Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Moral Nihilism: Why can't they just leave that nice Mr. Karr alone?

I know that some lawyers will go to great lengths, at times it seems to any length, to defend their clients. I know that this good for our judicial system and that half-hearted representation has led to some innocent people being locked up. But once a case is decided or charges are dismissed, a lawyer has to know when to cut their ties, especially when their client is as loathsome as John Mark Karr.

Seth Temin is apparently trying strike it rich by being the attorney to the pervs. Why else would he issue this statement after the case against Karr was dropped:

“We’re deeply distressed by the fact that they took this man and dragged him here from Bangkok, Thailand, with no forensic evidence confirming the allegations against him.”

Deeply distressed? Well oh my goodness. I hope Mr. Temin will sleep more restfully when Karr is back in Bangkok trading in kiddy flesh. Maybe Karr will send him a postcard of the little girl he purchased at a flee market and Temin can feel proud all over again that he helped a wrongly accused man return to a life of normalcy. Miscreants.

If someone wants to claim that that this was shoddy DA work and a waste of taxpayer’s money, maybe you could make that case. But to suggest that the pedophile Karr was unfairly implicated or should never have been inconvenienced by being arrested is an affront to a civilized society.

Falsely confessing to raping and killing a child is almost as twisted as actually doing it. How could you not investigate this vermin further? I know that you can’t prosecute someone for their lurid fantasies, but if ever an exception could be made, Karr’s as good a candidate as you’ll find.

There’s also the matter of pending charges in California for child pornography, although Temin probably sees that as just a nuisance issue, like outstanding parking tickets.

Karr is obviously sick. His sickness threatens the well-being of children so he should be quarantined with individuals to whom he poses no threat. Perhaps a special wing could be set up in one of our maximum security prisons to house violent inmates who also happen to be the fathers of young daughters. That would make a good home for Karr. And maybe his pal Temin could visit on the weekends, if he isn’t too distressed.

*This could be a mid-season replacement on ABC if Aaron Sorkin's new drama tanks.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Update: Credit for previous post

The proceeding polemic was inspired by Jim Treacher, who addressed the issue much more succinctly than I ever might. If you haven't noticed, I tend to get a bit wordy. Anywho, for those of you who don't click on links, here is what he wrote:

The latest foiled terrorist plot revolved around liquid explosives. So of course, the logical solution is to keep Muslim terrorists off planes ban all liquids.

Strunk and White would be proud of his concise, and thus, vigorous, writing.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Stop this unjust war on bottled liquids

If someone were to steal my identity in order to extract my modest riches, towards whom would I direct my most vigorous indignation? The merchants who would no longer accept my maxed-out credit cards? The bank that would penalize my overdrawn account? My wife who would seek more prosperous companionship? The answer is none of the above, and I’m reasonably certain that my wife would stick it out with me through insolvency. Obviously, the target of my scorn would be the cad who stole my money and besmirched my good name.

Likewise, if I were a Muslim of Middle Eastern origin and was tired of being eyed suspiciously in airports, I wouldn’t first blame the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, I’d cast an admonishing eye towards those blaspheming my faith and disgracing my race with their terrorist activities.

In media reports following the thwarting of planned attacks on airplanes bound for the U.S., the primary message from the Muslim community in this country seemed to be that we all need to be careful not to paint all Muslims with the terrorist brush. It’s certainly understandable that they would be concerned about this, both as a matter of self-preservation and to prevent a swell of bigotry that would threaten the freedoms that make this country great. But before making this pronouncement, how about joining the rest of us in condemning those who think that eternal life is gained through killing airborne innocents?

The larger part of this issue is the belief that the type of prejudice that Muslims are likely to be subjected to will come in the form of profiling. Although this is clearly a sensitive issue, I also think that profiling, when deployed expertly, isn’t discriminatory.

There are some realities that should be recognized if authorities are going to continue to prevent terrorist efforts to make confetti out of Boeings. First and foremost is that, based on past incidents, adult males of Middle Eastern descent are the most likely to want to carry out such an attack. Secondly, people of Middle Eastern descent share certain physical attributes. They tend not to look like Scandinavian grandmothers or Asian adolescents. This isn’t good or bad, it’s just a matter of genetics.

Based on this knowledge, perhaps the war being waged on water bottles should shift focus in an effort to find those who are smuggling liquid explosives.

