(Note: I am bringing this six year old post to the front in view of the recent events that are unfolding in Egypt, Libya and now Yemen.)
Anna posted her sensible thoughts on the brouhaha over the Danish cartoons which have inflamed passions in the Muslim world. The result has been protests in several Islamic countries, some of them violent. Danish embassies have been attacked, burnt and Danes and Norwegians (and the EU) have been threatened with kidnappings and other bodily harm. I categorically condemn all violent protests. Muslims are justified in expressing disgust and outrage at these silly cartoons but they are not justified in burning buildings and threatening violence. Having said that, there is an issue here that has not been adequately addressed in this context. PZ Myers of the immensely popular science blog "Pharyngula", an unswerving proponent of free speech and unapologetic opponent of religious fundamentalism of all stripes, had two very good posts on this matter. He asked a subtler question than most have asked. He wondered whether the outrage on both sides (Muslim and non-Muslim, especially in Europe) had only to do with free speech and Muslim overreaction. Or did it to a fair extent, also result from racism and socio economic deprivation of Muslims in Europe and the generally impoverished condition of Muslims in Islamic nations . The comments on both posts ran fast and furious and I would guess that opinions were equally divided on this issue. There was some commentary that I interpreted as self serving explanations of European sensiblities, openness and secular democratic values clashing with the backward mentality of European Muslims. I posted a comment there regarding this matter - my own take on why European racism is indeed a player in this latest conflagration. My comment addressed primarily the opinions of a Danish reader who in my view, was somewhat disingenuous in his insistence that the Danish society is bending over backwards to accomodate the Muslims among them while also protecting freedom of speech and secular values and that racism had nothing to do with the latest uproar. I am publishing my comments for the readers here. I was a bit angrier in my tone than is my usual style in public.
Ruchira Paul said:
"Freedom of expression is paramount in democratic societies, including the right to criticize, vilify and mock religion - all religions. No contest there. Having said that, so is the wisdom to not waste this freedom in making trivial and predictable points. What did the Danish cartoons accomplish in establishing? That medieval religious fundamentalism permeates Muslim societies much more deeply than any other religious group? That Muslims consider themselves under siege almost to the level of paranoia and are likely to resort to violence for real or perceived threat/insults to their faith? That most Islamic nations curtail freedom of speech in their own countries and want to do the same in others, in the name of religion? Ho hum. Which one of these came as a surprise to anyone? To all the freedom of speech purists here, PZ Myers and Nullifidian have it right this time. Their nuanced take on the issue is not a zero sum game - it is neither anti-free speech nor pro religion. To prove an intellectual point, when the adversary is operating on a purely emotional level, is not only unwise, it is a waste of energy. Islamic fundamentalism (like all others) has to be resisted, attenuated and eventually eliminated. But it will not happen by engaging in juvenile displays of provocation through theological football as Jyllands-Posten was attempting to do. The resistance will have to take place in the realm of universal human rights, rationality and common decency. "My democracy can beat up your prophet" is hardly a strategy that is likely to work. Mr. Lund, don't waste your breath.
While we are discussing fundamentalism, let us not ignore the context of racism which PZ Myers alludes to. It is perhaps worthwhile for most Americans to recognize the prevalent zeitgeist in Europe. Mr. Lund's erudite sophistry notwithstanding, Europeans as a whole, are much more racist and xenophobic than the average American. I say this as a brown skinned person (not Muslim, not uneducated) who has lived in both continents. European secularism and pacifism are results of exhaustion from four hundred years of oppressive colonialism (the Bible in one hand and a riding crop or gun in the other) and two great wars which nearly annihilated the continent. All the calls for assimilation - "you are here - you must be like us" is BS. The non-Europeans are marginalized, ghettoized and the implicit message to them is "stay in your place." In spite of all overt racism in the US, an immigrant can hope to realize professional and social ambitions in the US - not in Europe. Mr. Lund would argue that the Scandinavian countries were not involved in either colonization or warfare. True. But the mindset of these homogeneous countries is not very different when faced with people who are "different". In fact, George Bush's disastrous action in Iraq and the middle east, is at some level, more honest than what the Europeans are up to vis-a-vis their immigrants. Kill a hundred thousand Iraqis to impose your values? Why not? How is that worse than treating minorities within your borders like s--t with the vestigial hauteur of ex-colonists? A much more honest course of action will be to deport all those whom you are not going to assimilate anyway -ever, and go back to the idyllic existence of Hans Christian Andersen, milk, cheese, football and Lego. Why the pretense? Only to feel holier than thou - especially, holier than those unsophisticated cowboy Americans? Mr. Lund's casual crack about dating one of the last ten Parsis notwithstanding, his "secular" countrymen are much less likely to date a Parsi, a Hindu, a Buddhist and god forbid a Muslim than the average "religious" American. 'Nuff said."
The media have been all atwitter with the news of congressman Todd Akin's (R-MO) radio interview where he claimed that a woman cannot get pregnant as a result of a "legitimate rape."
"If abortion could be considered in case of, say, a tubal pregnancy [which threatens the mother’s life], what about in the case of rape?" asked KTVI host Charles Jaco, in a clip that was disseminated by Talking Points Memo. "Should it be legal or not?"
"It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."
