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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

WHY ABOLISHING THE DEATH PENALTY MAKES GOOD FISCAL SENSE

I’ll admit it: once upon a time, I was a death penalty advocate. “Kill ‘em all and let THEIR version of God sort them out” was a mantra that I embraced because I couldn’t see the sense of keeping what were obviously the dregs of society with no redeeming social value alive. I mean, they got a fair trial, right? They were convicted by a jury of their peers, right? So why bother to keep them alive, sometimes for decades after they’d been rightfully convicted, right?


Two words changed my mind about this Old Testament covenant: Clarence Brandley. Here’s a link to his Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Brandley. This one case is what changed my mind about capital punishment, all those years ago.

You can’t give the executed person back his or her life after they’ve been put to death if and when it’s determined that said person was wrongly convicted. I wrote a column about capital punishment in September of 2011 (http://cherose-thethornbush.blogspot.com/2011/09/murder-is-murder-is-murder-isnt-it.html) after a death penalty case in California. I wrote an even earlier column about the murder of Jessica Lunsford (http://cherose-thethornbush.blogspot.com/2013/05/murder-is-murder-is-murder-isnt-it-redux.html).


What brought this to my mind yet again are the legal shenanigans surrounding the Jodie Arias case. It’s a death penalty case that’s already cost the taxpayers of Arizona over $1,000,000.00 just in her defense fees alone. It is going to ultimately cost the state of Arizona over $4,000,000.00 altogether in both defense and prosecution costs. That doesn’t even begin to address what it’s going to cost the state of Arizona to pursue the death penalty to its conclusion in this case, presuming that the new punishment phase jury votes unanimously to assess it.

So, let’s break down the cost of putting a person to death versus putting that same person in prison for the rest of their natural lifespan.

"Using conservative rough projections, the Commission estimates the annual costs of the present system ($137 million per year), the present system after implementation of the reforms ... ($232.7 million per year) ... and a system which imposes a maximum penalty of lifetime incarceration instead of the death penalty ($11.5 million)."
--California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, July 1, 2008

There’s a big difference in cost there, wouldn’t you agree? And that’s just for calendar year 2008.

On March 3, 2013, UP WITH CHRIS HAYES on MSNBC discussed how economic concerns are shifting more attention to the high costs of capital punishment. Guest Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, described how the millions of dollars spent on the death penalty could be used elsewhere: “Maryland’s [death penalty repeal] bill actually will give money and resources to the families of people who’ve lost loved ones. California’s bill was actually directly aimed at helping to solve the 34% of homicides that aren’t resolved in an arrest, 46% of rapes that aren’t resolved in an arrest, mostly in poor and minority communities. I think if you’re concerned about public safety, these economic arguments actually make links that we have to make.” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was quoted, urging state legislators to the repeal the death penalty, saying, “The death penalty is expensive and it does not work and we should stop doing it. In Maryland, the cost of prosecuting a death row case can be as much as three times what it costs for a case seeking a life sentence without parole." Or, in other words, at least $5,000,000.00 over the course of the appeals process. A 2010 fiscal report by the Legislative Services Agency of Indiana found that the average cost of a death penalty trial was around $450,000. Some cases have cost more than $1 million. In contrast, the same study found that the average trial and cost of appeal of a life-without-parole case was one-tenth as much, $42,658. "As soon as they file that notice that they're seeking death, that defendant is going to get 2 lawyers paid at taxpayer expense at over $100 per hour. They're going to get unlimited experts. If there is a jury, it's going to have to be sequestered. There's going to be all sorts of added costs to that”, Professor Joel Schuum of the McKinney School of Law in Indiana (who was the chair for the discussion) noted.

Criminal Justice Professor James Acker of the University at Albany recently discussed the decision by the District Attorney to seek the death penalty against James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and wounding many others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In addition to concerns about the defendant's possible mental illness, Acker raised a number of questions about this course of action: "Will the victims and their families somehow be made whole? Would the time and money devoted to achieving this man's death not be better spent on services and law enforcement initiatives meant to repair and prevent the mindless devastation of criminal homicide? Would this man's execution serve an ineffable impulse for justice?" In his op-ed for CNN, Acker also examined the reasons for the dramatic decline in the use of the death penalty in the U.S.: "a revulsion against the awful prospect of executing an innocent person; the racial and social class inequities imbued in the death penalty's administration; the enormous financial burden placed on state and local budgets in supporting capital prosecutions; the availability of life imprisonment without parole to keep the streets safe." He concluded by asking, "[W]hat good would be accomplished through this ritual act--[and would] the lives of the individual victims and Coloradoans generally [] be made better, and justice served by his lethal injection?" You can link to a lot more information and opinions here: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/costs-death-penalty.

