Thursday, January 26, 2006

Death Penalty Debate

Everyone once in a while the topic of the death penalty grabs the headlines. Perhaps not the national but usually the regional or local. Recently here in Virginia former governor Mark Warner ordered a DNA test for a man executed in 1992.

Roger Keith Coleman was accused and found guilty of raping and murdering his 19-year-old sister in law Wanda McCoy. He protested that he didn't do it and there was much that was never aired that may have proven his innocence. In fact, he was on the cover of Time magazine. For years after his conviction, many sought to prove his innocence because they believed him. Before his execution he said,'An innocent man is going to be murdered tonight.' Retests were demanded. Even after his execution, they still kept it up. Despite what the prosecutors say, I am inclined to believe that they were nervous about any retests.

Recently, the Virginia governor decided to order the tests using new technology not available in 1992 to conduct the DNA tests. The test results confirmed that Roger Keith Coleman was guilty. Jim McCloskey, one of Coleman's champions from the Centurion Ministries upon hearing of the confirmation he said "I now know that I was wrong, and this is a very bitter pill to swallow. However, the truth is the truth."

Pal Thomson, Wanda McCoy's brother put it simply saying "Killers tell lies."

From the Richmond Times Dispatch (Jan 12, 2006):
Don Hill, one of the jurors in the case, said yesterday that the findings came as no surprise to him and that he hopes the second-guessing of the jury will now stop.

"Everybody had an opinion, but the evidence they used to pin him down was just like pinning a tail on a donkey," said Hill.

There will always be those that seek to eradicate the death penalty from this country. In this case they did not find their public reason. They will continue to seek that one single example that the system failed and that an innocent man was executed. When they do, they will trumpet it from the highest towers for all to hear and then demand that the death penalty be scrapped. For now, they claim that it is for justice. They conveniently forget that the murdered and the families of the murdered also seek justice through the death penalty.

Is it possible that innocent men have been executed? Definitely. After all, when some forms of DNA testing became available, innocent men have been released from jail after being tested. Logically, we can infer that some have been innocent that have been executed.

Should we have DNA testing whenever possible before convicting someone of a crime that carries the death penalty? Sure. We should have testing of all cases prior to the death sentence being carried out. We have the technology now. We owe it not just to the accused, but to the victims and their families and to society that the correct person is punished.

Should the death penalty be taken away as an option? Surely not as there are crimes that morally demand it. What do you do after all to a murderer on a life sentence that kills another in prison? Does the death penalty stop all from committing crimes? Not in all cases and as realists we have to accept that.

We hang horse thieves, not in order that men shall be hanged, but in order that horses shall not be stolen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Are Americans Really That Brutal in War?

World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. World War II was total. Korea ended in a (current) stalemate and Vietnam ended in defeat. There have been numerous smaller wars in between that involve the United States as well as those that do not. Here for example is the list of dozens of wars on Wikipedia from 1945 through 1989. Care to guess how many there have been without US involvement since then?

The reality of the matter is that war will always be with us and there is no escaping it as long as there is no harmony on the planet. Peaceful nations generally do not start wars - they try diplomacy first. We generally believe that the evil start wars for reasons that we classify simply including greed and power.

Now, the United States is being accused of starting the war for oil and for being the most brutal occupiers of Iraq in history and indiscriminately killing civillians and children either on purpose or through collateral damage.

It is time to put this in perspective.

The year is 1258. The month is January. Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan has beseiged the city of Baghdad. Yes, that very same Baghdad. He breaches the walls and his army (estimated to number between 100,000 to 850,000 depending on who you choose to believe) proceed to sack the city for 7 days. The Mongols have this habit of murdering as many civillians as they can and then beheading them and piling the skulls in pyramids as large as you care to imagine - or not. Some sources say that in those 7 days they killed 200,000. Other sources claim 800,000. Some claim more than a million were killed in those 7 days. Can you imagine what it must have been like to see 200,000 killed in a week? Or 800,000 or a million? Let me put it this way - there are less than a million seconds in a week.

The Mongols were absolutely brutal in war.
The Japanese were brutal in war.

Please don't make the statement that American behavior in Iraq in this century is at that same level.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Was Lack of Armor Really to Blame?

The recent politicization of a report from the Pentagon was extremely unhelpful and potentially deadly in the future. The subject of course was that the report said that more Marines would b alive today if they had had more armor. Some politicians took that and used it to blame those in power or authority to show how the war is poorly managed.

The report did not answer these questions:
1. If they had been wearing more armor from the beginning, could they have died from a lack of mobility and ability to take offensive action?
2. If they had been wearing more armor, would other servicemen have died or been injured from their lack of mobility?

