баналности зла


Looks pretty normal.

Late last night my friend Rob was visiting. We watched Sunset Boulevard, had a nice meal, feasted upon some yummy cheese and, at the end, wound up watching a hearing for Ratko Mladić, a very unpleasant man currently on trial in the Hague for ordering the massacre of nearly 9,000 civilians. This was during the Balkan Wars. Wars which, I would like to remind the Muslim world, featured the USA and NATO attacking a Christian nation to keep Muslims alive. Remember that, please.

Watching the hearing was interesting. Partly it was interesting because it was a hearing in the Netherlands, presided over by a judge from a non-English speaking country, trying a Serbian man, and yet the court was conducted in English. That was kind of cool. But what was even more fascinating was when Rob said, “That’s the guy? He looks so normal.”

And Rob is very right. Mladić looks very normal. If you were to walk past him in the streets, you wouldn’t have any idea he was one of the most unpleasant men in the world. He just looks like some guy. And you know what? I’m willing to bet that he probably loves his family. I’m willing to bet that had the Balkan Wars not happened, he probably would have just continued onward with his undistinguished career in the Yugoslav army.

But instead he got caught up in a system that said “Christians = good, Muslims = evil”, and since he probably considered himself a good man, he was willing to kill Muslims by the truckload. And why not? If your government and your media is telling you that these people are a threat to all you hold dear, why wouldn’t you kill as many of them as you could? I’m sure some of his defenders would say he perhaps went a little farther than he should have, but that he did what was required to keep Serbia safe (Romania has a similar argument about a certain Wallachian prince).

None of this excuses him, of course. He still needs to be held responsible for his crimes, and will be. He’s likely going to spend the rest of his life behind bars and well he should. Put him into prison and let him rot there for the next thirty years until he finally dies. I’m fine with that. But just to look at him, and to hear him talking in court yesterday, it’s fascinating to think of just how banal this evil fellow is.

Your Tax Dollars at Work


I wrote a few months back about the treatment Bradley Manning is receiving at the hands of our government. Bear in mind that this is a man who, under our law, is currently not guilty of any crime. Regardless of what you think should be done with him after he’s convicted, the fact that he’s being abused by the system right now should bother you, especially if you’re a right-wing Republican who is concerned about government overreach (and yes, one of my friends, I’m looking at you!).

Now comes word that things are getting even more bizarre in this case. Apparently Manning is being forced to sleep naked.

Pfc. Bradley E. Manning, the Army intelligence analyst accused of leaking government files to WikiLeaks, will be stripped of his clothing every night as a “precautionary measure” to prevent him from injuring himself, an official at the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., said on Friday.

Private Manning will also be required to stand outside his cell naked during a morning inspection, after which his clothing will be returned to him, said a Marine spokesman, First Lt. Brian Villiard.

“Because of recent circumstances, the underwear was taken away from him as a precaution to ensure that he did not injure himself,” Lieutenant Villiard said. “The brig commander has a duty and responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the detainees and to make sure that they are able to stand trial.”

That’s… just weird. But, ok, whatever, if you’re concerned about the man killing himself here’s a few things that can be done.

1. Stop trying to humiliate him Abu Grahib style.

2. Let him have access to exercise, phones, TV, etc, like other prisoners have.

3. Get him some mental treatment.

Again, bear in mind this is a man who under our law is not guilty of any crime. But this is how he’s being treated. This is inexcusable. Something needs to be done about this, because it’s not right. We’re a better nation than this, or at least we should be.

As Ever, it Must Suck to Live in Uganda


I’ve written before about an anti-gay bill in Uganda that would call for the murder of anyone who is gay. It’s a charming little notion, and I see, at least some people in Uganda have decided to get a head-start on it. A gay rights activist was recently beaten to death. This same activist’s picture was published by a Ugandan magazine a while back. It was there with several other activist photos and the caption “Hang them”. Charming.

Ugandans, I want you to listen up. Yous a barbaric, backward nation that won’t advance forward anytime soon unless you cast aside this evil, stupid nonsense. You can and should be doing way better than this.

As for anyone who is gay and living in Uganda, if you have the means, get the hell out! Get to South Africa if you can. There gays enjoy probably the best lifestyle in Africa and gay marriage is legal (thus making South Africa more progressive on civil rights than most of the world, including America). If you can’t escape, then please be careful. Even one death is too many.

This is Funnier Than it Should Be


In the movie Kick-Ass, which I did not care for (though I own a copy, but only because it was $10 on Amazon… shut up. That logic makes total sense!), one of the characters asks the question, “Why aren’t there any real superheroes?” Someone else replies with, “Because they’d get their ass kicked.” Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a proof-of-concept.