Basically, the cost of legally murdering just one person is obscene. Leaving aside the question of the morality of the state committing an act of murder to satisfy a statute, what good does it do? Well, it sure as hell deters the person that’s put to death, doesn’t it? I mean, that person is NEVER going to commit another act of any sort, right? Why can’t we just do away with the death penalty and take that money, and do something useful with it – like rehabilitation for the convicts? Better food, better housing, higher pay for the guards – SOMETHING besides using it to kill people.

Quite aside from that, gangers: I cannot think of a worse punishment than to be shut up in a little concrete box. To live alone (in segregation, where I’m reasonably sure Ms. Arias is going wind up) with sunshine and fresh air rationed on a weekly basis, with showers rationed on a bi-weekly basis, with every aspect of your life regulated and scrutinized. No privacy. Very little contact with the outside world. Rotting in the stink of your own reflections, for the rest of your life.

I can’t think of a worse punishment than that.

MURDER IS MURDER IS MURDER, ISN'T IT? (REDUX)

{{I wrote this particular column in 2005, after the murder of Jessica Lunsford. It's still timely}}

MURDER IS MURDER IS MURDER, ISN'T IT? (REDUX)


By now, I’m sure that everyone has heard the sickening addendum to the equally sickening story of Jessica Lunsford, murdered in Florida by the friendly neighborhood pedophile across the street. I’ve heard every spectrum of outrage from every person imaginable that was involved with this story. I’ve heard the father calling out for this man to die. I’ve listened to the pundits, the TV lawyers and all the talk show people screaming for this man’s blood. I’ve even heard televangelists saying that, if EVER anyone deserves to die for what he did, this man does. I’ll have to admit, there for a moment, I felt the same way.

I have a blood daughter that I adore even if she doesn’t speak to me because I’m considered to be a family disgrace. I understand that pain – the searing, sickening, soul-destroying pain – which comes from losing a beloved child to death. I know where Mr. Lunsford’s coming from, because I feel exactly the same way. If I had had a lovely, bright, cheerful, joyful daughter that had been stolen, raped and abused over the course of at least two days, and then buried alive, left in the ground to die a slow and terrified death from suffocation, I would feel the same way that he does. I would have ripped the murderer limb from limb, I would have torn out his heart and BURNED it in front of his face. There, literally, is NO end to the horrors that I would visit upon him, this sick, contemptible, twisted ABOMINABLE bastard.

That’s what ANY parent would do, given the opportunity. There is not enough money in the world to make this go away, there is not and never WILL be enough forgiveness in my heart, to NOT want to visit this person who ripped my world apart and who crushed my soul with every single, solitary, truly AWFUL thing that my mind could devise – and I have a VERY fertile imagination.

OK, so? He deserves the death penalty, right? He deserves a SCRUPULOUSLY fair trial, he deserves the very BEST legal help that he can get, and THEN we get to take him out and kill him, right? TOO BAD we can’t do to him what he did to that baby girl, TOO BAD that we CANNOT make him suffer the way that she suffered – right? Unfortunately, we’re a civilized country, so after that trial and conviction, we’ll take him into a chamber, strap him down, and use the same chemicals that we put our sick pets to sleep with; no pain, no horror, NOTHING except that he quits breathing, his heart quits pumping and he goes to meet God with this horrific crime writ large on his face for all the angels to see.

Right?

WRONG.

Murder is murder is MURDER, and murder is wrong. Death itself robs us of our loved ones, both human and animal. Death attends and woos us every day while we live. Death takes all – the brave, the cowardly, saints, sinners – ALL, and Death comes to us all whether we like it or not – and MOST of us DON’T, myself included. Murder is even worse. Murder de-humanizes both the victim and the perpetrator. Murder robs us of our loved ones before their allotted time is finished. Murder reminds us that there are, still, amoral and uncaring animals in our midst that are pretending to be as human as we are – and that they will always be with us.

OK. So? What do we DO with these animals? Well, they’re rabid dogs, and we kill rabid dogs, right? OF COURSE we do. THEY don’t know any better, and their sickness will kill, so we kill them FIRST - quickly, quietly, humanely. Unfortunately, this is an argument that doesn’t translate to humankind. We are NOT animals, to destroy those among us that are sick. We must try to heal that sickness if we can – and if we can’t, then it’s up to us to be sure that this sickness doesn’t get out to infect the rest of us.

