Monday, December 29, 2008

A Sad Family Tragedy

If anyone thought for a minute that victims of child molestation didn't find themselves with serious emotional problems later in life, just take a look at this story.

The mother who killed her son's accused molester in a courtroom in 1993, a sensational story that led to a TV movie, has died.

Ellie Nesler died Friday in Sacramento at 56 years of age, after a 14 year battle with breast cancer.

Nesler gained notoriety after she shot and killed Daniel Driver, who had been accused of molesting four boys, including her then-six-year old son William, at a Christian camp. There was a mixture of support for taking out a man who many believed was a monster, but there was an equal measure of condemnation for her vigilante-brand of justice.

After being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Nesler's 10-year sentence was overturned because of jury misconduct. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was let out after three years due to her cancer. In 2002, she pleaded guilty to selling and possessing methamphetamine, and served four years of a six-year sentence.

In and of itself, this was a terrible story. But it doesn't end there. In reporting about Nesler's death, the LA Times also noted that William Nesler, who again was only six years old at the time his mother killed his accused molester, has himself had serious problems with the law. In 2005, he was convicted of first degree murder for stomping to death a man hired to clean his family's property. He is currently serving a 25-year-to-life sentence for that crime.

A sad tragedy all around.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Back in the Saddle(back) Again, cont.

A reader writes:
[I]n the context of a national and international stage, I find that after viewing [the Warren selection] from every point of the compass, I'm left with [Obama's] simple message of believ[ing] in Unity, and the power and truth of his message and actions. And it is unassailable: [We are] "The UNITED States of America."

For a body of people as diversified as we are to come together in times like these requires real compromise. Those who cling to their causes call it "sacrifice." That's unfortunate, since there are a lot of us here in the USA whose views countermand those of most of the rest of us. If We The People are ever gonna make it work, we have GOT to unify. Not talk the talk. We need to do it. Having someone as unlikely as Warren speak is a good example of what it looks like, in my view.

Right now, there is a huge swath of semi-lost, wandering-in-the-woods American conservatives, semi-and-otherwise, who may be a leeetle-bit behind the curve of political understanding, but who are nonetheless brother and sister Americans, and who are freaked. This is an olive branch, and personally, I think it's a brilliant move, engineered in a way that will garner all the highest exposure, while costing none of the higher expenses of other ways we might hope to bring the "other side of the aisle" to the table, i.e., legislative compromise.

Hey, what part of "UNITED" didn't you get?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Back in the Saddle(back) Again

Obama has asked Saddleback megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural. It's amazing to me how some on the left are completely unhinged by this choice. Here's the money quote from an op-ed in today's LA Times by Katha Pollitt, "a poet, essayist, and critic":

In a news conference Thursday, Obama defended the choice of Warren: "It is important for the country to come together even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues." That's all very well, but excuse me if I don't feel all warm and fuzzy. Obama won thanks to the strenuous efforts of people who've spent the last eight years appalled by the Bush administration's wars and violations of human rights, its attacks on gays and women, its denigration of science, its general pandering to bigotry and ignorance in the name of God.

I'm all for building bridges, but honoring Warren, who insults Obama's base as
perverts and murderers, is definitely a bridge too far.

As a Jew, I certainly disagree strongly with Warren's opinions, but in America he's allowed to have them. Certainly, Obama doesn't agree with everything Warren believes, but he's free to select him to deliver an invocation on January 20. Instead of seeing Obama's choice as a slap in the face to liberals (of which I am one), I prefer to see this as a bold statement that sends a strong message to everyone involved, which I see as this: When Obama says he will change our politics, he means it. Gone are the days when ideological differences -- however profound they may be -- make it too difficult for us to be seen together, too difficult for us to break bread, or exchange emails. I admit to having had a difficult time with this choice. But I trust President (elect) Obama and believe he didn't lose contact with what propelled him to election victory and eventually to the White House.

Let Mr. Warren, who holds some pretty abhorrent views, deliver the invocation. The odd thing I've learned in life is that inspiration can come from some pretty unlikely places. We all might be surprised.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Legacy of Adam Walsh

Adam Walsh, the little six-year-old boy who severed head was found in a Florida canal 120 miles from where he disappeared in 1981, can finally rest in peace. Today the LA Times report that police in that state announced that they had identified his killer as Ottis Toole, a serial killer who died in prison more than 10 years ago. Toole had been the lead suspect in the boy's death for years, but the police investigation was horribly botched such that indisputable evidence could not be found. Toole had confessed to the killing twice, then later recanted. Apparently he'd confessed to literally hundreds of murders, most of which were fake. But his niece told authorities that he confessed on his deathbed.

