Friday, January 21, 2011

What a waste of our tax dollars

Just the other day, a Pittsburgh man was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the premeditated murder of another city man. My first thought was, why in the world are we NOT executing this guy? The murderer, Luzay Watson, is 22 years old. Based on average life expectancy, we could be feeding, clothing, housing and providing medical care to this guy for the next 50 years, just so we can keep him in a box. Of course, who knows how much money would have to be spent fighting endless legal appeals if Mr. Watson had been sentenced to die. That's another problem that needs to be addressed. I'm all for allowing condemned people – or anyone convicted of a crime, for that matter – to avail themselves of appeals. The initial court decisions aren't always right, and our justice system should do everything possible to ensure that an innocent person is not jailed for life or executed for a crime he didn’t commit. But there’s no reason why a convicted killer should be allowed to play the system for 30 years or more to avoid having a death sentence carried out. Leon Czolgosz, who assassinated President William McKinley, was convicted on Sept. 24, 1901, and put to death just over a month later. Perhaps we could find a happy medium between these two extremes.

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Should they quit trying?

Mike White of the Post-Gazette wrote a piece yesterday about the fallout from the Seton-LaSalle girls basketball team’s recent 113-14 victory over the girls from Brentwood. Seton-LaSalle says it is dealing with coach Dennis Squeglia internally, but that’s not good enough for the WPIAL, which wants an official report on what action the school takes, presumably so it can go further than the action taken by the school, if it deems that necessary. The real question here is, why is Squeglia in trouble at all? Tim O'Malley, the executive director of the WPIAL, told the P-G that “sportsmanship was totally absent in this case.” The story doesn't indicate why O’Malley believes that to be the case. I'm wondering, did the Seton-LaSalle girls continue employing a full-court press against overmatched Brentwood ball-handlers, despite the score? Were they doing 360-degree dunks? Not likely. It's girls basketball, after all. Squeglia denies running it up against Brentwood and said his starters played only a couple of minutes into the second half. I don't think anybody wants a team to go out of its way to humiliate another, such as by taunting them or celebrating excessively in such a blowout. But why should the girls from Seton-LaSalle, who practice every bit as hard as the girls from Brentwood (harder, perhaps, based on the score), have to essentially stop playing as they have been taught, just so nobody's itty-bitty feelings get hurt? And it's not like this loss was an isolated thrashing. The Brentwood girls also lost 71-9 to Avonworth, 65-11 to Bishop Canevin and 64-12 to Steel Valley. My advice to the Brentwood girls, if they want to avoid another similar whipping, is to work harder and do a better job the next time. If such a beating is too much for the girls' self-esteem to bear, disband the team and just have intramural basketball.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Words matter

Let's be clear from the start. The guy accused of trying to assassinate Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killing six people in the process is nuts. You can't claim there was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the angry, sometimes violent imagery used in the world of politics with his decision to try to gun down the Democratic congresswoman. But at the same time, you can’t totally dismiss the effects that such political speech might have, particularly on the more unhinged among us. Sarah Palin, as everyone now knows, disseminated a map of congressional districts she thought the Republican Party should try to reclaim last year, including Giffords' seat, and very clearly marked them with the crosshairs of a gun sight. I'm not suggesting that gunman Jared Loughner, shown at left, saw those crosshairs and took that as an order to commit violence. But it's part of the rotten fabric of what's left of America. Do Democrats and Republicans both engage in demonization of their opponents. Certainly. But let's not pretend that it's equal. Those on the right have a much "richer" history of late when it comes to hinting at violence, or the need for such, if the political opportunities for "taking our country back" are not successful. The underlying message, which no one really wants to say out loud, is that the day is coming, because of President Obama and his minions, when blacks, Mexicans, Arabs – heck, anybody that doesn’t look like a good, old-fashioned white Amerkun – will arrive on your doorstep to take your stuff and maybe even kill you. Just being honest. That's what is written between the lines. When shameless demagogues on the radio and some TV networks, interested only in their approval ratings from a sheeplike fan base, build mental pictures of a post-insurrection, post-societal-collapse world in which only those hugging tightly to the most gold, guns and ammo will survive, we eventually will end up with political killings. Most people who listen to these programs will just don tri-corner hats, slap a “Don't Tread On Me” sticker on the back of their vehicle and bleat incessantly about Obama being a foreigner. But then there are those few who take the extra steps. They join a backwoods militia, playing Army in the woods and waiting for their opportunity. Or, like Timothy McVeigh, they take the anti-government message to another level and blow up a building with women and children inside. Or, like Richard Poplawski, they believe the lunatic-fringe claims that the government is going to take our guns, and they kill police officers. Palin could have apologized for her role in ratcheting up political rhetoric and call for change. But did she? Of course not. She blamed the media and political pundits (which, ironically, is what she is these days) for stoking hatred and violence by having the audacity to suggest that maybe, just maybe the poisoning of the well of our civil discourse might have tragic consequences. She accused the journalists and political analysts of creating “a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.” No, what is reprehensible is Palin’s stupid use of the term “blood libel” and her refusal to accept any blame, not one speck, for the sorry condition of our politics today. People with a pulpit, like Palin and the talking heads on TV and radio, have a responsibility to use it wisely, to recognize that their words – their choice of words and images – carry weight with many people, including a few who have lost the ability to recognize the difference between right and horribly, horribly wrong.