Capital punishment, dress it in whatever language that we will, is still an act of murder. It is the state – which includes, dear reader, you and I – rather than an individual doing the killing, but it is STILL murder. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life” is pretty plainly stated in the Bible, and that is what gives the state the moral sanction to COMMIT murder, no matter how quietly, and no matter how humanely. This is wrong. There is no difference between the acts of politically sanctioned murder, such as war, state sanctioned murder such as the death penalty, or individually performed murder, like the murder of Jessica Lunsford.

Many, MANY people die that deserve to live, and if we cannot give BACK to them what was taken from them, then we have no right, no ethical mandate, and NO moral reason to take life from anyone else regardless of what they might have done – or DID do – to deserve it.

Murder is murder is MURDER – and we do NOT have the right to kill.

WONDERWIFE AND THE COOKIES

{{This is an oldie but a goodie. LOVE you, honey!}}

WONDERWIFE AND THE COOKIES

My wife, who is normally a rational and intelligent woman, decided the other night that she wanted to make some chocolate chip cookies for herself. I need to explain to you all that she is a wonderful engineer, a terrific electrician, a designer and constructor of structures par excellance – and a not-so-great cook. Not that she’s afraid of the kitchen, oh, NO – but, by mutual decision, we split up the household chores a long time ago, and cooking is not something that she normally does (although, I must say, she makes the best chicken-fried steak in the world - but I digress). I do all of the easy and mundane stuff, like housework, cooking, balancing the checkbook, formulating plans for world peace – y'all know, the inconsequential stuff – and she does all the hard stuff, like designing and building machines that are 50% more energy-efficient and 40% less polluting, holding down an engineering job in a male-dominated profession, starting and successfully running an engineering consultancy that builds factories all over the world - and changing light bulbs.

So, on this eventful evening, we went into the kitchen, took down 60 or so cookbooks (out of the 3 bajillion or so that I've collected over the years), and set out to find the best chocolate chip cookie recipe that we could find. She finally decided on the one that’s on the back of the chocolate chip package (what a surprize), and we got the ingredients all gathered together (or so I THOUGHT - serves me right!), and I left her to her own devices. I went into the living room for some quiet, philosophical time alone (read serious Nintendo playing), and, about 20 minutes later, she came into the living room in tears. Something wasn’t working right and her cookie dough was not turning into cookie “dough”, and she wanted my help.

I went into the kitchen, and looked at the gooey, sticky mess in the bowl, and said ECH, YUCK, and various other wifely sounds of absolute disgust, and asked her how on earth she had managed to concoct such a mess (and a very gooey, slick, oily, nasty-looking mess it was, too). She told me then that she had used cooking oil, like the recipe said to do, and that this was the result. I just looked at her, completely dumbfounded, and asked her if she’d read the recipe. She said that, yes, she had, and since she couldn’t find the solid shortening (or the butter, which was sitting smugly in the butter compartment of the 'fridge), she’d used what she could find, which was the liquid cooking oil, and that she did not understand why it had turned out so badly. I didn’t laugh in her face – which, believe me, took a lot of doing – and pointed out that solid shortening or butter was required, found the solid shortening for her, and beat a very hasty retreat from the kitchen while she was dealing with the mess and starting over.

So, I can hear you asking, what on earth was the problem? After all, don’t all little girls learn how to cook when they’re very small? Well, yes, under normal circumstances, they do – but there’s a joker in this deck that y’all aren’t aware of. Let me explain:

My wonderful, feminine wife, you see, didn’t start life out as a girl. She is a male-to-female transsexual and started life out as a male – and everyone “knows” that “boys don’t cook”, unless, of course, they’re one of those fags on the Food Channel.

Oh, and the cookies? The second batch? Best darned cookies I ever ate!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

HOW TO LEARN HOW TO BE A PREPPER

Let me preface this article with a caveat: WonderWife and I are preppers. Yup, you heard me right. We’re part of a growing movement in this country that gets laughed at, teased and generally treated like we’re insane. We are neither insane nor are we paranoid. We just believe in being prepared for whatever. Like, say, the coming zombie apocalypse.

Being a prepper is akin to playing LIFEBOAT. You start off with a list of “must-have” things and then start paring the list down to what you actually need, bearing in mind that you might just have to carry everything on your back and planning for that. Not everybody wants to devote that sort of time and effort to planning for something that might not happen, but it’s fascinating to see what you really need as opposed to what you only think you want. WonderWife and I do a lot of camping. We’ve dedicated, literally, years to finding the perfect mix of foods – fruits, veggies, meat products, spices, etc. – that we can carry and that we will also enjoy eating. Suprizingly enough, when I started doing the research for this particular article (which, incidentally, is turning into a whole SERIES of articles), I found that there are a lot more people out there that believe in being prepared for catastrophes of whatever sort, and who act accordingly.

