Thursday, August 31, 2006

Death Penalty Update

Governor Mike Rounds has placed South Dakota executions on hold due to concerns about the state’s lethal injection procedures. The governor’s decision stopped South Dakota’s planned execution of a “volunteer” that had waived all appeals. This would have been the state’s first execution since the death penalty was re-instituted in 1976. The governor’s directive appears to put a hold in place until at least July of 2007.

Thanks to Rounds’ action South Dakota remains in the club of states with death penalty statutes that have never used them along with Kansas, New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire and joins California, Missouri and Delaware in the club of states with executions on hold due to questions related to lethal injections.

The incompetence of the Texas capital punishment system continues to amaze. Now The San Antonio Express-News reports that the lawyer for Justin Fuller, the 19th execution in Texas this year, "filed an appeal with incoherent repetitions, rambling arguments and language clearly lifted from one of his previous cases, so that at one point it described the wrong crime."

Apparently even the assistant district attorney was disturbed by the quality of the legal brief. This so-called lawyer is still on the list of "competent counsel" for Texas death penalty appellate work.

You will excuse me, but if you live in Texas and you are not OUTRAGED then you are NOT PAYING ATTENTION! The criminal justice system in the state of Texas has a bad case of dry rot and an overhaul is long overdue. I blame the newspapers in Texas for not making the sad state of affairs clear to the electorate. I find it hard to believe that the good people of Texas would tolerate the situation if they knew about it.

In the meantime Texas has already matched its total of 19 executions last year in 2006 and seven more are currently scheduled.

Elsewhere another statistical study, this one based upon cases in South Carolina, has shown that prosecutors are more likely to ask for the death penalty in rural areas or if the victim was white or female.

This is what, about the 50th such study? The Supreme Court originally stopped capital punishment because it was “arbitrary.” Well guess what? Study after study has demonstrated that it’s still arbitrary.

I expect the death penalty in New Jersey to be a thing of the past after the commission studying it issues its report in early 2007. Perhaps that will start he ball rolling and other states that either have not used their statutes or have executions suspended for one reason or another will consider scrapping their capital punishment laws.

It was a bad summer with a total of 14 executions in July and August bringing the total in 2006 to 39.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Back to Ft. Wayne

Another trip out to Ft. Wayne with a return the next day. This time I tried it in the good hands of Delta Comair via Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport. You know them, they’re the airline that managed to crash a plane Sunday by trying to take-off on too short a runway. The running joke walking along the tarmac to the aircraft was “I hope they use the right runway today.”

We got off an hour late from Newark due to the plane arriving late. That meant all kinds of trouble for the folks on board making a connection. The guy across from me had a connecting flight to Albuquerque leaving 5 minutes before we landed in Cincinnati. Unless his flight was delayed, he spent the night in Kentucky because that was the last flight out.

I was a little better off having about 20 minutes to get to my connecting flight to Ft. Wayne. Unfortunately my flight was leaving from terminal A and I landed at terminal C. For those of you unfamiliar with Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport, that means a shuttle bus ride between terminals, on the runway, while ducking taxing commuter aircraft. I just about made the Ft. Wayne flight run by good old Chautauqua airlines under the Delta banner. However there wasn’t any music, and no inspirational lecturer, just a rather wet and bumpy 20 minute flight.

This time I arrived in Ft. Wayne early enough to get a cookie and managed to finagle a decent car from Avis. Things went downhill from there. The first problem was my cell phone battery was dead. I swore I had a full charge on the thing before I left, and I hadn’t packed a charger for a one day trip, so I had a visit to a local Verizon store in my future.

Driving along Interstate 69 (how do you suppose anyone allowed an Interstate Highway in the moral Midwest to be numbered “69?”) it looked like I was heading into Dante’s Inferno. The skies were black except when punctuated by lightening bolts so big they must have been incinerating acres at a time. Then the emergency broadcast system kicked in with tornado warnings for places I didn’t know. That made it a tad difficult to figure out whether I was heading away from the tornadoes or toward the tornadoes. I thought the specific warning to folks living in trailer parks or mobile homes particularly enlightening.