Unfair questions to ask of an analytic report? Perhaps, but definitely real and relevant questions.

Combat is not a computer game. It is real and our servicemen get hurt, lose limbs and die from it. History has shown that many in combat figure out very quickly what works and what doesn't. From the Normandy invasion where some non-com figures out to weld iron rakes to the front of tanks to break through the hedgerows to Greneda, where a young soldier or marine makes a long distance call back stateside to call for supporting fire because the radio got killed, our servicemen are not dumb.

See this story for a first person explanation for why they don't want more heavy body armor.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Kennedy sure knows how to point fingers

Apparently someone needs to make sure that their own house is not made of glass before launching stones.

According to CNN:
The Massachusetts Democrat, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, grilled Alito during Senate confirmation hearing last week about Alito's ties to the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, an alumni group that opposed the admission of women and minorities at the Ivy League School.

A Washington Times story about Kennedy's Owl Club ties last week sparked criticism from Republicans who branded Kennedy a hypocrite.

Full Story Here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hmmmm... Pat Robertson and Ray Nagin believe in the same God?

First Pat Robertson suggests that God may have given Israeli PM Sharon a stroke for giving away Gaza to the Palestinians and everyone denounces Robertson for even suggesting such a possibility. Now New Orleans mayor Nagin claims that God is upset with America and punishes America with Hurricane Katrina.

Someone tell me what the objection is over Robertson again? Past history or the issue itself? Is God truly capable of punishing individuals in the 21st century? Or does he reserve that for nations only? Can he do one but not the other? Or neither? Is Robertson possibly correct? What about Nagin? Are only one but not the other over the line? You tell me - or better yet, be intellectually honest, you tell yourself first.

Alternative Energy Local Politics

OK, so we have the anti-nukes that don't want new nuclear reactors to ever be built. We also have those that don't want new refineries to be built even though a lack of that capacity allowed Katrina to cause huge price increases in gasoline that hurt all of us.

Now we have the anti-wind crowd that don't want wind power to be built within sight or sound or imagined effects of where they live. It isn't even on their property and is not in any way illegal. No wonder this county has no energy policy.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Funniest Flip Ever

Joe Biden, 2004 at Princeton giving a speech:
It's an honor to be here. It would have even been a greater honor to have gone here. I have three children who have merifully have all finally completed undergraduate and graduate school, and I tried to get all three of them to apply here...I committed a serious mistake, Dean. I've learned now, any advice I give...when you become parents, whatever school you want your child to go to, don't mention it. And so I had been pushing Princeton, and this magnificently attractive, intellectually and physically, beautiful young girl, was a sophomore, was showing us around, and I figured we've got a lock now. My son is going to really be interested, and I know Senators aren't supposed to say things like that, but if he hadn't been interested, I would have been worried...

Joe Biden at Judge Alito's hearing:
This is just by way know, why some of us are puzzled, because if I was aware of it, and I didn't even like Princeton...No, I mean I really didn't like Princeton (laughing). Yeah, I was an Irish-Catholic kid who thought it hadn't changed like you concluded it had. I mean, I admit. I have know, one of my real dilemmas is I have two kids who went to Ivy League schools. I'm not sure my grandfather, Finnegan, will ever forgive me for allowing that to happen. But all kidding aside, I wasn't a big Princeton fan.

I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Assasins Going After BP Agents?

It seems that the FBI or Homeland Security has come across information that says that MS-13 may be targeting Border Patrol agents for assasination because illegal immigrant smuggling has become tougher due to the Border Patrol being more effective.

San Jose Mercury News has the story.

Is this starting to look less like an illegal immigration wave and more like an illegal immigration war? Take my advice, don't START a war with the U.S. of A - you won't like our response.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Mexicans Shooting at US Border Patrol Over National Boundary

This story will get you upset because not only does the United States have to put up with 11 to 14 million illegal immigrants with 100,000 or more coming across the border each year, it also has to put with the the "It's OUR RIGHT" attitude that the Mexican government and the illegal immigrants take.

Well, to show that some of them further do not believe that there is even a border, they think it is fine to shoot at Border Patrol agents who are doing their job. No wonder some call this an invasion. First they cross over and if you resist, they shoot at you.

