Monthly Archives: November, 2006

Accelerated Growth

Martha Irvine of the Associated Press offers an interesting, albeit somewhat unsettling, story about how children seem to be growing up faster and faster. It’s hard to know what to make of such trends. One can only hope that prosecutors don’t interpret such news as grounds to more frequently charge youth as adults…

10 is the new 15 as kids grow up faster

Zach Plante is close with his parents — he plays baseball with them and, on weekends, helps with work in the small vineyard they keep at their northern California home. Lately, though, his parents have begun to notice subtle changes in their son. Among other things, he’s announced that he wants to grow his hair longer — and sometimes greets his father with “Yo, Dad!”

“Little comments will come out of his mouth that have a bit of that teen swagger,” says Tom Plante, Zach’s dad.

Thing is, Zach isn’t a teen. He’s 10 years old — one part, a fun-loving fifth-grader who likes to watch the Animal Planet network and play with his dog and pet gecko, the other a soon-to-be middle schooler who wants an iPod.

In some ways, it’s simply part of a kid’s natural journey toward independence. But child development experts say that physical and behavioral changes that would have been typical of teenagers decades ago are now common among “tweens” — kids ages 8 to 12. [full text]

Sectarians Take Over Television Station in Iraq

The concern over civil war in Iraq is growing, as a television station was reportedly taken over on Saturday. From Mercury News:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Followers of the militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took over state-run television Saturday to denounce the Iraqi government, label Sunnis “terrorists” and issue what appeared to many viewers as a call to arms.

The two-hour broadcast from a community gathering in the heart of the Shiite militia stronghold of Sadr City included three members of al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc, who took questions from outraged residents demanding revenge for a series of car bombings that killed some 200 people Thursday.

With Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki relegated to the sidelines, brazen Sunni-Shiite attacks continue unchecked despite a 24-hour curfew over Baghdad. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia now controls wide swaths of the capital, his politicians are the backbone of the Cabinet, and his followers deeply entrenched in the Iraqi security forces. Sectarian violence has spun so rapidly out of control since the Sadr City blasts, however, that it’s not clear whether even al-Sadr has the authority – or the will – to stop the cycle of bloodshed.

“This is live and, God willing, everyone will hear me: We are not interested in sidewalks, water services or anything else. We want safety,” an unidentified Sadr City resident said as the televised crowd cheered. “We want the officials. They say there is no sectarian war. No, it is sectarian war, and that’s the truth.”

Some are suggesting that this is a sign of big trouble, and an indicator of how little control the American occupation has been able to instill in creating and backing the new Iraqi government. What a terrible omen for our troops stuck in the middle of this.

Perspective on Immigration

These foreigners do not belong here. Whatever their reasons for coming and however valid those reasons may seem, this is not their land. They were not invited. They are not welcome. Truly, it is unfortunate that, in their home countries, they have had to suffer persecution, poverty, squalor, and the like. It is unfortunate that the economic and political opportunities they may find here are largely unavailable to them there. It is unfortunate that such circumstances have necessitated that they travel an arduous distance to seek the better life that is their due and desire as much as anyone’s. But they simply do not belong here.

And yet they come and they come, waves of foreigners with their strange customs and alien language, making themselves at home in a place that is not their home. Even worse, by virtue of their needs and numbers, they import the hardships they seemingly left behind: the crowded conditions, the drain on local resources, and the tension and incivility that arise from such. It is difficult not to feel resentful. Yet, somehow, those who have lived here for many generations are expected to acquiesce and accommodate to these interlopers. Those who may rightly call this land home must watch in growing dismay as all that is familiar and cherished is strangely transformed.

Like it or not, though, the Europeans are here to stay.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The ironies are abundant. The interlopers of yesteryear are the aggrieved citizens of today, many of whom seem to possess memories as short as their tempers. They would do well to recall that they were neither the first here nor the first to feel put out. Indeed, however they are impacted by immigration, whatever challenges and hardships they may presently face, their collective experience pales in comparison to that of native Americans in centuries past—who were branded as savages, mistreated, forcibly displaced, and massacred. What experience now or in the foreseeable future can compare?

Immigration is admittedly a knotty issue. But please have some perspective.

Injustice for All

Justice that is administered with prejudice or without equity is not justice.

From the Charlotte Observer, an op-ed by Julian Bond:

Mental illness in black face

Convinced he was receiving signals from Oprah Winfrey and Dan Rather through his television, Guy Tobias LeGrande fired his attorneys and, wearing a Superman T-shirt, represented himself in the trial for his life. The State of North Carolina plans to execute LeGrande Dec. 1.

