Squat on thy haunches and bray out the tale …

10 11 2009

Hoo boy! The mental midgets are hell-bent on displaying their idiocy for all to see. Why do we tolerate these parasites?

Last Thursday, a US Army psychologist decided that he was going to play one-man jihad at Fort Hood. This man was a US citizen, born of Jordanian immigrants, who happened to be a practicing muslim. Early reports indicate that his religion was part of what made him kill a dozen people and wound dozens more.

Well, the professional whackjob class in this country has been trying to use this man’s savagery to justify their own xenophobia and parochialism. That expert in all things, Pat Robertson, opined that Islam was not a religion but a political movement, and it would therefore be acceptable to discriminate against and persecute people based on that fact.

I’ll allow that to sink in for a moment.

In other words, a well-known and influential cleric has called for persecution of a large group of people because they do not believe as he does. Had he been wearing robes and speaking in a mosque, this man would be the focus of intense scrutiny from US intelligence agencies. Since he was wearing a suit and speaking in a megachurch, nothing will happen to him. Am I the only person who sees that as unjust?

Worse still, this pompous ass-hat is also of the opinion that persecution of and discrimination against people with different political views is a good thing. Perhaps Mr. Pat “I look like Yoda” Robertson hasn’t thought his cunning plan all the way through. If it is generally okay for people to persecute and discriminate against people with different religious and political views, he is going to be on the receiving end of a lot of that. I’m pretty sure even Regent University teaches basic math. Perhaps Robertson could get one of his graduate students to stop praying long enough to fill him in on the demographic results of the last general election. Robertson and his xenophobic right wing brethren are not in the majority in this country. Mr. Robertson, you really do not want to open that particular can of worms.

Let us take a look at some other basic facts, shall we? Most muslims living in the US are a fairly liberal bunch. The only real difference between an American who is muslim and one that is not is faith, which is a private matter. There are millions of muslims in this country who are doing nothing more or less than living the American Dream, and have no plans for anything more than that (except perhaps completing the Haj). There is no reason to treat them as anything other than fellow citizens … unless you’re a right-wing bible-thumper with a TV show and a bad hairpiece.

Many Americans deal with muslims every day in this country. You can find them where you work, in schools (except Regent University, obviously), and where you shop. They are just people– no more, no less. Singling them out for their religious beliefs is not merely wrong- it’s stupid. Who else will Mr. Robertson and his cadre of christian fuckwits single out for persecution? Red-heads? Lefties? Touch-typists? Unibrows? People who use Macs?

I have a better idea: let us all join forces to persecute and discriminate against Pat Robertson and all of his followers for their religious and political beliefs. After all, they’re in the minority. No violence- just refuse to do business with them. “Sorry, Mr. Robertson. I cannot take care of your lawn because you are a stupid, racist windbag.”

This past weekend, I came across a nice Persian family while shopping at Sam’s Club. They were jabbering away at each other in Farsi (which I recognize but cannot speak), and the mother was wearing a hijab. The two kids were acting like kids, and I walked past them while the little boy was standing up in the shopping cart going, vrooom! vrooom! As I passed, I grinned widely at his father, to express my amusement at his son’s antics. I had no idea whether or not he spoke English (I assume he did, but don’t know), but we shared a brief communication despite the lack of words: I was amused by the boy’s vrooming, and he was pleased and proud of his kid (judging by the smile and head shake I got in return). Just two people getting a kick out of a little boy playing racecar from inside a shopping cart.

Despite the fact that I do not speak Farsi, and my religious beliefs are essentially non-existent, I would far rather have this unknown man and his family as fellow Americans than a jackass like Pat Robertson.

Current status: Pining for the fjords

Current music: Point of Know Return by Kansas

Advertisements




Orwell Was An Optimist

9 11 2009

“Justice” system, my pasty, white, lumpy, asymmetrical ass!

In yet another example of how far astray from its alleged purpose our “justice” system has wandered, here are a couple of articles about some journalism students at Northwest University getting harassed by an Illinois prosecutor. Their crime? Glad you asked. It turns out that a Journalism professor at Northwest has, for the last ten years or so, tasked his advanced students with learning if anyone currently in prison might actually be innocent. Evidence uncovered by these student-journalists is turned over to the relevant attorneys, and a total of eleven innocent men have been freed as a result of their efforts. This has apparently raised the ire of the Illinois State Attorney, who seems to be trying to intimidate the students and their professor by launching an investigation into … the students’ grades.

