Thursday, July 24, 2014

Arizona Inmate Executed: Can the Death Penalty be Rehabilitated?

We've discussed the problems with the death penalty before here and here and here. Another problem with the death penalty is that in part because of increasing national and worldwide moral objections to the medicalization of executions, there are shortages of the various chemicals needed to literally put a man to sleep. And obviously there is no ability to, well not in this country anyway, to test in advance the chemical cocktail used in executions. This leads to "botched" executions. That is "botched" in the sense that the condemned man (and it's usually a man) did not die either quickly or painlessly. Now while if I were related to someone who had been murdered, I'm not sure that I would be all that bothered by the person who did it having some suffering before they died, that's not what our justice system is designed to do. The State carries out sentencing in the name of the People, not as private vengeance and retribution. There are various sentences, approved by the People and their Representatives, that are supposed to deter, to punish and in some cases to rehabilitate the convicted criminal. The sentences are not supposed to visit upon the convicted criminal the same evil and horror that he doled out. In many cases that would be not only immoral but impossible. If someone has raped and killed your child most people would agree that the State's proper response should not be to send someone to the convict's house to rape and murder his child. That's retribution but it's not justice. Similarly if someone has tortured and murdered someone and been sentenced to death, is it cruel and unusual punishment if his execution is slow, drawn out and painful instead of swift, certain and painless?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Note to Self: Do Not Fly Over the Ukraine

Only days after one of the biggest "oops" moments in the history of modern warfare resulted in the murder of 298 innocent men, women and children aboard a commercial airliner flying over the Ukraine, rebels there have not let up and have reportedly shot down even more planes just yesterday.  Per CBC:

2 Ukraine fighter jets shot down by pro-Russian rebelsPro-Russian rebels have shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets, a spokesman for Ukraine's military operations said on Wednesday.
The spokesman said the two Sukhoi-25 fighters were downed around 1:30 p.m. local time near Savur Mogila in eastern Ukraine.
No details were known about the pilots, but defence officials said the planes may have been carrying up to two crew members each.

I don't profess to know the cause or history of strife that motivates these rebels to do what they do, but perhaps there is a better way to go about getting their point across, especially when you can't tell the difference between fighter jets like the ones shot today and a commercial airliner like the one shot down a few days ago.
I'm just saying.
Your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Who's a thug: Santelli vs. Sherman

You may remember that Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was quite excited after his team just won the NFC Championship game. Sherman was instrumental in helping his team to achieve that victory. He spoke emphatically and aggressively. He also spoke dismissively of rival football player, wide receiver Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco Forty Niners. Sherman was fined. He was also excoriated in social media and by more than a few pundits as a thug. A great many people made racist ugly comments about Sherman's intelligence, his family, his class, his race and black people in general. The people making these sorts of attacks on Sherman did not care that he was a Stanford graduate, was obtaining a Masters Degree, or most importantly had no record of criminal arrests or convictions. AFAIK no one has accused him of domestic abuse, drug sales, bar fights, child abuse, drug usage or anything else that might indicate violent or criminal tendencies. All that is public record about Sherman is that occasionally he likes to run his mouth on the football field. These public attacks on Sherman weren't just your normal attacks by conservative/racist whites. They also included people like liberal/moderate law professor Jonathan Turley. Unconscious stereotyping and unexamined bigotry cross all political lines.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Israel Attacks Gaza and Kills Palestinians: Again

As you may have read in the news the State of Israel has launched military attacks by land, air and sea against the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel claims to be trying to degrade Hamas' military capacity and prevent Hamas from launching rocket attacks against Israel. As virtually every US politician who sees himself or herself as a national figure has rushed to the nearest microphone to intone, "Israel has the right to defend itself" and "No country could accept rockets being fired into its territory". Those are true statements. What you won't hear many, if any, US politicians say is that Palestinians also have the right to defend themselves against Israel. As Palestinians are literally children of a lesser God in the view of many in the "West" the idea that they have the right to resist is something completely alien to the narrative. The other idea which is completely alien to the narrative is the idea that massive and exponentially disproportionate retribution isn't always actually a moral or even useful method to respond to violence or resistance. At the time of this writing, a little over 400 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them non-combatant men, women and children. That's what happens when people with a first rate air force, navy and army drop bombs on and shell people who lack any air force who live in an area roughly the size of Detroit. Children have been deliberately targeted while playing on a beach. Hospitals and disabled centers have been attacked.                                          
It's simply impossible to oppress, demean and humiliate a group of people without simultaneously coming up with an ideology that transforms your oppression into sober, fair minded treatment and the people being subjugated into either irrational, mindless beasts howling for blood or folks who are sadly simply culturally deprived and don't understand all the benefits your "oppression" provides them.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Movie Reviews: Devil Ship Pirates, China Moon, Gettysburg

