Saturday, October 18, 2008

Prisoner Orders Murder Using Cell Phone

The BBC reports on a prisoner who ordered a murder using a smuggled cell phone.

Delphon Nicholas, 29, from Lewisham, south-east London, was convicted on Thursday of murdering Andrew Wanogho, in Brockley, on 8 April 2006.

Nicholas made dozens of calls from London's Belmarsh prison to gunman Trevor Dennie, the Old Bailey heard.

Dennie, 33, from Deptford, south-east London was also convicted of murder and jailed for life.

Both men were ordered to serve a minimum of 30 years in prison.

An interesting side note is about the gun used. It was one of those we've talked about before, one which is passed around from one gang member to another and used in several crimes. What does that do to the statistics, I wonder?

In Great Britain, as in other places I'm sure, the smuggling of contraband into prisons is epidemic. This BBC report says that 3,473 mobile phones or sim cards were discovered in prisons in England and Wales between October 2006 and September 2007.

What should be done about this? Are the guards at fault? Is it really that hard to prevent this kind of thing?

What's your opinion? Dangerous prisoners should certainly be deprived of the means of committing further crimes, I would say.

Is Suicide an Individual Right?

CNN reports on the British couple who supported the decision of their son to commit suicide. Daniel James was paralyzed from the chest down after a Rugby training accident.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland under some circumstances, and various organizations there provide suicide services.

Here is the BBC report which contains the additional detail that the parents not only supported the idea but helped him carry it out. The former athlete felt his body had become a prison.

Does this sound right to you? Is it for us to say? How much autonomy should individuals have when it comes to suicide?

One thing that occurs to me is that suicide is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem. In this case the real problem might have been not so much the paralysis as the resultant depression about it and lack of acceptance of a tough situation. Perhaps over time he would have come to adjust to his new lifestyle and channel the talent previously spent on the Rugby field in other directions. But who am I to even comment on something as personal as this in others' lives?

What's your opinion?


Friday, October 17, 2008

Candidates Roasting Each Other

On the wonderful site Donklephant there's an article called A Night for Laughs.

The Alfred E. Smith Dinner in NYC is one of those things you look forward to hearing about every year because, for one night at least, politicians can just throw out some zingers and the only thing you’ll hear from their opponents are laughs.

I found these speeches absolutely hysterical. After all the super seriousness of the three debates, after all the finger pointing about negative advertising, what a relief to just laugh. I think the candidates themselves must have felt it too, or perhaps especially.

Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel in Concert for Obama

The Rocky Mountain News (via reports that a fundraising concert took place led by two of the biggest names in music.

Obama also offered a new explanation for his decision to seek the White House.

"I was sitting offstage with (his wife) Michelle, and I ... said, 'Honey, the reason I'm running for president is I can't be Bruce Springsteen. I can't be Billy Joel,'" Obama said.

Much of the talk was about not getting overconfident. The CNN report is all about the warnings Obama has issued to his supporters.

Sen. Barack Obama cautioned supporters Thursday against becoming complacent during the final days leading up to the election, noting he lost the New Hampshire primary despite a lead in the polls.

What's your opinion? Is it possible for the "Democrats to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory" again? I'm sticking with my original prediction: Obama by a landslide.

Overseas Voters - It's Time to Register

Thanks to Tristero over at Hullabaloo, I discovered the best site for overseas US citizens to organize their vote. It's called the Overseas Vote Foundation and they provide the most user-friendly way to register and to receive your absentee ballot.

I don't know about you, but I find it a daunting prospect to call or go to the US Embassy here in Rome. Maybe it's easier in other cities, maybe it's the Italian civilian employees, maybe it's the over-the-top security procedures they have in place, whatever. It could be me. I have such a distrust of government still, and let's face it, at the US Embassy, government is right in your face, from the Marine guards at the entrance to the pictures of President Bush in every room.

In any case, I registered to vote just now, first time ever.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Frank Lefty Rosenthal Dies - of Natural Causes

Lefty Rosenthal's obituary is all over the news today. He achieved national prominence in 1961 when he testified before the Senate, exercising his right to remain silent under the 5th Amendment dozens of times. Most people know him as the Ace Rothstein character played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's great movie Casino.

Sports Illustrated once crowned him the greatest living expert on sports handicapping. But eventually Rosenthal was listed in Nevada's "black book" of unsavory types banned from the state's casinos because of his ties to the Mafia. He ended up in South Florida.

On Graney and the Pig's Blog there's a wonderful report including several photos.