I’m reasonably certain that somewhere in a prosecutor’s job description it is written that justice is the goal. Far too many prosecutors seem to have forgotten this, judging by the extravagant mental gymnastics several prosecutors have used recently in attempts to keep demonstrably innocent men in prison.

Despite the supposed focus on justice required by their jobs and oaths of office, far too many prosecutors across the country are more interested in their conviction ratio. The more convictions they get- especially in high-profile cases- the more pay and bennies they earn. This is doubly true for those prosecutors who are elected to their offices.

For those of you who failed to pay attention in civics class, here’s a hint: Prosecutors are public servants. We (the People) are the public. I fail to see how we are being served by political hacks more interested in promotions, re-elections, and pay raises than in justice.

Back to the case at hand. A prosecutor, when given evidence that someone has been wrongfully convicted and sent to prison, should examine the evidence, re-examine the case in light of the new evidence (if it has any value), and either get the convict a new trial or immediately get him or her released from prison. Alas, this ideal state does not exist except (possibly) on paper. In reality, prosecutors have been trained that more convictions means more money and power for the prosecutors, so penny-ante subjects like the actual innocence of their victims doesn’t come into the picture.

I don’t know about you, but I was always told that it was better that a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent man be deprived of life or liberty. Our so-called “justice” system is supposedly set up with this principle in mind. It is the price of a free society. There is no excuse for sending innocent men or women to prison. If there is a reasonable doubt, they must be found “not-guilty” (note that this is not necessarily the same as innocent). If they have already been convicted and sentenced, the presentation of new evidence which may provide “reasonable doubt” must be looked at dispassionately by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike with justice in mind. If the new evidence had been presented at trial, would this convict have been found guilty? Does this evidence provide “reasonable doubt” of the convict’s guilt? These are matters of Law and Justice, and the political status and professional pride of the prosecutor should have no bearing on the decision.

I am a firm believer that some crimes merit the death penalty. That said, the death penalty must only be invoked for truly heinous crimes about which there is no doubt of guilt. Not “reasonable doubt”- no doubt whatsoever. A sentence of death should be a separate decision from that of guilt or innocence, and any doubt should immediately drop the maximum penalty to that of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Given the shenanigans prosecutors around the country have been pulling lately, a blanket suspicion of doubt has effectively been cast over all convictions. The actions of a few prosecutors are tainting the very heart of the judicial process. If prosecutors are willing to allow innocent men and women to languish in prison or even be put to death if it might further their career, then the criminal justice system in this country is broken beyond repair.

And now, we return to my catch phrase: the Four Boxes. There are four boxes which must be used- in the following order- in defense of liberty. These are Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. This subject demands that we (the People) use those first three boxes to correct these injustices, now and forever. If we fail to immediately and permanently deal with the application of injustice by our public servants with those first three boxes, then our Republic is doomed. We will be forced to open that Fourth Box, in the aftermath of which the United States of America will be no more.

So, start paying attention. Use that sloppy grey goo between your ears for a change. Take the time to learn the facts for yourself, from multiple sources whenever possible. When you find the putrid smell of injustice, root it out. We cannot afford to let it fester, for that way lies madness and destruction.

Current status: Pissed off

Current music: On My Way Home by Enya





Science- It works, bitches!

8 11 2009

head-up-ass

Latest score: science- 4,391,084, religion- o.

Try as they might, the religious whackjobs just cannot catch a break. Reality has that well-known bias for the scientific method, after all.

You may remember the tale of a Minnesota family whose mentally-deficient 13 year old son was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. The doctors told the family that the child had a 95% chance of surviving with a regimen of chemo and radiation. The prognosis without the treatment was death. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?

Sadly, “no brainer” describes the mental acuity level of this particular family of dipshits. The deeply religious family thought their kid was some sort of prophet, and refused to allow him to get treatment based upon their religious beliefs. The doctors told the state government, who promptly hauled the family into court. The court told the family that they must provide the required life-saving medical treatment, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Mom took the kid on the lam, making a run for Mexico with a side-trip into northern California. Those of you with any familiarity with the geography of North America may wonder about this- there is a fairly straight course from Minnesota to Mexico that doesn’t come within 500 miles of California. It turns out that mom wanted to take her “prophet” son to some woo-woo witch doctor type in northern California- hence the detour.