Devil Ship Pirates
directed by Don Sharp
I purchased Devil Ship Pirates around the same time my brother sent me the package which included Bad Blonde. Although it was made in Hammer's classic era, this film is not overly reliant on oozing blood or heaving cleavage. By Hammer standards, there's little of the former and just the normal amount of the latter, mostly provided by actress Suzan Farmer, who plays the local lord's daughter, Angela. The simple story provided a modest level of suspense and tension that was gradually turned upwards as the movie progressed. It's really a hostage film. It reminded me of Key Largo or Went the Day Well? The Spanish Armada has just been beaten by the English navy. The survivors are limping home to Spain. Everyone goes home except for the people on the ship Diablo, which is commanded by the Spanish pirate Captain Robeles (Christopher Lee showing off his Ike Turner haircut). Robeles thinks his ship is too damaged to make the long trip back to Spain. When one Spanish navy commander disagrees with this assessment, questions Robeles' martial spirit and tries to take command of Robeles' ship, Robeles promptly kills him. Robeles, as he patiently explains to everyone throughout the film, is not big on people telling him no.

The other Spanish navy liaison, Don Savilla (Barry Warren) is wiser. Although he disagrees with Robeles and despises pirates he's not stupid enough to press the issue while he's outnumbered 60-1 on a pirate ship. He registers his objections and shuts up. Robeles lands in a remote English harbor to make repairs. Robeles' plan goes awry when two of his men are discovered by the villagers. Showing the value of a good bluff when your hand is crap, Don Savilla lies to the villagers and tells them that the Spanish won. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Breaking News: Malaysia Airlines flight crashes in Ukraine

Breaking News: Malaysia Airlines flight crashes in Ukraine
 From (CNN):

A Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in eastern Ukraine, Russian news agency Interfax reported Thursday. 

Malaysia Airlines confirmed that it lost contact with MH17, and the flight's last known position was over Ukrainian airspace, the airline said on Twitter. 

 The jet is a Boeing 777, according to Interfax. The plane reportedly went down near the border between Russia and Ukraine.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Reviews: Beat The Reaper

Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell
This book reminded me of Pest Control, The Catcher in the Rye, or a few other madcap satirical adventures. But it's also a biting critique of the health care system, a coming of age story, an Elmore Leonard style absurdist mob hijinks tale and one huge middle finger to anti-Semitism. That's a lot for one book but it flows well. The book was written by a doctor who also has a B.A. in English Literature. I don't know if the described details of hospital life would seem familiar to doctors or other people who are familiar with real life hospitals. Some of the displayed false concern for patients rang true to me from my brief experiences of hospital care. I imagine that anyone who is constantly making life or death decisions would find a way of achieving some distance from patients because otherwise how could they do their job? Bazell takes pains to point out that he's writing fiction. He writes that hopefully you're not going to rely on occasionally made up information for medical knowledge. This tale is told in first person and has some very funny parts mixed with real tragedy. Dr. Peter Brown is a sleep deprived, sarcastic, irritable and overworked (not that there's any other kind) intern at a Manhattan hospital. There's more to Dr. Brown than meets the eye as he is a little older, larger and rougher than the average intern. He can handle himself physically in a way that most men, doctors or not, simply can't. On Brown's trip to work a criminal attempts to mug him by placing a gun to his head. That criminal or "f***head" as Brown calls him makes a tremendous mistake. Brown easily maneuvers out of danger and disarms the mugger. Brown seriously injures his assailant via a combination of martial arts and medical knowledge but pulls back at the last second to avoid killing his attacker. Peter Brown is not just a doctor. Peter Brown is an Anglicized version of his real name "Pietro Brwna". "Brown" is a Jewish-Italian (he strongly identifies as Jewish) hitman, who having run permanently afoul of his Mafia employers in ways that are slowly revealed throughout the book, has joined the Witness Protection Program. 