For example, the Mormon Church is very much into every family having at least a 3 month supply of canned and dried foods for every member. I sorta vaguely knew this, since I got a lot of Mormon relatives, but it wasn’t until BabyBrotherA joined the Mormon Church that I really got interested. I REALLY hate to plug Glenn Beck for any reason, but he’s got the right of it. Everybody needs to have a cache of canned and dried goods in case of disaster. I know that we’d have been in really bad shape, for example, if we hadn’t had a lot of dried foodstuffs and water purification gear when Hurricane Ike hit the Texas coastline in 2009, for example. We never lost water, but we cooked on camp stoves for the 22 days it took the power company to restore power to our neighborhood. Using a water purification system is a great way to stay hydrated without having to boil water, for example, and it keeps the water clean without exposing it to bacteria that come into play in the cooled water.

As I said, I got interested in the subject, and was really quite surprized to find that there are a LOT more of me and WonderWife out there than I would ever have thought. So, I’m putting up a beginning basic kitchen list in this article. These are things that everybody should have.

Key points to consider when starting an emergency food pantry are:

Stock emergency foods that will not require refrigeration, and should require little electricity or fuel to prepare.

Additionally, the foodstuffs should have a long shelf life.

They should provide ample nutrition and contain little salt.

The following foods are all popular food staples that should be considered as “must haves” for your emergency pantries. The advantage to storing these items is they encompass all of the key consideration points listed above. Best of all, these items are very affordable and versatile, thus making them worthy of being on your storage shelves for extended emergencies.

Stock up on the following items today to get your prepper pantry ready for the next extended emergency:

1. Dried fruits, vegetables, meats, and soups.
2. Dried legumes (beans, lentils, peas)
3. Crackers
4. Nuts
5. Pasta sauce/tomato sauce or paste
6. Peanut butter
7. Pasta
8. Flour (white, whole wheat)
9. Seasonings (vanilla, salt, pepper, paprika, cinnamon, pepper, taco seasoning, etc.)
10. Sugar
11. Bouillon cubes or granules (chicken, vegetable, beef) IF you can find this staple as being salt-free or low sodium, pay the extra money and get it
12. Kitchen staples (baking soda, baking powder, yeast, vinegar)
13. Honey
14. Unsweetened cocoa powder
15. Jell-O or pudding mixes
16. Whole grains (barley, bulgur, cornmeal, couscous, oats, quinoa, rice, wheat berries)
17. Nonfat dried milk
18. Plant-based oil (corn oil, vegetable oil, coconut oil, olive oil)
19. Cereals
20. Seeds for eating and sprouting
21. Popcorn (not the microwavable kind)
22. Instant potato flakes
23. Packaged meals, like mac & cheese, ramen noodles, noodle cups, MREs and so on
24. At least 2 gallons of purified water, per person. PLUS: A water purification kit/kits. You can get a Brita water pitcher and make sure to have at least 5 filters.
25. Dried fruit juices, teas, coffee, drink mixes

Bear in mind that this is a pretty standard list, and there are literally thousands of web sites where you can go to get the information that you need. What’s interesting is just how closely it mirrors the list of necessary things that the wagon trains started out with, at least as far as food items are concerned. You can find a complete list of everything that our pioneer forebearers were told to bring (including tools and furniture items) at these web sites:

http://library.thinkquest.org/J001587/supplylist.htm

http://www.yankeepeddlerfestival.com/covered_wagon_supplies.htm

Being a prepper these days is a WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLE lot easier than it was for the wagon train pioneers! There are a lot of other things that you’ll need besides these things – like camp utensils, plates, paper products and so on, but I’ll cover that in other articles.









Saturday, May 11, 2013

DEATH THREATS? SERIOUSLY?

Let me preface this with a disclaimer: I did NOT like Aurora Teagarden, I wasn’t fond of Lily Bard, and I loathed Harper Connelly. So, when I was given a three-fer of the SOUTHERN VAMPIRE MYSTERIES by Charlaine Harris, well . . . I was in the hospital at the time and any book was preferable to NO book.