They got caught, and were duly hauled back home and forced to take the child in for his godless treatment. He had his last round of treatment on Friday, and the tentative prognosis is very good. The docs will do some follow-up tests in a few months to make sure the lymphoma is completely gone, but he appears to be cancer-free at the moment.

This is one of the rare success stories, when rationality wins out over woo. All too often, the victim of these outdated religious ideas will be discovered too late for survival. The parents are then hauled off to prison wailing that it was “god’s will”.

House

Sadly, those who would rather believe than know are still out there, many of them in positions of authority. Case in point: an Iraqi Major General in charge of security for Baghdad just loves his expensive woo-woo bomb detectors … which do not work. They have been proven to not work. With US military personnel no longer manning the checkpoints, the Iraqi troops have been using these ADE-651 devices in an attempt to keep bombs out of the streets. Security camera footage has shown that the recent bombings in Baghdad went right through the checkpoints “guarded” by troops using these devices, but the General in charge won’t budge.

The US has tested these things, and proven that they don’t work. James Randi has issued a one million dollar challenge to the British company that manufactures and sells these toys. If one ADE-651 successfully detects explosives in a scientific double-blind study, Randi’s foundation will give them a million dollars.

It must be noted that the company selling these ineffective, high-tech diving rods, ATSC(UK), is making money hand over fist selling their twaddle to third-world security forces. Iraq has ordered more than thirty-two million dollars worth of ADE-651s from ATSC, despite complaints from the US government and military.

I don’t care about Sandia or the Department of Justice or any of them,” General Jabiri said. “I know more about this issue than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world.”

Here we have a case where people’s lives are being put at risk by a belief in magic- or rather, a lack of belief in scientifically-proven evidence. In fact, 155 people lost their lives due to the faith placed in these “magic” devices.

If one were to be crude, one could wave aside General Jabiri’s foolish faith in the ADE-651 as the parochial stupidity of a third-world peasant. One would be wrong to do so. High-ranking officers in most Arab countries are generally highly-educated members of politically-powerful families with close ties to the government. General Jabiri is not an illiterate peasant, but he still has more faith in woo than in reproducible results and hard evidence.

General Jabiri and those American families who have permitted their children to die rather than get medical assistance because of their faith are evidence of a global gap in understanding of science. Even highly-educated people from well-to-do families and well-off middle class Americans are choosing to have faith in thousand-year-old religious texts or palm reading or dowsing or astrology or equally nonsensical ideas. Why?

I think mental laziness is to blame. Understanding modern science is hard work. It requires a willingness to read science articles and ask questions about what has been read. It requires the ability to unlearn old falsehoods. It requires being able to say, “I don’t get it”. These are all tough to do for many people. On the other hand, believing in a magic rock which protects you from getting eaten by a tiger is easy. Religion as a concept encourages its followers to blindly accept many things for which there is no evidence. People who can believe that a galactic overlord dropped the bodies of criminals into Hawaiian volcanoes several million years ago and then nuked them (for example) will probably have little difficulty believing six other impossible thongs before breakfast.

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent—it says so right here on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills. -RAH

Living in the real world is a lot of work. Living in a fantasy world is easy. I happen to think that the hard work we undertake in the real world has far greater payoffs than the false peace of a fantasy, but that’s just me.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: I Will Not Bow by Breaking Benjamin





Last Chance

4 11 2009

Argh! The stupid, it burns!

I’ve spoken at length about the Four Boxes to be used in defense of Liberty. Those are Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo, and should be used in that order. The purpose of that saying is to discourage people from resorting to violence when peaceful methods are available- and more likely to produce positive results without a lot of unnecessary collateral damage to society. Implicit in that description is the idea that, at some point, the destruction of liberty becomes so onerous that nothing less than a total write-off and re-build is in order. If the justice system (Box #3) in this country stops actually providing justice, there will be little recourse but to wipe the slate clean and start over.