I managed to get only partially drowned going from the parking lot into the Marriott Courtyard. With some doubts about the intelligence of going out into the weather again, I asked the clerk behind the desk to locate the nearest Verizon store for me and then went upstairs to unpack. When I got back he had Mapquest directions printed out for me for a store about a mile and a half away. Someone in the lobby was walking around in a near panic asking everyone if they knew how far away the tornadoes were. When he asked the clerk, the clerk thought he was asking about the Verizon store he had just given me directions to. When he told the guy about a mile and a half I thought the guy’s eyes were going to pop out. The panic was now complete.

The directions seemed so simple yet I couldn’t find the place. The darkness and the rain didn’t help but ultimately the problem turned out to be it wasn’t a store. It was actually a Verizon office building tucked away in an industrial park that required a U-Turn in order to get to the entrance. Oh well, at least he had tried to help out.

I popped into a Home Depot that was about to close and found only a car charger. A short discussion with a helpful clerk let me find out that was all they had but he suggested I hit the 24-hour WAL-MART down the road.

WAL-MART, the cathedral of Red State America. WAL-MART, the promised land. Whenever I hear the name I always have visions of rednecks burning incense outside while chanting the praises of low retail pricing financed by not providing any medical benefits for the hourly employees that slave there. I figure you could draw a direct line between the tornado warnings including a specific message for trailer park residents and the WAL-MART employee register. Ok, I was desperate. I swallowed my pride and headed for WAL-MART.

It worked out pretty well. Not only did I locate a charger that claimed to work for my phone model but a replacement for the Rightguard confiscated in Newark and a Subway sandwich for dinner. The only problem was when I got back to the hotel, the charger didn’t work. In disgust I sat down to eat my Subway. The only problem with the Subway was they didn’t have any Swiss cheese and I like some Swiss with my turkey.

I did my thing the next day and headed home. The first check came when the young lady at the Delta counter couldn’t print out my boarding pass for the Cincinnati to Newark leg of the trip. After about 20 minutes and getting everyone working for Delta, Northwest and some other airline I didn’t recognize, to look at the problem someone finally figured out that it was because the flight had been CANCELLED! She did manage to get me on a substitute Delta flight an hour later. Now, with a dead cell phone, I had no way of letting the driver picking me up know that both my arrival time in Newark and the terminal I was arriving at had changed so I talked the young lady at the desk into letting me use Delta’s phone. With that squared away I headed for Gate 7 stopping by the free Internet Hook-up to check my e-mail and do a little web surfing. There were several folks enjoying the little aviation museum while I was surfing the web. Two other people were sacked out in the overstuffed armchairs near the computers. I’ve decided I like the Ft. Wayne airport better than any other airport I’ve been in recently.

At Cincinnati I had to reverse my shuttle trip going from terminal A to terminal C but at least I had plenty of time so I turned my attention toward obtaining a quick byte to eat. My choices were Moe’s, McDonald’s or Subway. I ended up eating another turkey sandwich also without any Swiss. Does the Midwest have something against Swiss cheese or what?

The flight was overbooked and the guy at the desk kept asking for volunteers offering a flight an hour later into LaGuardia of all places. He seemed surprised when no one took him up on the deal so I felt like asking him if he had any idea how far away LaGuardia Airport was from Newark Airport?

How they eventually resolved the overbooking situation I don’t know but we took off about 20 minutes late and then circled Newark for an additional 20 minutes. That got me in about 40 minutes late on a flight that was an hour later than my original flight to begin with.

I never check baggage and especially not on puddle jumper flights. Most people don’t but some folks have to because their bags are too big to fit in the tiny overhead compartments on the commuter aircraft. So how come an entire plane of 50+ folks has to wait for the dozen or so bags to be brought forward in front of the wing? Why not let those of us who don’t need to wait for a bag deplane? Delta did do one smart thing, some poor lady was about to miss her Paris flight so they got her off the plane while the rest of use were waiting for the bags to be ready. Intelligence on the part of an airline, what will they think of next?