I haven't heard the expression before. Most of us know what constitutes rape and so does the law and it is never legitimate. So what was Akin thinking? I have a suspicion that for many men, rape occurs only if the victim is first beaten to a bloody pulp before she submits to non-consensual sex. If she is not brutalized during the process, rape could not have taken place. Why, the woman may have actually enjoyed the encounter or just changed her mind about consent after the fact.
Congressman Akin is among many others on the right who oppose abortion under most circumstances, including rape and incest. Some of them suspect that women seeking to end unwanted pregnancies will cry rape if that constitutes legal grounds for abortion. So in order to leave rape out of the abortion debate it would be convenient if it can be proved "scientifically" that a woman cannot get pregnant as a result of rape. (Incidentally, Akin is a member of the House science commitee. That should give us pause)
The Republican Party (even its Tea Party wing) is sufficiently embarrassed by Akin's "gaffe" to demand that he pull out of his senate race against Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). I wonder why the GOP is acting with such alacrity. After all, it is not the first time that a right wing politician has opposed the exemption for rape when legislating abortion laws or made flippant and ignorant remarks about it. It is widely believed that the Republicans fear that Akin's opinions if aired in the media for long will also shed light on Romney's running mate Paul Ryan's views on rape and abortion. Ryan has worked closely with Akin in the House to co-sponsor an anti-abortion bill. Only in that bill, the expression was "forced rape." Well, I guess we can now legitimatley ask Ryan what the definition of "voluntary rape" is.
I had a vague sense that the Aurora movie theater shooting last month became a much larger story than the Wisconsin gurudwara shooting last Sunday. Google trends thinks the same thing, going by search volumes for Aurora and Sikh over the past month. (I pasted the Google Trends volumes first for the US, then for India, then for the world)
1. Within the US, the peak interest in the Batman shooting was several times higher than that for the Wisconsin gurudwara shooting, and the interest was a lot slower to die away.
1.1 Aurora beat Sikh in every state, Wisconsin being the only one where Sikh came close.
1.2 There seems to be an English/Spanish difference - searches in Spanish were basically entirely uninterested in the Gurudwara case (changing the query to 'sij' changes nothing, except that no one on the English site was searching for it!).
2. In India, Sikh beat Aurora, though not by a very large amount, once you subtract out the high base rate of Sikh which has nothing to do with the Wisconsin attack.
2.1 Within India the pattern is as expected - Punjab, Haryana and Delhi were wildly less interested in Aurora (though I wasn't able to see the graphs for Indian states separately - maybe that difference comes in part from the base rate, and not from the shooting peak.)
2.2 The further south you go the more the relative interest in Aurora increases over Sikh and both Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were actually rather more interested in Aurora than in Sikh.
3. The worldwide trend tracked the US one, with Aurora beating Sikh in every country except India. Google doesn't think it has enough search volume to give results for Pakistan. The more Anglophone countries showed some degree of interest in Sikh. Many of the country level graphs just look like noise, so I suspect neither of these was a big story (or these weren't good keywords) in many countries.
Possibly pertinent thoughts:
A. Generically, people care more about those who're like them. Basically the queries are compatible with what seems intuitively evident - Indian Sikhs see themselves as having more in common with American Sikhs than American non-Sikhs do.
B. In principle one should normalize, since Aurora killed more people. I wouldn't know how, since in practice I doubt people have linear responses in search interest versus number of deaths.
C. The Aurora story had legs, since the guy was caught, then dyed his hair, went to court etc. And he booby-trapped his house. Plus he chose his site well, since everyone watching the Batman movie would find out about the story and get interested. Basically inasmuch as he was looking for attention, he did a good job. The Gurudwara guy instead killed himself like an idiot. Let this be a lesson to us all - suicide is never the answer.
D. The Aurora shooter is inscrutable since at least so far it's hard to figure out what he was thinking or what went wrong. Whether your particular hobby horse is mental health, or the anomie and isolation characteristic of technological life, or the fate of the losers of sexual revolution, or bullying, there's ample fodder for speculation. By contrast, the logic of the Gurudwara shooter was apparent from the start. What's inexplicable attracts more search queries.
In other news, Queen Elizabeth II became a Bond girl, Mr.Bean played ostinato in his inimitable style with the London Symphony Orchestra, Danny Boyle presented a fantastic spectacle of the transformation of Bucolic to Belligerent Industrial Britain, and highlighted the NHS that every Brit loves to complain about, but no one wants to lose.
Too bad, there are no official online replays of the whole Olympics opening ceremony to be found, it would have been nice to have a BBC version to compare against the dreadful and inane commentary of Bob Costas, Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera that US viewers were forced to endure, and pointless ad breaks.
(For those who missed it, here at least is a playful liveblog play-by-play of the event, with additional Brit-wit to delight the reader. I missed the bucolic baaing of the sheep, and started to watch only as the smokestacks went up.)
On July 7, 2005, one day after Londoners received word that the city would host the 2012 Olympics, terrorist bombs tore through the public transit system, killing 56 people. To prevent a repeat attack and protect the roughly 25,000 athletes, family members, coaches, and officials attending (along with roughly 700,000 spectators), spending on security has topped $1.6 billion. Sydney's pre-9/11 Olympic security in 2000 cost only $179.6 million.
