The President’s Attempt to Rewrite History

Yesterday President Obama apparently tried to rewrite the history of the 20th century so that he could declare an end to the War on Terror.

He excised from history all terrorism in the English-speaking world before the 1980s, of which the following is only a partial list:

  • the IRA’s bloody terrorism in Great Britain, which was funded in part by American sympathizers
  • separatists in Canada’s Quebec, who were supported in part by American leftists (a polite term for Socialists and Communists)
  • the Puerto Rican FALN, which bombed Americans
  • the Weather Underground bombers, which included Mr. Obama’s Chicago neighbors
  • the Palestinian Liberation Front and Fatah, which hijacked passenger airliners and massacred the Israeli team at the 1972 Olympics (when Mr. Obama was eleven years old and living in Hawaii, where he must not have watched the television coverage of this great horror) (NB: Interesting that Mr. Obama threw in a gratuitous reference to the Palestinians yesterday)

Then, the President reduced terrorism in the 1980s to: “our Embassy in Beirut; at our Marine Barracks in Lebanon [which is where Beirut is, in case he didn’t know, and both of which bombings were in 1983 by the Islamic Jihad Organization]; on a cruise ship at sea [1985 by the Palestinian Liberation Front]; at a disco in Berlin [1986 by Libyan Gaddafi]; and on a Pan Am flight — Flight 103  — over Lockerbie.”

The President could have named many more terrorist acts in the 1980s, including two conducted by Indian Moslems: the bombings in 1985 of an Air India flight from Canada and of an aircraft that landed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.

And most peculiarly, the President said that in the 1990s “we lost Americans to terrorism at . . . our Embassy in Kenya.” In fact, on August 7, 1998, two embassies were simultaneously blown up: Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. The attacks were the work of Osama bin Laden.

What about the 1997 massacre of 62 tourists at Luxor, Egypt?

What about the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole?

Then, the President interpreted his misstatement of history for us: “These attacks were all brutal; they were all deadly; and we learned that left unchecked, these threats can grow.  But if dealt with smartly and proportionally, these threats need not rise to the level that we saw on the eve of 9/11.”

Of course, “smartly” is not the correct word. I suppose he meant “intelligently.” 

Let me try to parse what he said: Acts of terrorism before 2001 were threats that we let grow and did not deal with intelligently or in proportion to their severity. Consequently we were punished with 9/11, after which we went to war in Moslem countries and with whole nations who were not to blame for Islamic terrorism.

This is nonsense. It’s a non sequitur at best.

The President was trying to build a case for what he considers to be the most intelligent and proportionate approach to Islamic terrorism (which term notably he did not use), namely, increased foreign aid and “no boots on the ground” in any Moslem country.

Why Is America At War In Moslem Countries?

Apparently Mr. Obama doesn’t know why we invaded Afghanistan. We went to war with the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan, which harbored the Al Qaeda who had attacked us. Mr. Obama has omitted the gruesome reality of what the Taliban was and are. During the 1990s the Taliban herded young women into a crowded soccer stadium and had their fathers shoot them in the back of the head for such crimes as holding hands with a boy in public or being raped.

We went to war in Iraq to depose an equally brutal Moslem tyrant. I think most Americans in retrospect wish we hadn’t gone to war in Iraq. If we’d had drones in 2002, we would likely have been able to take care of the problem more “smartly.”

Sidebar: Please note that yesterday Mr. Obama argued for the legality of assassinating Americans in foreign countries. The Constitution requires American traitors to be tried, have two Americans witness their treachery, and then to be executed. I don’t care how big a tribunal of bureaucrats, lawyers, and politician he puts together to approve of his assassinations, it is the most evil idea I have ever heard come from the lips of an American.

Foreign Aid Not Boots On the Ground

Who wouldn’t prefer to give money to poor nations rather than give the lives of our best and bravest? As a Libertarian I am fundamentally opposed to foreign wars. But the fact is that Jihadists aren’t from the poorest areas of the world. They are from countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

We can pour money into Pakistan, if that’s what Mr. Obama has in mind, but that won’t convince them to give up their nuclear weapons and become friends with India. We can pour money into North Africa, but that won’t stop the slaughter of Coptic Christians or give Moslem women equal rights. Nor will money establish democracy in nations with no grounding in the idea of equality.

I’m all for staying out of armed conflicts in Moslem lands. But if we aren’t willing to put boots on the ground to defend our embassies in those lands, let’s withdraw our embassies from those lands and save the money. (Incidentally, by treaty the land on which American delegations establish their facilities are actually sovereign territory of the United States, so boots in embassies and consulates aren’t on the ground in Moslem countries.)

Why should the American people support Mr. Obama’s approach to dealing with terrorism if he doesn’t know these simple truths?

I claimed at the beginning of this article that Mr. Obama tried to rewrite history yesterday. Frankly, I would prefer to think that is what he did, because if not it means he doesn’t know history.

Now that I think about it, it would explain why he’s acting so Nixon-ian these days. He’s too young to remember Watergate. He never studied history.

I will look forward to the two IRS agents showing up on my doorstep.

Quiz: Are you a “highly sensitive person”?

If you answer “yes” to 8 or more of the following questions, then you are a “highly sensitive person,” as described in Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person. If you answer “yes” to at least one of the questions, the odds are you have that affliction but have adapted pretty well:

1. Does the power indicator light on the TV at the foot of your bed keep you awake?

2. Do you always hear strange noises in a car when you’re driving or riding in it, even when the radio is on? Motor noises? Wheel and tire noises? Chassis creaks?

3. Do you smell things nobody else can smell? Smoke? Gas? Cinnamon? Hominy?

4. Do perfume and cologne irritate your nose? Even the scent of shampoo in your own hair?

5. Do you see things on the periphery of your vision that no one else can see? Lights? Shadows?

6. Are you unable to sleep in an airplane seat even in Business Class?

7. Is it always too hot for you in the upper balcony at the Chicago Civic Opera House or Chicago’s O’Hare Airport? (Chicago is often freezing cold, but neither of those establishments ever is.)