However both Brown and the Feds are so thoroughly contemptuous of his former employer's retaliatory powers and intelligence that Brown hasn't bothered to leave NYC or do much to protect himself beside the modest name alteration and keeping a low profile.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Snowden Reveals NSA Spying On Americans

In the movie Baby Boy the self-described OG named Melvin played by Ving Rhames sneers at his possible future stepson. Melvin says that everything that the younger man is currently experiencing on the streets, the older man has already seen. To him, he boasts, it's just a rerun. 
I thought of that scene when I read the latest news that contrary to what its apologists have been saying about the NSA and the associated security structure, the NSA and FBI actually are spying on American citizens with political views and/or ethnicity that are out of the ordinary. This is something that Americans have seen before with surveillance (legal and extra legal) on civil rights and anti-war or left-wing activists from the 50s through the 80s. Rinse and repeat. Additionally the NSA is NOT just collecting metadata but actual data that lays bare the lives of millions of Americans who are neither suspected of or charged with criminal activity. So when the NSA spokesmen say they don't collect the actual contents of Americans' communications they are lying. These lies were obvious. Of course if anyone ever bothers to ask the President about this I am sure he will say that he knew nothing about it and is outraged. He will launch a commission to get to the bottom of it. Maybe. Someday. He will want to be perfectly clear that no one is more outraged than him. Yada, yada, yada. Rinse and repeat. Look over here there's news about Kim Kardashian! Look over there there's news about that celebrity's love life! Buy this pill it will make you a sexual dynamo! Start this secret Hollywood diet to lose weight to fit into this dress! These are the things that most Americans care about much more than the NSA activities, unfortunately.

George R.R. Martin Tells Fans What He Thinks

Have you ever reached a point when someone has worked your last nerve and made you lose your religion? Of course you have. Likely we all have at some point. Maybe it's your controlling blameshifting micromanaging boss who tells you for the fifteenth time to do something which you already did. Maybe it's a spouse or significant other who just HAS to have the last word in an argument and simply won't let sleeping dogs lie. Maybe it's someone smoking or spitting after you've asked them not to do that around you. Maybe it's a devious work rival who patiently waits until the department meeting with upper management to publicly ask you a question which is solely designed to make you look bad in front of the big shots. Maybe it's a child in the back seat who asks you "are we there yet?" every twenty minutes on a four hour car ride. Maybe it's a relative or alleged family friend, who upon the very day of a loved one's death has the gall to ask you if you've decided what you're going to do with their prized collection of books/cars/musical instruments/photographs/writings/etc. Maybe it's an underwriter who's calling you for the third time in an hour to ask about the $100 withdrawal you made from your bank account three months ago. Maybe it's an internet troll who is impervious to the most basic logic and can only communicate in slurs and profanities. Whatever or whoever it might be we all have our limits and for lack of a better word berserk buttons. Even the most mild mannered milquetoast man can occasionally lose his patience and wonder if it's time, as H.L. Mencken wrote, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats.

Who knows if fantasy author George R.R. Martin is a mild mannered man or not. I don't know him. I do know that he has no patience with people speculating on his work ethic, his writing style, his weight, his age, his mortality or how likely he is to finish A Song of Ice and Fire before he leaves the planet. But just in case people didn't know, Martin very helpfully shared what he thought of his fans who ponder those questions or worse, ask him directly...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hillary Clinton Back in Spotlight Over Defense of Child Rapist

In a good number of states, after you pass the bar and become a licensed attorney you may get a phone call from a nearby court like I did telling you that you have been assigned to represent a criminal defendant who cannot afford an attorney.  And once you get that call, the rules of professional conduct for attorneys are clear: you have to take the case.  Period.  Just like jury duty; unless you're on your death bed, you don't have a choice. The state bar takes this obligation seriously.