Imagine my pleased surprize and delight, then, with Sookie Stackhouse. Wow. Just, WOW. A steel magnolia in training, with the added difficulty of being a telepath? With vampires that weren’t prettied up, supernatural elements of all sorts, and, eventually, the entire pantheon of supernatural and supranatural creatures and beings? Hoo boy – I fell in love and haven’t fallen OUT of love with this quirky, insane at times and thoroughly entertaining series. I’m like any other rabid fan: I wanted it to go on and on and ON forever. So, like any other rabid fan, I was upset at Mrs. Harris’s decision to end the series and move on to something else, while at the same time I was eagerly anticipating the ending. Would Sookie get her HEA? Who would it be with? What about Sam – does he get over being dead and resurrected? And Tara and JB? And the villains, of course: what was going to happen to them? Steve Newlin/Fellowhip of the Sun? Felipe, the King of Louisiana, Arkansas and Nevada? Her cousin Claude in jail in Faery? What happened to him? How about the other characters? How about the Eric/Freyda mess – how is THAT going to be resolved, or is it?

So MANY questions – and all of them answered. All of the storylines crafted throughout the series were ended. NOT neatly, no, but in my opinion satisfactorily. While I wasn’t exactly pleased with some of the endings, they were logical within the framework of the world that Mrs. Harris crafted. The characters were true to themselves and their back stories, the plot lines and story lines were consistent with the internal logic of the universe, and it was, to me, an altogether satisfying read.

DEAD EVER AFTER is, at times, incoherent because the action and dialogue jumps around from person to person and place to place. It is, at times, a bit hard to follow. It also, at times, makes no logical sense until you’ve read the entire book at least twice. Fortunately, with a book, you can do that. That’s one of the most wonderful things ABOUT a book, it’s always there to be read, re-read and savoured. While I was surprized in a good many places with this one, I was also delighted.

Which is why I was so unpleasantly surprized when I read the newspaper reviews of the book. Almost without exception, they were scathing. AND rude. When I read the Amazon reviews, I was appalled at the reaction of most of the reviewers. When I read the interview that Mrs. Harris gave, I was not only appalled, I was – well, angry. Apparently, Mrs. Harris has gotten death threats for her endings. It seems that her fans were just as fickle and as rude as the troos of another urban fantasy writer, only her fans were threatening her with mayhem and murder simply because she didn’t write the ending that *they* wanted and felt that they deserved.

Death threats? REALLY?

I think what everybody has lost sight of here is that these books are Mrs. Harris’s creations, the people that inhabit her world are *her* children, and that, unlike some other alleged writers I could name, she has always been aware that they are fictional and not actually real people. Even the books that she’s written that I wasn’t real fond of have had an internal logic that has been followed faithfully. The rules of her universes have been consistent, her character development has been both logical and consistent, the storylines have been good (even if I didn’t much care for them) and basically she’s followed her own rules. The characters are always developing and growing which I think is important.

Now, does the fan base have the right to complain? Of course they do. I myself have complained on occasion when an author that I have enjoyed in the past has taken a direction that I didn’t care for. RIVER MARKED by Patricia Briggs is one of the books that almost put me completely off both the author and the series. WAKING THE WITCH by Kelley Armstrong is another one. I found it very hard to like either one of these books because the author took a differing point of view from the one that I expected and thought should be taken. OK, they were bridge books but I didn’t like them and I was quite vocal about my dislike. However, complaining about a direction that I don’t like is NOT – repeat, NOT – the same thing as threatening the author because said author didn’t do what you wanted them to do.

Back to DEAD EVER AFTER: I never liked Eric Northman. Not even a little bit. He was abusive to everybody around him. He used Sookie as if she was an object – after all, she was nothing but a mostly human person, not important to him – until he decided that he needed to have her as a sex object. He tricked her into a marriage that she didn’t want to one-up his new king (although he did that to “keep her safe”), he ordered her around like a slave, he never really appreciated her for just herself – and, despite her stated wish to NOT be turned, he was contemplating that anyhow. He tried to make her into a kept woman, again against her wishes, and got angry with her when she declined the “honour”. Control freak, much, Eric? I must confess that it gave me an inordinate amount of pleasure when his life finally caught up with him and he was forced into the same position that he tried to force Sookie into.

Sookie’s HEA was not what I expected, at all – and I loved it. Her HEA was not what everybody wanted, oh, no. However, it’s the one that she secretly wanted and got. Not every woman in the world has to have a protector or even really wants one. Full circle back to mostly human but also recognition of her own worth as a person. One is, after all, a whole number.

I’m sorry that Mrs. Harris is having such a hard time, and I hope that all of the angry fans get over themselves.

They need to.