Thursday, January 27, 2011

He Gets to Plead "Not Guilty"?!!

Maybe our justice system should be renamed the “Bald-faced Lie” system.” Or the “I’m Not So Proud as I Thought I’d Be” system.” How about the “I’m Hateful and Vicious, But I Didn’t Really Mean It So Please Don’t Hurt Me” system?

Otherwise, Jared Loughner would not have the option of pleading “Not Guilty” to the heinous crimes he so gleefully committed in Tucson. I am so enraged by this that I could spin around and explode.

I don’t think we should have to look at his face ever again. And he should not be allowed to plead “Not Guilty.” Still, the law says he has the right to occupy our time, spend our money, and drain our psyches trying to prove what he cannot prove.

Anyone who plans such a crime as he did, carries it out in the light of day with multiple witnesses (not to mention victims), is filmed in the act by surveillance cameras, and is captured at the scene with the offending weapon in his hand is - Guilty.

In times of economic hardship, here’s a big money saver: When the guy is guilty, he’s gotta plead guilty. The District Attorney shouldn’t have to spend hours and months – no years - and hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars preparing to prove what we already know - that the people saw what they saw, and suffered what they suffered. The facts are in evidence. We don’t need to test a theory about the maiming of our Congresswoman or the death of a child. Loughner will not convince us that he wasn’t caught at the scene by the heroes who caught him.

On the flip side, no Public Defender need work the angles for a person who’s put himself in Loughner’s predicament. There is no reasonable doubt to be found. He did it. He has proven himself guilty of the horrendous acts he’s trying to wriggle away from. His family needn’t go bankrupt defending the indefensible. Let them help him now, if they can, with psychiatry and moral support. Tardy at best, but more fit than the inevitable waste of mounting a nonsensical defense.

He’s pleading not guilty by reason of mental defect, or insanity. Oh he has a defect, of that we can be certain. But this is not a viable defense if one has planned the crime in advance. Loughner’s pre-meditation obviates the element of, “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

All the time and tears can and should be allocated to determining an appropriate response to such a scenario and such a man as Jared Loughner. It must and will come down to whether or not, in the moment, he knew right from wrong. Then two choices emerge: If he knew it was wrong – prison or death. If it all seemed OK to him – institutional lock-down.

Of course, everyone deserves a fair trial - that is, everyone who can demonstrate a reasonable doubt as to guilt. For those folks, we provide a day in court with every accoutrement. But the law allowing not guilty pleas when there is no doubt of any kind as to guilt, seems to say to its citizens, “Pretend you don’t know what you know. Act like you didn’t see what you saw. Or, once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away…” Must we presume innocence when indisputable facts in our possession show guilt?

Yes, Loughner deserves due process and a fair trial for determining appropriate consequences for a man guilty without a doubt of any kind of actions he may have been incapable of understanding. That’s where we will end up. But as it is, we’re strapped into our chairs for a long, bad movie. Can’t we cut to the chase?

OK, this feels like a wild harangue. Maybe it is. I’m the whack job. I have rage and outrage in my heart. Egregious injury topped with devastating insult. So I’m writing about it. It helps a little.

Intellectually I know our system of justice is the best system. Our Bill of Rights protects us all. Even Jared Loughner. We’re going to take care of him. Of course. God Bless America.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Don't Make Me Stop the Car!

When my brother and I were growing up, we tussled as any pair of siblings might. I remember once when the two of us rode with our mom on the spacious bench seat of her beautiful baby blue and white 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser.

We squabbled back and forth over something as important as who ate the last Popsicle, with counterpoints as erudite as, “Did not!” and “Did too!” until she got sick of it and directed us both to keep quiet, which we did. With arms crossed, chins out, and jaws set, we established a battle free zone for her sake.

But then my brother, God love him, stretched his fingers under his arm and across the space between us to my skinny upper arm (where my triceps would have been), and gave me a hard pinch.

It was on! Where we had exchanged inane pre-adolescent barbs ‘til kingdom come (as mom would say), we now engaged in full tilt physical war. I think she stopped the car…

Could be that’s why it’s so hard to feel confident about the newest claims from our lawmakers in Washington, D.C. With contrite expressions, representatives from both parties hit the airwaves this week with proclamations of a new way of business in our nation’s Capitol - cross-party collaboration. They feel sure they’re going to be more successful this way. Hallelujah and amen.

Why, they’re going to quit being rude and combative with each other. They will even sit next to each other! My oh my! What big boys and girls!

Okay, okay, I’ll tone down the attitude. I want to be sarcastic about our lawmakers and their resolutions to be nicer to each other. It’s easier and yes, more fun to be mocking and cynical about their late but well-meaning declarations. But someone has to provide them a role model.