The Walsh family held a press conference today when the news was announced. Adam's father, John Walsh, is the iconic host of America's Most Wanted, which has led to the arrest and conviction of the country's most notorious criminals. His unflagging activism on behalf of Adam and other victims of crime changed forever the way the country monitors missing children. Databases, a national center, and telephone lines were created for people to report missing children. The most recent improvement in that system has been the Amber Alert system, which posts data about missing children on freeway signs and TV news programs.

The LA Times story added this at the end:
What it also did, said Mount Holyoke College sociologist and criminologist Richard Moran, is make children and adults alike exponentially more afraid."

[John Walsh] ended up really producing a generation of cautious and afraid kids who view all adults and strangers as a threat to them and it made parents extremely paranoid about the safety of their children," Moran said.
Maybe Mr. Moran is not a parent of young kids today, but this was an extremely ignorant statement.

La Neige la plus Cruelle

As beautiful as it sometimes looks, you will NEVER find me living somewhere where looking out the window reveals this:

Found Pearl

Read this in comments section for Dick Cavett's 11/14 NY Times column about Sarah Palin:

Horrified is how I feel about her, and baffled is how I feel about her following. Please do not let her become the face of either Christianity or motherhood. The words of Jesus are appropriate here:

“. . . Ye outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity . . . .” Matthew 23:28

I suppose a likely comeback would be: Therefore you are without excuse, every one of you who passes; judgement, for in that you would judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things (Romans 2:1)

But we can judge if we judge with integrity. Of course, there were many of us -- myself included, probably -- who jumped on the anti-Palin bandwagon simply because we wanted to tear McCain down (and she made it so damn easy!). But at some point during the nine weeks or so that she was a candidate for back-up president, it became much more about wanting what was best for my country. As Cavett wrote, "I do not wish her ill. But I also do not wish us ill."

I know this is so pre-November 4, already, but the little pearl I read above gave me some additional context for my harsh judgment of Palin. I wanted to share it with you.

Back to the grind!

When Do We Start?

New Yorker blogger George Packer thinks that the recent Senate report and a report by the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction on the sanctioning of torture from the highest levels of the Bush Administration, up to and including the president and vice president themselves, is just a part of a larger puzzle that needs full exposure to public scrutiny.
Eventually the country will need, even if it won’t entirely want, the whole
story to be told. The best way to tell it would be to reproduce the 9/11
Commission—to convene a single bipartisan panel, with the authority to look into
the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and of the war on terror, and
give the panel full investigative power, even if its conclusions put some of the
principals in legal jeopardy.

The next Administration and the next Congress will have to decide whether
it’s worth the agony to look back. The agony will be worse, sooner or later, if
we don’t.
I agree with Packer, but I think the timing has to be once American troops are largely out of harm's way. I don't see the benefit of holding hearings, public or otherwise, analyzing the prosecution of ongoing military operations. If such a commission were to release findings that war crimes were committed, or at least that the Bush administration bent laws to impose harsh interrogation techniques on detainees, that would just make Obama's job that much harder, as he tries to redeploy troops to Afghanistan and fulfill or beat the SOFA timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

Wait until we're out of there before we start poking into what happened and who did what.

Monday, December 15, 2008

One Way to Bring Him to Heel

Sorry, had to do that. If you haven't seen it yet, here's the video of an Iraqi reporter hurling not one, but both, of his shoes at outgoing President GW Bush during a press conference in Baghdad over the weekend:

Here's a bit of fantastic satire, one that does have a bite of serious truth. I mean, where were the Secret Service? What if that shoe had been outfitted to explode on impact?

And while he's joking about the shoe size of the hurler, news comes that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino received a black eye during the melee.

