They’re in the news constantly. “Wrongful conviction overturned,” usually after someone has had a major hunk of life stolen. Perhaps we hear about it so often that we fail to appreciate the horror of it. Imagine someone you love going to prison in his or her teens or early twenties, and staying locked up until age 40 or 50, then finally being judged innocent.
Too many prosecutors want convictions at all costs. To hell with justice; just nail someone and put him away. “If he didn’t do this he’s probably done as bad or worse and got by with it” is a rationalization I’ve heard too many times. “We have a confession; that’s good as gold.” Sure. Fool’s gold. It’s too easy to get young or especially vulnerable people to confess to anything. You may think that you’d never admit to a crime you hadn’t committed. After you’ve been interrogated in the most intimidating manner you can imagine, for ten hours or more straight, threatened with prison rape or the death penalty, your request for a lawyer ignored or even answered with physical abuse, you might just say anything to make it all stop.
Especially if you’re young, and/or poor, and/or have a previous record of convictions, and/or black or Hispanic, you can’t win once a handful of detectives, or maybe only one officer who may not even be a detective, decides that you should be convicted. Read more…
We do. Because many people, when consistently deified, will stop thinking of themselves as ordinary humans.
Up to a point, professional pride is healthy. Our applause and admiration are part of a professional athlete’s reward for staying in good shape, practicing diligently, and playing well. When our admiration crosses the line and becomes worship, we de-humanize the hero and to some degree take away his or her sense of responsibility. Read more…
With everything else that divides us, why do we increase the rift with an argument between science and young earth creationism when we can all come to an agreement very easily?
(Before I explain I should disclose I am not a biblical literalist – not because I do not believe that every word is fact but because I think it is irrelevant. I do not take the Bible as fact, as I would a science book or a history book, because I think that would undervalue its meaning. I take the Bible as truth: the deeper, more meaningful truth that comes from poetry and prose. Did Robert Frost really, actually, historically stop by some woods on a snowy evening or choose a road less traveled by? I do not know and I do not care. Would I rather read Robert Frost’s biography for the facts or read his poetry for its meaning? Just give me the poetry: it is far more valuable.
But that’s just me. I understand why other people view it differently and I respect that.)
Suppose there is a large jigsaw puzzle that is being worked from the middle out by a bunch of people. Let’s call all these people carefully putting the pieces together “scientists.” From what they have put together so far the picture looks like a landscape. Let’s also suppose there are some other people (we will call them “literalists”) who say, “You haven’t finished the puzzle yet and you occasionally put a piece in the wrong way before correcting it, so you don’t know if it is really a landscape and we don’t believe it is. We have it on good authority that it is really a picture of someone’s parlor.” There seems to be no resolution to the argument: one group believes what it sees and the other group sees what it believes. However, what if it turns out that the picture is really that of a landscape painting hanging on the wall of someone’s parlor? Who is right? Both are. Who is wrong? Both are because they each say the other side must be wrong. Read more…
The persona a comedian wears may announce to the world that he is tough as nails and ready to get in anybody’s face about anything anytime. Or it may say, amusingly, that he’s just struggling through life and desperately wants to be loved. That’s often portrayed through self-effacing comedy.
It’s like the difference between “You want trouble? I’ll show you trouble!” and “Please like me and don’t hurt me!” When Williams embraced the latter of these, it had a particular believability. I believe that it was probably closer to his core.
He didn’t come from a life of deprivation. I’ve read that he was raised in a 40-room home in a suburb of Detroit. His father was a successful executive who could afford almost anything he wanted, just as his son, as an adult, could write his own ticket. Both father and mother were busy people, and it seems that our Robin seldom got as much attention as a child needs. He was a smallish boy – ironic considering what a giant personality he became as an actor – and he had to take various routes walking home to avoid the school bullies.
You know that Williams struggled with addiction, and that he fell off the proverbial wagon after 20 years of sobriety. You may know that he was married three times. Perhaps you know that he worked very hard at his craft, and threw himself into charity work with immeasurable passion, as though driven to do much more than anyone could have expected of him. My guess is that Robin Williams was liked and admired by almost everyone who ever knew him.
With one disastrous exception: Himself. Read more…
You probably know about the Oklahoma prisoner who was recently tortured to death, legally, by a lethal cocktail of drugs that didn’t work as advertised. You can say – and I’m sure many will – that he deserved it.
Perhaps so, but that’s not the point. He did horrible things; that’s what made him a criminal. When our federal, state, and local governments allow horrible things to be done in our name, yours and mine, that makes criminals of all of us, and makes our society a criminal organization.
