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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Even Death May Die

Death - a tall, cloaked figure carrying a scythe; one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; a skeleton with the ability to separate your soul from your body; the last, great unknown of everyone's life...   Death fills American culture as we contemplate and debate what happens after someone finishes living.

Do people have souls?
Do the souls go on to some eternal reward or punishment?
Do souls get a chance to live again?
Or are we made up of star stuff?
Do our bodies contribute to the circle of life with their decomposition?
Do we just not exist anymore?

Regardless, death is one of the few processes or activities that we cannot undo.  There is no way to make someone alive again, no restitution to pay for a wrongful death.  Money, land, possessions - nothing can compensate someone for their death.  The logical conclusion from this is that we, as a society, need to preserve life whenever possible, because we cannot restore a person to life.

This begs the question - why do we, as a society, support the death penalty?

Morally, I question the need for the death penalty as a form of justice, because by killing a person we become murderers.  Even if you don't actively participate in the execution, you are an accomplice to the crime if you support the death penalty.  Logically speaking, that means that we (as a society) are all murderers every time someone in our respective states or federally is executed.

On top of moral concerns, the cost of an execution far outweighs the cost of life in prison.  In terms of time, studies have shown that in some states merely choosing a jury takes over ten times longer for a case where the prosecutor is asking for the death penalty instead of life in prison without parole.  The court trials themselves also take significantly more time, as do the appeals process.  The average time in prison across the states is 16 years from the time of sentencing to the time of execution, with places such as California boasting a time lack of around 25 years.

In terms of money, several states report that it costs between two and five times more to put someone to death than to imprison someone for forty years.  The financial costs stem from lengthy appeals processes, higher attorney fees, and the need to maintain separate facilities for death rows inmates.  Plus, the state still needs to pay for food and housing while the inmates wait for their execution, meaning that the first 16 years of a life in prison sentence costs less that the first 16 years of a death sentence.

Finances also effect who arrives on death row.  A 2010 federal study discovered that for federal death penalty cases where less than $320,000 was spent on defense fees, the odds of a successful conviction are double the odds for cases where more than $320,000 was spent.  Logically, this means that poor people are more likely to get the death penalty that the wealthy.

After all, who has over a quarter of a million dollars lying around to mount a defense?

The study also showed that while the average cost of non-death penalty cases is $77,616 per case, the average cost of a death penalty case is over $620,928 - that means that we spent over eight times the amount to prosecute someone and ask for the death penalty.

And in case you're wondering, courts run on tax money, meaning you fund the death penalty.

Personally, I do not want to fund the death penalty, and I resent those who act as if a person must be executed or they go free.  In Lubbock County, Texas, Criminal District Attorney Matt Powell said:
The people who say that’s a viable argument, please look at a mother in the eye who has lost a son and say 'you know what, I could have stopped him and I didn't because it costs too much.'
My answer?  The choice is not death penalty or go free;  the choice is death penalty or life in prison without parole.  There is no "go free and commit more crimes" option here.

It is time for we, as Americans, to rise above the petty need for revenge. 
It is time for us to stand for what is morally correct.
It is time for us to remove the death penalty from our law books.

It is time for the death penalty to die.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Tuesday! July 22, 2014

Okay, so the world is again a crazy place to be.  The Middle East continues to be a violent area with wars between, well..., everyone.  The European Union faces more challenges in how to handle the situation in the Ukraine, because no one wants to start another war on Russian soil.  But it almost feels as though Putin is banking on people's unwillingness to war to push the situation as far as he can - and then push a little more.  As for the United States, between the TSA producing security theater to compensate (figuratively), the NSA spying on American citizens while trying to spin the invasion of privacy as a good thing, the government not taking care of our soldiers and veterans again, and GM recalling so many models of car I'm surprised whenever I see one on the road...the US is messed up.

So today, we're going to step back from the negativity and look as some funny and heartwarming news.

First, the funny.  Last week, some police in Kentucky arrested a 29-year-old man for shoplifting $35 worth of beer.  The intoxicated suspect went into the holding cell when he (allegedly) conned the police into making a phone call. Using his cell phone, the man contacted the local pizza delivery service and prank ordered food for the police officers, under his own arresting officer's name.  The pizza arrived, the police paid for the order (not realizing it was a prank), and then someone figured out what happened.

Oops. To put it mildly, they were not amused.

So the now-sober 29-year-old man faces more charges from his prank call; charges that are worse that what he was originally arrested for.  Maybe this guy can get a clue on how to prank from seniors at a Santa Barbara High School in California.  They hired a four person mariachi band to follow their principal around as a farewell gift (prank).  The principal took it in stride, enjoying the bank as they played for an hour and a half.




On to a bit of Internet helpfulness...

Eight days ago, a man asked reddit users for help.  You see, his wife gave birth to their daughter several weeks earlier, but the baby girl never left the NICU, dying before seeing the light of day.  The father only has pictures of his daughter with tubes and such.  He asked for help photoshopping or otherwise removing the tubes from the picture, so he and his wife would have one picture of her without medical trappings.

Here is the picture of the baby girl that the man posted:


Here are two of my favorite responses:

from funkybrewster on reddit


from ChangingYang on reddit

These two photos are a tiny sample of the dozens from people who took the time to help this man and his wife have one normal baby picture.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: "A Shade of Vampire" by Bella Forest

A Shade of Vampire (A Shade of Vampire, #1)A Shade of Vampire by Bella Forrest
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"A Shade of Vampire" is the first in a series of books about a young woman, Sofia, kidnapped by vampires and stuck in the middle of a prophesy. I suggest you read the description here for a good synopsis of the book.

I, well, I've read reviews praising this book as a herald to the next vampire book dynasty. I've also read reviews panning the book as the worst piece of drivel ever written. I find both viewpoints a bit extreme.

The plot here is a bit convoluted, though if you read more books I assume that the various threads will become more clear. The author, Bella Forest, clearly has a bigger picture in mind as she writes, because the outline of a larger story arc looms over this book. Sometimes this works well, and sometimes it falls flat, leaving you wondering what's going on.

The characters are all over the place in terms of depth and scope. Some feel like stock good guys and bad guys, and some have a real depth to them. Ms. Forest has an aggressive publishing schedule; I wonder if she needs to slow down and maybe edit a little more.

In the end, I will read the next book, but I hope the writing evens out.

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Book Review: "Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab..." by Bog Pflugfelder

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build YourselfNick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself by Bob Pflugfelder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab" is an interesting combination of story-telling and science experiment. The book begins with two siblings, Nick and Tesla, arriving at their uncle's house for the summer because their parents got called away on business. During the story, the kids make friends in the neighborhood, investigate an odd house with hostile occupants, and solve a local mystery. Nick and Tesla learn that not everything is as it seems.

The story itself is quite simple, and the characters are not quite three dimensional. Nick and Tesla argue a bit; their uncle is clueless; and their new friends instantly adopt them as leaders. You can feel the author stretching for more, but missing the mark by a hair.

But there are more books already written in the series, and I assume the characters have rounded out during the subsequent adventures.

In between chapters, the author explains how a regular kid can create some of Nick and Tesla's inventions. Here is where the book shines, because the project blueprints are complete and each project is quite fun, from the burglar alarm to the air rocket. I cannot praise these enough.

I recommend this book to kids from late elementary school to early middle school, young enough to appreciate the simplicity of the story and old enough to do the projects.



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