You know, I can just imagine how much those Border Patrol agents that were fired upon might wish for some of their fellow Americans serving in the US Army overseas could have assisted them. Some night vision equipment would have been nice. Oh, since you're used to being shot at, why not sign on as backup? Don't forget to bring the Apache just in case those guys decide to start shooting at us again - especially at night.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Chinese Suicide Bomber

Not quite in the usual theme of things but even the Chinese have the occasional suicide bomber problem. Not quite a case of a freedom fighter but the level of news suppression or pretense that it didn't happen is quite illuminating.

Go here to see the pictures and read the story.

Interesting View of Racism

Have you ever been just browsing and come across something someone wrote and it seemed to crystallize something you had thought and felt about often but failed to bring together in a concise coherent manner. It happened to me today and I have to say that this comes pretty close to what I think but not totally. Here it is anyway..
There are really two types of racism.

Real racism is not in the eye of the beholder. Real racism is when you irrationally use the characteristics you believe are true of a "race" to judge a member of that race. It becomes especially destructive when the characteristics believed true are false and derogatory, and especially destructive when it involves judging the value of a person (something not intrinsically wrong in certain contexts... "would I hire this person?" "is that person going to try to kill me?" we make value judgements every day).

This is as close to an emprically verifiable term as you can ever get when dealing with humans, assuming you can get at the inner state of the person.

The second type of racism is in the eye of the beholder, and it has gotten to the point where "That's racist!" is one step shy of "I don't like that!", only much, much meaner. The distinguishing characteristic of this kind of "racism" is that if the accuser can come up with any reason that the accusee might be doing or saying something for a racist reason, regardless of how likely or even how true that reason is, the accusee can be presumed racist, and should therefore be vilified. Fortunately, I think we're very near the point where that accusation will have been so overused that it will be diluted into nearly no effect.

As a homework exercise, estimate the probability that this form of racism will ever be "eliminated", and consider the consequences of your answer.

Often, it's hard to tell which is which. I prefer to cultivate an attitude more like the South Park children than the current attitudes of people who are hypersensitive about the second type of racism. This is the first I've heard that "of course" King Kong is a stand-in for black people. Personally, I thought he was just a giant monster. Since this accusation is a "projection" type accusation, I am inclined to think this is the second kind of "racism."

(Incidentally, the second type of "racism" is not itself really racist. It's just evil, in every sense of the term, especially including how it destroys the one afflicted with it. No apology for that belief.)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

President Pushed Renewal of Unchanged Patriot Act

The President of the United States just doesn't get it. The Patriot Act as it was originally written does not address the issues that so many Americans find uncomfortable. The hardest thing to believe is that he wants it made permanent AS IS. You would think that he would have gotten the message to compromise on this piece of legislation would have gotten through to him but it apparently hasn't. This President just does not have the political capital to push through this kind of position. His rating is lower than any other president going back to Eisenhower in their 6th year of Presidency. Even Bush #41 and Clinton had higher ratings and he wants to shovel this through the system?

Although I don't necessarily agree with they guy, Sensenbrenner has more and better points than I have on this issue.

The President needs to understand this one quick. I'm starting to wonder if he has the capacity to do so.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pat Robertson and Hypocrisy?

Ok, the media seems to love to carry only excerpts so I decided to go googling this is the closest I could find to the full statement:

ROBERTSON: I have said last year that Israel was entering into the most dangerous period of its entire existence as a nation. That is intensifying this year with the loss of Sharon. Sharon was personally a very likeable person. I am sad to see him in this condition. But I think we need to look at the Bible and the Book of Joel. The prophet Joel makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who, quote, "divide my land." God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible, he says, "This is my land." And for any prime minister of Israel who decides he going carve it up and give it away, God says, "No. This is mine." And the same thing -- I had a wonderful meeting with Yitzhak Rabin in 1974. He was tragically assassinated, and it was terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless, he was dead. And now Ariel Sharon, who was again a very likeable person, a delightful person to be with. I prayed with him personally. But here he is at the point of death. He was dividing God's land, and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU, the United Nations or United States of America. God said, "This land belongs to me, you better leave it alone."

DISCLAIMER: Do not assume that I either agree or disagree with Robertson on this matter.

I wish to analyze and highlight the issue(s).

No doubt that there is a huge amount of controversy and criticism over this latest statement by Robertson. Some of the critics have found the Iranian president's statement that "the Holocaust did not happen" far worse and others have not even commented on it but found issues with Robertson's statement.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel's leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians. His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don't see God as cruel and vengeful.

Hmmmm.... Since Mr Foxman is speaking for the Anti-Defamation League, I will assume that he is speaking on behalf of some Jewish viewpoint. In this case, we have a representative of that Jewish viwepoint telling a Christian that he has made un-Christian remarks. Bear with me. How does anyone tell a Jew that he is making un-Jewish remarks then? Can it be done in a politically correct way? Can a Buddhist or Hindu or atheist or Native American tell a Jew to stop making un-Jewish remarks? Can a Christian?