There is a case being heard before the Nine Worthies right now that has the potential to push the country over that particular precipice. Here is the story from NPR– just take care your blood pressure does not reach dangerous levels while reading it.

Worse than the initial criminal actions by the prosecutors and police in the original case is a single quote from the prosecutors- backed up by the Attorney General of the United States, no less: “There is no free-standing Constitutional right not to be framed

Pop quiz time: Can anyone point to any part of the US Constitution which might give lie to this assertion by trained legal professionals? Anyone? Buehler?

Let us take a look at the Fifth Amendment, shall we?

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That seems to pretty definitively send the prosecutors’ argument into the shitcan where it belongs. The two men in question did not receive due process. They were maliciously framed by the police and prosecutor. Due process of law wasn’t even allowed in the courtroom.

The main issue seems to be Prosecutorial Immunity. Long-standing legal precedent holds that prosecutors cannot be held civilly liable when a case goes south on them. This is largely in place to protect prosecutors from civil penalty if they inadvertently convict the innocent. The prosecutors (who still claim that Terry Harrison and Curtis McGhee committed the crime in the face of really impressive evidence to the contrary) are trying to convince the Supreme Court that the Public Interest would be harmed by allowing any variation from the doctrine of Prosecutorial Immunity.

That’s as may be, and I could not care less. Two completely innocent men were framed by a Prosecutor and the police, and spent twenty-five years in prison as a result. I submit that the Public Interest is harmed far more by allowing prosecutors to withhold evidence and suborn perjury. The evidence for this assertion is simple and clear: If prosecutors can commit felonies with impunity against the very public they allegedly serve, our justice system (and the Republic on which it is based) is no more. The Supreme Court is the last resort for those who have worked their way through the first three Boxes. If the final appeal from the Third Box rules against the innocent victims, what choice do we (the People) have left?

The Supremes will probably issue a ruling on this early next year. I hope that they will rule in the interests of Justice over the interests of the rules and procedures. Reading past rulings lends a certain degree of hope that they will, but another chilling quote from a sitting Justice makes me fear the worst (“Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached.” – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). If the Court rules in favor of the prosecutors, that’s it- game over. Such a ruling would mean that we are no longer free citizens, but serfs. Slaves to the Government, to be imprisoned at the whim of Government functionaries. If the Government fails to “establish Justice”, and “secure the blessings of Liberty”, it will be time to vote from the rooftops.

And that would be the end of the United States of America.

Current status: Disturbed

Current music: Play the Game by Queen





Miscellaneous Blather

2 11 2009

I’ve been pretty busy buying and moving into a house here in the Shallow South, hence the lengthy gap between submissions. Now that my life is slightly less hectic, I’ll regale my few readers with some brain squeezings I’ve been collecting during the hiatus.

BAREFOOT BUM

A couple of months ago, the Barefoot Bum abruptly closed his blog. He said that he’d run out of things to say. Fortunately for rational discourse, he has recanted that decision and returned to the fray. Please give him a read. I rarely agree with him politically, but he always makes well thought-out and supported arguments. This is such a rare commodity among internet denizens that we should all take notice- whether or not we agree with his conlusions.

IF YOU TAX THEM, THEY WILL LEAVE

There’s an excellent article over at City Journal describing the demographic penalties for high-tax states in comparison with low-tax states. The two primary comparisons are between Texas and California. I have a few issues with some of the author’s unspoken assumptions, conclusions, and methodology, but the trendline does appear to be significantly in favor of the states with lower taxes.

SPEAKING OF VOTING WITH ONE’S WALLET …

The wife and I have abandoned our previous internet and TV service provider in favor of two competing services whose aggregate payments are roughly 1/3 cheaper. While I’m on the subject, we’re saving better than a hundred dollars a month by moving out of our apartment and into our own house. All told, our monthly outlays will be reduced by about 25% because of this move- despite the added costs of sewer, garbage, and water.

How did we do it? Simple. We refused to settle for less than what we wanted for the money, we were willing to wait for the right circumstances, we’re willing to put in sweat equity, and we are not averse to paying for quality. We got a roughly $150K house for only $120K.