Why Not Just Shoot Them in the Head?


Gregg Easterbrook has an interesting article about the death penalty and efforts to make it more humane. He seems to be dead-set, as it were, against the death penalty, but says that if we have it, there’s one specific way we should carry it out.

So here’s a proposal for anyone who supports capital punishment. The condemned should be shot in the head.

No means of killing a human being is faster, and thus suffering is minimized. And the death penalty is not about vengeance, right? It’s about justice. Justice should be swift. The swiftest and least painful path to death is being shot in the head.

The electric chair is a horrific way to die – the flesh burns and smokes, the condemned is gagged so that screams do not distress witnesses. Hanging usually is quick, but not always – sometimes the neck doesn’t snap and the condemned slowly suffocates. Multiple-chemical injection requires the condemned to be strapped down to prevent struggling, and may cause convulsions that last several minutes. Single-chemical injection was effective, but caused Brown to moan.

You know… if we’re going to have the death penalty, and we shouldn’t, this is perhaps a good way to do it. It’s not 100% full-proof, and perhaps as one person in the comments suggests we should use a guillotine instead, but it’s more certain and quicker than any other method I’m aware of, as well as being far more painless.

WTF?!


FYI: It's not martyrdom if you do it to yourself.

Reports are now coming forth that a woman who was allegedly attacked by another woman that threw acid in her face actually did it to herself! There was no other person involved apparently.

WTF?!

From the article there’s at least some indication that she’s a religious fanatic who did this to draw attention to her faith. I’m guessing there’s also more than a little bit of Munchhausen Syndrome at work here. There’d have to be, really, to do something like that.

It’s especially bad because there are women all over the world who actually are attacked by people throwing acid into their faces. These women are sad, unfortunate victims of what are, usually, religious fanatics. The fact that this nutjob did it to herself is really unfortunate. Clearly she needs some serious therapy and given that she’s likely to be charged with all sorts of crimes, I hope that’s part of her sentence.

What a wackaloon.

“Justice” in Saudi Arabia


Our allies in Saudi Arabia (you know, the people we absolutely love, adore and lavish praise upon despite having many, many good reasons not to), are trying to punish a man who paralyzed another man in a fight. Their idea of a good punishment? Having a doctor render the man in question paralyzed as well.

*sigh*

What a terrible, awful country. You don’t do things like that to people, you just don’t. This clearly has nothing to do with justice, it’s just about revenge, retribution and pain. Society as a whole does not improve by having this man rendered a burden on the rest of the country (and yes, I know that in better, more civilized nations he wouldn’t be, but we’re taking about Saudi Arabia here, where civilization has been dead for centuries).

This is a terrible aberration of justice and I really sincerely hope no doctor will cooperate.

Criminal Injustice


The Economist, always a fascinating magazine, has an article about our judicial/prison system and how fundamentally broken it is. I couldn’t possibly agree more. Our current system is heavily broken and very much in need of some fixes, none of which, as the article points out, will be popular with politicians who need to appear “tough on crime!” to win elections.

One of the first things we need to do is to get rid of minimum sentencing. Give the judges back the power to decide what terms to give someone, though do set maximum limits. We need to give judges the discretion to decide what terms someone is going to receive as punishment. Putting a maximum limit on sentences would prevent a judge from trying to give incredibly long sentences to get re-elected.

That brings me to my next point, which is that we need to stop electing judges. What reason is there to elect them? Do you really want judges out there campaigning? Let them instead be appointed by the executive for whatever level they are at (county, state, etc), with that appointment approved by some sort of committee, rather like what we have with Supreme Court justices.

Also, we need to remember that the vast majority of people who are in prison are going to be released some day. So while people are in prison we need to go out of our way to give them as much educational and occupational training as possible. Believe me, finding a job with a felony conviction is incredibly hard, and as a society we benefit by having felons who’ve been released from prison find work. The best way to bring that about is to make sure they have as much training as we can possibly give them. Once they have a job, they can start being contributing members of society again.

We also need to stop feeding into this notion that prison needs to be miserable and hellish. Further dehumanizing prisoners who will, as I pointed out, get out of prison someday, does nothing to help them or to help us. This is why people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, sheriff for Maricopa County, Arizona, where I live, need to go. He runs his jails like a man who wants the title “Commandant”, going out of the way to humiliate prisoners by giving them pink underwear, feeding them nothing but baloney sandwiches, allowing only one or two TV stations, getting rid of coffee, salt and pepper, etc. All of that at county jails where most people are just awaiting trial and are therefore innocent until proven guilty.