Some privacy advocates have questioned the efficacy of such huge outlays of taxpayer cash. James Baker, the campaign manager for the privacy organization No2ID, points out that in May, a concerned workman at The Sun tabloid was able to smuggle a fake bomb into the Olympic Park in spite of spite of iris and hand scanners at the site. Baker also wonders if authorities will be able to use the web of surveillance technologies quickly enough to be effective -- he points out that in 2009, several of the more than 10,000 license plate scanners around the country detected the car of Peter Chapman 16 different times -- he was wanted for arson, theft, and violation of his status as a sex offender. But police were inundated with hits from the system and did not follow up. Two days later, he raped and murdered a teen he met via Facebook.
More from our own Andrew Rosenblum in CNN Money magazine.
The National Geographic Bee finals were held yesterday in Washington DC, with 10 finalists selected from all the state champions. Seven out of the ten were of Indian origin, one was of Chinese extraction, two were Caucasian. As always, we wonder why there is a preponderance of kids from India in competitions like these. Is it the curry after all?
We had a long email discussion about the results. Here is the thread of those emails.
I mean, couldn't this guy have been whisked out beforehand or even during the raid in one of the Blackhawk helicopters? Didn't the US intelligence know that Al Qaida sympathizers in the Pakistani army and government, who were probably harboring bin Laden, were going to punish this guy for embarrassing them?
I Did Not Attend the Funeral, But I Sent a Nice Letter Saying I Approved of It - Mark Twain
If you gave him an enema you could bury him in a matchbox - Christopher Hitchens ( about Jerry Falwell)
Good! Fuck him. I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead. - Matt Taibbi (about Andrew Breitbart)
LOL, Fuck Muamba. He's dead. - Liam Stacey (Twittering about a footballer who had a heart attack [*])
One of these men is going to prison. Lessons, for if you want to say something awful:
Try to be famous first
Eschew twitter in favor of traditional media like TV or print
The racial optics really matter
Stay as far away from Britain as possible
[*] Update: the post above seems to have led to a back-and-forth on twitter where Stacey followed up his initial remarks with overtly racist and sexist remarks (sanitized transcript here) The post stands, but I wouldn't want to say he was being roughly as offensive as Hitchens or Taibbi or Breitbart. Fellow seems to be closer to Westboro Church levels of iffiness.
I have no words to address the actions of Sergeant Bales who did the shooting of civilians in Afghanistan, nor the horrors experienced by the dead and wounded, nor the bereavement of the families. I do have words, however, for the officers who have direct authority and control over the enlisted men and the non-commissioned officers in their charge.
Officers Are Always In Charge
Officers are responsible for the training and direct supervision of their soldiers. In turn, their superiors have the same responsibility, but of greater moment. They are supposed to set the example, the tone, and the limits of behavior for all their people.
An officer is supposed to know his or her men and, with the NCOs, watch them, direct them, lead them, and discipline them. It is the duty of the officers to curtail and restrain the violent impulses of their soldiers when the shooting and killing is over in combat.
A good officer will know when a soldier is beyond his discipline and contol, and then remove him from a situation where the soldier will harm himself or others. Senior officers can be oblivious to signs of emotional and personality dysfunction in their units.
In almost all tragedies, like the murders in Afghanistan, an after-event analysis shows there were signs the size of billboards that indicated something horrible and devastating was waiting to happen. In the case of the My Lai massacre, the officers themselves were in a state of decomposition, and there was no one looking out for their wellbeing and ability to lead.
A combat officer has only two priorities, in the following order: 1. accomplish the mission, and 2. take care of his soldiers. If the officer didn't see it coming, then the officer has to pay as well - right up the line. A failure of this magnatude is rarely without warning signs announcing the coming.
Dharun Ravi, 20, formerly of Rutgers University, NJ, was convicted on all 15 counts brought against him: invasion of privacy, bias intimidation,lying to investigators, trying to influence a witness and tampering with evidence. From the NYTimes article:
"The case was a rare one in which almost none of the facts were in dispute. Mr. Ravi’s lawyers agreed that he had set up a webcam on his computer, and had then gone into a friend’s room and viewed Mr. Clementi kissing a man he met a few weeks earlier on a Web site for gay men. He sent Twitter and text messages urging others to watch when Mr. Clementi invited the man again two nights later, then deleted messages after Mr. Clementi killed himself."
"Mr. Ravi, 20, wearing a dark suit over his slight frame, sat expressionless as the jury forewoman read the verdict on the first count, of invasion of privacy. But he seemed surprised when she pronounced him guilty on the next charge, of bias intimidation. His eyes popped and he quickly turned his head from the jury."
"Mr. Ravi had rejected plea deals, because prosecutors would have required him to admit to bias intimidation. His lawyers said he simply did not believe he had committed a hate crime. They argued that he was “a kid” with little experience of homosexuality who had stumbled into a situation that scared him."
"Mr. Kaplan, the county prosecutor, rejected suggestions that Mr. Ravi would not have been on trial if Mr. Clementi had not killed himself. Even if he had not, he said, “under these facts, under this evidence, we would prosecute this case.”
I remember thinking "What a horrific case! What kind of values did the kid who spied grow up with?" when I first read about the suicide of Tyler Clementi a couple of years ago. Then, as I read this article in the New Yorker, I felt more ambivalent about the charges. Is this a hate crime?