8. Does an Ikea store give you a panic attack?

9. Do you prefer ATMs to live bank tellers, because they don’t ask you for personal information (such as an ID picture) to cash a check?

10. Is one Godiva chocolate too many?

My condolences, if you answered “yes” to 8 or more of these very serious questions. On second thought, my condolences if you answered “yes” to 2 or more. Gagging at the smell of cinnamon is no laughing matter.

My congratulations if you did not.

And, if you’re highly sensitive, you should avoid jury duty!

Fragility of America—Part 2, Casey Anthony

Yesterday I ranted about the way the U.S. Constitution and our individual rights have been diminished by a nation a frightened rabbits.

Right now, half the country is trying to delete the Second Amendment from the Constitution: “the right to bear arms.” These timid, gentle souls seem to feel all we need to do to stop school massacres in this country is “get together and feel all right.” If law-biding citizens can’t buy certain types of weapons, they they argue, then neither can the bad guys.

Sidebar: Are you kidding me? Bad guys usually have to steal guns, that is, unless they can buy them from the ATF. Remember “Fast and Furious”? No? How quickly we forget bad things. Best to think positively. And another thing: If American gun makers can’t make automatic weapons, where will the U. S. Military buy them? From Russia? Oh, now that I think about it, maybe we already have an agreement with Putin to that effect.

In case you didn’t memorize the Bill of Rights when you were in school, as you ought to have done, here it is:

Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In modern American English this means, because we need a competent, civilian defense force against our own government’s over-reaching tactics and possible attacks from beyond our borders, in order to be secure and remain free the right of the average person to keep and use weapons shall not be diminished in any way whatsoever.

Is the Second Amendment Obsolete in  2013?

That’s what the debate is all about. The Democrats (for the most part) believe the time has come when the average person has no good excuse for owning weapons. People don’t feel safe from attack even in their homes and certainly not in their schools. If you just dropped in from Love Planet Venus, you might see their point: 911 and a decade of hideous massacres in schools, gun murders in Chicago, gang violence along the Mexican border.

However, if you dropped in from Mars where men are still men and women are manly, too, you would see it differently. You would think: “Border violence, criminal gangs in Chicago, whackos invading schools with guns, Islamist extremists attacking embassies abroad. Sounds like this country needs a well regulated militia, because the police and military aren’t up to the job alone.”

An American from 1785 who dropped in on us would be shocked that the issue would require debate. He would form a militia, go down to the Mexican border the way Teddy Roosevelt did, and make quick work of the Mexican gangs (ever hear of Poncho Villa? No? Probably not. No one reads history these days.) Then he’d turn his horse north and charge up to Chicago, where he would do the same thing—using all the automatic weapons he could get his hands on. Undocumented aliens would be rounded up, too, and—not deported but—given the chance to become American citizens or go home and else apply for a work visa.

Sidebar: If you don’t travel much, maybe you don’t realize that Americans have to apply for visas to get into the majority of countries in world. You can’t just hop on a plane and go to Nepal or China. They won’t welcome you with open arms, especially not the Chinese. Furthermore, if you go to Europe, while you don’t need a visa, you do have to present your passport to enter and leave. You only have three months before you have to leave or apply for a visa. That’s right: an American can be deported from European countries.

In Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains clearly why we are now engaged in this debate: human nature tends toward the norm and tends to ignore the outliers, the odd events that aren’t supposed to happen. 911 wasn’t expected. School massacres aren’t expected. Apparently, these events so numbed us that we also ignored the growing threat of the Mexican drug gangs. Somehow we confused the defense of the Mexican border against criminal gangs with closing our borders to Mexican immigration.

The Bill of Rights Under Attack

IMHO: This current Second Amendment debate is simply a diversion from the real battle, which is over the Bill of Rights as a whole. What’s really going on is that over the decades, we have permitted the federal courts to legislate from the bench far too much. (I happen to believe the right to privacy afforded by the Fourth Amendment does afford the right to an abortion to a woman; so that’s not what I’m talking about.) It’s decisions like the one that permitted governments to seize private property and sell it to a private party in order to raise more taxes from the use of that property that drives me wild.

The most insidious encroachment on our individual rights is taking place in the criminal courts.

Take Casey Anthony as an example (and please pretend that you don’t know whether she was really guilty or not—briefly put aside your opinion; trust me, it won’t hurt a bit).

Fourth Amendment Rights:

The Anthony home and property were repeatedly searched with judges’ warrants, but the warrants did not state exactly what it was the cops were looking for, because they had no idea themselves. At one point, as I recall, they seized all of Casey’s shoes, for instance. And, as we all know, they seized a car titled to her parents. I don’t know what items were listed on the search warrants, although I imagine if I googled it I could find those warrants online somewhere, but I’m going to guess that the warrant for the car was specific but most of the others were not. If so, that was unconstitutional. But I’m sure it was legal, because over the years the courts have become more and more lenient in order to give the cops what we now perceive to be the powers they need to defend us from evil young women, like Casey.

Fifth Amendment Rights:

Casey was indicted by a grand jury, although grand juries are no longer required in all instances to indict a person for a capital or infamous crime. Most states now permit state’s attorneys to charge people. How this is justifiable under the Constitution, I don’t know. But if anything shows how we’ve watered down the Bill of Rights, it is this. The purpose of a “grand,” i.e, “big” jury is to make sure that the community as a whole agrees that an indictment is reasonable, not simply a single prosecutor. This is also true of secret trials before a single judge: the Constitution expected the whole community to sit in the courtroom, literally, and hear the state’s case. Now, of course, we’re so fragile and fearful of criminals that we not only accept prosecutorial indictments but we also have to televise infamous trials live “as they happen” so that the whole country can jeer and cheer the spectacle of a 22-year-old girl who “lost” her baby.