As for a cruel or vengeful God, I think lots of us that have even an inkling of what the Old Testament says might disagree with that statement.

More telling perhaps is the fact that there are Jews that believe that God did give them that land that is the Gaza. Some of them used to live there until they were forcibly evicted. They would agree with Robertson's statement. So why can't we focus on the statement itself rather than the skin color or religion or nationality of the speaker?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Airline Industry News: Independence Air Shuts Down

So you probably heard today that was shutting down. That's Independence Air for the rest of us. A small low cost airline that started two years ago by splitting off from a feeder arrangement with one of the regular larger airlines. They thought they could make it but couldn't.

The fact is that, this shutdown is really a symptom of a far bigger problem within the airline industry.

So, what does this have to do with rationality in politics? The answer is several billion dollars of taxpayers money that was handed over to the airline industry.

Update 1/6/06 - Seems that JetBlue is trying to fill the new market opportunity already. Good move Jetlue.

The story goes back farther then most of us realize. Think dot com boom. Yep, late 1990s. What happened there was that with the huge growth of the internet and with all the IPOs happening on Wall Street, billionaires (albeit some of them temporary) being made overnight. Secondary industries were experiencing some of the effect as well. Remember the words New Economy anyone?

Well, with all the VC money flowing into the tech companies small and otherwise, air travel increased as some of that money was spent flying engineers, salesmen, investors and executives to various meetings. Ticket prices shot up and the airlines didn't have enough planes to meet the increased demand. You've leased all the planes you can and there still aren't enough seats.

So, imagine yourself an airline executive facing all this passenger demand growth and the shareholders are expecting you to make sure that you take advantage of it. What do you do? Simple, you buy more planes. This is the New Economy folks. The old rules no longer apply and we have entered into a new stage of growth for the 21st Century.

The only problem with buying airplanes is that you amortize aircraft purchase costs over decades - a typical number is 20 years. You're going to have to make payments for 20 years. No problem say the airline executives. The New Economy will make that decision a no-brainer. The planes will pay for themselves in a fraction of that time at this rate.

The end result was that the commercial airline industry overexpanded and bought too many planes and had way too much capacity. When the dot com boom busted, the tech industry passengers disappeared. By the time mid 2001 arrived, the airlines were already in unpleasant shape. September 11th happened and you know where the rest of the passengers went.

So why did they do it? Why did the airline execs make those sorts of decisions? The answer lies in the fact that short term growth was happening and the CEOs were looking forward only a quarter or two and wanted to show their shareholders that they were taking full advantage of the passenger growth by generating better numbers revenue and profit wise - even if it meant taking on more debt. They just couldn't leave that money on the table for some other competitor to get. So, they chose to be stars for the moment at great risk for the long term. We make heros of contrarians in the investment markets that are right. The problem was that there was not one executive at a major airline that was willing to be a contrarian during that time. Go take a look at airline exec compensations during the late 1990s.

The major airlines set themselves up for a big problem and it came with a vengence in the form of a terrorist attack and a nationwide no fly zone for several days. Sure, you can make the case that the terrorist attack was not directly their fault but their weakened state was their own creation. There is no way that the natural economic state of air travel at that time could justify the existence of that large a capacity between all the major airlines. The correct level of capability and capacity was much lower. The airlines were all into survival mode to outlast each other in the medium term. The market was fit for a reduction in both capacity and the number of airlines. It should have happened and bankruptcy filings were either in or on the way.

Then the towers were hit and the govenment gave billions of dollars outright to save at least two major airlines and made billions more in loan guarantees. They opted to save jobs that would have gone away naturally and they used taxpayers money to save an industry that was overdue for a natural adjustment. Then they gave more money to those families that lost loved ones so that those families wouldn't sue the airlines into bankruptcy.

They should have left the airlines to succeed or fail on their own. The nation would have been better off if one airline had closed down but instead, the government decided to take extraordinary measures to keep all of them on life support. This is economic interference at an unbelievable scale. It was a political decision - not a sensible one.

Even today, there are too many empty seats and too many planes that are not meeting their monthly loan payments. The price of jet fuel is extrememly high and that can only make a sick industry worse.

Independence Air is only the tip of the iceberg and you can watch the airline industry limp along for the next decade until they decide to bite the bullet and fix the real problems. In the meantime, they still have our billions.