It is now universally acknowledged that capital defendants are entitled to competent defense lawyers. Why did North Carolina allow this seriously mentally ill man to represent himself?

In the last few years, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that some offenders — juveniles and those with mental retardation — are less morally culpable, and for that reason should not be subjected to the death penalty.

Last August, the American Bar Association, in concert with the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations, formally recommended that people with serious mental illness should not be eligible for execution if the illness prevents them from “exercis[ing] rational judgment in relation to conduct.” Under that standard, LeGrande should not be executed.

Unfair from the start

LeGrande’s case is the appalling story of zealous prosecutors exploiting a mentally ill man. Although I have seen progress in race relations in my lifetime, it is an undeniable fact that racism continues to play an insidious role in our criminal justice system. LeGrande’s exploitation was even more shameful because that same racism enveloped his case, creating an unfair climate from the start.LeGrande is black. The two men who planned every detail of the murder for which LeGrande faces execution are white. The central facts of the crime are not disputed. Tommy Munford harassed his wife for years and told even casual acquaintances that he wanted to “do [her] in.” He tried to recruit at least three people to kill her, offering to pay them from the proceeds of an insurance policy he had on her life. He established an alibi for himself by taking his two small children to the beach while she was killed.

Munford told the white man with whom he had planned the murder and who provided the murder weapon that he had found a “n—– from Wadesboro” to kill his wife. As a result of decisions by the prosecutors, this “n—– from Wadesboro” was the only person to face the death penalty for the murder.

Prosecutors freely acknowledged that Munford was the mastermind and driving force behind the murder. Nevertheless, they offered Munford an extraordinary deal for his testimony fingering LeGrande as the triggerman: Munford pled guilty to charges that leave him eligible for parole. The other white accomplice and co-conspirator was not even charged. [full text]

Peaceful Wishes for Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. May we soon, somehow, give thanks for a more peaceful and just world. Here’s an essay by Joyce Marcel, courtesy of Common Dreams:

Empty Chair and Empty Sleeves

At a concert last week in Massachusetts, Bob Dylan sang an old, old song called “John Brown,” while I imagined his head spinning with whiplash from the deja vu.

Why? The song, which he wrote in 1963, is today’s answer to “stay the course” and every dusty metal yellow ribbon stuck on cars and pick-up trucks in America.

A mother sends her son to war to do her proud: “Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get, and we’ll put them on the wall when you come home.”

But her son comes home blind, his face all shot off, his hand gone, and a metal brace around his waist. He can’t talk well, but he says, “I couldn’t help but think, through the thunder rolling and stink, that I was just a puppet in a play.” Then he drops his medals into his stunned mother’s hands and walks away.

It’s hard to fault the mothers and fathers who supported the Bush wars. They trusted their government. They trusted their president. They were lied to. They were terribly misled.

Thanksgiving is the day we’re supposed to be thankful for things: for family, for the true bounty of America from sea to shining sea, for turkey dinners whether they are caged or free-range, and for the recent election that threw out one of the most corrupt Congresses we’ve seen in many years.

So why am I spitting mad this Thanksgiving?

Because there will be too many empty chairs and empty sleeves this Thanksgiving. Too many mothers and fathers with cold medals in their hands. Too many men and women not coming back, or living in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, or still serving in hostile lands. [full text]

Skimming the Surface on Kids and Cocktails

Other than documenting the significant (and alarming) increase in the use of psychiatric drug cocktails on children over the last several years and the paucity of any research to substantiate such use, the following article in the New York Times adds little to the debate about how best to treat children with severe emotional and behavioral difficulties. Of particular concern is that the Times fails to mention the increasingly influential role of the pharmaceutical industry or to critically examine how and why children develop such difficulties, receive the diagnoses they do, and are deemed suitable for treatments that are, at best, experimental…

Proof Is Scant on Psychiatric Drug Mix for Young

Their rooms are a mess, their trophies line the walls, and both have profiles on MySpace.com. Stephen and Jacob Meszaros seem like typical teenagers until their mother offers a glimpse into the family’s medicine cabinet.

Bottles of psychiatric medications fill the shelves. Stephen, 15, takes the antidepressants Zoloft and Desyrel for depression, the anticonvulsant Lamictal to moderate his moods and the stimulant Focalin XR to improve concentration. Jacob, 14, takes Focalin XR for concentration, the anticonvulsant Depakote to moderate his moods, the antipsychotic Risperdal to reduce anger and the antihypertensive Catapres to induce sleep.