Double jeopardy was also an issue in the Casey Anthony case. Her lawyers properly balked at four counts of lying when most of her illegal lying (as opposed to her lifelong permissible lying) occurred on the same day and to the same detectiv
e. Last week an appeals court denied the claim that this was a Fifth Amendment violation of the prohibition against double jeopardy but did strike down two of the counts because they were supposed the same, two lies. Hmm.

A more evil trend in the courts as concerns double jeopardy, though, is the trend toward retrying defendants after the failure of the jury to find them guilty on one or more of the counts. Take as an example, Gov. Rob Blagojevich: when the first jury failed to convict him on all the charges, the feds tried him again on the remaining counts. Huh? The rational was that the jury was hung on half the points. But IMHO the Bill of Rights intended that any failure of a jury to produce a conviction is the same as an acquittal. The only possible explanation of our modern attitude is that we are too frightened to let anyone go free if we have even the slightest doubt about their perfect innocence—as if there really anything that’s perfect in this world.

Casey had to testify against herself. The whole country saw the broadcasts of her videotaped jailhouse conversations with her family—right after they took place and before the trial. Then the jury saw the videos again during the trial. Florida law requires all such material to be made public; they call it “Sunshine Laws,” as if the privacy of a defendant must be brought out into the sunlight lest she say something incriminating to a family member. What “free speech” was it, do you imagine, that the Florida legislature was afraid to let Casey say?

The items that police seize under warrants these days are retained by the courts as evidence. This is seizure, and its legal, but the Fifth Amendment clearly says that the people from whom it’s seized are entitled to just compensation. This means that valuable items of evidence must be purchased from their owner. If I recall correctly, though, the Anthony’s car was simply taken and after the trial, although she was found not guilty, it was destroyed. It seems to me that the Anthonys ought to have demanded just compensation for that.

Casey’s DNA was seized, too, as is every criminal defendant’s these days. And it won’t be given back. Because she was convicted of check fraud and lying to the cops, her DNA profile will remain in a government database. Any time any violent crime occurs, DNA evidence found at the scene will be compared to hers automatically.

Sixth Amendment Rights

Speedy trial: Casey Anthony spent so much time in jail before the trial, that she served the full term of her parole for check fraud had expired by the time she was released. (Of course, the judge who sentenced her later objected that he had intended her to serve her parole after the murder trial; despite the fact that the prison certified her as having completed the parole, and despite the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy the state made her serve a second term on parole.)

Casey Anthony asked for a change of venue from her native Orlando, because the community was so incensed at her that she knew she couldn’t get a fair trial at home. It was the Salem Witch Trials in the Sunshine State. I still can’t understand why so many people took the Casey Anthony case so personally. It was as if half the people in this country felt they had been personally harmed by this person; and the other half felt that she was too evil to be permitted to live. Neither makes any sense unless you realize how fragile people in this country have become. We are so frightened by life that we can’t endure the thought of even one flawed individual in our midst.

Seventh Amendment Rights

Jury trials: After the Casey Anthony jury found her not guilty of murdering her child, pundits called for the creation of a system of “professional jurors.” If you think about this, and  note that most of those pundits were lawyers, you realize that what they meant by a “professional" juror was a lawyer. This is so ludicrous it barely deserves mention—but, no, it’s also more evidence of fragility. Naturally, lawyers are always looking for new ways to justify themselves and make aliving, but the real meaning of this phenomenon is that lawyers no longer trust the average American to make good decisions. Frankly, I don’t either, but I trust lawyers even  less. The education and preparation of most lawyers is “a glass bead game.” It’s self-referential. It’s incredibly narrow. But it was inevitable that this would happen, as soon as we started writing so many arcane laws: think The Affordable Health Care Act, which was so long no Congress-person had time to read it before the voted for it.

Eighth Amendment Rights

Excessive punishment: I firmly believe that capital punishment is excessive punishment, because it is irrevocable. So I would never have charged Casey Anthony with capital murder, even if I believed she was guilty. However, what strikes me about the charges against her is that they were excessive, even if she had committed infanticide. I say this because infanticide is quite common, and if we punished every woman who committed infanticide by executing her, there would have been five times as many females executed as there have been men. The charges against Casey were also “unusual” in that they were crafted just for her. Any other woman charged with the death of her child would have been charged at most with second-degree murder by abuse or manslaughter by negligence. But the prosecution had no evidence of abuse, only evidence of a loving mother, nor had they evidence of neglect, since Casey rarely let her daughter out of her sight. All the prosecution could do was throw all the spahetti at her to see what would stick.

The Constitution Prepares for Black Swans

In 1785 people knew that the universe has a high degree of randomness. Nothing is inevitable but death. Therefore, in writing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights they attempted to create a legal system in which unexpected outcomes would not punish the innocent. If the guilty went free, well, that was no skin off their backs (a cliché that refers to corporal punishment, BTW).

Over the years Americans have struggled mightily to remove all randomness from the system. We have tried to create a perfect system—to polish the rough diamond of freedom. In the end, though, we haven’t succeeded in bolstering our Antifragility but only in increasing out fragility. Now instead of a rough diamond, what we have is cubic zirconium.

Fragility of the American Justice System


Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Gain by Disorder is a revelation. At last, someone has explained to me why so little has ever made any sense to me, especially about the behavior of my fellow human beings.

One of the most important things that hasn’t made any sense to me (at least since 2006 when I served on a jury) was the American justice system.

The problem with American justice is that in the past 228 years the highly Antifragile U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights has become fragile, in other words, by treating the Constitution as “a living document” instead of as a rock-solid foundation, Americans have slowly squeezed the elasticity out of it, so that now it is on the verge of shattering.

Sidebar: If you think I exaggerate, consider the NY Times Op-Ed’s recent screed: “Let’s give up on the Constitution.” (I won’t dignify this choplogic with any other comment.)