It’s also worth noting that when someone like Arpaio comes along and removes all the luxuries from the jails, or when other people remove them from prisons (what’s the difference between jail and prisons? Jail is where you go for a year or less and where you get held while awaiting trial. They are usually run at the city or county level. Prisons are where you go for longer terms and are run at the state or federal level), that makes the prisons far less secure. When you remove all the nice things from a prison you no longer have anything you can take away from prisoners if they misbehave. That makes it much more dangerous for guards and inmates.

We also need to do something about prison overcrowding. As far as I know there isn’t a single prison in this country that’s not operating beyond the capacity it was built for. When you have two or three people crowded into a cell made for one person, this is not a formula for success. It’s also very expensive to imprison people, so we really need to re-evaluate who we send to prison and why.

Anyhow, I could go on, but won’t. You get the idea. Our system really needs to get fixed and the mentality we’ve had over the last thirty years of “lock them up and forget about them” doesn’t work. It never has. It never will. We need reforms and we need them now.

Sex Offenders and Passports


So according to a GAO report about 4,500 sex offenders in the USA have been issued passports. This is out of about 16,000,000 passports total that were issued in the fiscal year of 2008. Of course, my response to this boils down to, “And?” But I’m a sane, rational human being who, among other things, understands that sex offenders can be anyone from someone caught urinating in public while drunk all the way up to serial rapists. Since the article I read on this, and CNN’s TV coverage of it, make no distinction as to what kind of sex offender is getting these passports, I’ll just assume it’s mostly fairly low-level ones.

The State Department correctly says that they cannot deny someone a passport because they are a sex offender. There’s certain circumstances under which they won’t issue you one, but merely being a sex offender is not one of those, nor should it be.

Interestingly, I notice this from the article:

About half of the registered sex offenders who received passports live in five states — California, Texas, Florida and Michigan, the report said. Some 50 of those who received passports either lived outside the United States or “their whereabouts were unknown,” the report said.

So in other words, about half the passports were issued to people who live in border states and Florida, which is borderline a border state. Since the government changed the laws requiring people to carry passports when they go to Canada and Mexico, as well as to the Caribbean, this should be no surprise to anyone.

I’m sure this report will soon result in legislation designed to strip sex offenders of their passports. It’ll be the usual over-reaction on the part of a very reactionary government elected by an exceptionally reactionary electorate. It’ll either prevent sex offenders from getting passports in the future or it will do that and remove them from those who already have them. Either way it won’t serve any real purpose aside from giving people a nice warm feeling of revenge.

Of course for those people who are sex offenders (most of whom are convicted of relatively minor offenses and aren’t the kind you picture when you think of sex offenders), this will mean they aren’t allowed to leave the country. Ever. If there’s a sex offender who, say, lives in Texas and her grandmother lives in Mexico, said sex offender won’t be able to visit granny anymore. If her grandmother is unable to travel to the USA, this means this family is being basically broken up to make people feel better about themselves.

Realistically there’s no good reason to prevent sex offenders from having passports. Those who have done their time and are off probation, etc, should have the same right to travel as anyone else, and indeed that’s currently the case (except for anyone convicted of “sex tourism” where they went to another country to fuck little kids). Beyond that, I’d say it’s the responsibility of the receiving nation to decide whether or not they want to allow a sex offender from the USA to visit their country. Mexico apparently doesn’t care, and Canada already blocks any felons from entering the country for at least ten years or so after their prison term is up, so that’s what our two nearest neighbors do. If other countries don’t care enough to find out if someone visiting is a sex offender, I’d say that’s their problem.

As I said, I’m sure legislation on this will be attempted soon and will likely pass. Very, very few politicians are willing to stand up against any attempts at getting “tough on crime”, especially when it comes to sex offenders. The last refuge against that is the courts, but I’m not sure how they’d rule on a blanket ban on sex offenders having passports. I guess we’ll see. It’s not something to look forward to.

Evil in Malawi


Malawi is a poor, unpleasant African nation existing on the margins of total failure. They have multiple problems, including ones that are, to paraphrase Borat, social, economic and gay.

Yes, this is a country that’s just a short step away from being a failed state and rather than address and deal with those issues they have instead chosen to prosecute a gay couple who weren’t hurting anyone. Said gays have been convicted of being gay and are going to have a 14 year prison sentence with hard labor. Well, charming. Yes, that’ll teach them not to give in to natural desires!

What a stupid, fucked-up ruling based on a stupid, fucked-up law. There’s been some noises about cutting off aid to the country until they repeal this law and free these men. I haven’t any real problem with that idea, except that it means that we’ll have to do the same for many, many other countries around the world. It means a lot of the poor of Malawi will suffer, and that sucks, but maybe in their suffering they’ll demand a better government than what they have.

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