What must have gone through Clementi's mind over the whole incident, that prompted him to commit suicide? He appears to have been at a most vulnerable stage, the start of 'coming out' to the world, having informed his parents just shortly before joining college, and starting to explore his sexuality. Was he punishing only Dharun for harassing him, or trying to punish his mother, whose initial rejection he sensed. From the New Yorker article by Iain Parker:
"When he described that experience to Cruz, Clementi reported that his father was “very accepting” of his news, but added, “Its a good thing dad is ok w/it or I would be in serious trouble / mom has basically completely rejected me.” He later added that she had been “very dismissive.”
Jane Clementi told me recently that Tyler announced his sexuality to her in a private, late-night conversation, which “snowballed” to cover his perceived shortage of friends and the uncertainty he had about his faith. At the end of their talk, she recalled, “he cried, I cried, we hugged.” They said that they loved each other. But, Jane Clementi said, “I must admit, other than being surprised, I felt betrayed.”
And, finally, after the whole sordid saga unravels, in digital footprints and reconstruction of the sequence of events leading to the discovery of Tyler Clementi's body in the Hudson, a sad footnote from his mother.
"On the night Jane Clementi learned that Tyler was gay, she said, “I told him not to hurt himself.” Not long before, a girl from his school had committed suicide. “We had talked about it briefly that summer, and for some reason that thought came to mind. And all I said was ‘Don’t hurt yourself,’ and he looked me right in the eye and he laughed, and said, ‘I would never do anything like that.’ ”
So yes, Dharun Ravi was a jerk. He was definitely guilty of the charges of invasion of privacy, lying to investigators, trying to influence a witness and tampering with evidence. But as to the determination of 'bias intimidation', under the Hate Crimes statute, the situation is more murky. There is evidence of distaste and disgust, but not of hate, in my opinion.
"a. Bias Intimidation. A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of an offense specified in chapters 11 through 18 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes; N.J.S.2C:33-4; N.J.S.2C:39-3; N.J.S.2C:39-4 or N.J.S.2C:39-5, (1) with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity; or (2) knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, gender,handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity..."
So, yes. Dharun Ravi's actions were a crime, even if he thought he was just 'joking'. Justice has been served by the verdict. The laws are very clear on that. All that remains to happen is the sentencing, set for May 21.
Would this have been prosecuted as a hate crime if Clementi had lived? It is hard to know, even though the prosecutor avers that they would have done so with equal zeal.
Move over, BPA, make room for the new kid on the block: 4- MI ( the 'cute' name for 4-methylimidazole), a byproduct of the process used to create one of the coloring agents used in what is obliquely termed 'caramel color' on the ingredients list of many processed foods, most notably sodas like Coca Cola and Pepsi.
The Center for Science in Public Interest had submitted a docket to the FDA, requesting that the caramel colorings with 4-MI be banned, but can claim success of a different sort from what it had hoped. Because of regulations in the state of California, where Coke and Pepsi would have had to label their drinks with warnings similar to "This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm."
If it causes cancer in California, surely, it must cause cancer elsewhere. Ah, the power of truth in advertisement, and the things manufacturers will do in order to not have to issue disclaimers that their product contains substances that are considered carcinogens, even it is only in California. Or is the fear that they could be sued in California by any private citizen or group over the 4-MI in their formulation? This article sheds more light on their concerns.
"Our member companies will still use caramel coloring in certain products, as always. The companies that make caramel coloring for our members' soft drinks are producing it to meet California's new standard,” the beverage association said in a separate statement.
“Consumers will notice no difference in our products and have no reason at all for any health concerns.”
The question is still up in the air as to whether the results of lab tests that show that 4-MI is indeed carcinogenic in lab rats, at high concentrations that far exceed the normal levels that even the most avid drinker of sodas would be exposed to, can be used to argue that 4-MI in caramel color is indeed responsible for a variety of cancers in the population ingesting it. My guess is that at best, it would be one of a gazillion contributing factors towards any cancers that did develop.
Carefully crafted, teary-eyed sentiments indeed. As well they should be, given the outrage poured on Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to stop giving grants to the Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening and preventative education. This could mean a huge drop in liberal contributions to the Orgy of Pinkfulness that the Komen Foundation sustains not only in October, but year-round as part of its effort to 'eradicate breast cancer', a goal that remains muddied by the numerous partnerships it forges with corporations who don't exactly promote good health through their products.
According to Komen, the decision was born not out of political pressure but rather as part of an ongoing effort to exact "stronger performance criteria for our grantees."
The outrage has so far garnered from the public a substantial proportion of the funds that Planned Parenthood stood to lose.
Planned Parenthood said Wednesday that it received more than $400,000 from 6,000 donors in the 24 hours after news broke that its affiliates would be losing grants for breast screenings from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast-cancer foundation.
Komen, meanwhile, incurred heated criticism from some members of Congress, numerous liberal advocacy groups and some newspaper editorial writers. But it was applauded by many conservative religious and anti-abortion groups that abhor Planned Parenthood for its role as the leading U.S. abortion provider.
If we are all a little less pinked-out after this, we can thank Karen Handel for her decision to push through the defunding 'organizations under investigation' rule. But I have a feeling that come October, the frenzy for the Pinking of America will rebound, as it always does, with the fresh legions of the newly-diagnosed.