All the more reason to read (or re-read) this fantastic piece by Paul Waldman that a reader passed on to me this morning. Money quote:
Goodbye, we can say at last, to the most powerful man in the world being such a ridiculous buffoon, incapable of stringing together two coherent sentences. Goodbye to cringing with dread every time our president steps onto the world stage, sure he'll say or do something to embarrass us all. Goodbye to being represented by a man who embodies everything our enemies want the people of the world to believe about America -- that we are ignorant, cruel, and only care about foreign countries when we decide to stomp on them. Goodbye to his giggle, and his shoulder shake, and his nicknames. Goodbye to a president who talks to us like we're a nation of fourth-graders.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Library Censorship in New York

One would think that Sarah Palin had moved to the Empire State.

Pages from the middle of the book [Girl, Interrupted] have been torn out by the school district after having been deemed "inappropriate" by school officials due to sexual content and strong language. ... "[But] since the book has other redeeming features, we took the liberty of bowdlerizing," [said the English Dept. chair].

"Bowdlerizing is a particularly disturbing form of censorship since it not only suppresses specific content deemed 'objectionable,' but also does violence to the work by removing material that the author thought integral," said Joan Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. "It is a kind of literary fraud perpetrated on an unsuspecting audience."

Just get another copy, OK? And put the damaged one out in the open as a reminder to what happens when human beings forget their humanity.

It's No Wonder...

Like Sarah Palin, George W. Bush was believed by many in the evangelical community to have "the anointing," to be chosen by God to lead the United States. And why not? He's one of them, right? He's a True Believer, one who considers the Bible to be the literal word of God, right?

Oh, wait... no he's not.

I think evolution can - you're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president. But it's, I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution.

No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from [the Bible].
He's smarter than the average bear!

So it's no wonder that Evangelicals and those of that persuasion got hardly anything of what they wanted in the past eight years: abortion is still legal in every state, no school prayer allowed, gays can marry in two states and there is no constitutional amendment to ban it altogether, and this is still a secular nation with a non-evangelical majority.

Smart Christians would do well to abandon politics right now and focus on ... duh... the family.

I've Got Shrinkage!

CNN reports that US household debt fell for the first time ever since data has been recorded starting in 1951.

Now, we're only talking about a 0.8% drop, but that's about $30 billion in the last quarter. And the total amount is an unbelievably staggering $13.91 trillion.

Along with this is a steep decline in net worth of nearly 5% in the fourth quarter.

As for my family, we watch how we spend money very carefully, as well we should, since my commission-only job has hit the skids in the past year. Thankfully we saved pretty well and made some important choices on our debt, so we're still OK, but I can't say we put a major dent in our debt. We still have a car loan for another 2 1/2 years, a house we're still paying for, and credit cards we still pay off every month. We have cut back on non-essential items, and we go for even deeper savings on groceries by clipping coupons. We got our house re-assessed to cut down on property taxes, and we spend a lot more time at home just hanging out or going to places where we can entertain the kids for free, like the park. It honestly hasn't been too bad, now that gas prices are so much lower than they were over the summer.

Now, if only people decided it was time for them to buy or refinance their homes, I'd have way more business. So if any of you out there are reading this and wondering if now's the time, it is. Let your friends know. When Lisa and I bought our house in 2004, we got a 30 yr. fixed at 5.875%. Now, we could probably cut that 1%. So yes, now's the time.

Friday, December 5, 2008

15 Years

The sentence for OJ Simpson for his part in the botched armed robbery attempt. The judge said the sentence wasn't payback for his acquittal in 1995 for double homicide, but she did get this zinger out.

Earlier in this case, at a bail hearing, I said to Mr. Simpson I didn't know if he was arrogant, ignorant or both. During the trial and through this proceeding I got the answer, and it was both.
He'll be eligible for parole in about six years, when he's 67 or so.

This feels like payback, no matter what the judge said. And it feels good.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

One View From the Top

This will not be a political blog-piece. As my faithful readers know, I pay attention to a lot of things. I write, I used to play guitar, I've been a professional entertainer, and I work in the mortgage industry (more like volunteer lately, but oh well).

Today I ran across a piece of a CNN interview with legendary pop music producer David Foster. Yeah, me too. My first reaction was also "Blecch!" But when I read this piece, I realized that he was refreshingly honest (and of course he has the track record of success to back him up). I don't know -- when I was younger I wouldn't have had a problem with calling him a sell-out and a schlockmeister. But as I near my 50th birthday (in 2012) I can appreciate what he does. I'm sure no fan of Celine Dion, or most of the artists with whom he works, but I understand their place in the galaxy of pop stars over the past 40 years.