The original Constitution and Bill of Rights anticipated unexpected, anomalous events, what Taleb calls “black swans” (one-in-million events). But human nature and modern statisticians want to believe in a nice, cozy “average,” a Bell Curve. So we try to establish a “well-ordered society” in which nothing strange or shocking can ever happen. For instance, we outlaw automatic rifles and try to pretend the bad guys won’t be able to obtain them, or we become amnesiacs and forget about airplanes carrying no automatic rifles diving into buildings.

Rights to a Fair Trial and Just Punishment when Guilty

Under the Antifragile Constitution, Americans (and everyone else who lives here) enjoy these freedoms:

Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Sidebar: In modern American English this means, people have the right to own private property and to maintain their privacy; invasion of privacy and seizure of private property are prohibited unless the government has solid grounds for doing so and only if the government agents who perform the search and seizure have first sworn an oath as to what the grounds are, exactly what places are to be searched, and exactly who they intend to arrest or what they intend to seize.

Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Sidebar: In modern American English this means, no one can be tried for murder or any other notorious, horrible crime unless a Grand Jury has heard the outline of the government’s case and issued an indictment; the one exception is during wartime when the accused is a member of the armed forces; no one may be tried twice for the same crime; no one can be forced to testify against himself; no one can be punished without a trial; no one’s property may be seized by the government without compensation in some form.

Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Sidebar: In modern American English this means, after arrest, criminal defendants have the right to a speedy public trial (no long drawn out investigations after arrest and no trials in secret);  it must be a jury trial and conducted in the legally defined community where the alleged crime occurred; an arrested person must be told exactly what it is he or she is believed to have done wrong and to have the witnesses against him make themselves known to him before the trial (no surprise witnesses for the prosecution); the defendant has a right to compel people to appear as witnesses in his defense, whether they like it or not; the defendant has a right to a lawyer.

Seventh Amendment: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

Sidebar: In modern American English this means, in civil court where two people have a complaint against each other, both sides have a right to a jury trial, too; the decision of the jury is always final unless a judge has the right under common law to overrule the jury. “Common law” means specifically the long-standing practices of Anglo-American courts.

Eighth Amendment: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Sidebar: In modern American English this means, punishment in all cases cannot be cruel (imposing irreparable harm on the defendant, who may actually turn out to have been falsely accused) or unusual (designed specifically for him or her and not otherwise specified in law). (These are my personal interpretations of the words “cruel” and “unusual.” Obviously, I am not a lawyer, just a very good reader of 18th c. language. I do not, as most lawyers do, think that the word “and” was used in the 18th c. to mean nothing but “and.” It also meant “or.” I acknowledge, however, that capital punishment is not included in this definition of excessive punishment, because the Fifth Amendment clearly states that a person can be “deprived of life.”

Do We Still Want Defendants to Enjoy These Freedoms?

Of course not. The courts have slowly watered each of these rights down, because we are more afraid of 10 “guilty men” going free than we are of 1 “innocent man” being punished. We think that those 10 criminals will rampage forever unless we make sure we can throw them in jail. We know that the 1 innocent will just sit there quietly in jail for 30 years and then lie down for the fatal injection. Few people care about this injustice any more.

We’re fragile as a society and individuals, too scared to do anything but accept the necessary loss of freedom.

Smart Grid Objectors Arrested in Illinois

This week a woman homeowner was arrested in Naperville, IL, for objecting to the local electric company’s forcible installation of a “Smart Grid” meter on her house. She said she objected because the meter is designed to wirelessly transmit information about what she is doing inside her home to the electric company. This, she said, was a “violation of privacy” and could potentially permit burglars to monitor when she is and is not at home (and they will).

IMHO this is all true. But I would argue that the Smart Grid is also a violation of the Bill of Rights, which gives Americans the freedom from warrantless search and seizure and from government “takings” without just compensation.

First, I need to make sure you understand what the Smart Grid is and why it’s a government program, not a program of private industry (namely the energy companies). The Smart Grid concept was dreamed up after the massive power outages in California and the Northeast in the past decade. The government decided that a computer system ought to be devised to control the distribution of energy throughout the country according to supply and demand. (Of course, this presupposes that energy-company and government computer programmers are smart enough to design and implement a smart system—something in my vast experience as a computer-systems trainer I know they are not.)

Last year the Illinois legislature passed a law that requires all homeowners and businesses to participate in the Smart Grid (with some odd exceptions). Specifically, each township must negotiate a discounted energy price for all its constituents from one of the energy companies that runs exclusively on the Smart Grid, as opposed to Commonwealth Edison, which gives consumers the option.

Sidebar: The irony here is that IL has now created town-specific monopolies to compete against Commonwealth Edison, which historically was Illinois’ monopoly and which had to be broken up decades ago to bring in competition and more choice for consumers.

Why Does the Smart Grid Violate Your Right to be Free From Warrantless Search and Seizure?

The Smart Grid constantly monitors your energy usage. Day and night. The meter transmits this information to “Gestapo Headquarters” where a database is collected on your home or business. The data will be graphed and charted. The graphs and charts will be filed for later inspection by the government.

“Why would the government bother to do that?” you ask. Well, did you take an energy tax credit on your last tax return? The IRS could look at the Smart Grid data on you and use that to require an audit of your taxes and possibly charge you with tax fraud. In other words, the government won’t need a warrant to look at your private files, because the energy company will claim the data belongs to them and they will be happy to turn it over to the government. (BTW: Isn’t this the essence of fascism?)

Why Does the Smart Grid Violate Your Right to be Free From “Takings”?

The Smart Grid takes away from you the use and control of your energy-supply systems—and use and control is the same as ownership. Right now the wiring in your home, your fuse box, your hot-water heater are your private property. You can use and control them. The Smart Grid gives the use and control of your private property over to the people who use and control your energy meters.

The real purpose of the Smart Grid from the government’s perspective is rationing of energy in the future when it becomes increasingly scarce. To prevent the possibility of a power outage even in a single neighborhood, during shortages the government will require your power company to reduce the amount of energy they supply to your home. The reduction percentage will be across the board, not based on any home’s individual needs.