Some people may raise the “eye for eye, tooth for a tooth” objection. Not so amazingly, many criminals use that same scripture to justify their own actions. Many theologians have asserted that this dictate was never meant to be taken literally, and even if it were, it’s a strain of logic to claim that this barbarism has any place in a modern, civilized society. Read more…
Few texts have been so misquoted, misused, and abused, as the second amendment to the U S Constitution:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Why is a “well regulated militia” necessary to the security of a free state (i.e., the United States as a whole, or any of its component states)? We have armed forces to repel foreign invaders. So what’s with a militia?
Simple: To protect us from internal threats. Wildcat rebellions by deadbeats who didn’t want to pay the alcohol tax. Or mobs from one state who wanted to annex part of another state. Covens of psychopaths who claimed that God wanted them to marry off as harem wives daughters who were too young to cook their own breakfast. Gangs of rowdies beyond the control of local police forces.
Sure, in all these cases and hundreds more, federal troops have been called to assert control. But the well-regulated militia (read “National Guard”) has been the first line of defense.
This isn’t conjecture on my part. Read more…
George Zimmerman the mouse who wanted to be a lion. The blubbery, out-of-shape would-be superhero who might have found self-respect in a therapist’s office, if our sick society hadn’t offered him a quicker fix in the form of a gun.
He has to live with himself, trying to convince himself that those scratches on the back of his head were life threatening, that there was more than his dignity at risk when a 17-year-old kid busted his schnozz. (Just as an aside, I’ve had my own nose broken several times, but never felt compelled to kill anyone over it.)
To be sure he’ll have his admirers. Other people who trust a gun over common sense. People who call themselves great Americans, but don’t trust our system of government. Ready to form themselves into a mob of army ants, Read more…
Today too many pundits and loudmouths define patriotism as the willingness to proclaim that “America is the greatest nation on earth” and to take a pugilistic attitude toward anyone who shows a glimmer of doubt about it. But let’s think about that.
You’re not a loving parent if you ignore the fact that your child is hooked on drugs and failing at school. You’re not a loving son or daughter for sending holiday cards to your parents but not caring that they can’t afford decent food and shelter.
Sure, I love America. Loving America means caring about America. Noticing when it’s hurting. By “hurting” I don’t mean that someone I don’t like got elected. Those things happen in free nations. I mean going backward. Showing signs that should worry all of us. Right, left, and center.
Everyone seems to agree that we are the most powerful nation on earth. True, if you mean that we could blow the world into smaller pieces than any other nation. I won’t argue with that. We could also obliterate just about any other nation on earth pretty quickly, I guess. Understandable, since more than 41% of all the money spent on killing systems in the world comes from us.
That does give us a certain amount of influence. Not necessarily respect, but influence. Influence that we have to be ready to back up with even more money, and American blood. Read more…
Mostly Republicans, but too many Democrats also.
What’s my slogan here? Tear down the walls, there’s still time for America. So now you may think I’m slamming Republicans and some cowardly Democrats; building walls, not bridges.
I don’t see it that way. What I’d like to do here, if I could, is knock down a little bit of the wall that the current incarnation of the Republican party has built to defend the carnage mongers against the will of the American people. The wall they’ve built between themselves and the traditional spirit of the Republican party.
There was a time when I admired the NRA, when I was a boy with BB gun, when I was the envy of the family for my marksmanship with my big brother’s .22 rifle. Read more…
Isanity. And I use the word advisedly. Pretending that easy access to firearms in America has nothing to do with our shamefully high murder rate makes no sense. Stripping the Second Amendment of any context or historical perspective, then using it as a sacred cloak for the carnage in our streets – and schools, and theaters, and shopping malls, and what next? – is the stuff of psychosis.
Which is more important, the right to bear arms, or the right to life? Who would tell the bereaved parents in Connecticut that the loss of their precious children is just the price we have to pay for our AK-47s and 40-round magazines? With its usual hubris the NRA will point out that “guns don’t kill, people kill,” and that authorities should do a better job of enforcing existing gun laws.
Two obvious problems to anyone who wants to think honestly about it. Number one, some people kill in some circumstances, and guns make it too damned easy. Number two, existing gun laws are far too loose, and the NRA does its best to make even those unenforceable.
It’s not “the world we live in today.” There have always been, and will always be, deranged individuals, people who act violently in a moment of anger, people who do not value or respect human life, people who get angry and fight. Tragedies like the slaughter in Newtown don’t happen because we “took God out of the schools,” as Mike Huckabee opined on Fox News. (Note that the violent crime rate is higher than average in the so-called Bible Belt.) The BIG problem is the flood of highly effective and readily available killing tools.
To put this in context, we have to leave the ongoing tragedy that moved our president to tears. We’ll get back to it.