Money quote:
I did three albums with the group Chicago. And we had huge success. I was playing piano; I was co-writing the songs; I was playing the bass; I was arranging it. I was doing everything. And they wrote on the liner notes of their new album that "He was such a control freak and an egomaniac, he wanted his name on everything." And then they went, "But it's the most success we've ever had." They weren't happy, but their pocketbooks were.

I would contend that they were very happy. I disagree with him that "art and commerce are natural enemies." If you ask a guy like guitarist Robert Fripp, who has made a decent living for 40 years as a "small, intelligent, mobile unit," one can be fairly uncompromising with one's art and still be commercially viable and to some degree successful. Foster's problem is that nothing is legitimate unless it sells mega-millions of copies.

Headed for Splitsville

This post by Razib Khan at Secular Right makes the argument for including secularists in the Republican Party. But, like Sullivan, I tend to think that there is no longer any room in the Republican Party for non-theocratic thinkers. It's The Way or the highway for the GOP now.

I believe the GOP is headed for a schism that finally creates a third major party in this country. There may be multiple splits at first, but only secularist intellectuals and Christianist theocrats will remain. It means the exile of conservative power at the top levels of government for at least a generation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Obama's First Problem

LA Times blogger Andrew Malcolm posted last Sunday that Obama has a bit of a problem if he wants Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. The obstacle is that little piece of paper called the Constitution. You know, that thingie that our current president and vice president so cavalierly ignored for the past seven and a half years?

Apparently, Article One, Section Six states:
"No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office."

I had to look up that big word there, "emoluments." It simply means compensation. What this clause means is that Hillary can't become Secretary of State if the compensation is higher than what she's currently getting as a Senator if she, as a Senator, had voted for a pay raise for the Secretary of State.

Now, this is not the first time it's happened. And the way presidents like Nixon, Carter, and Clinton have gotten around it is by having Congress pass a law reducing the pay of the particular cabinet office so that the appointee actually takes a pay cut, and the lawmaker appointed to the job would get no benefit from the pay the job offers even if he had earlier voted for a pay increase for that position.

Well, with him being a constitutional scholar, it would seem a bit expedient for Obama to take this path. Not only that, it would smack as "politics as usual" where Washington insiders reward each other, regardless of the law. He promised a change from all that stuff. I don't see a large distinction between that sort of maneuver and the way Tom DeLay rolled out the red carpet for lobbyists.

If she wants this job, I think Hillary needs to resign from the Senate today. There's nothing in the Constitution that prohibits a former member of either house of Congress becoming an appointee to a president's cabinet.

(h/t Sullivan)

Monday, December 1, 2008

"The Main Story for the Muslim World"

Sullivan analyzes the "abuses of faith" that US interrogators and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. He correctly points out that one must use a measure of skepticism with the accounts of abuse from these facilities, since disinformation is part of the training of any military operative in custody. But strung together, these accounts are a disturbing indictment of how the US tortured detainees without ever touching them, by using religious torture.

The Catholic magazine Commonweal has a definitive article on the subject of religious abuse. We have all heard accounts of soldiers desecrating the Korans of the detainees. But what this articles proposes is that this kind of torture is far worse than the physical kind, and has more far-reaching implications for the Muslim world in general. For when these stories get out -- and they will get out and be believed by Muslims around the world -- it will become clear to them that the US has waged a war against the religion itself, not just against its extremist practitioners who engage in terrorist acts. Money quote:
[H]owever U.S. officials justify these actions to themselves, the judgment of the Muslim detainees will be more important in the future. Even isolated instances of religious torture can have a profound effect on collective memory. Does it really matter how many soldiers used the Qur’an for target practice? Such events are iconic. What is important to the Muslim detainees themselves and the global audience that hears their reports is that a clear pattern of disrespect for Islam has emerged. The United States has desecrated what most Muslims consider God’s presence on earth (the Qur’an), drowned out the call to prayer with the American anthem and rock songs, used grotesque sexual assaults to undermine piety, mocked religious holidays, and engaged in freelance proselytism.
On the left, we have been saying that our invasion of Iraq, our abuses at Abu Ghraib, and our actions in Guantanamo and other black sites are doing a better job at recruiting terrorists than al Qaeda could do itself. What better way to recruit fighters for your cause if the message is that it's a fight to the death between Islam and western faiths which seek to destroy it?