For instance, let’s say you’re caring for an invalid in your home. So your home needs twice as much energy as your neighbor’s just to keep that person alive, let alone keep your refrigerator going or your home cooled in a severe heat wave. Well, the Smart Grid meter on your house will first of all constantly harangue you to reduce your energy usage, especially in the middle of the night—constantly, as in not only during shortages. Then when the first shortage comes along, the meter will arbitrarily reduce your usage for you.

If you run a computer-based business on commercial property or in your home, the Smart Grid will treat you the same way it treats a neighboring dog-grooming business. No more electricity for you. . . . (paraphrasing the Soup Nazi).

So, beware. If you are given an “Opt-Out” of the Smart Grid, do it, even if it will cost you a little more now for your energy. In the future it could make the difference between having a right to buy the energy you need or not.

CHALK GHOST—When your neighbor dies and nobody notices

Chalk-Ghost-KindleOne mystery that haunts me all year, not only on Halloween but all the time, is how a person can die in a home or apartment surrounded by neighbors, but no one notices for days and days and days.

Since 2009 I’ve worked on a mystery story called CHALK GHOST. At first it was a short story, which I posted as a serial on, where it co-won the Grand Prize. After that I tried to expand the story to novel size and failed until I realized that a novel required something very different: my nightmare evolved into SNOW GHOST, a work still in progress. But CHALK GHOST refused to die. Now I’ve finally finished the novella, and it’s available for free on Amazon Kindle for Halloween through November 1. After November 1, 2012 CHALK GHOST is available for a mere pittance of $0.99 or the equivalent at Amazon U.K., Germany, and elsewhere. In late January it will be available in most ebook formats.

Please download a free copy of CHALK GHOST . Review it! Comment here! A U.K. reviewer gave CHALK GHOST 5 stars and wrote: “Excellent book for a quick read’ good story line. Downloaded this to my phone. Would recommend it.”

Trauma or decomposition at fault for spate of jogger-less feet?

Voice of Sanity tells me:

“Decomposition. ‘Not by trauma’ means no signs of cutting. There’s been considerable discussion of this in BC. The head and limbs don’t bloat up like the torso so they tend to sink, however the runners provide some flotation. It’s still very puzzling.” (He also recommends this Wikipedia article, which is indeed very interesting: )

The actual quote by the coroner Stephen Fonseca to which I referred was: “Foul play was not suspected because there was no sign of trauma.” Since I have a low opinion of medical examiners, I failed to note that the idiotic remark was made not by a medical examiner but by a “coroner,” who may or may not be a physician or pathologist.

It is obvious that the people in question who lost their feet did so after they were dead, and the only way they could possibly have died was after a traumatic event. Drowning is a trauma. Drowned bodies show signs of the trauma in their lungs and eyeballs, so obviously there would be “no sign of trauma” on a drowning victim’s feet. One of the feet was in a hiking boot. The least sinister explanation for this is that a hiker on a cliff overlooking the shore slipped and fell to his death. This trauma could have resulted in the same trauma a person would suffer by jumping to their death from a tall building—but much trauma, nonetheless, and not likely to the feet.

It seems to me that the only way anyone’s foot could rot off their submerged body is if they first suffered a traumatic event.

It is absurd to say that  there is no reason to suspect “foul play.”

Sidebar: If Dr. G. had testified in Casey Anthony’s murder trial that the manner of death was “some form of foul play,” I would have agreed. A reasonable person could easily conclude that a crime had to have been committed when a child’s body was found in a trash bag in a wooded area near her mother’s home. (But it could have been merely improper disposal of a body.)

As in the Anthony case,  the causes of death for the athletic-shoed feet are unknown and, therefore, so is the manner of death: they could have died accidentally of drowning, or as a result of suicide, or homicide.

However, since few people wear athletic shoes while swimming, it is highly unlikely that they all drowned accidentally. Yes, some people do wear athletic shoes instead of boat shoes when boating, and people on cruise ships might wear them on deck. But such people would have been reported missing, and DNA testing could match the feet with the victims.

Most of the explanations provided in the article have not been scientifically proven to be possible. For instance, how does anyone know a foot could travel 1000 miles on ocean currents?

The idea that the feet may have come mainly from the 2004 tsunami isn’t reasonable, either. Two of the feet have been tentatively identified as belonging to people from British Columbia. Two of the feet are from the same woman, and the odds of two feet from a tsunami victim winding up in the same place are astronomical.

In addition these feet have all been found in the past four years and all in a relatively small area given the enormity of the oceans on this planet and the length of their shorelines.

I think a better remark from a coroner might have been: “Foul play cannot be ruled out in any of these cases.”

Law and Disorder, Spread the Wealth, and Kristallnacht

The justice system only works if criminals are “brought to justice.” When crimes are committed by mobs of criminals, there’s little hope of that ever happening. While the media continue to fret over Casey Anthony’s “freedom,” mobs of violent criminals are storming through the streets here and in England—and getting away with murder more certainly than she did.

I suppose that’s what troubles me most about the American justice system these days: prosecutors and judges can’t distinguish between law-breakers who make serious mistakes for which they should be duly punished (not executed) and law-breakers who have no concept of the law at all. The justice system is so heavily politicized that it gravitates to sensational, personal tragedies in which beautiful young women are involved as either the criminal or the victim. The system can’t recognize, let alone cope with, national tragedies and the breakdown of social cohesion.

The media, of course, can only deal with simple, little things—like a plastic bag with a child’s bones in it or the disappearance of beautiful blond girls on the island of Aruba. And they are obliged for profit purposes to cover only crimes committed in states where cameras are allowed in courtrooms. So, whatever happens in Florida is big news, but crimes in Illinois are nothing (even when the fourth governor since 1973 is now in jail, three of whom were Democrats, not Republicans).

