cazale, whom I wrote about before.

Joe Cool Murder Trial - Miami

The Miami Herald reports on the dramatic murder trial which is coming to a conclusion perhaps as soon as Monday. On trial is Guillermo Zarabozo, a 20-year-old Hialeah security guard. He faces life in prison if convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery. The defense claims that he was duped by the trigger man, Kirby Archer, who used Zarabozo's gun to kill the four victims.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gilbert scoffed at Zarabozo's claims that he didn't know the violence was about to take place when the men boarded the vessel out of Miami last September. Zarabozo blamed 36-year-old Kirby Archer for the crimes, contending he was in the boat's bathroom when the four victims were shot.

Zarabozo attorney Michael Caruso said Archer, who had been an Army military policeman, posed as a high-level security official and claimed links to the CIA. He was introduced to Zarabozo, who dreamed of joining the police or military, and told him about an exciting job in the Bahamas.

Giving young Zarabozo the benefit of the doubt, my question is what did he carry the gun on board for anyway? And, once having carried it on board for a trip to Bimini in the Bahamas, should he be held responsible for having failed to exercise proper custody of the weapon? How grave is that? Let's say someone takes possession of a legally owned weapon and uses it to commit murder, is the gun owner culpable?

It seems the jury is leaning towards believing Zarabozo's story. The presented they judge with a written question, which is their right during deliberations.

If the defendant brought a gun on board the Joe Cool without knowing a crime would be committed, did that automatically make him a participant and also guilty?