"The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force examined all the evidence and found little if any reduction in deaths from routine PSA screening. But it did conclude that too many men are diagnosed with tumors that never would have killed them and suffer serious side effects from resulting treatment."
"As the P.S.A. test has grown in popularity, the devastating consequences of the biopsies and treatments that often flow from the test have become increasingly apparent. From 1986 through 2005, one million men received surgery, radiation therapy or both who would not have been treated without a P.S.A. test, according to the task force. Among them, at least 5,000 died soon after surgery and 10,000 to 70,000 suffered serious complications. Half had persistent blood in their semen, and 200,000 to 300,000 suffered impotence, incontinence or both. As a result of these complications, the man who developed the test, Dr. Richard J. Ablin, has called its widespread use a “public health disaster.” (italics mine)
There is a flourishing industry whose success depends on treating the incontinence and impotence that is such a common side effect of those who have undergone treatment for the possible prostate cancer, whether slow-growing or fast.
The real question, at this point, given the weak economy, is whether the bending of the health care cost curve tthat comes from less aggressive testing for prostate and breast cancers is worth the loss of jobs in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Maybe it is worth it, in terms of quality of life for say 48 out of 50 who might have been diagnosed on the basis of the test, and subjected to needless treatment. But the 2 who were saved will always be much more vociferous in their support of universal testing, as is very evident from the flurry of angry letters following the articles.
Or maybe, they should just let things be between men and their doctors, just as in the case of women and the mammogram recommendations.
No Evidence Linked Them To The Murders(Norman Costa)
There is no scarcity of stories like these.
"The three men spent 18 years behind bars for a brutal crime they said they did not commit. Locked away for life -- with one of them sentenced to death -- the men thought they would never experience freedom again.
"They had been imprisoned for the brutal 1993 murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Evidence against the men was circumstantial, however, and doubts grew over the years about their guilt.
"Finally, nearly two decades after the crime, the men were allowed to walk free last month, the result of a complicated plea agreement requiring them to plead guilty even while declaring their innocence."
Troy Davis and Constitutional Virtues (Norman Costa)
By Mark Osler, Special to CNN
"Editor's note: Mark Osler, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota, is a former federal prosecutor and the author of "Jesus on Death Row," a book about capital punishment.
"(CNN) -- When I was a federal prosecutor, I had some sleepless nights. On a few occasions, it was after I had lost at trial; I would lie in bed and think of what I did wrong.
"Other times, though, my sleepless hours came after I had won a trial or gotten what I wanted at sentencing. The haunting question was always the same: What if I was wrong?"
A friend of mine was summoned for jury duty. It was a capital case. During the voir dire, the prosecuting attorney asked Bill if he could vote to convict a guilty man who would be sentenced to death. Bill answered, “No!” He was opposed to the death penalty on personal and religious reasons. Bill was excused from the jury panel.
Philosophically, I am not opposed to the death penalty. However, I believe it should be abolished for a number of practical reasons.
1. It is impossible to administer a judicial process leading to an execution that is consistently fair, unbiased, and without error.
2. A death sentence starts a process that is very costly to the tax payers of the State. The appeals process is prescribed and made mandatory by law. The appeals process, and the many variants of appeals of appeals, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. In many cases, the burden on the State treasury runs into the millions. The long term incarceration of capital criminals, who would otherwise be executed, is less costly than a legal system that carries out a death sentence.
3. The administration of capital justice is a heavy burden that affects the morale and mental well being of the people who staff the death row corridors of our prisons.
4. Abolishing the death penalty would put the United States on a par with most of the countries of the world. We lose any moral advantage when, as a country, we oppose an execution in another country because we feel it is unfair or unjust.
5. Eliminating the death penalty provides time for successful appeals or retrials. Posthumous exoneration is small comfort for friends and family, and none for the innocent prisoner.
6. A lifetime in jail, rather than death at the gallows, offers the convicted a chance to reflect on his or her crime and to come to terms with the consequences of their actions. This will be lost on the sociopath, but others may benefit in a personal or spiritual way.
Let's turn to the matter of Troy Davis. As I started writing this essay, a yellow banner appeared on the CNN home page on my browser. Troy Davis was just executed in Georgia. I will not discuss the merits of the opposing sides on this case. Rather, I would like to discuss some broader issues that are not understood very well, if at all, about our justice system and the appeals process in criminal matters.
Our system of justice is not focused on getting it right. The emphasis is on fairness. The familiar adage, “Innocent until proven guilty,” means that you are entitled to a FAIR trial, not to a perfect outcome. An instructive experience is sitting in on a moot court trial in law school. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the difference between making it a fair fight versus finding the truth. Make sure you read a copy of the case before you watch the trial.
The case file has solid evidence of the guilt of the accused. It also has evidence that contradicts the charge of committing a crime. There is evidence that is less than clear on both sides. The job of the prosecuting and defending student attorneys is to mount their case, present the evidence, and use all the procedural tricks of the trade against the opposing side and it's evidence. The published case does not lead to a clear verdict on either side. A successful conviction or successful defense will depend solely upon the preparation and trial skills of the jousting knights.
The appeals process is not what most people think it is. The average citizen believes that the appeals process determines if the jury got it right and rendered the correct verdict. There are exceptions, but the appeals process is less concerned with the jury getting it right, than with making sure the procedures of law, criminal trial, and rules of evidence were fairly administered.