But Casey Anthony was never anything more than a disturbed girl who neglected or abused her child to death and then tried to cover it up. We’re ignoring whole cultures of young people who are committing violent crimes against not only individuals but society who never will be brought before a jury for justice.

London Riots

Last week I was in London and a nearby town on the nights of rioting. I don’t know how the riots were covered here in America, but the media coverage in England was very, very strange.

At first when the riot was contained to the Tottenham Court neighborhood, the media chewed their white knuckles and puzzled over the reasons why young people would do such things: “Why? Surely this isn’t going to continue. This isn’t the beginning of a rebellion, an English Spring?”

Tottenham Court is a central tube station in London—not a slum neighborhood. While buildings burned overhead at street level, I and hordes of other tourists passed through the station. The trains didn’t stop at Tottenham Court. Instead the conductors said, “A fire alarm has been sounded at the next stop. The train will stop but not open its doors.” And “Due to circumstances at this time there will be no service to Tottenham Court.”

The next day, video of the riots showed that the rioters weren’t just any and all young people. They were minorities who clearly were of immigrant families from former English colonies in Jamaica and South Asia or the Middle East. The victims were also minority immigrants. These weren’t race riots against white oppressors. They weren’t riots against austerity measures—because the rioters aren’t affected by Britain’s budget cuts.

They were riots of “pensioners,” young people “on the dole,” “on benefits,” people with no jobs—not because they can’t find work. They don’t want to work. Why should they? They don’t need to work, because they are given everything they want.

The next night the riots spread to cities like Nottingham, which I visited several years ago. In those days, there was a riot every Friday and Saturday night in Nottingham. Nothing burned; the young people got drunk and went wilding. In the lobby of the hotel where I was staying a brawl broke out at a wedding party. In smaller cities like Nottingham, for many years the young people have behaved as if it was Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale every weekend.

In the small city where I was last week, Colchester (the oldest town in England), the proprietor of the bed and breakfast where I stayed was so concerned about street violence that he closed the English Civil War-era shutters (last used in the Siege of Colchester in the seventeenth century) for the first time since he had owned the building. Fortunately, there were no riots in Colchester. But neither is there a large immigrant population, and its young people tend to be serious students at the highly technical University of Essex. (Yes, they got drunk and staggered through the streets at night, but they did no harm.)

Eventually the London media learned that the London mayor and chief of police had told the cops during the Tottenham Court riots not to arrest anyone “lest they hurt someone.” As a result, of course, the rioters did not get hurt—only innocents did. Several young people were killed. Some were raped. Businesses were destroyed so that their employees can now enjoy the “benefits.”

Soon afterwards the Prime Minister called on his cabinet to return from their vacations to deal with the crisis. A few of them came home to London. Many did not. The mayor of London finally issued orders to arrest rioters. The rioting promptly stopped.

Over the next few days they began to identify the looters and most violent of the criminals from CCTV surveillance videos. One of the arrested rioters was a 15-year-old boy whose young mother “didn’t know where he was at two in the morning.” (The media were careful to say, though, they “did not want to stigmatize single mothers.” I guess they would have treated Casey Anthony with more respect, too.)

The victims were identified, too—young people who were murdered, rape victims, the owner of a modest family-run department store that was burned to the ground. This is significant—it wasn’t Harrad’s or Selfridges that burned. It was a smallish store, but one just big enough to look as if its owners were richer than the rioters.

Eventually the Prime Minister and others began to call for a withdrawal of “benefits” from the rioters. For those who don’t know, in England no one has to work or pay for their own homes. The government provides not only a living stipend to anyone who wants it but also any home they want to live in. For instance, it was revealed last week that a refugee Somali family was living in a 2 million pound home in the neighborhood of actress Emma Thompson at taxpayer expense (the pound is worth more than the dollar is today). How many unemployed people do you know who live in a $2 million home? Or for that matter how many employed people?

Kristallnacht All Over Again

In Nazi Germany in 1938, one night gangs of youths stormed through Jewish neighborhoods, rioting, looting, smashing shop windows, killing. That night was known as Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) because of the shattered glass that lay everywhere afterwards.

Kristallnacht was one of the most evil events in modern history. It happened because the Nazi government in Germany made it crystal clear to the youthful thugs of the era that they were entitled to take whatever they wanted as long as it was from Jews, to destroy anything Jews had, to rape and kill Jews.

In England the government has made it crystal clear to youthful thugs that they don’t have to get a job, they don’t have to do anything, and everything is theirs to destroy or take, as they choose.

I have been to England several times over four decades. This most-recent visit was the first time I hated being in London. I hated walking on the streets, because the crowds of young people wouldn’t even acknowledge my presence; they shouldered and elbowed me aside; they bashed me with their handbags; they pushed me through turnstiles. The undergro
und was a nightmare: it was hellishly hot; half the stops were under construction and inaccessible because of “upgrades” for next year’s Olympics; several times I found myself in long, narrow, low-ceilinged tunnels pressed up against crowds of people who were at a complete standstill because there weren’t enough trains. It was even worse than my memories of New York City in the Sixties and Seventies. (In those days, it was before anyone Red heart‘ed New York.)

And all the English politeness and exactitude was gone, too. No one seemed to know what they were doing. The trains were all late. The signs displaying times and destinations were wrong. No one knew how to get from point A to point B. Every question and request for assistance or directions was met with a sigh, a head shake, a rebuke: “What does the sign say? Isn’t that what the sign says?”

For the first time, I came home to the Chicago area feeling relieved to be out of England. Then, guess what happened?

Kristallnacht came to Chicago, but now it isn’t only Jews who are the targets—it’s everybody who owns anything.

A group of men “of mixed ethnicity” (or a flash mob, if you prefer) forced their way into a private home in broad daylight less than three blocks from my suburban home. Apparently the home was picked on a whim by a carload of thugs who just happened to be passing by on the Illinois state highway that runs through Chicago’s western suburbs. It isn’t a road that looks like a highway; it’s a very old road that connects with a nearby interstate, only two lanes with a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. The town is Victorian-era.  The street is residential and lined with ancient oaks and elms.

