Thursday, March 31, 2005

Terri Schiavo

I can think of very few things that have affected me as much as this case has. I brought it up in discussions with my friends and with my family around the dinner table. I lay awake at night thinking about it. I devoured news shows that I normally don’t watch just to try and learn more about this case. I did some serious research on the Internet to try and discern fact from fiction. I've participated in online discussions. I've blogged about this topic before. It occupied a major portion of my life for the past several weeks.

The passion and intensity of the Schindlers tore at my heart. The stoicism and determination of Michael Schiavo in the face of death threats and bribes was most admirable. It brought into play some very fundamental questions. But at the end of the day, the principle of self-ownership is what held sway for me.

I believe that as adults, we own ourselves. This means that we should be able to decide what kind of work we want to do (if we’re good enough to handle it) and where we want to live. If we own ourselves, we should be able to decide what food we eat, what exercise we do (or don’t), what we can drink or smoke, and what recreational drugs we can take (or not). It should mean that we can decide how we want to live and it should mean that we are able to decide how we would NOT want to live.

It’s my opinion that Terri Schiavo has finally been released from her 15 year bondage. If you believe in God and Heaven, you should believe that she has gone to a better place. I certainly hope she has and that the Schindlers and Michael Schiavo and his new family can finally move on with their lives.

Rest in Peace Terri.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Saudi Justice and the Death Penalty

A couple of nights ago I was flipping through channels and chanced upon the Dennis Miller show. Dennis was talking about applying Saudi justice to the case of Scott Peterson.

I lived in Saudi Arabia for about 8 years and am always amazed at how often people here, when discussing the Saudi’s and their customs, get it wrong. But in this case, Dennis was spot-on. He described Saudi justice, in capital punishment cases as being thus; the family of the victim gets to decide if the perp lives or dies. If they decide that he lives, they can demand “blood money” from the perp’s family (~$100,000K, when I was last there) for the perp’s life. If they decide he dies, he gets taken down to the local “chop-chop” square, adjacent to the central mosque. This happens on Friday, the Muslim holy day (analogous to Christian Sunday) just after the noon prayers. His hands are tied behind his back. He’s put on his knees and bent over so his body is parallel to the ground. A proclamation is read to the audience detailing the crime, the fact that the perp is guilty and that the King has approved the execution (the King has to approve all executions). The local executioner comes out with a royal sword. The perp is prodded with a stick or another sword to force his head up and, as soon as it is, with a single quick stroke, the perp is beheaded. The crowd cheers (punishments are done in public). And that’s that. Quick, efficient, final. And quite a crowd-pleaser.

These beheadings are also announced in the local newspapers. I don’t have a copy of an Arab News in front of me, but the story would read something like this;
“On Friday, April 17th (in the Arabic newspapers, the date would be the Hejira date), Mohammed El-Loser was beheaded for the crime of killing the son of Abdullah Alhusseini. The Alhusseini family chose execution rather than taking the blood money. In accordance with Islamic law, HRH King Fahd has approved the sentence. The Ministry of Justice carried out the sentence and takes this opportunity to reiterate its intentions to do whatever is necessary to maintain public safety and security.”
A couple of additional twists; First, if the immediate family of the victim are all minors (for example, if the parents of one or more under-aged children are murdered), the killer is kept in jail until the minor turns 18. At that time he or she is asked if they want the blood money or the killer to be executed. Second, the crimes for which capital punishment is meted out? Murder, Rape, Arson (or other crime) which results in the loss of life or apostasy (renunciation of the Islamic religion). Third, it doesn’t matter what Nationality you are. If you did the deed and are caught, you will be punished. The American consulate is careful to tell Americans living in Saudi Arabia that the only thing they can do if you are caught up in the Saudi Criminal Justice system is to try and ensure that you are treated fairly according to Saudi Law. And fourth, their court system works a bit differently than ours. Both sides have their own attorney. However, the attorneys work for the judge not the client because they are there to determine the truth, not to "win the case".

