Friday, December 26, 2008

Santa Shoots Up the Joint, Eight Dead

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

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

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

He sprayed the living room with bullets.

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

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

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

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

What's your opinion?

Thursday, December 25, 2008


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

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

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

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

Please let us know how you feel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Problem: Weak Gun Laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accomplice Liability in Felony Murder Cases

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Lillo Brancato Not Guilty of Murder

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

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

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

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

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

Please leave a comment.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Festival of Zappadan 2008 Closes

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"The Experiment Requires That You Go On"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please feel free to comment.