(The local police chief is now playing down the incident. Instead of portraying it as a home invasion as he originally did, he’s now claiming it was one of a previously unreported series of “ruse burglaries” in which burglars claim to be utility workers in order to gain access to homes. My, that really calms my fears.)

I knew that for the past year Chicago’s “Gold Coast” area along Lake Michigan had been targeted by flash mobs of youths from the South Side. But I had never before heard of a flash mob invading a private home. Have you?

In Chicago the flash mobs get on the subway and ride up to North Michigan Avenue where the most-exclusive shops and luxury hotels are. They flood into designer-clothing shops and in plain view of surveillance cameras try on clothes and then just walk out with them. As in London, the cops are being told to “let it be.” The mayor has pulled most of the cops off the streets because of budget issues, and retailers have to employ private security firms for protection.

Why do they do it? Because they can. Why did the Somali family move into actress Emma Thompson’s neighborhood? When asked they claimed not to speak English and refused to explain why.

The real question is why do politicians let people get away with this kind of behavior? IMHO, it’s because politicians aren’t incented to do anything but get reelected—just as prosecutors and judges aren’t incented to do anything but convict and execute high-profile defendants.

Chicago flash mobs clearly feel entitled to spread the wealth around as they see fit. They clearly do not respect private property. I can only suppose their thinking goes like this: if it’s offered for sale to the public and the flash mobbers are the public, then they must be entitled to the goods, even if they can’t pay for them.

On the East Coast, I’ve heard that flash mobs are targeting 7-Elevens and other quick-stop stores. It isn’t surprising, is it? If it’s okay to take luxury goods, it must be okay to take cheap stuff, too.

But what made the flash mob that invaded the home in my neighborhood think they were entitled to what was inside a randomly chosen suburban house? I guess we’re back to the days of “Eat the Rich,” but now “the rich” are anyone who has more than you do—even if it’s more they earned by selling Slurpies at a 7-Eleven.

This is anarchy. These criminals will never be brought to justice. No jury will ever hear their side of the story. The victims will never be compensated. Meanwhile, in Florida, law enforcement and the justice system whine on and on about Casey Anthony and how her jailors stupidly signed papers admitting she served her probation for a minor check fraud crime while being held on other charges.

The End of Justice for All

If InSession talking heads had their way Casey Anthony would be the last defendant to be tried before a jury of her peers. A few days ago, one of the TV show’s commentators suggested that it was time for “professional jurors,” as if a trained jury would—of course—have found her guilty, in other words would have made the correct decision.

I once served on a criminal-trial jury. Before that experience I would likely have opted for a bench trial if I ever got in trouble with the law. I thought my fellow citizens would operate irrationally and not be capable of giving me the benefit of reasonable doubt. I thought a better-educated judge would be more likely to understand that I was not guilty.

Boy, was I wrong! The judge in the case I heard was a bigoted, illogical, autocrat. My jury peers were all thoughtful people who wanted to give the defendant every break they could, because it was so obvious that the judge and the prosecutors were not interested in justice.

The assumption is that a professional juror would be a sort of mini-lawyer. What a horror!

Professional Jurors

Recently in Great Britain proposals for abolishing jury trials or at least for professional jurors have been trotted out, and now, I guess, we’re going to have endure the same debate here. Proponents in the U. S., though, will have to cope with a little stumbling block called the Bill of Rights—something they don’t have in Great Britain, as you know if you know anything about the American Revolution.

British courts operate differently from American courts. I have read that jurors are summoned to hear more than one case over a certain period of time, such as two weeks. Jury verdicts need not be unanimous, even in murder cases, but neither is there a death penalty in Britain. (Because of Google’s obnoxious way of trying to search for Britney Spears every time I begin a British search string, I’m afraid I can’t give you a link for further information.)

What is “a professional juror”? In Britain the idea is to call jurors from the general public, train them, and pay them well to sit in judgment on numerous jury panels for an extended period of time. As I understand it, the idea is not to have people whose sole profession is juror.

The question is: What sort of training would make a “good juror”? Some types of training would be helpful to jurors, but other types of training would only be helpful to judges and prosecutors.

Juror Training

As a former criminal-trial juror I would have found helpful training in the role of the foreperson, selecting a foreperson, deliberation, consensus building, eliciting discussion from reticent participants, understanding the jury instructions, and understanding the charges and the elements of a crime. I suspect some jurors would also benefit from a quick tutorial on the Bill of Rights.

When I served, the only training we were given was a ten-minute video delivered to the prospective jury pool. It told us how jury panels would be called by number at random, what to do if our number was called, what to do if our number wasn’t called, and how much we would be paid per day. Nothing else.

Once we were interviewed by the judge, she gave us some simple instructions: don’t talk about the case, follow her instructions, that she would read the indictment but we would never see it or hear it again, that we could take notes but must leave them in the deliberation room, and that we were about to be sworn in.

But there were a number of instructions and a lot of training that I would have strongly disliked if the judge had tried to deliver it to me: training in interpreting CSI evidence, interpreting testimony, or legal terminology, especially the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” which I am eminently better qualified to interpret than any lawyer in any courtroom in this land.

Any effort to turn jurors into amateur lawyers and judges like that would be a disaster.

The real problem with professional jurors, it seems to me, is that a professional isn’t a true peer of the ordinary citizen, at least not in the court system, which is run by lawyers. The reason the institution of the jury arose in the first place, more than two millennia ago, was to provide a check on political and legal institutions so they could not arbitrarily take away the rights and property of ordinary citizens.

Jury Reform

The American Bar Association has a long-standing Commission on the American Jury Project, which has published a number of recommendations for jury reform. Unfortunately, no one has suggested judicial or prosecutorial reforms as well. And if you listen to the lawyers commenting on the Casey Anthony verdict you know that none of them think their profession needs any tweaking, let alone reform.