So I’d like to propose a variant of Saudi justice be applied to American capital cases. If someone is convicted of a capital crime, the immediate family of the victim gets to choose if the prisoner is executed or imprisoned for life (I don’t ever want a killer to be able to buy their way out of justice). And if the family opts for execution, they get to choose between lethal injection, hanging, or the electric chair.

This should satisfy most everyone. The people who want revenge / vengeance / justice (pick your own term) would be able to get it. And those immediate families who truly are against the death penalty would be able to spare it in their case. And they and the public would have the satisfaction (and comfort) of knowing that the killer is locked up for life.

The caveat in all of this is that we simply have to do a better job of determining if someone is guilty of a capital crime or not. I’ve blogged about this before. For example, I don’t think that Scott Peterson should be eligible for execution because ALL of the evidence in his case is circumstantial. But in the case of John Couey? I want all of the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. But unless this guy turns out to be one of these nuts who will confess to anything (just for the publicity), then I say let Jessica Lunsford’s dad get his wish and fry the bastard.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Terri Schiavo – Fact vs. fiction…

I have spent a lot of time researching what has happened in this case. I’ve thoroughly reviewed terrisfight.org, abstract.appeal.com and other web resources. I’ve read the court decisions and GAL reports (really, I’ve read them). I’ve participated in a few online discussions on this and have followed others. I’ve watched multiple TV shows dedicated to this subject. I’ve made an honest attempt to discern the facts of the case. And I think it would be fair to say that there is not a single “fact” that has been presented in this case that has not been challenged.

The anti-Michael Schiavo side; “When is that bitch going to die?”, “There’s been no MRI scan done – that’s criminal.”, “He’s only interested in the money.”, “He’s trying to cover up his attempted murder of Terri.”, “We don’t know what she’d want in this situation.”, “She’s not in a Persistent Vegetative State – therapy could help her.”, “The starvation is excruciating to Terri.”. Etc., etc., etc…

The other side; “He’s done everything he can for her.” “There have been 3 scans done recently.”, “He’s formally offered to give up all the money.”, “The doctors at the malpractice hearing said nothing about an attempted murder.”, “She told Michael and his brother and her sister-in-law that she wouldn’t want to live like this.”, “She IS in a Persistent Vegetative State and nothing can be done for her.”, “She won’t know she’s being starved to death.”. Etc., etc., etc…

Who to believe? What to believe? Shouldn’t we, as a society, have a resource that we can access that gives us the FACTS about something? We’re pretty sloppy at this and, at times like this, it shows.

Michael Crichton has talked about the need for “product liability for information”. I think this is a very interesting concept. The devil, of course, is in the details. How do we implement something like this? How do we build a resource that anyone can refer to that gives them FACTS about something (for instance, the Terri Schiavo case)? How do we ensure that what is presented are the FACTS? And, what do we do with people who continue to misrepresent the FACTS?

I don’t have an answer to these questions, but I think that our society needs to begin to address this issue while we still have a society that can do so.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Terri Schiavo and Congressional review

So, the United States Congress has decided to inject itself into the Terri Schiavo tragedy. Why am I not surprised? It’s tragic to watch many of these “States Rights” Republicans (actually, there’s not that many of them left anymore) now say that it’s OK for States Rights to be superseded. And, it’s ironic to watch liberal democrats, who wouldn’t know a “States Right” if it hit them in the head, now talk about “upholding” the United States Constitution. Too bad they didn’t feel that way when they were in the majority.

I’d be more outraged by this clearly unconstitutional action if I wasn’t so numb. They’ve done it so many times – what difference does one more trespass make?

This would be such a different (and, IMHO, better) country if the U.S. Constitution was truly upheld and respected by our Federal government. But it’s not and hasn’t been for a long time. And all 3 branches are equally culpable.