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This and that

A few thoughts on recent stories in the news:

– Did you see the one about sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott, above, being released from prison early when Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour commuted their life sentences for an ambush robbery, provided that one sister gave a kidney to the other? According to an AP story, civil rights activists have been trying to get the sisters sprung for years, arguing that their sentences were excessive. Well, let's see. Back in 1994, the sisters were convicted of luring two men into an ambush in which they were whacked in the head with a shotgun and robbed of their wallets. Some of the Scotts’ supporters noted that the robbery only netted $11. So, because the amount of money wasn’t large, that makes it less of a crime? The people who were robbed could just have easily been killed. Sounds to me as if the original sentences were just fine.

– I had to laugh when I read today that Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York wants to step up efforts to make abortions in the city “rare.” What a hypocrite. The Catholic Church refuses to budge on giving its followers the OK to use any form of birth control – other than not “doing it” – then has the gall to say it wants to do more to pare the number of abortions. I'm pretty sure everyone would like the number of abortions performed in New York City and everywhere else to be reduced – to zero, if possible. But if Dolan really means what he says, perhaps he should break ranks with the Vatican and start a program to help people obtain effective birth-control devices and/or pharmaceuticals. But that's never going to happen. In fact, Dolan and other religious leaders with whom he was meeting also took the opportunity to blast public schools for including condom distributions in their sex-education programs. Yeah, we sure wouldn’t want kids who are going to have sex anyway to protect themselves from deadly diseases and also try to prevent pregnancies that might end in ... ABORTIONS.

– I certainly hope that somebody comes forward and offers to pay any fine levied on Russell Miller of Boise, Idaho, because the guy is definitely one of my heroes. The 68-year-old Miller was on board a flight from Las Vegas to Boise, seated next to a 15-year-old boy who was playing games and listening to tunes on his cell phone. As the plane approached Boise, flight attendants announced that people needed to turn off their electronic devices prior to landing. The kid did not follow the instructions, so Miller punched him in the arm. He was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery. It's just a shame he didn't whack the kid a few more times and stomp the heck out of the phone.

– Talk about an overreaction. Greensburg police have charged a 13-year-old middle school boy with a sex crime. His offense: a little necking and petting with a 12-year-old schoolmate after they stole away to a band equipment room during school one day. Police admit that the girl had no problem with the “activities,” but they say that under the law, she is too young to consent. C'mon. It's not as if the band director was in there with the girl. This is one of her classmates, and they were doing what usually comes naturally to young people when puberty strikes. I'm not saying I'm in favor of 12- and 13-year-olds getting "busy" in dark places during schooltime, but running a kid through the juvenile system and perhaps sending him to a detention facility over this is ridiculous. What's next? Are police going to start skulking around darkened movie theaters and high school dances to see if some kid is copping a feel? Wouldn't it be better to just give both of the kids a couple of days' detention and tell them not to do it again?

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Let it go, people

It seems to me that way too much is being made of the relocation of a manger scene from the borough building in Canonsburg. As most know by now, the borough manager got a complaint about the religious display on public property. He asked the Knights of Columbus to move their manger to another location, and a business down the street from the borough building was kind enough to play host. From the community's over-reaction, one would have thought that somebody had burned the baby Jesus in effigy. Folks, get a grip. Number one, the religious display had no business being on public property in the first place. Number two, it's still standing, a few doors down from the borough building. Everyone in Canonsburg, if they wish, can erect their own nativity scene on their own front lawns. There can be 20 on every block. But legally, there shouldn't be one on borough property, and borough leaders were wise to avoid an expensive court battle that they assuredly would have lost. I'm a non-believer. Would I have made a stink about the manger scene in front of the borough building? No. I don't think having a nativity scene there put us on the slippery slope toward the borough enacting mandatory Catholic church attendance. In fact, I greatly enjoy the Christmas season. I like the music, the good food, the gatherings with family and friends. On occasion, I've even attended the beautiful Christmas Eve service at my wife's church. Heck, there's a manger scene and a tree decorated with angels and such in my living room. I just don't happen to believe the story behind all the seasonal festivities. At the same time, I don't feel like less of an atheist because I embrace the joys of the Christmas season. But I will say that I'm sick and tired of hearing the crap about the "war on Christmas." There's no danger of Christmas falling by the wayside because a few people assert their rights under the law or because some stores and other entities recognize that, hey, there are some other religions that are equally deserving of respect. This is a nation where all belief systems, no matter how crazy, should be afforded the exact same level of acceptance. Christians are no more worthy of respect and should be given no more say in how our country is run than Muslims. Your selection of which deity to worship affords you no special rights. And as an atheist, I'd like to state, with absolute certainty, that non-Christians have a much better chance of being victimized by a cultural war waged by Christians than vice versa. So if you don't mind, quit whining and enjoy this wonderful time of the year.

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