Honestly, I applaud them for stepping up and taking responsibility for the acrimony they have created. They have, in effect, confessed to being vitriolic and venomous. They must have made themselves miserable, along with the rest of us who depend on them for thoughtful leadership and support.

In fact, I appreciate their symbolic gesture of mixed seating for the State of the Union address later this month. (Though it begs the question of why some felt compelled to proceed with the equally symbolic repeal of the Health Care Reform Bill when in their magnanimous mode only moments before, they acknowledged that the whole bill shouldn’t be scrapped. Specific elements are valuable as written and enacted; other elements should be reviewed, tossed out, or improved.)

In the interest of cross-party collaboration, they should dispense with party seating altogether. A rotation of seating might be enlightening and productive for them. This week, let’s seat them alpha by last name. Next week, alpha by state. After that, brown eyes - blue eyes. Anything to get them out of their packs and into the true mix of the needs and interests represented there.

Maybe if our political parties weren’t so well-insulated from each other, they might listen to and learn from each other. In their long-standing segregated practice, too many seem not to listen to anything once the party line is established. Like the penguins in Antarctica, they close ranks, backs to the storm, and wait out the winter of intellectual challenges.

It’s easy to see that when they return to their well-worn, still–warm, and familiar seats, they’re more likely to return to their well-established and unproductive custom of group-think. Common sense and human nature tell us that getting out of the old neighborhood is one of the best ways to get out of an old habit. It’s too easy to blend in, vote with the pack, and avoid controversy and even retribution, when the party is closed around you.

It’s darn near impossible to break from the pack when you’re surrounded by the pack.

It doesn’t seem likely that the seating arrangement planned for the State of the Union will endure beyond its ephemeral symbolism. Too bad.

I hope I’m wrong, but my guess is that ultimately, someone will reach across the aisle and pinch the other guy.  Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat, New York 5th District, came close with the tone of his "half time report" during the Health Care repeal debate. 

Soon we’ll have another partisan battle in the hundred year war, replete with volleys of, “He started it!” “Did not!” and “Did too!”

I just hope we don’t have to stop the car, or the country, for it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can a Crazed Gunman Take Our Freedom?

We haven’t seen quite so clear a picture of insanity as the mug shot of Jared Loughner. His wild eyes and gleeful grin leave little doubt that his world hardly resembles our own.

What’s to stop such a young man from running up and shooting a Congresswoman? In a free society, what’s to stop him killing a judge, and a little girl, elderly people, a church volunteer, and a Congressional Aide?

He seems to have taken a cross-section of us. He tried to kill our peaceful, democratic way of life.

Ever see the movie, “Minority Report” with Tom Cruise? Directed by Stephen Spielberg, it’s a futuristic story in which pre-cognitive slaves, “pre-cogs,” can predict impending murders and when they do, crime stoppers dash out and arrest the murderers before they kill. The murder rate has dropped to zero in Washington D.C. in the movie.

Of course there’s a flaw that takes the whole thing down (sorry to be a spoiler). The inventor of the system is corrupt and kills the one person who can expose the flaw. He uses the flaw itself to cover up his own crime.

Wouldn’t it be great though, if we could know with some certainty that the keg was about to blow? If we only knew in advance, we would do something. We would have somehow contained that deranged young man in Tucson. We would have saved lives, and anguish, and pain everlasting.

Yet people did know. Like the pre-cogs, they saw in advance that he was dangerous. His friends saw him change over time, isolating himself in thought and action. Neighbors witnessed him shouting at no one.

One employer took measures not just to fire him, but to ensure he did not return to that place of business without a contract to follow safety rules he had repeatedly violated, endangering animals.

Community college administrators required assurances from a mental health professional before he would be allowed back on campus. One of his college classmates told her friends that he’d be on TV someday for having brought a gun to school and killing his peers.

Only his parents claim not to have noticed anything amiss. The macabre shrine to death he built in their own backyard insufficient to warrant a second thought.

But it’s not 2054, and even with the pointed concerns noted above, we cannot jail or commit a person for what he might do. When we recognize the makings of distress headed for paranoia, barreling toward madness and even violence, we do what we can for ourselves and that person, and wait. The psychological help Loughner needed offers no guarantee of safety for us.

It reminds me of the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. As the nation reeled and authorities from varied agencies began to piece together the scenario, we learned the sequence of seemingly unrelated events that led to the horror of September 11, 2001. A phrase emerged, “connect the dots.”

In efforts to prevent such heinous acts from recurring, laws and standards of practice evolved permitting and even requiring diverse and previously secretive, self-protective organizations to share information. Some of these practices may have averted, if narrowly, attempts at further terrorism.