Over the last three years, each boy has been prescribed 28 different psychiatric drugs.

“Sometimes, when you look at all the drugs they’ve taken, you wonder, ‘Wow, did I really do this to my kids?’ � said their mother, Tricia Kehoe of Sharpsville, Pa. “But I’ve seen them without the meds, and there’s a major difference.�

There is little doubt that some psychiatric medicines, taken by themselves, work well in children. For example, dozens of studies have shown that stimulants improve attentiveness. A handful of other psychiatric drugs have proven effective against childhood obsessive compulsive disorder, among other problems.

But a growing number of children and teenagers in the United States are taking not just a single drug for discrete psychiatric difficulties but combinations of powerful and even life-threatening medications to treat a dizzying array of problems.

Last year in the United States, about 1.6 million children and teenagers — 280,000 of them under age 10 — were given at least two psychiatric drugs in combination, according to an analysis performed by Medco Health Solutions at the request of The New York Times. More than 500,000 were prescribed at least three psychiatric drugs. More than 160,000 got at least four medications together, the analysis found.

Many psychiatrists and parents believe that such drug combinations, often referred to as drug cocktails, help. But there is virtually no scientific evidence to justify this multiplication of pills, researchers say. A few studies have shown that a combination of two drugs can be helpful in adult patients, but the evidence in children is scant. And there is no evidence at all — “zero,� “zip,� “nil,� experts said — that combining three or more drugs is appropriate or even effective in children or adults. [full text]

Band-aids and Gimmicks, Georgia-Style

In a recent post, I reflected on some of the less than savory tactics currently being employed to catch pedophiles and how such seemed to offer “band-aids and gimmicks in lieu of substantive solutions.” Lo and behold, the state of Georgia has just enacted a law to deal with registered sex offenders that shows considerably more cruelty than common sense, as reported here by the Washington Post:

Some Curbs on Sex Offenders Called Ineffective, Inhumane

As convicted sex offenders go, they seem to pose little danger.

One is 100 years old. Another can barely walk and is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Another is dying of heart disease in a nursing home.

Yet under a new Georgia law, thousands of registered sex offenders, even the old and feeble, could be pushed from their homes and hospices.

“He doesn’t really know anything about it,” said Ruby Anderson, 77, whose husband was convicted of having sex with a minor in 1997 and, at 81, no longer recognizes members of his family because of Alzheimer’s disease. “The trouble is, I just don’t know where we can go.”

As states around the country have sought in recent years to control the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders, Georgia’s law stands out as one of the toughest, a testament to the daunting public fears regarding children’s safety.

The roughly 10,000 sex offenders living in Georgia have been forbidden to live within 1,000 feet of a school, playground, church or school bus stop. Taken together, the prohibitions place nearly all the homes in some counties off-limits — amounting, in a practical sense, to banishment.

“My intent personally is to make it so onerous on those that are convicted of these offenses . . . they will want to move to another state,” Georgia House Majority Leader Jerry Keen (R), who sponsored the bill, told reporters.

Since the law’s enactment in July, however, a federal judge, human rights advocates and even some of the sheriff’s departments that are supposed to enforce the measure have suggested that the zeal for safety may have gone too far.

The residency law applies not only to sexual predators but to all people registered for sexual crimes, including men and women convicted of having underage consensual sex while in high school. [full text]

On the Outs with Wal-Mart

Much as it pains me to do so, I must eat a little crow here. (The store was all out of turkey.) In the past, for reasons that I felt were amply justified, I had nothing but criticism for Wal-Mart. I termed them “the retailer everyone loves to hate� and decried them for their “bull-headed and bullying� ways. As it turns out, though, the company may not be entirely despicable (he says, damning them with faint praise). They may actually have a tolerant bone in their corporate body, even a genuine willingness to embrace diversity and oppose discrimination. Such faint but welcome signs of humanity are laudable. At least, one would think so:

Conservative plan to protest Wal-Mart

NEW YORK (AP) — Long under fire from the left, Wal-Mart is now a target of Christian conservatives urging shoppers to boycott the huge retailer’s post-Thanksgiving sales because of its low-key outreach to some gay-rights organizations.

One group, the American Family Association, is asking supporters to stay away from Wal-Mart on Friday and Saturday—two of the busiest shopping days of the year. Another group, Operation Save America, plans prayer-and-preaching rallies outside many Wal-Mart stores on Friday.