It was very revealing that Tom Delay, in his final comments before the House vote tonight, talked about what Terri’s parents, brother and sister wanted. Not a word from him about what Terri wanted.

Now that this matter is in the Federal courts, it would be refreshing if they clearly and forcefully stated that they will NOT review the Florida state rulings. But I think that’s wishful thinking. The Federal courts have been very happy to expand Federal power in the past and it’s hard to believe that they would stop here.

So, please order the tests you think necessary. Have them done quickly. And, when they show that Terri truly is not with us anymore, please butt out.

Update 24MAR05 - Well, I'm pleasantly surprised. None of the Federal courts appealed to have stuck their fingers in this particular pie. But one decision does not a trend make...

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Comments and Trackback

Blogger is a wonderful application. You can set up your own blog in minutes, as I and many, many others have. But the comments tool it has is, unfortunately, not up to par. So, Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Scott Peterson and the Death penalty

From the American Heritage Dictionary;
Circumstantial evidence: Evidence not bearing directly on the fact in dispute but on various attendant circumstances from which the judge or jury might infer the occurrence of the fact in dispute.
Today the crowd outside of Scott Peterson’s courtroom cheered the death sentence imposed upon Scott Peterson. Shame on them. They are cheering for the execution of someone who is certainly guilty of adultery but only may be guilty of murder.

No one saw him do it. No one saw him dump the bodies in the water (if, in fact, that was what had happened). No one has provided any direct, physical link between Scott Peterson and the murders. The evidence is circumstantial only. And they’re going to kill him anyway? There's not even any proof that there was one or two murders. The bodies were found, but there's no indication that they were deliberately murdered.

I have just two words for these Death Penalty fans; “Rolando Cruz”. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he was sentenced to death because he was convicted of raping and murdering a little girl. The Prosecutors were “sure” they had their man. The public was “sure” he did it. He was convicted at two separate trials, by two different juries. But he was innocent. The case against him eventually fell apart. And this was not an isolated incident. Many people on death row (in Illinois and elsewhere) have been freed as new evidence, especially DNA evidence, has been presented. And the odds are very high that the state has executed more than one innocent person.

Maybe Scott found out that his wife discovered the affair he was having, panicked, and killed her. Maybe Scott had built up a hatred of his wife and the married life and finally decided to do something (the wrong thing) about it. Or maybe Laci ran into some madman. Maybe she committed suicide. The point is that I don’t KNOW and you don’t either. There is no PROOF.

Do I think he did it? The evidence I’ve seen certainly points that way. But how hard did the police look for someone else? The record of police and prosecution failures and misconduct, especially in capital cases, is long and disheartening. I fear it may be happening again in the Riley Fox case. The California Attorney General said when Scott Peterson was arrested "...I would call the odds slam-dunk that he is going to be convicted." The last time I heard "slam-dunk" relating to something other than a basketball game was regarding Iraq and WMD. And this was the CIA saying it.

Should they let Scott Peterson go free? Of course not. The known evidence certainly points to his guilt. The jury said that he's guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt". I'm comfortable with him going to jail. But if you're going to impose a death sentence, there should be a higher standard, a standard approaching certainty. Until something solid comes along that PROVES his guilt, he should be locked up, not executed. If someone else makes a deathbed confession 15-20 years from now and Scott has already been executed, the state will only be able to say “sorry about that”. And then there will have been 3 crimes committed, not 2.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

State of Fear – Book Review

I’m a big fan of Michael Crichton. I’ve read most of what he’s written and have watched him on C-Span. And I received this book as a gift, twice. The first was as a Christmas present from one of my children. The second was from The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think-tank based in nearby Chicago.

I’m unconvinced by the arguments on either side of the global warming debate. I tend to think that it’s less of a problem than is popularized on CNN, but I don’t dismiss it entirely. And I follow the debate with interest, reading and watching most everything relevant that I can get my hands on.