It wouldn’t make sense for police investigating a series of cross burnings at predominately black churches to question every person in town regardless of race, color, or creed. Sure, it’s possible that anyone could be responsible, even the ministers of the churches. But doesn’t it make more sense, absent of any concrete leads, to concentrate on white adult males, especially those with mullets.

Therefore, harassing a burka-wearing woman while she’s sitting at a bus stop is an act of bigotry. Taking an extra long look at a fidgety 25-year-old man with a Muslim-sounding name as he’s about to board a plane is an act of common sense. It’s sad and unfortunate, but necessary thanks to a small number of demented individuals and a larger number of people who are explicitly and implicitly supporting their actions.

The big question that always gets asked when making such a judgment is how would you feel if you were the one subjected to increased scrutiny. It’s not really possible to answer definitely until your put in that situation, but I’m of the mind that when you have people out there who mean you harm, it behooves you to make some sacrifices to help ensure your well-being and that of others. So if bloggers of Lithuanian descent begin to threaten national security and I end up in an airport interrogation room for a couple of hours, that’s a small price to pay to help defend my country.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Update: Red Hats not pleased with fair hospitality, vow revenge

I thought things had been eerily peaceful on the Red Hat Front. As was pointed out by Nancy in the comments section, the political arm of the Red Hat Society is waging a public relations attack against the Illinois State Fair for a perceived lack of respect shown to its members. You can check the letters-to-the-editor section of today’s SJ-R to hear their complaints. Apparently somebody forgot to kiss their rings as they passed through the Main Gate.

I wouldn’t want to be in state fair manager Amy Bliefnick’s shoes right now. And I especially wouldn’t want to be in the cement shoes that she will soon be fitted with courtesy of the RHS’s militant wing. DNR might want to drain the ponds in Conservation World because someone is liable to sleep with the fishes over this one. I heard a rumour that the last time the Red Hatters had a less than splendid time at the fair, the governor woke up to find the decapitated head of the butter cow in his bed. These gals are ruthless. Let’s be careful out there people.

PS: If you’re a punk rocker, the Red Hats don’t like your kind. Read the comments to the previous post for fair warning.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Red Hats at Sunrise

When Dave Bakke asked local bloggers how long it would be before a blogger broke a legitimate news story, most of us answered that it wasn't our calling to report breaking news. I sold myself short. Long time readers of BFS will recall that it was I who exposed the seamy underbelly of the Red Hat Society. I recalled this fact when I recently had a near run-in with this demented band of cutthroats.

Last week, I had occasion to breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. After enjoying my meal of pancakes and eggs over easy, my world was sent on edge when I found myself in line to pay behind two made-members of La Rosa Nostra.

I was careful not to make eye contact, knowing that they are always looking for a beef. Keeping my eyes focused on the display of Moon Pies behind the counter, I measured my breaths carefully, not wanting to draw attention to myself by inhaling too nervously. They are easily provoked, these fun-loving seniors, as any war protester will tell you. Fortunately, their meal was to their liking and they paid their bill without incident.

I was quite surprised when they then exited the restaurant without senselessly upending the rack of audio books or pilfering some scented candles. But that's the thing about the Red Hatters, most of the time they act like fine, upstanding citizens. That's what makes the drama so intense when they do throw down and open up the whop-ass on some unassuming bystander.

Although the Cracker Barrel serves the best flapjacks in town, I'll have to think twice about visiting again, knowing as I do now that it is frequented by such nefarious characters. Until the mayor appoints a task force charged with ridding the city of the Red Hat Society's terrifying presence, all of our breakfast options will be severely limited.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The dogs are having their day

Some actions are considered indisputably abhorrent: abusing babies, swindling the elderly. Reactions to others vary depending on personally held views: allowing gays to marry, voting Republican. But if local news coverage is an accurate barometer, there is one deed that will get a person vilified as evil incarnate even more thoroughly than if they were to unleash an anti-Semite tirade touring a traffic stop. That crime – bringing harm to a pet.

Last week’s SJ-R included yet another account of a crime against caninity (sic). An unhinged elderly gentleman in possession of an arsenal of rifles shot dead a puppy that apparently wasn’t involved in a dog/man confrontation that allegedly occurred the previous day.

I don’t question the newsworthiness of this story, but I do expect a disproportionate amount of public outcry on behalf of the slain dog. It seems that these days there is a lot more concern about the Lassies of the world than there is for the Timmys.

A couple of weeks ago, State’s Attorney John Schmidt said that his office received more letters concerning an abused dog than they ever had for any case involving a human. Any time the newspaper runs a story on animal abuse or neglect, they follow-up with the many letters from readers who condemn the accused.