The concept of the fair trial is sacrosanct in our system of justice. It is such a important foundation of our government and our society that we do not let a jury, or any other faction in our legal system, impeach the process. A juror announces after trial that she would not have rendered a guilty vote if she knew that the death penalty would be imposed. Another juror announces that he made a mistake in voting for a guilty verdict. He did not understand a very important aspect of the evidence presented at trial. In spite of this, it is rare that the verdict will be overturned. The jury cannot, and is not allowed to, impeach its own process.
The same can be said about witnesses who, later, recant their testimony. Barring the finding of clear, unopposed, and overwhelming evidence, and the conversion of the prosecutors office, the appeals process is unlikely to overturn the verdict that was the outcome of a fairly administered process. All things being equal, recanting witnesses do not a reversal make. Recanting witnesses cannot impeach a fair process – one in which they were contributing players.
How do we take a justice system that focuses on fairness of process, and get it closer to a focus on the truth? The most radical idea for the United States is to transform the jury system of criminal justice into one that is presided over by panels of professional judges. You see this in Europe and in many quarters of the world. The judges do the questioning and investigating. The judges vote to render a verdict. A court room is not a jousting tournament for lawyers. Their role is very different.
This is very unlikely to be implemented in the U.S. for criminal trials. That leaves us with only a few avenues of reform. One is better training, higher education requirements, and improved managerial supervision of police. Effective citizen review of their law enforcement employees (police work for the citizens) has been talked about for years, but is largely a joke. Police do not want to be reviewed by the citizens who hire them and pay their salaries. What would have been the outcome of the Troy Davis trial if Georgia had had a system of effective civilian review boards?
Finally, State and local legislatures and political leaders have to establish law, policy, and funding to give the accused (and the convicted) access to modern forensic science.
Those who are nostalgic for the unfulfilled promises of the good ole days of Bush-Cheney, must be salivating over the candidacy of Texas governor Rick "Goodhair" Perry. While George W.Bush and Perry have some outwardly common traits and backgrounds - faux cowboy swagger, multi-term governors of Texas, death penalty enthusiasts, tendency to shoot from the mouth about things they don't know, darlings of the right wing etc., the two are not very similar human beings. Also their early enablers, sponsors and handlers belong to somewhat different classes of power-brokers although Bush later became a puppet in the hands of the same kind of people who made Perry. While the far right loved Bush, he did not rise from their ranks. He was an outsider who played their game most of the time but did not always consult them to write his playbook during his early years as a politician. Perry on the other hand, is a local boy and a carefully cultivated product of the far right fundamentalist Christian camp of Texas politics. He is far more insidious, ignorant, corrupt and indebted to his benefactors than Bush was during his pre-White House years. In fact, Perry's mean hearted antics as governor, makes Bush's tenure in Texas look like a fairly decent and compassionate period.
Here are two articles that describe Perry's revival tent preacher style politics and the troubling secrecy with which he has operated during his long stint as the governor of Texas.
Talk about a perfect-storm, composite candidate. Combine Elmer Gantry’s nose for converts, Ronald Reagan’s folksy confidence and Sarah Palin’s disdain for the elites — and that dog hunts.
Perry doesn’t just believe, he evangelizes. He summons prayer meetings. He reads scripture while callers are on hold. Not incidentally, he’s a successful governor. Perhaps most important, he’s a wall-scaling fundraiser whose instincts make him a force of nature in the political landscape...
If we are descended of some blend of apes, then we can’t have been created in God’s image. If we establish Earth’s age at 4.5 billion years, then we contradict the biblical view that God created the world just 6,500 years ago. And finally, if we say that climate change is partly the result of man’s actions, then God can’t be the One who punishes man’s sins with floods, droughts, earthquakes and hurricanes. If He wants the climate to change, then He will so ordain, and we’ll pray more.
Perry knows he has to make clear that God is his wingman. And this conviction seems not only to be sincere, but also to be relatively noncontroversial in the GOP’s church — and perhaps beyond. He understands that his base cares more that the president is clear on his ranking in the planetary order than whether he can schmooze with European leaders or, heaven forbid, the media. And this is why Perry could easily steal the nomination from Romney.
When then-Gov. George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, his office released a treasure trove of information relating to his years as Texas’ chief executive.
Some 3,125 pages detailing Bush’s appointments during 1995-1998 allowed news organizations to remark on the exact number of lobbyists and campaign donors with whom he met. The records showed which state lawmakers Bush conferred with – and on what subject – and detailed how much time he spent reviewing capital punishment cases prior to executions. The records showed when he arrived at the office, when he took time off for the gym and when he went home. In short, the documents provided a portrait of the leadership style of a candidate for president of the United States.
Now, as Gov. Rick Perryembarks on a presidential campaign, it is unlikely the public will access records that provide many revealing details about his decade-long tenure as governor. While Perry extols open government – most recently challenging Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to “open the books” of the nation’s central bank – he has adopted policies that shroud his own office in a purposeful opaqueness that confounds prying reporters – or any member of the public questioning his policies.
He has been governor longer than anyone in Texas history, but there is a lot the public does not know about Rick Perry. Where does he go each day, and with whom does he talk? What is discussed when he meets with top state agency executives? How does he evaluate a clemency request from a death row inmate? Or an application for a grant from his Emerging Technology Fund? What opinions are expressed to him through email and how does he respond?