QUALITY, AND THE VALUE THEREOF

My wife and I did a lot of shopping around for goods and services for our new house. Consumer Reports was very useful in determining which appliances to buy, and some of the companies who submitted winning bids on the modifications and upgrades we wanted recommended other companies for specialty work. Note that the winning bids were not necessarily the lowest bids. I value quality workmanship at least as much as cost. One company showed up to do some electrical work within 20 minutes of our phone call, performed admirably and professionally, and charged a modest fee. Since this company also performs plumbing and other work, we’ve hired them more than once.

EFFICIENCY

Usually pays off over time. In the case of some of our upgrades, we’re reaping dividends in the short term as well. Our top-end HVAC system is returning us approximately $4,300.00 in tax credits and rebates. All you have to do is learn the rules and exercise the grey material between your ears. Yes, Virginia, there is math involved.

Whenever a salescreature begins extolling the efficiency of his or her overpriced product of choice, calculate out how long it would take for the efficiency savings to pay for the higher price. Unless the product has a lifespan measured in decades, a return on investment time of 5 years or more is probably not worth it.

Your mileage may vary. Not sold in stores. Consult a physician or lawn-care professional before using. Offer void in Alaska, Hawaii, and parts of Tennessee.

SAMHAIN

One of the happier memories from my childhood was Halloween. These days, however, various strange bedfellows are working in concert (perhaps inadvertently) to destroy happy memories of the holiday for the current generation of kids. Wiccans, rabid evangelical christians, and helicopter parents all have their collective panties in a twist about Halloween.

Here in the Shallow South, the fundie-loonies are all up in arms over the supposed satanic nature of Halloween. Schools in this area can’t even refer to October 31st as Halloween. Now it’s the Fall Festival. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the evangelical wingnut fringe is making these claims- they don’t even know what’s in their sacred texts, so why should I think they’d be willing and able to read history and anthropology?

The helicopter parents at least have a few fragments of rationality behind their phobia against permitting their precious snowflakes to go trick-or-treating. There really are bad things which could happen to the puir wee bairns. The fact that a few basic precautions can eliminate or at least dramatically minimize the (already low) probability of those Bad Things happening has apparently not entered the vacuous skulls of the pathologically overprotective. So their crotch-goblins miss out on the fun of pretending to be goblins. Don’t worry- I’m sure the helicopter parents will pay for their paranoia, probably in the form of payments for the services of child psychologists.

Those wacky Wiccans are the real wild cards in the mix. For some reason, some Wiccans are upset that their holiday is being usurped by common folk for non-religious reasons. In my experience, Wiccans  are generally very tolerant of the real world around them. It’s disturbing to learn that even pagans have fundamentalist whackjobs.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN WHAT PASSES FOR REALITY …

… the police in San Jose, California, are escalating the general assault on the civil liberties of the citizens they allegedly serve. Apparently, police in that city have been arresting tons of people for the crime of … wait for it … resisting arrest. Furthermore- and this will shock you- the internal police department investigations into citizen complaints about this practice have found that the officers did not violate procedure.

Somebody call the Supreme Court. I’m reasonably certain that “dissing a cop” is not a valid criminal offense.

IN THE LATEST NANNY-STATE NEWS

Some jackass-in-office in Ayer, Massachusetts got perturbed at the sight of a father pushing his kid on a swing while smoking. Outdoors. In public. How horrible! As a result, the stalwart city leaders of Ayer have banned smoking in all parks and public lands within their jurisdiction.

I don’t smoke, but the idea doesn’t fill me with horror or loathing either. I seriously doubt that anyone outdoors is likely to be exposed to hazardous levels of second-hand smoke unless they were literally nose-to-nose with the smoker. Simply walking a meter or so in any direction would reduce the potentially toxic emissions from the smoker to negligible levels- well below the maximum threshold value from the NIH. As a practical matter, the general level of toxins already in the atmosphere in most major metropolitan areas make second-hand smoke one of the safest pollutants to breathe. Of course, I’m talking about practicality in reference to a state founded by a bunch of bandy-legged, redneck, militia types (also known as Puritans). Logic and practicality never come into play when the chance arises to punish someone for enjoying himself.

Isn’t it about time we (the People) told the officious busybodies who supposedly work for us to keep their noses out of our business?

And that’s all for this show. Tune in at some indeterminate time in the future when I find something else to get irate about.

Current status: Tired and sore

Current music: Cygnus X-1, Book II by Rush