I located a payphone (an endangered species) to let my driver know I had finally arrived. He took me to pick up my car and I wearily headed home in the rain. I fell into my house around 11 PM. Since I had left for Ft. Wayne airport about 2 PM the trip home had taken about 9 hours. I gave the Ft. Wayne Airport cookie to my wife. She deserves it for putting up with me for all these years.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The JonBenet Ramsey Case

So now, after almost 10 years, the police have a suspect.

I'm not a JonBenet case junkie. Certainly I'm aware of the case and I'm familier with the general outline. When I first heard about the "child beauty pagents," which are apparently rather common in some parts of the country, I almost choked. As the father of three daughters I couldn't imagine anything more degrading that someone could do to a child.

Like many people I developed an instant dislike for the Ramseys and especially for the mother. As the media and the authorities seemed convinced that they were somehow resposible for their daughter's death, I sort of accepted that it was just a matter of time before the case was cleared up with one, or both, sent to prison.

As it turned out, everyone that was ready to draw and quarter the parents, was wrong. I'm still a bit mystified how a six year old can get from her bedroom to the basement, either voluntarilly or by being forced, without either of the parents waking up. Be that as it may, clearly sleeping too soundly is about the only crime, other than the crime of degrading their child by having her participate in child beauty pagents, that the Ramseys are guilty of.

Now we have a confession from someone called John Mark Karr who claims that he "accidentally" killed JonBenet. Accidentally? What the hell was he doing in the house? Karr is clearly a wacko. The question is was he in fact involved in the death of JonBenet, is he imagining things or is he simply in search of his 15 minutes of fame?

I assume that the Boulder Prosecutor has something other than this guy's confession to go on here. I'll guess we'll learn more in the coming weeks.

No More Pluto?

Mickey will be devastated. Astronomers meeting in Prague and discussing guidelines for what is a planet and what isn't a planet have demoted poor Pluto. There are now, according to the Prague group, only eight planets in the solar system.

I say that this is clearly a capitalist plot aimed at artificially inflating the price of planetary real estate for nefarious purposes. All true sons (and daughters) of the solar system should rise up in outrage (cue the playing of the Nationale) until Pluto has been returned to its rightful place!

Nah, only kidding. I guess they're trying to avoid having to declare a whole slew of Kuiper Belt objects planets. Still, I think they could have justified Pluto's status for historical reasons. What am I going to get from my very educated mother now?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Competence or Pride?

I’ve been away. That’s why I haven’t posted anything. I’ve been on the road and have encountered another instance of what appears to be the general lack of competence in modern society.

I was at a hotel. The name of the hotel is unimportant but it happened to be Bally’s Park Place in Atlantic City. There is a very nice Chinese restaurant there called Mr. Ming’s. It’s overpriced like all hotel restaurants but it’s pleasant enough and the food is pretty good. Since reservations are advised I decide to call down shortly after checking in. I checked the number in the hotel directory, which turned out to be a general reservations number, and called. I got a recorded “thanks for calling and someone will be with you shortly” message and then got put on hold listening to recorded advertisements about Bally’s. Ten minutes later I was still on hold and decided perhaps it was too early to call for reservations, hung up and wandered off.

Two hours later I tried again, with the same result. I then tried several more time with the same result. At that point I decided to stay on hold. Perhaps lots and lots of folks were calling for reservations. Twenty minutes later I gave up and called the front desk. I got a busy signal. At that point I noticed an express button for the hotel desk and hit it. Amy answered the phone. I explained that I had been trying for a good part of the day to make a restaurant reservation. Amy asked me what number I had been calling and then profusely apologized saying that all the numbers in the directory had been changed and that she would transfer me to the right number.

Hmmm, while it seemed strange I was happy that at least now I had ringing. I continued to have ringing. Then I continued to have ringing. After about 30 rings I decided to hang up and call Amy back. She apologized again and again said she would transfer me. This time I managed to ask her what the new number was and wrote it down, just in case. This time a very polite gentleman answered the phone and took my reservation for 7:30 PM. It had been a struggle, but at least I finally had a dinner reservation.

Or at least I thought I did. At the appointed time we went down to Mr. Ming’s only to find the door closed. Asking at the coffee shop next door I was informed that Mr. Ming’s was closed on Monday’s and, sure enough, it was a Monday.