Many of the events portrayed in the movie were %100 true. Rosenthal had a criminal background in Chicago for illegal gambling. He did come west and eventually headed a Las Vegas sportsbook. He married a Sharon Stone-like woman who took his money and died of a drug overdose and he did host a Las Vegas tv talk show. Oscar Goodman (later the mayor of Las Vegas) really was his lawyer. He also really did survive a 1982 assassination attempt by the mafia with a car bomb.

For me, the greatest thing, among many great things in this film, is the performance of Sharon Stone. A couple years earlier she hit the big time with Basic Instincts, but after seeing her in Casino, I knew she was more than just another pretty face.

But, what do you think about that old problem of stereotyping Italian-Americans. I realize Rosenthal / Rothstein is Jewish, but Joe Pesci's character and most of the others are Italian-American. Is there a problem with this? What do you think?

Would the Real Donnie Brasco Please Stand Up

CNN reports today that the real-life Donnie Brasco, Joseph Pistone, refuses to testify on behalf of his friend and former colleague, ex-FBI Agent John Connolly. We discussed the Connolly case before, here, when his trial began in Miami.

This story is better than most movies. Connolly allegedly provided information to the Boston Mafia that led to the assassination of gambling kingpin John Callahan in 1982. That took place in Miami. The trigger man is now out of prison and testifying against Connolly.

Pistone's testimony was intended to show the difficulty of investigating organized crime and handling informants who are often violent criminals themselves.

What do you think about this case? It's got a bit of everything. It's got cops that go deep under cover, perhaps becoming tainted by the mobster environment; it's got contract killings; it's got Donnie Brasco, for crying out loud. Forget about it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Motion for Troy Davis

On the NCADP site (National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty), to which I belong as a member, they released the bad news for Troy Davis. It's not only bad news for his, but it's bad news for all of us.

Troy Anthony Davis is currently on death row in Georgia and his execution was scheduled for September 23rd, 2008. Two hours before he was to be killed he received stay from the U.S. Supreme Court pending its decision as to whether it will hear his appeal. On October 14, 2008, the Court denied his request for relief so that his evidence of innocence could be heard in a legal proceeding. Troy Davis' execution may be scheduled at any point and carried out within weeks.

We discussed this case a few weeks ago, here, when the Stay of Execution was granted in practically the last minute.

The same questions persist: if there is any doubt that the sentence is just, shouldn't the government do everything within its power to correct that? With so many witnesses recanting their testimony, doesn't this sound like a case that merits deeper scrutiny?

Also, what benefit is there in carrying out a death penalty anyway? Does it not diminish our cultural and societal advancement? Neanderthals perhaps needed such measures 30,000 years ago, but I really don't think we do. Today the only understandable reason for capital punishment is revenge, and I don't consider that acceptable.

Here's the New York Times report.

The case has led to an outpouring of support for Mr. Davis, largely because seven of nine witnesses against him have recanted their testimony, with two claiming that the police had pressured them to testify against him. Prosecutors presented no physical evidence and no murder weapon, and three witnesses have said another man admitted to the murder.

My opinion is that the death penalty is wrong. But, even for proponents of capital punishment, I would expect the supreme consideration to be the avoidance of a wrongful execution. This could be one of them.

What's your opinion?

National Review Fires Chris Buckley for Endorsing Obama

The Washington Post reports today that the National Review, bulwark of conservative thought founded by William F. Buckley, accepted the resignation of the founder's son, Christopher Buckley.

Buckley delivered his endorsement of the Democratic presidential nominee last Thursday in the cyberpages of the Daily Beast, a new, blog-heavy Web site launched by Tina Brown, the former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. "I went out of my way to spare NR from being associated with this endorsement," Buckley said.

The barrage of e-mails to the publication precipitated Buckley's offer of resignation which was accepted forthwith. It makes perfect sense to me that a conservative magazine would insist that their contributors pull the company line. What do you think?

Here's the story in his own words. (via Patrick)

Does this sound like disloyalty to the Party or to his family tradition? Or did Christopher Buckley experience a gradual transition in his perceptions? Here are some of his reasons:

As for Senator Obama: He has exhibited throughout a “first-class temperament,” pace Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s famous comment about FDR. As for his intellect, well, he’s a Harvard man, though that’s sure as heck no guarantee of anything, these days.

I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books.