I don't really have a dog in the fight surrounding Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency, but I can say that this latest controversy cooked up about her court appointed representation of a child rapist lacks merit.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stop calling Hobby Lobby a Christian business

From Jonathan Merritt at The Week:

(Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press/Corbis)
"We're Christians," Hobby Lobby's president Steve Green proclaims, "and we run our business on Christian principles."

That is music to the ears of many conservative Christians, who rallied around Hobby Lobby when the retail chain argued at the Supreme Court that ObamaCare's contraception mandate unlawfully burdened their religious beliefs. But a closer look at Hobby Lobby's actual business practices reveals this claim to be as hollow as a flute. Turn over just about any trinket in a Hobby Lobby store and you'll find a gold oval stamped with "Made in China," a country that is one of the worst offenders of human dignity, unborn infant life, and economic justice anywhere in the world.

As such, those shiny stickers littering every Hobby Lobby from sea to shining sea are more than a statement about a product's geographical origin; they are also a stinging indictment against the way the retailer has sought to label itself.

Imagine for a moment a nation with nightmarish labor conditions, inadequate workplace regulation, and rampant child labor. You've just imagined 21st century China. Seventy thousand Chinese employees die every year in workplace accidents — that's roughly 200 humans snuffed out of existence every day.

Some provinces in China are raising their minimum wage standards. But don't rush to praise them. Starting this year in Shanghai, minimum wage is rising to only $293 per month — a paltry figure that is still the highest amount paid in all of mainland China. That's about $9.77 per day. If you were wondering how Hobby Lobby can sell wicker baskets for next to nothing, now you know.

The Bible is replete with calls for economic justice. Can you call yourself a "Christian business" when you leverage your profits to support an economic system that blatantly perpetuates injustice?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Reviews: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
by Stephen King
Some things are obvious upon reading Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow up to his novel The Shining. The first is that King is and always has been an incredibly masterful writer. The second is that (and he states as much in the epilogue) King is still rather peeved at Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining. He thinks Kubrick got some very basic things wrong. King appears to resent that the film is probably better known in the American zeitgeist than the book. King seems to have made it his goal to change that in his remaining time on this planet. The final obvious takeaway from this book is that apparently King did not spend much, if any, time around black people during his formative years. I don't think he can easily(?) write realistic black characters. Many of his black characters are either literal Magic Negroes or creations that are just white characters dipped in blackness. For example, Dick Hallorann is the hero's mentor and I suppose, literally a Magic Negro. All four of Dick's grandparents were black. Despite this Dick unironically describes his paternal grandfather as “Black Gramps” because the man was bad. This grandfather was a child molester and all around evil man. Dick describes his maternal grandmother as “White Granny” because she was good. It’s from her that Dick inherited his psychic abilities. OK. Imagine a Jewish character describing one Jewish relative as “Jew Uncle” because he was cheap, petty, vindictive and grasping and another one as “Christian Auntie” because she was kind, polite, friendly and helpful. Does that ring true to you? Well YMMV but it certainly didn’t give me a warm comfortable feeling. Anyway. 

If you haven't read The Shining you're missing something good. Nevertheless reading The Shining is not necessary to enjoy Doctor Sleep. The inevitability of death and the circle of life are important themes in Doctor Sleep. We also get King’s first hand knowledge of the pain of alcohol abuse, broken bones and the helplessness of being hospitalized and immobilized. King was hit by a van in 1999. This accident almost took his life. He narrowly avoided losing limbs to amputation. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

***UPDATE*** Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Corporate Challenge to ObamaCare's Contraception Provision

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations have a 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech and the Court further ruled that Free Speech = spending money in elections.  Put those two ideas together and you get the Super PACs of 2012 which spent more than $600 million dollars trying to influence the presidential election.  This led many people, both inside and outside of the legal community, to criticize Citizens United as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in a generation.  At the heart of the ruling, the Court bought into the notion that Mitt Romney was right when he famously said "Corporations are people, my friend."  Indeed, the Court's most conservative Justice, Antonin Scalia, wrote his own separate concurring opinion which harshly criticized liberal Justice John Paul Stevens (now retired) for writing in his own dissenting opinion that corporations are not members of society and therefore should not have Free Speech rights.  According to Scalia, "[t]he [First] Amendment is written in terms of "speech," not speakers..[i]ts text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals."   In other words, corporations are nothing more than a collection of individual people who all have the individual right to Free Speech so, therefore, corporations should have the right to Free Speech.  Under this logic, corporations should be able to own and use guns, vote in elections, and practice their own religion.