Animal lovers defend their spirited indignation by saying that everyone is outraged when a person is the victim of violence, so it is their mission to speak on behalf of those further down the food chain. This may be true, but the balance of concern seems to be shifting away from us bipeds and towards the quadrupeds.

During the Katrina saga, I followed a report of a young boy who wasn’t allowed to bring his dog on the bus that was evacuating people from the storm-ravaged city. Much of the reaction that followed wasn’t commiseration for the boy who was being separated from his best friend, but anger that the dog wasn’t being treated as an equal to his human counterpart. No one, to my knowledge, suggested having the boy give up his seat on the bus for the dog, although it seemed that some would have considered it a reasonable solution.

I’m at a loss to explain why some people become publicly impassioned upon news that a dog has suffered at human hands. Why Caleb the mortally neglected pit bull strikes at their sense of injustice so deeply? Why, when a dog attacks a child, they are as quick to defend the dog as they are to register their de rigueur concern with the child’s well-being? And why those so in love with their mutts let them ride in their laps Mr. Bigglesworth-style when a front-end accident would surely send them through the car’s windshield?

Lest I seem cold to the animal kingdom, let me assure you I mean them no harm. In fact, my heart too bears compassion for our furry friends.

I once had my heart temporarily broken by a cat that met with an unfortunate demise. But such was our relationship that we celebrated Gus’s brief life by using his makeshift grave as first base in our backyard baseball games. Sometimes I would be standing on his final resting place, berating myself for not stretching my single into a double (Jon-Jon never had the strongest arm), and I’d wonder what ole laidback Gus would say to a young boy being too hard on himself. Then I’d remember that he was just a cat and make a break for second.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Truth in Advertising

them's some ugly shoes

Crocs: Your dignity is a small price to pay for foot comfort.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Profiles in Stupidity

Like Dave at the Eleventh Hour, I had planned to sit out this latest round of the smoking battle, except to decry the use of micturative (thanks Jeff) analogies that only serve to sully the debate. But like Dave, I was sucked back into the fray because of the utter stupidity being exhibited. In my case, it isn't the result of disingenuous reasoning on the part of the anti-smoking-ban contingent, but the behavior of those who would walk a mile for a Camel but can't walk two feet without a smoke.

I'm not such an anti-smoking zealot that I would propose banning outdoor smoking. But I will say that anyone who lights-up anywhere where there are a preponderance of children - be it at a park playground, a youth soccer game, or, say, the State Fair parade - needs to lock themselves away in the double-wide with their beloved cigarettes lest they inadvertently catch a breath of fresh air.

If you haven't guessed by now, we took the kids to the parade this evening. For whatever reason, it always seems to be a big draw with the nicotine addicted set. I've come to expect this and can generally avoid their smog. Tonight, however, I was witness to two occassions of extreme smoking idiocy.

Shortly upon arriving at the usual spot where our extended family gathers, I noticed a gentleman attached to a bottle of oxygen just as he was about to light a cigarette. Now* understand I harbored no concern for his failing health since he obviously had none, but I did wonder about all of those warning signs I had seen in hospitals that seemed to indicate there might be some risk of combustion should said oxygen be introduced to an open flame.

Here today, just as we were reminded of how desperately foreign terrorists wish to blow us to pieces, we had a corn-fed national willing to do the job for them.

Later, I overheard a woman asking a state trooper for assistance in clearing the way for her car to leave the yard where she was parked. It seemed a member of her party had gone into labor. A buzz went through the crowd upon hearing of the impending blessed event. Until we caught a glimpse of the mother-to-be.

While the trooper stood prepared to hold up the parade so the car could pass through to the adjoining alley, the glowing mother stood outside of her transport, determined to suck out every last carcinogen from her butt before tending to the task of delivering her child. And who could blame her. By the time she pushes the little brat out and tends to all of the postpartum rigmarole, it might be two or three hours before she gets to have another one.

So there you have it. Two case studies on why we shouldn't worry about infringing on smokers' rights. Because they obviously aren't concerned with anyone elses.

*Sorry for the superfluous "now". I saw Jerry Lambert marching in the parade tonight and just couldn't help myself.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Best Letter-to-the-Editor Writer in the World

For further evidence of the decline in public discourse in this country look no further than the editorial page of Monday’s State Journal-Register. There you will find an Op-Ed by the chairman of the Sangamon County Board, a once-respected position of government although apparently no longer, in which he discusses a serious issue in the most base terms available to him.