I have a huge problem with the current, highly politicized judiciary and state’s attorneys offices. Theoretically, the citizenry elects judges and state’s attorneys, but in many jurisdictions the judicial system is so large that even the most-informed of voters can’t possibly know enough about candidates for judgeships. Of course, the county state’s attorney is subject to a great deal of public scrutiny, but not the assistant state’s attorneys, who are more numerous than judges and who are all appointed and hired by the political state’s attorney.

Many judges seek higher office. Every state’s attorney I’ve ever heard of seeks higher office. As a consequence, it is in their best interests to prosecute high-profile defendants to the maximum extent of the law and to adjudicate high-profile cases and sentence convicted defendants to the max.

With the advent of live broadcasts from the courtroom, more and more trials of non-high-profile defendants are going to become circuses. It won’t take jurors long to figure out that if they find a high-profile defendant like Casey Anthony not guilty, they will be the ones who pay with their lives—either literally from stalkers or figuratively in that they will lose their jobs, alienate their friends, and worse.

The Casey Anthony jury did effect justice. They did not ignore any of the judge’s instructions in finding her not guilty. They did not “speculate,” despite what InSession says—what they did was understand the difference between speculation and proof; in deliberations when one of them wandered off into speculation, his or her peers drew the conversation back to what was proved. They did understand the “scientific” evidence—they understood it wasn’t scientific and therefore wasn’t proof.

They understood that in the evidence and testimony the dots were not connected. Yes, there were a lot of dots leading to the child’s remains—there just was no dot labeled Casey Anthony. The only person who claimed to have seen Caylee on June 16, 2008, with her mother was George Anthony, and as the foreman of the jury said, George couldn’t seem to remember important facts and incidents; all he remembered clearly was what everybody was wearing three years ago.

The private life is dead–Dr. Zhivago

If the Anthony family saga demonstrates anything it is that “the private life is dead.”

Look at how many private lives were aired during the Casey Anthony trial—not only the entire Anthony family’s but all of her many boyfriends’, girlfriends,’ an innocent bystander named Zanaida, and even the private lives of the Anthony home-water-meter reader and his son.

The trial was nothing but a reality show. The only people satisfied with the outcome are the media.

No, that isn’t quite right. It was a reality show but not “nothing but,” because the Anthony trial was the first-ever state-sponsored reality show. The trial served no purpose other than to provide content free of charge to the media. The O. J. Simpson trials weren’t state-sponsored reality shows the way the Anthony trial was, because by the time he went on trial O. J. Simpson was already a celebrity who had made his life a public spectacle from which not only the media but he had profited as well.

But before the circus was staged by the State of Florida the Anthonys weren’t celebrities. Now I fear a new celebrity has been born—Casey Anthony. You don’t have to be beloved to be a celebrity. Casey Anthony is now the celebrity everybody loves to hate. She may need a bodyguard to go out in public, but then so does every celebrity.

When I first saw the movie Dr. Zhivago years ago and then read Pasternak’s novel, it was during the Cold War against Soviet Communism. For me, Dr. Zhivago was little more than a romance and a slightly flawed criticism of the U.S.S.R. I found it difficult to empathize with the tragedy of a wealthy physician’s family who had lost their privacy. That tragedy paled in comparison to the millions of people the Soviets imprisoned, tortured, and killed.

Only now do I understand the horror of Zhivago’s pronouncement that the private life is dead.

Having endured the Communist Revolution in Russia, Pasternak understood full well that the confiscation of private property by the state was the end of all liberty. When the Communists seized everything in the name of the People, they were lying. Property of the People is property of the state. When property belongs to everybody, it belongs to nobody but the state.

When the state can force its way into your home (‘warrantless search and seizure”) it means an end to your privacy—your inner-most thoughts and feelings become public property.

I can hear you now: but the State of Florida had a warrant when it seized all of Casey Anthony’s shoes.

Yes, but when did the State of Florida obtain a warrant to search a young man named Tony Lazaro’s intimate moments with his lover?

When did the State of Florida obtain a warrant to the private life of a woman named Crystal Holloway? Why did she have to appear on world-wide-broadcast TV and reveal the number of “relationships” she was having at a certain time?

The circus that was the Casey Anthony murder trial won’t be the last state-sponsored reality show.  The media has found a way to generate cost-free content: all they have to do is lurk around police stations in Florida waiting for another beautiful, young nobody to step out of the back of a patrol car in handcuffs and follow her inside the jail. When an assistant state’s attorney finds out that the media are interested in her, she’ll find herself brought up on capital murder charges. And then the airwaves will be awash in “Casey Anthony II—The Sequel.”

Florida, wake up! Your “Sunshine Laws” are unconstitutional: It’s unspeakably evil to broadcast videotapes of a prisoner being interrogated, of a family communicating with their daughter in jail, of photographs of the private property of innocent citizens (their closets, their bedrooms, their laundry room, their back yard). It’s wrong to broadcast prospective jurors’ voir dire. It’s wrong to broadcast the gallery and spectators at a trial. It’s wrong to broadcast testimony of law-biding citizens whose only crime was being acquainted with someone charged with murder.

Sidebar: The prosecutors in the Anthony trial were wrong to subpoena Casey Anthony’s friends and force them to testify about their perfectly lawful interactions with her. None of her friends reported any illegal activity by Casey Anthony; none of them reported suspicious behavior; none of them reported anything remotely resembling evidence of “her state of mind at the time of the crime.” If I were them and I could afford it, I would sue the State of Florida for defamation and illegal search and seizure of my private life.

None of us are immune. None of us know when a friend or family member is going to fall afoul of the law. I’d be willing to bet that there’s no one reading this who doesn’t know someone with legal problems: nasty divorces, brutal child-custody battles, IRS audits, property-line disputes, cease-and-desist orders, law suits, drug busts, a DUI, or worse.

What will you do when the state comes knocking on your door with a subpoena?

The Casey Anthony trial is truly the end of the private life in America.

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