Obama has in him—I think, despite his sometimes airy-fairy “We are the people we have been waiting for” silly rhetoric—the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Drug Courts are Saving Addicts from Prison

The New York Times ran a story today about the drug courts that are not sending addicts to prison but into treatment programs instead.

In Seattle, as in drug courts across the country, the stern face of criminal justice is being redrawn, and emotions are often on the surface. Experts say drug courts have been the country’s fastest-spreading innovation in criminal justice, giving arrested addicts a chance to avoid prison by agreeing to stringent oversight and addiction treatment. Recent studies show drug courts are one of the few initiatives that reduce recidivism — on average by 8 percent to 10 percent nationally and as high as 26 percent in New York State — and save taxpayer money.

I'm always sceptical about these types of statistics, but in spite of the self-serving promotion, I think it might be true. Time spent in prison rarely contributes towards rehabilitation. Perhaps the only hope for addicts is something like this. Instead of spending time with other criminals, they would spend that time with other addicts trying to stay clean. Maybe it's all about peer pressure.

What do you think? Can addicted people ever really change? Do you think the problem with the old way is that it was not harsh enough?

Since the first drug court began work, in Miami in 1989, the idea has spread to more than 2,100 courtrooms in every state, though they still take in only a small fraction of addicted criminals. Offenders, usually caught in low-level dealing or stealing to support their addictions, volunteer for 9 to 18 months or more of intrusive supervision by a judge, including random urine testing, group therapy and mandatory sobriety meetings.

Let us know your opinion.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Linda Ronstadt

She has just the right amout of "country" for East coast yankees like me to appreciate.

Berlusconi at the White House for Columbus Day

CNN reports on the Italian Premier's visit to the White House. The article describes a bizarre mishap that occurred.

In his haste to honor Bush, Berlusconi accidentally bumped the podium from which he was speaking in the crowded dining room. It fell apart, leaving the grinning Italian to advance on the president with just its top and attached microphones.

The crowd of prominent Americans, Italians, and Italian-Americans burst into appreciative laughter and applause.

The gathering was in honor of Columbus Day, a yearly celebration of all things Italian and Italian-American. Guests included Frankie Valli, who performed some of his best-known Four Seasons hits.

In addressing President Bush on the impending financial crisis threatening not only the United States, but Europe as well, Berlusconi said this:

"I am 100 percent sure and confident that we have the means and ways to prevent this from happening, and that the wealth of our citizens, the wealth that our citizens enjoy, will not be affected by this," the Italian leader said.

Does anyone else find something wrong with that? This is the richest man in Italy, or at least he was until earlier this year, and one of the 50 richest in the world talking to Bush, who is no pauper himself about the "wealth of our citizens." I find it absolutely infuriating to the point of Marie-Antoinette absurdity.

What do you think? Do these rich politicians have the good of the people at heart? Or are they impervious to the pleas of the masses and look only to enrich themselves?

Who is more likely to address this age old problem, McCain or Obama?

Let us have your opinion.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Old Double Standard - Revised and Edited

When posting this one last week, I had misread the original article I'd linked to. I thought Sarah Palin had made the quotes herself, but Graham was very clear. His point was that she is guilty be association with Joe Vogler, Founder of The Alaska Independence Party, who really did say them.

I'm absolutely embarrassed about this, but at least now I understand what you commenters were talking about.

I'd like to extend my sincerest apologies to Sarah Palin, first of all, and to anyone else who noticed and minded. Even though I want this to be entertainment and not journalism, what I wrote was unacceptable and won't require all that much research to avoid in the future.


On the wonderfully informative site called The Cognoscenti, Graham asks a very pointed question.

Why does Sarah Palin get a free pass?

This question is in reference to her membership in the Alaska Independence Party. I've read about this here and there, but frankly didn't pay much attention. But, while reading what Graham has to say about it, I realized there's a major double standard going on. Imagine if Obama had selected a VP running mate who had said the un-American things Sarah Palin has said? (here's where I went wrong) Do you think the Republican mud-slingers would have been so quiet about it? Examples:

"I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions."

"And I won’t be buried under their damn flag. I’ll be buried in Dawson. And when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home.”

I'll answer my own question. If Joe Biden had ever said things like that, we would have been bombarded with it like there's no tomorrow. Look at what they've done with the Ayers business, the desperate, straw-clutching Republicans. The explanation is obvious. Obama must have instructed his advisors to try, as much as is possible in a presidential campaign, to maintain some dignity, to not stoop to using every low blow they could. And the reason for that is also obvious. He could afford to do it. He's the better candidate. People are ready for a change.