Still, I don’t know that we would stand for the civilian equivalent. How could it work? In order to connect the dots of a young man's deranged behavior we would need to become mandated reporters, like school personnel are regarding suspected child abuse.

If that neighbor, that employer, that administrator, that classmate, and that friend had each been required to report their very real concerns…to whom? A central collection agency that monitors weird behavior?

Might as well name it Big Brother and give it stockpiles of mood elevators to force upon anyone whose behavior strays sufficiently out of the mainstream to garner attention. It doesn’t take a conspiracy buff to see the flaws - the violation of privacy, potential for false and malicious reports, and corrupt administration.

I don’t think it would hurt to reinstitute the lapsed controls on such weapons as Loughner used. But even this is pitiful. I’m just grasping. Based on emotion, such action would only meet our human need to do something in the face of misery.

We all know that somehow the worst of us would still obtain the weapons and use them against the best of us, as Loughner did.

And so, again, we face a harsh consequence of our beloved free society and endure the helplessness of grief.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who Gets to Chose Banned Words?

So Lake Superior State University (LSSU) published its annual List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

I’m not sure where they get off thinking they’re the arbiters of my clich├ęs. I think it must have come in one of those moments when someone declares himself an expert, and before you know it, folks begin going to him for insights they could probably glean themselves.

In fact, LSSU's list began in1976 in just that way. Their former Public Relations Director Bill Rabe and a group of his friends each contributed a few expressions that they disliked to form the first list. After that, the nominations stacked up for future lists and Rabe's group didn't have to make up its own list again.

Here’s the way it works: Some clever person somewhere turns a unique phrase, say. “Think outside the box.” Then, the rest of us lazy folk pick it up and wear it out, thereby irritating the “experts” at LSSU. They put it on the list, and tell us to stop pretending it’s still clever and unique.

Or, we, the non-expert masses, start groaning when we hear the phrase due to its unfortunate association with something or someone unpleasant, or lacking credibility. Then, it doesn’t go viral (another banished word this year), but rather shrivels in infamy.

Speaking of which, I noticed several Palin-isms made the list. One contributor said of "refudiate," “Adding this word to the English language simply because a part-time politician lacks a spell checker on her cell phone is an action that needs to be repudiated.” Here, here!

LSSU also panned “mamma grizzlies” and “man up”; two other phrases linked with Palin. I wonder if this is a whiff of her part-time future.

So anyway, according to LSSU, we should stop saying, “I’m just sayin’.” It’s just that I don’t wanna give that one up yet…just sayin’. It’s kind of fun and funny. It’s like a fuzzy kitten on the curb on the corner. I found it. I’m keeping it. I promise to feed it and it can sleep in my room. I know it won’t be so cute when it matures into a fully fledged expression, probably something like, “I’m telling you!” But I will deal with that when the time comes.

Of course the internet has accelerated the tipping point. A person gets quoted and becomes an authority if the web, the press, and the masses say so. A word achieves national, truly world-wide status in moments. Think “junk.”

In that vein, the LSSU list pans “Google” as a verb. Now that’s just plain snooty. Why isn’t it okay to add this to our lexicon when it so clearly and aptly conveys exactly what we’re doing? The alternative would be wordier and no more explicit. If they have their way, we won’t be saying, “I googled your address.” But, “I looked your address up with my internet search engine.”

I think I’ll make a couple of nominations this year. First, I think we should stop saying, “is, is.” For example when asked, “What is a tiddly-wink?” it has become common for a person to answer, “What it is, is a disk that is flipped in a goofy game…” (What is a tiddly-wink, anyway? Bad example, but hang with me.)

The point is that saying “is, is” annoys me. (I think I’m using the same criteria they use in Michigan.) Better to respond by not starting your answer with “What,” but rather with the item in question, “A tiddly-wink is a disk…” and then you look it up and complete your more pleasingly appropriate sentence. Thank you.

In 2002, the folks at LSSU put “9-11” and all its variations on the banned list, but the phrase lives on, in spite.

I agree with the nominators from 2002 who said, “Do we refer to the Chicago Fire as 10-8 because it occurred on Oct. 8, 1871? How about the sinking of the Titanic - it is not called 4-14. People are abbreviating the worst act of war this country has seen since Pearl Harbor. I've never heard anybody refer to the attack on Pearl Harbor as 12-7.

“A tragic event of such proportion should not be confused with a telephone number. The name will be remembered as long as there are people who can read."

It was September 11th, 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center.

Out of reverence and respect, I think we can take the time to speak the words.

I’m just sayin’.