So, having the opportunity to read a book by one of my favorite authors about a subject that I’m very interested in was a juicy proposition. I made a deliberate effort to partially clear my calendar so that I could spend a couple of evenings and read State of Fear.

To sum up, it was OK, but I expected better. I think the premise, some environmental wacko’s deliberately setting out to engineer global catastrophes so that they can point to them as being caused by global climate change (and thus being able to push their own agenda) is just plain silly. Its one thing for saboteurs to plant iron booby-traps in trees in old-growth forests to prevent loggers from cutting them down. It’s quite another to postulate these same wacko’s trying to engineer the breaking off of a huge chunk of the Antarctica ice-shelf or engineering a tsunami, both in the name of “scaring” people into believing that catastrophic climate change is upon us. That’s just not believable or even plausible. I was particularly struck by a very fanciful ending. Suffice it to say that I just did not find it believable that an island dwelling tribe of head-hunters (who had presumably lived there forever) was unable to capture an out-of-shape, white, city-guy who shared the island with them even though they knew he was there. Read the book if you want to know more. And, finally, on the negative side, the character development was simply not up to the Chrichton standards.

On the plus side, there was a very effective debunking of many environmental myths. The ice sheet covering the Antarctic continent is not shrinking, it’s not getting warmer there either, the number of violent weather incidents around the world is not increasing, the average temperature at many cities around the world is getting colder not warmer, etc. If you’ve followed the debate as I have, none of these items are news flashes. But for someone who gets all their news from CNN, items like this will probably come as a revelation. Whether or not their minds are open to this new information is another thing of course, but I applaud Chrichton’s attempt at reaching the “popular reading” audience. I hope he succeeds.

Lyn Tinsley – Farewell and Rest in Peace

Yesterday I attended a memorial service for Lyn Tinsley, longtime Libertarian activist in Illinois and longtime teacher and defender of the underdog.

Lyn was one of the founding members of the Libertarian Party of Illinois (LPI). She passionately believed in the party and what it stood for and never wavered in the cause. She was always there to help, when healthy and when on crutches and, even in her last days, in a wheelchair dying from lung cancer.

I knew Lyn, though I wasn’t all that close to her. The last time I saw her was in late October of 2002. I was the campaign manager for Cal Skinner’s run for governor of Illinois. Our volunteer coordinator had failed to find us a truck driver to deliver some signs so the job fell to me. I remember bringing a 4’x8’ sign to her house so that she could display it in her front yard. The last time I spoke to her was last October when she called to enlist my help in Scott Bludorn’s congressional campaign.

Lyn was always focused on the long-view and refused to get involved in the infighting that went on in the party from time to time. She had taken on the role of elder statesman (statesperson for you PC types). Several people spoke at her memorial service yesterday including her sister and it was wonderful to hear their words. Several photographs of her, in all phases of her life, were displayed. Also certificates were displayed, showing the various causes and projects she had worked on. Very few of us knew until yesterday that she was a member of Mensa. It was typical of Lyn that she never bragged about it.

All of us will miss her. Rest in Peace Lyn, you have surely earned it.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Case for Christ – Book Review

I am an agnostic. I honestly don’t know if God exists or not. To me, the idea that there is an all-knowing and all-powerful being which has always been there and has created the universe and everything in it is incredibly improbable. But the idea that the Universe “just happened” and that life “just happened” and that humanity also “just happened” is also equally improbable to me.

Religion was never a part of my family’s life while I was growing up. None of my friends were overtly religious. The only time I was ever in church was for weddings or funerals. And I was reasonably content with that. But a few months ago, my 12 year old son told me that he wanted to start attending church because some of his friends were telling him that he was going to go to Hell if he didn’t. So we picked the closest one to us, an Evangelical church, and just showed up one Sunday. Since then, we’ve been back infrequently.