Missed legal deadlines
Those are just some of the questions left largely unanswered by Perry’s decisions to bar the public from viewing details of his travel, his daily schedule and most of his emails.
Over the past decade, the Perry administration has withheld information in response to some 100 open-records requests, instead seeking review by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. In two cases in the past year, Perry’s office acknowledged it failed to meet legal deadlines for responding to the requests, or otherwise delayed in violation of well-established procedures outlined in the Texas Public Information Act.
Most of the withheld documents involved contracts, bidding and oversight of programs in which state money flows to entrepreneurs, privately held companies and universities from Perry’s two economic development funds, the Emerging Technology Fund and the Texas Enterprise Fund. In some cases, the requests involve entities headed by Perry campaign donors and political appointees. Perry also chose to withhold information when third parties complained they would release proprietary information or violate trade secrets.
I don't know which quality bodes more ill if a man like Perry were to become the president of America. Perhaps his college transcript was an early and accurate indicator of the danger that an ignoramus Perry leadership spells for the nation.
Pakistan and India are celebrating the 64th anniversary of “Freedom at midnight” with their usual mix of nationalism and jingoism (Bangladesh seems to ignore this nightmarish dream anniversary and will be mostly ignored in this article). The fashionable opinion about India (within and without, though perhaps less on the Indian left) seems fairly positive; about Pakistan, decidedly muddled if not outright negative. Is this asymmetry another manifestation of the unfair assessments of an Islamophobic world? Or does this difference in perception have a basis in fact?
Barack Obama reminds me of Woodrow Wilson after WWI. Wilson and Obama are interesting contrasts. Wilson had a great deal to do with getting the League of Nations off the ground. The League was never really effective, but it paved the way for the United Nations. Wilson was unable to get the US Congress to ratify America's membership in the League. Why? Because he was totally unwilling to compromise with the opposition.
Obama, on the other hand, seemed totally unwilling to take the reins in his own hands and act decisively - perhaps acting unilaterally to raise the debt ceiling under the 14th Amendment. Bill Clinton advised as such. Raise the debt ceiling and let the courts catch up with him later, if they can.
Wilson was inflexible because he considered a charter and organization for peace to be a moral imperative and an inviolable principle. Obama was inflexible in wanting compromise and compelling Congress (and both parties) to take responsibility for the state of the Nation's economy. It was his honor bound duty to change the ugly stripes of the dysfunctional tiger.
The 1919 Treaty of Versailles, with the help of an enabling League of Nations, led directly to WWII and the continuation of a 130 year war that started in 1870 (Franco-Prussian) and ended in 1999 with the final disposition of the Baltic States. It rolled over Wilson as if he were not there.
The political system in Congress is rolling over Obama. It will make a political irrelevancy of the highly principled Obama just as it did to the highly principled Jimmy Carter and Woodrow Wilson. Obama doesn't have to disown his principles. He just has to add a few, like taking names, kicking ass, taking no prisoners, and shooting the ones he has.
Wouldn't it be interesting if Obama could integrate his ideals with the master politician of a Bill Clinton and the tough as nails, Bad-ass of a Rohm Emmanuel? Well, we don't have a Lyndon Johnson any more, but we have the next best thing. Hillary Clinton. Trouble is, I do not think she is up for another shot at it.
Paul Weiner has some interesting thoughts on Barack Obama's state of mind. Read more HERE.
Having just gotten back from Across the Pond, and been visiting there, albeit in non-hotspots, while rampaging hordes managed to destroy the fragile sense of peace that hovers over the United Kingdom, it seems almost mandatory that I proffer an opinion regarding what brought them to this bind.
For a people who like to utter "That's brilliant" to just about anything they agree and assent to, it's quite evident that this recent train of incidents has left them shocked, angered and ashamed that such should still occur in this day and age.
Britain is no stranger to blackened smouldering ruins destroyed by internecine warfare, just not too many in recent years. With a social safety net and welfare system that is arguably one of the best in the world, there ought to be little that might persuade the average Brit to turn from law-abiding subject of HRM Queen Elizabeth II into rioter and looter. Yet that is precisely what happened last week. The rioters smashed into stores large and small, indulging in petty thievery and arson, while the police watched on in deliberate (or was it unwilling?) inaction.
The root cause was ostensibly the shooting of a gentleman(?) named Mark Duggan, which evoked cries of 'police brutality', and turned into an opportunity for mobs to form, well guided by the cell phones and social networks, if we are to go by the talking heads of TV and politicians ascribing blame for the lovely coordination of the attacks.
I had only free copies of the Daily Mail to read: dreck, like the US' National Enquirer, but smarter and wittier.The articles were all about 'National Shame' , "Millionaire's daughter part of rioters' mob, sob-stories by unemployed moms "I lost my apartment in one of the fires"), what I got to see in this paper was the conservative attitude towards the rioters. Article after article pushed the viewpoint that it was time for the Nanny State to feed the rioters some bitter medicine, taking away privileges ('Evict them from the tax-payer funded homes that they now enjoy', 'Dismiss those with government jobs', etc.) Other voices, mostly on TV, pleaded for a more lenient approach, advocating soul-searching. "We must address the malaise that pervades our culture, not make things worse by punishing those already alienated by the disconnect between what they see the haves enjoy in comparison with them, the have-nots."