In analogizing the effects of second hand smoke, Mr. Van Meter chose to equate the befouling of the air with the contamination of a public pool by bodily waste. While the comparison does flow logically, he’s decision to evoke the act of urination at a time when most readers are enjoying their breakfast reeks of disrespect to his constituents.

And of course he chose to make his rather coarse point using abhorrent terms for such matters. In my day, one did not “p**” in the pool, as Mr. Van Meter so grossly puts it. We “relieved ourselves” or “made water”, but only the most ill-bred of our generation would ever deign to p** in the very place that he waded.

Mr. Van Meter’s lowborn attempt to provide voice to a critical subject is just another example of the defilement of acceptable rhetoric. No word is too blue, no analogy too crude to make one’s point.

If our elected officials can not discuss an issue with the decorum and good taste that their office demands and the public deserves, then they are better off not raising the matter to begin with. I would much rather be subjected to the air from a thousand well-bred smokers than be forced to tolerate the noxious verbosity of a single potty-mouthed politician.


P.S. It’s hot out there people; be sure to use your sunscreen.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In Defense of the State Worker*

I'd like to talk a little bit about branding. Not the practice of applying a red-hot iron to a steer’s hindquarters, but the attempt to indelibly connect an idea to a product.

Corporations spend millions in marketing revenue in an attempt to attach a positive idea to their offering that speaks to the desired demographic. Sometimes, however, the idea that sticks into the consumer’s mind is negative. Wal-Mart, for example, wants to be seen as a good and thrifty neighbor, but for many people, they are a bullying and selfish presence.

An article in this week’s New York Times Magazine is about how some people are applying the corporate concept of branding to their lives in an attempt to make themselves marketable. While the young hipsters profiled in the article are making a conscious effort to brand their lifestyle, other folks have one bestowed upon them. In Springfield, there is no stronger brand, either for a person or a product, than the state worker.

For as many years as I can remember, the idea most frequently associated with a state worker was that of a politically-connected layabout, coasting his way towards a handsome pension and only breaking a sweat during election years. This perception manifest itself from what non-state workers considered all too familiar scenes: a five-man maintenance crew with only one broom, a lanyard-wearing crowd at Boone’s Saloon on an early Friday afternoon (or Wednesday, or Monday), a state vehicle filled with a family of four on their way to the lake.

In recent years, wage freezes and massive layoffs have lead to a more aggressive effort by the unions and merit comp employees to paint a different idea in the public’s minds: the state worker as an over-worked, under-appreciated laborer struggling to keep up with the cost of living. This particular branding campaign isn’t working, but the one that paints all state workers as lazy nepotists isn’t entirely accurate either.

I spent three years working for the state before returning to the private sector. What I found during my brief tenure, at least among the people that I worked with directly, was that my co-workers were intelligent, decent people who carried out their jobs efficiently. If any of them ducked out early and headed over to Boones, they didn’t invite me.

But what sometimes hampered the work of these fine people and cast a pall over the entire working environment was a stunning lack of morale. This dearth of esprit de corps, although certainly attributable in part to the wage freeze, has a much more unlikely cause.

Because of the way that jobs are classified and favors handed out, after ten years in the state’s employ the average worker has risen in the ranks about as far as they can go. This is, of course, unless they want to hitch-on to the wagon of a particular political candidate, but to do that is to also risk being run over by the wagon once it starts heading back down the hill.

So what you have then is a bunch of people settled into jobs that no longer challenge them. With no mountains left to climb or fortunes to shoot for, they grow listless. Time to move on, one would think, to new and better things. But many fail to do so because of the one carrot left dangling before them: their pension.

After eight years, a state employee is fully-vested into the state’s retirement system. While a pension is meant as a reward for a lifetime of service, it also serves as a yoke to keep an employee slumping down the path towards retirement. Rather than sacrifice their pension, many state workers stay in an unfulfilling job that eventually crushes their spirit.

This is, of course, a general assessment based on my personal observations. There are state workers who have been doing the same job for the past thirty years with a vim that would make Mary Poppins seem like Roseanne Barr with a hangover. On the other hand, there are workers who have risen to the rank of Grand Master in Tetris while suckling from the state’s teat. But most fall into a middle category. They don’t need to be branded. But if you mess with their pensions, they’ll need to be restrained.

*or: A Shameless Attempt to Win the State Worker Vote in the Illinois Times’ Best of Springfield Contest.