What do you think?

Barack Obama By a Landslide

I really know next to nothing about politics. This is due to the fact that I turned my back on it, figuratively speaking, after the Viet Nam period. Only about two years ago did I begin to get interested again, partly because I do read the news and feel the world is in terrible shape now, much worse than in the 70s, and partly because I heard Obama speak and thought he was the only credible sounding politician I'd ever heard.

I predicted Obama by a landslide. It was a bit tongue in cheek because of my near total ignorance on the subject. It was more wishful thinking than anything.

Today The Washington Post front page headline says Obama is 10 points ahead of McCain.

With just over three weeks until Election Day, the two presidential nominees appear to be on opposite trajectories, with Sen. Barack Obama gaining momentum and Sen. John McCain stalled or losing ground on a range of issues and personal traits, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

What's your opinion? Do you think this is exaggerated spinning on the part of a liberal newspaper?

California Inmate Found Dead in Cell

The Los Angeles Times reports on the apparent suicide of a convicted murderer who was on death row in San Quentin.

Suicide is suspected in the death of Edward Dean Bridges, 55, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Bridges had been on San Quentin State Prison's death row since 1992 for the robbery and murder of William Seiler, an attorney who was kidnapped in Tustin and forced to drive to a remote area in Riverside County.

Whenever I read one of these fairly frequent reports, I wonder if it really was suicide. Prison can be a dangerous place. I'm sure there have been cases where the guards took matters into their own hands, either directly or by turning a blind eye.

As if to add fuel to my fire, the article continues:

In the 30 years since California reinstated capital punishment, 15 condemned inmates have committed suicide, exceeding the 14 who have been executed. Another 41 died from natural causes.

The plight of convicted inmates is certainly a bleak one. If there were no shenanigans taking place and all those suicides were just that, suicide, that's pretty bleak. If what I suspect happened in some cases, it's even worse. And the 41 who died from natural causes probably include some who received inadequate care or none at all.

I realize that each of these people caused damage in the lives of others. I don't for a second discount the plight of the victims of their crimes. But I think it's appalling what prisoners in America have to endure. I say they have not ceased to be human beings by committing crimes however despicable they might have been. As human beings they deserve better.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Commenting Policy - Blog Regulations

My Commenting Policy is basically anything goes. My Blog Rules are none whatsoever.

In the five months or so that I've been doing this, I've not found it necessary to delete anything or restrict anyone in any way. I personally like profanity and welcome criticism and disagreement. I've described the attributes necessary to comment here as "having a thick skin and a quick wit." Those who can't take the heat just go away after one or two attempts.

Recently I've been criticized a couple times for "not checking my sources." Well, I am guilty of that and I have no intention of changing it. Beyond providing a link to the place where I get something, I don't really want to investigate any deeper. I'm not trying to pass myself off as the BBC or the CNN. In fact, my only criterion for including something in a post is if I like it, period. This has ranged from the purely satirical Sarah Palin and Amy Winehouse are Twins, to the polemical The Great Gun Survey Results and Conclusions, to the roundly criticized The Old Double Standard.

Usually, I pose what I think are provocative questions at the end of a post. Often I state my own opinion. I consider it entertainment not journalism.

Gun Sales Up - Reason: Barack Obama

Via Lawyers, Guns & Money, I came across this fascinating article on the Confederate Yankee site entitled Battleground State of Mind. It's the simple account of a man who goes into a busy pawn shop.

Of the 12 people in the shop when I was there, the 11 others were all looking at firearms. A CZ-58 and an AK-47 variant were on the counter in front of one pair of customers. An off-duty sheriff and his friend were picking up what I think was a DPMS LR-308 complete with scope and bipod. Another guy was looking at a used Polytech M-14, and the remainder were looking at handguns... mostly Glocks and CZ-75s.

The explanation as proffered by one of the gun buyers was a single word, "Barack."

Naturally this made me wonder if some of the usual commenters on this blog are right about Obama's ideas on gun control. In spite of some of his campaign speeches in which he claims to be a believer in the 2nd Amendment and will not take anyone's guns away, many seem to think his record speaks louder and it says gun control is coming.

What do you think? Is Barack Obama really in favor of gun control and lying when he says otherwise? Isn't it possible that he's changed on the issue, that in the past he's voted one way but now as Presitend he'll follow a different path, one more favorable to gon-owners?

Do you think the gun owners who are stocking up on weapons and ammunition are acting on a reasonably likely future scenario? Or are they simply paranoid?