While the Land of Milk and Honey has brought plenty to its people, it has failed to give them the sense of purpose that would deter such acts of random violence. Spectacles and grand pomp like Will and Kate's wedding cast an aura and extend the national sense of pride for only so long. While no one would wish for a calamity like the tsunami and nuclear disaster that visited Japan recently, it forced a land of Lotus-Eaters to seriously reconsider and retool their attitudes toward life, waking the dormant spirit of national unity and cooperation in face of tragedy.
For Britain, with her aging holy cows, and a new disspirited younger generation, one wonders if the worst is yet to come, or whether these recent events will have served as an effective wake-up call.
Howevr, the truth never gets in the way of agenda-pushing. Vide this paragraph by Jennifer Rubin, who happily pounced on the shootings as evidence of jihadism in her Washington Post op-ed:
"This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists. I spoke to Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, who has been critical of proposed cuts in defense and of President Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan. “There has been a lot of talk over the past few months on how we’ve got al-Qaeda on the run and, compared with what it once was, it’s become a rump organization. But as the attack in Oslo reminds us, there are plenty of al-Qaeda allies still operating. No doubt cutting the head off a snake is important; the problem is, we’re dealing with global nest of snakes.”
Once proven wrong, however spectacularly, she came up with this soggy offering:
"That the suspect here is a blond Norwegian does not support the proposition that we can rest easy with regard to the panoply of threats we face or that homeland security, intelligence and traditional military can be pruned back. To the contrary, the world remains very dangerous because very bad people will do horrendous things. There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West.
And so it continues, all over the media. From the recent rushes to judgment in several highly publicized cases, one would think that they would have learned lessons about jumping to conclusions. Whatever happened to journalistic integrity and fair shakes?
Mind, I've never been a fan of the silly memes (Indians eat monkey brains?!!?) so egregiously used in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But when a real treasure trove shows up in nowhere other than the quiet temple that I used to visit in my hometown, making it perhaps the 'Richest Temple on Earth' as all the headlines have been blaring in the last 24-hour cycle, one cannot resist indulging in a laugh at the chagrin of all Indiana Jones wannabes and the unspectacular way in which this treasure was found.
No National Geographic special will be needed to capture the excitement of discovery, for there is none. The fact of the treasure's existence was well-recorded enough in temple documents. It was only the extent that had not been truly gauged till now, when a court-ordered listing of the contents of the cellars yielded up an astounding inventory.
From the AP account:
Inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, investigators were counting the staggering hoard of gold coins and statues of gods and goddesses studded with diamonds and other precious stones. Outside, small groups of armed policemen patrolled the temple grounds in the heart of the Kerala state capital, Trivandrum.
Metal detectors were hurriedly installed at temple entrances after six days of searches revealed a treasure trove of artifacts, statues and temple ornaments made of gold and embellished with jewels.
The valuables were donated to the temple by devotees over hundreds of years, and India's erstwhile royal family has been the custodian of the treasures.
News anchors struggle at the sight of the name, and wisely, don't attempt to pronounce either 'Thiruvananthapuram' (mangled by the British as Trivandrum, still used in popular parlance, but restored to its original unpronouncability by the Kerala government several years ago.). Nor do they try to utter "Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple". Whew, it was much easier when the 'Tirupati' temple was declared the richest years ago.
A battle will ensue in court over who is entitled to all these riches. There is a claim from the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, who have acted as hereditary guardians of the temple, having made generous endowments to in the past for upkeep and ceremonies. They have also filed a petition to keep all the details of the discoveries out of the media limelight. The Kerala state government opines that the treasure belongs to the temple, not the royal family. So, there will likely be counter-claims on the treasure from the state Devaswom Board, a bureaucratic department that was formed by the government to administer these temples in post-Independence India.
What does one do with $22 billion worth of gold and diamonds (and that is the estimated worth without taking into account the antique value)? It came from the blood, sweat and tears of so many people over so many centuries. Maybe they ought to put it in a museum for the public to enjoy and see, but wouldn't that be a magnet for thieves, harder to secure now that all is brought to light.
Or, perhaps, they should be parcelled out to premier institutions all over the world, keeping some for the local museum. The money obtained by selling them off could be put to good use in establishing universal education and healthcare all over India. The Travancore royals had always been in the forefront of such moves when they were rulers. One wonders if they might adopt such a strategy, if they were granted possession of this treasure by the courts.
Would a democratic government do the same, should they win this case, or will India's famously corrupt politicians gobble up the lion's share of any such profits? Only time will tell.
After the latest tawdry tale from our nation's capital where yet another male politician has been caught indulging in an unwholesome pastime (cyber-flashing, in this case), some are wondering whether all too often men + power equals recklessness. Not many powerful women have been embroiled in sexual scandals or exercised such poor judgment in their personal behavior as the now very long list of offending male politicians from both parties. Women are not necessarily more sexually pure than men; they just know when not to throw caution to the wind. Also, they enter politics for different reasons than most men do.
Less interestingly, I got into a long discussion on Facebook based on two articles on Anthony Weiner, one by Juan Cole and the other by Glenn Greenwald. Since I haven't taken the permission to post the other comments, I am reproducing only my side here. It is easy to fathom the actual line of backing and forthing that went on. I am separating the comments by ***, each a response to something someone else said in the thread.