Speaking of corporations practicing their own religion, the Supreme Court has officially decided to hear 2 cases which will decide just that.  The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius.  We'll give a break down of what is at stake in each case after the jump.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Reviews: Swag, The Lives of Tao

by Elmore Leonard
The late novelist Elmore Leonard grew up in Detroit and set many of his stories in and around the Metro Detroit area. I've read some of his works in the distant past. I was inspired to read this particular book after having a discussion about old time Detroit with a friend from New York, who although he's never been to Detroit, is a huge Leonard fan. Go figure. My friend recommended this book in the strongest possible terms. So not having read any Leonard in a long time, I decided to give this book a read. I picked it up used for cheap. This was a good book. It wasn't great but it was good. I am glad that I read it. I had forgotten how much Leonard was, like Stephen King, a master of description, of realistic conversations, of storytelling. He actually makes you think that you are there, that you are part of the story. This is a something that not every writer has but I really enjoy reading works by those who have it. Even if the plot sometimes drags or gets off course I still continue reading because I want to see what happens next. Before describing the plot though I do want to briefly tell you about Hudson's. Hudson's was the centerpiece jewel of downtown Detroit. It was the tallest department store in the world. And for my money it was the classiest. The internal architecture was a intoxicating mix of Art Deco and pseudo-Gothic. For a long time in Detroit, anything you ever wanted to have you could get from Hudson's. And not cheap crappy stuff made in China or Malaysia either, mind you. I'm talking 100% American son! Or Hudson's sold Old World high quality stuff that didn't fall apart six months after you bought it. Hudson's heyday occurred before I was born but when I was a young lad I still remember my mother taking me and my siblings there on Saturdays. Good memories.

Hudson's is long gone now. To show the kind of nostalgic appeal the Hudson's building had for SE Michigan residents of a certain age, before it was demolished and even afterwards people "liberated" fixtures, nameplates, elevator gate doors, even bricks, to remind themselves of a glorious time now gone forever. I think one of my relatives might even have a nameplate lying around somewhere. You can read more about Hudson's here if you like. Ok I went down that little detour in memory lane because as Swag is set in mid seventies Metro Detroit, Hudson's plays a key role in the story.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Delinquent Water Bills, Detroit and The United Nations

I do my best to pay my bills on time. I expect the same from others. If I use a service I pay for it. If I loan money I want the money returned. I don't think that's too much to ask from other adults. Things can get a little tricky with relatives or other intimates because the relationship warps our understanding of money. So I avoid loaning money to people in those categories. If they need assistance I will give it to them, if I can. But people close to me know that I like my money very much and don't like giving it away. So that preserves the balance.
But where there's no personal relationship there is no misunderstanding of what money means. With people who lack a personal relationship with me there is never any expectation on my part that money loaned won't have to be repaid, regardless of who is the creditor and who is the debtor. My bank expects monthly mortgage payments. The bank is entirely uninterested in my problems making that payment. All they want is their money. I work for pay at my company, not because I enjoy the witty repartee. So, as is incredibly obvious to most adults, when you make a deal or purchase goods or services, you are supposed to live by the deal or pay for the goods or services you bought. Unfortunately in my home town of Detroit, the Water Department is running into some pushback as it seeks to either obtain payment from delinquent customers or shut their water service off. 

The reason for the Water Department's new aggressiveness in going after delinquents is probably related to the city's bankruptcy. Not only has the Emergency Manager made it clear that business as usual can't continue but of course the Detroit Water Department can't be privatized or merged into a regional service provider unless it shows that it can actually get customers to pay their bills.  I mean would you invest in or purchase a business where customers used the product but refused to pay for it? No you wouldn't. These decisions make sense for the entire organization but inevitably there are going to be some people that get hurt and may not even be deadbeats.