I’ve decided to take this opportunity to really learn about religion because I want to help my son, if he chooses to believe (or not), to do so with a firm understanding of the issues. So, in addition to infrequently attending church, I’ve begun to do some web research. I’ve participated in some online discussions. I've subscribed to the weekly essays from Bishop John Shelby Spong. And I’ve begun to read some books on the subject. The first book I purchased was Does God Exist, but I was quickly bogged down in it as I have no grounding in religion. You need to have an understanding of the basic Christian teachings to be able to decipher the debate in this book. So I put that one aside for now and looked for something a little more basic. That’s when I found The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

I purchased this particular book because of what was written on the jacket. For example; “Is there credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God?” and “Retracing his own spiritual journey from atheism to faith…” and “Strobel challenges them (a dozen experts he visited) with questions like …Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event?” and “It’s a riveting quest for the truth about history’s most compelling figure” etc. I hoped this book would give me a basic understanding of some of the teachings of Christianity. I also hoped this book would let me peer into the mind of the author a bit, and see what kinds of questions he internally wrestled with in his “…journey from atheism to faith”. The book succeeds on the first count, but fails on the second.

As green as I am about Christian teachings, almost anything discussed would be a revelation (pardon the pun) to me. So this book certainly taught me many things about Christianity. There is a lengthy, multi-part discussion on the Crucifixion and Resurrection. There are chapters discussing corroborating evidence for the existence of Jesus (mostly the writings of non-Christian followers), a discussion of how reliable the Gospels are and a comparison of the Bible with Archeology. There’s even a section on “The Rebuttal Evidence”. All well and good. But how intellectually honest is this? Not very, I’m afraid. I don’t mean that Strobel’s falsified information or tried to hide inconvenient facts from the reader. With my cursory knowledge (at this point) of Christianity, he would have had little trouble in fooling me. But if you look at how the book is constructed, you’ll note that every person he interviews (and he interviews 12 of them, the number is a coincidence, I’m sure) strongly believes in Jesus and the Scriptures. Even the person he interviewed for the “The Rebuttal Evidence” is a believer. And he describes all of his interviewees as “honest” and “intellectually forthright” and “to the point” and “having a scholarly demeanor”, etc. They all have several degrees from various universities. He has universally high praise for all of them. He agrees with everything they say. Contrast this with his description of the Jesus Seminar, the principle foil of “The Rebuttal Evidence” chapter. He describes them as “…a self-selected group that represents a miniscule percentage of New Testament scholars…”. He subtitles the chapter where he begins to discuss the Jesus Seminar with his chosen interviewee as “Writings from the Radical Fringe”. And he agrees with every point that is made against them. A real rebuttal section would have included an interview (or two) with someone on the other side of the fence, just for honesty’s sake. But Strobel doesn’t do this and, IMHO, it cheapens the value of this book.

No where in the book does Strobel really look like he’s wrestling with his conscience on this issue. It appears that his mind is made up and his only interest is in making “The Case for Christ”. This is fine, but I had hoped for a bit more balance.

If you’re a novice like me, you’ll find much to learn from this book. And you will be introduced to many figures in the Christian debate (albeit only on one side). But if you’re looking for a balanced view of the debate, you’ll need to go elsewhere.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

So long Mr. Rather...

Tonight, Dan Rather gave his "farewell speech" on the CBS Nightly news. I, for one, am not sorry to see him go.

It "takes a man" as they say, to admit you're wrong. Sadly, Rather never has actually admitted that the documents that he presented to undermine President Bush were forged, despite the more than ample evidence that shows that they were. If he had admitted the obvious, it would have been momentarily embarrassing for him and CBS news, but he would still have had his anchor job. And, in the long run, I think he would have had enhanced his credibility. After all, he didn’t forge the documents, they were given to him.

Mr. Rather, I don’t feel sorry for you. It’s not like you’ve been tossed out on the street or anything. You still have a job with CBS and probably a nice severance package from the anchor gig. Too bad your credibility is gone…

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