I also enquired at the Bell Station about getting an updated phone list since Amy had told me that the numbers had all been changed. The Bell Hops assured me that the numbers were in fact correct. One Bell Hop wryly observed that I could always tell if I had the right number for restaurant reservations by the fact that no one answered the phone. I suspect that they’ve heard about this before.

The next day I decided to try again by calling the extension Amy had given me. I got a busy tone even before I typed in the full number which usually indicates it’s an illegal extension. I hit the front desk button again and this time Sheryl answered. I explained the situation and Sheryl asked me which restaurant. I told her Mr. Ming’s and she said she would transfer me to a direct line. I got the same recorded message as the general number. I hit the front desk button again and Sheryl transferred me again. This time a woman answered the phone and when I tried to make a reservation rather curtly informed me that Mr. Ming’s was closed on Tuesdays, and, sure enough, it was now Tuesday.

This is a hotel that has clearly lost its vision. This was so far beyond my experience that I didn’t know what to make of it. Hotels are usually the most precise outfits around. Usually you are in awe of how effortlessly they manage to account for your merest whim. The crew at Bally’s had me looking around to see if Allen Funt had been resurrected and I was on Candid Camera. Talk about a gang that couldn’t shoot straight?

So what’s the deal here? Previously when I’d bemoaned the general lack of competence in the world people countered with something like it’s due to the complexities of modern society. Well there was nothing complex here. How could no one answer the number for restaurant reservations at a hotel which has several restaurants at which reservations are advised? What was with Amy? Was she playing a trick on me by telling me the numbers had been changed? Last, but not least, who was the guy who took my reservation? Was he playing a trick or didn’t he know the damn restaurant was closed?

Why do I have the feeling that these people didn’t care either? There was a time when folks prided themselves on doing a job as well as they could. Now, more often than not, I get the feeling they’re trying to do as little as possible to get by. If that inconveniences someone or causes a problem, well that’s just tough because they’re not getting paid enough to worry about it.

Perhaps modern complexity sometimes causes things to go wrong beyond anyone’s control. Unfortunately I’m beginning to suspect that more often than not things go wrong because people just don’t have the self respect and pride to always do the best they can anymore.

If that’s true, then why is that now the case? What has gone wrong with this country?

Friday, August 11, 2006

Liquid Explosives on Airplanes!

The world is nuts. I’m really having a hard time comprehending what kind of nutcase would seriously consider blowing up a dozen aircraft over the Atlantic and dying along with the planes.

Oh yeah, that’s right, the worst kind of nutcase, a religious one. When I place this story of two dozen Pakistani Muslims in the United Kingdom planning mass murder up against the one from the day before about an American Muslim of Pakistani nationality being refused a pilot position for a small airline, I have to kind of understand why the guy didn’t get the job.

Is it fair to discriminate against all Muslims because of the fruitcakes running around? No it isn’t. Is it going to happen? Yes it is. Am I going to get upset over it? No I’m not. I admit I’m being hypocritical but I can’t help it. I feel absolutely no sympathy for the Muslims with no ill intentions that are paying for the actions of those with ill intentions. It’s not fair, but then again random terror isn’t fair either. Get your co-religionists to stop their insanity and the other will disappear.

Don’t think that’s feasible? Do you think that you can't possibly do anything about that? Well then perhaps you might want to reconsider adherence to beliefs that can give birth to such an aberration. Religion has more than outlived its usefulness and I mean ALL religions. At the moment I view religion as the single greatest threat to the advancement of human society and even to the survival of the species.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Well it has been a long day

Actually it has been a long week. Did you ever notice how work tends to get in the way of living yet living is dependent upon work?

At least that's the case if you are a member of the peasantry like I am. Work tends to pre-empt things when it gets hot and heavy and that's been the situation around here. This is not a bad thing as long as it comes it short spurts. I've had the misfortune of being under prolonged work pressure and that can burn anyone out.

So anyway, I just decided to take a breath and post a little something here. Nothing much has changed. There's still war in Iraq and the Middle East, people are still being executed around the country, gays still can't get married and Christians are still exchanging the philosophy of love and tolerance preached by Jesus for a philosophy of hate and intolerance preached by today's evangelists.