The corporate actions that triggered the protests were little different from those taken by scores of major companies in recent years—Wal-Mart paid $25,000 this summer to become a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and donated $60,000 to Out and Equal, which promotes gay-rights advances in the workplace.

Conservative leaders viewed these actions as a betrayal of Wal-Mart’s traditions, which have included efforts to weed out magazines with racy covers and CDs with explicit lyrics.

“This has been Christian families’ favorite store—and now they’re giving in, sliding down the slippery slope so many other corporations have gone down,� said the Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Save America. “They’re all being extorted by the radical homosexual agenda.� [full text]

Gee, I hardly know what to mock first, the notion that “radical homosexuals� are having their way with Wal-Mart or the fact that a Reverend named Flip is hawking such poppycock. While I’d like to believe that the good Reverend was just being flippant, I know better. Sadly, when Flip asserts that “every executive at Wal-Mart that allowed this to happen needs a good old fashioned spanking,� he means it. He says it with a straight face (which is a tad ironic, given that he apparently aches to administer some man-on-man discipline).

To be honest, it eludes me what the flap is all about. It’s not as though the Wal-Mart smiley face was caught doing meth with a gay hooker in the toiletries aisle. Flip and his conservative cohorts are making a mountin’ out of a molehill. Wal-Mart made $83.5 billion in net sales in the last fiscal quarter alone! The $85,000 that Wal-Mart contributed to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Out and Equal is roughly one ten-thousandth of one percent of one quarter’s net sales. It’s barely a drop in the bucket.

But I guess that’s one drop too many for those with a radical conservative agenda, who seemingly long for the halcyon days of unabashed gay bashing. Kudos to Wal-Mart for taking a modest step in the opposite direction from these wretched souls, who are clearly Christian in name only.

Olbermann Offers Lessons to the President

When it comes to television news, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC appears to have no peer. His willingness and ability to challenge the dominating paradigm with “Special Comments” that are at once eloquent and scathing make him a true treasure. Yesterday, Olbermann was at it again, this time assailing President Bush for failing to not only heed but even comprehend the lessons from the Vietnam War:

It is a shame and it is embarrassing to us all when President Bush travels 8,000 miles only to wind up avoiding reality again.

And it is pathetic to listen to a man talk unrealistically about Vietnam, who permitted the “Swift-Boating� of not one but two American heroes of that war, in consecutive presidential campaigns.

But most importantly — important beyond measure — his avoidance of reality is going to wind up killing more Americans.

And that is indefensible and fatal.

Asked if there were lessons about Iraq to be found in our experience in Vietnam, Mr. Bush said that there were, and he immediately proved he had no clue what they were.

“One lesson is,� he said, “that we tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take a while.�

“We’ll succeed,� the president concluded, “unless we quit.�

If that’s the lesson about Iraq that Mr. Bush sees in Vietnam, then he needs a tutor.

Or we need somebody else making the decisions about Iraq. [full text and video]

From Laughter to Tears in Iraq

In Iraq, even those who provide the welcome relief of laughter are targeted. What will it take, beyond the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops, for this senseless violence to cease?

From the Washington Post:

Spoofer of Iraq’s Chaos Becomes Another Victim

BAGHDAD, Nov. 20 — For the last three years, Walid Hassan had an impossible task. He had to make war-weary Iraqis laugh. Week after week, the comedian and broadcaster found inspiration in the turmoil and bloodletting. On his weekend television show, “Caricature,” he poked fun at the poor security, the long gas lines, the electricity blackouts and the ineffective politicians.

In Hassan’s world, nothing was sacred. And many Iraqis adored him. In a nation bottled up with frustration, he was their release. They would recognize him on the streets and uncork their plights. He would listen, and turn them into satire.

On Monday, Hassan, 47, a father of five children, became a victim of the war and chaos from which he drew his inspiration. A Shiite Muslim, he was found in the majority-Sunni neighborhood of Yarmouk in west Baghdad with multiple bullet wounds to his back and head, according to police. He was last seen by witnesses in a black car with a driver and two other passengers.

“He was a star in the galaxy of Iraqi arts,” said Ali Hanoon, the show’s director. “Now, he’s another sacrifice on the altar of this slaughtered country.”

Hassan, who also produced a political show, was the latest casualty in the Iraqi media world, which has suffered heavily since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 unleashed a wave of press freedom. So far, 133 reporters, cameramen and other media workers have been killed in Iraq, the vast majority of them Iraqi, according to Reporters Without Borders, a journalists advocacy group. [full text]

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