Saturday, December 31, 2011

Smorgasbord Saturday (New Year's Edition)

The Cost of Executing Monsters

This week the Idaho Department of Correction released the amount the state's execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades cost the state of Idaho. Not surprisingly for those who are familiar with the cost of carrying out the death penalty, the cost was great. The exact cost IDOC released to the press was $53,411, not including the construction of the new execution chamber (F Block, as it is named).

In an interestingly timed release, the IDOC stated the following:
BOISE, December 30, 2011 – The recent execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades, IDOC #26864, cost the Idaho Department of Correction $53,411.

Of the total, $25,583 went to employee overtime and $27,828 went to operating costs [...]

[...] Operating expenses include medical supplies, equipment rentals and meals. The total cost figure does not include salary and benefits paid to IDOC staff who would have been working regardless of whether or not there had been an execution. Only overtime costs that were accrued as a result of the event were included in the final tally.

The press release went on to compare the cost of the state of Idaho's execution of Rhoades with that of the state of Oregon as they prepared for the execution of an inmate who was ultimately granted a reprieve when the governor of that state placed a moratorium on executions. The two states were separated by merely a few thousand dollars. The insertion of this information in the press release may only be a way for the IDOC to explain to the general public that the cost is comparable to other states and other executions, but it seemed inappropriate to be announcing that we can kill a man in the name of our people for cheaper than another state can.

When the new execution chamber was revealed to the people of the state of Idaho prior to Rhoades' execution, we were told that the necessity presented itself when the state began to realize there would be several more executions in the coming years. Maybe that is so, unfortunately to those of us who would rather our state not take lives in our name, but it doesn't erase the cost.

As long as we choose to execute the monsters among us, there will be a cost.

The Finder

It's official, The Finder has it's own page on the FOX website! And they've been running ads for the hour-long show that will premiere on January 12, 2012 at 9/8c.

Check out this video for a preview of the show:

If you're not a regular watcher of Bones, you may have missed FOX introducing The Finder (aka Walter Sherman). They're calling it a spin-off of Bones, but the only connection I see is that both shows are based on a series of books and have the same creator. There isn't much of a connection between the two, other than the story line devised to introduce one show in the time slot of the other. The Finder is based on two amazing books by Richard Greener. Called The Locator series, Greener wrote The Knowland Retribution and The Lacey Confession centered on the unique gifts of a military veteran who can find nearly anything or anyone--lost, missing or stolen. Not unusually, there are some differences between the books and the soon to premiere tv show (just as there are differences between the books by Kathy Reichs and the Bones show). Most notably, there are far less characters in the tv show than in the book, one major character specifically. Differences aside, it looks to be a very entertaining show.

Given my track record of liking shows of late that are cancelled after a season or even less, I hope that Bones fans and fans of the Greener books will tune in and give this show a chance.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Smorgasbord Saturday

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TDIH: Pearl Harbor (70th Anniversary)

As today marks the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entering World War II, I thought the best place to find material to share would be the records from Hawaii. First word of the attack came through official channels and began the sending of this naval dispatch from the ranking United States naval officer in Pearl Harbor. This image is available through the Library of Congress American Memory website and comes from the papers of Admiral John Jennings Ballentine (1896-1970).

A simple search on the American Memory page for 'Pearl Harbor' brought up 859 items, though surely there are hundreds more related to the attack as well as our involvement in World War II. I highly recommend taking a look at their site and the items available on the site of the National American History Museum website, not just today on the 70th anniversary of this historic event, but as often as you have time. These items exist for us to examine and study so that we do not lose our understanding of history over generations.

To the men and women who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor as well as those who subsequently joined the armed forces, out of patriotism, duty or conscription, we will never forget you. Yours is our story.

Friday, December 2, 2011

TGIF Tunes

Lost most of the week to a trip at the beginning of it for a doctor's appointment. I'll get back into the swing of things next week. In the meantime, here's an interesting video I ran across that merges a few really interesting elements. Javier Colon, for those of you who didn't watch The Voice, is someone special. Add in a Ken Block of Sister Hazel and Mark Bryan of Hootie and the Blowfish and you get this very interesting version of "Let Her Cry" (only thing missing is Darius Rucker). Enjoy!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tom Wicker, Dead at 85

The New York Times announced the sad news that Tom Wicker has passed away of a heart attack at 85. From their piece:
"The searing images of that day [November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated]— the rifleman’s shots cracking across Dealey Plaza, the wounded president lurching forward in the open limousine, the blur of speed to Parkland Memorial Hospital and the nation’s anguish as the doctors gave way to the priests and a new era — were dictated by Mr. Wicker from a phone booth in stark, detailed prose drawn from notes scribbled on a White House itinerary sheet. It filled two front-page columns and the entire second page, and vaulted the writer to journalistic prominence overnight."
Wicker's death is just another reminder that there are becoming fewer and fewer men and women still alive who were associated with or covered the Kennedy assassination.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Presidential Assassinations

From the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian comes this tweet and link on the 48th anniversary of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald. I highly recommend following the link--it takes you to a page of items housed at the museum in an exhibit called "Life and Death in the White House." The items on the page are all related to the Kennedy assassination, but if you take a look around you can find items related to the assassinations of Lincoln and Garfield as well. There may be items related to the assassination of McKinley, I just didn't spot them right away. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Daily Rundown: JFK Assassination

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

One of the few topics I find Chris Matthews to be credible when discussing is President Kennedy. This morning on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown," he discussed today's 48th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rhoades Postscript

With two witnesses representing each of Paul Ezra Rhoades' victims, four members of the Idaho press, and various government as well as law enforcement officials, the state of Idaho executed a man convicted of three murders. Rhoades became the twenty-eighth prisoner to be executed in Idaho since 1864. Twenty-eight have been executed, none since 1994, and yet the pro-death penalty, conservative Governor of Idaho wasn't even in the state when the execution occurred. In fact, Governor Otter wasn't even in the continental United States, but the execution of Paul Ezra Rhoades was carried out. We ask this state to take the life of a convicted inmate in our name, but we don't ask that the leader of our state be in attendance.

My profound disappointment in what happened Friday morning does not begin and end with my opposition to the death penalty. I once said that I was grateful to live in a state that isn't as blasé about executions as Texas and that opinion was challenged by the blasé way the governor treated Friday's execution. The head of the Department of Corrections and the attorney general looked as if they hadn't slept in days, yet the governor was in Hawaii at an annual conference. It's unfortunate, to say the least. Despite the state politics and the divisive issues that surround the death penalty, there were far greater disappointments in what happened Friday. Continuing with how I've approached the topic, I highly encourage perusing the following articles regarding Friday's timeline, Rhoades' final words and the many reactions to the execution:
The most disappointing and horrible part of what happened Friday came in Rhoades' final words. By executing him and asking for his final words, the state of Idaho gave Paul Rhoades one last opportunity to inflict pain on his victims' families. Not only does the death penalty allow for pain to continue to be inflicted on those closest to these cases through the long and constitutionally granted appeals process, it gives monsters a pulpit and an audience to say incredibly hurtful things. All of this could be avoided by leaving him to rot in prison for the rest of his days.

It was always Rhoades' modus operandi to inflict unnecessary pain and he did so once again Friday in denying his involvement in two of the murders for which he was convicted, two murders that he unequivocally committed. Only a monster could do this, a monster given the pulpit in which to say as much. As a friend of one of Rhoades' victims uttered as it was determined that Rhoades was dead, "the Devil has gone home." Indeed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

TGIF Tunes

Keeping with last week's Warren Zevon theme, I thought I'd share this video of Wagons & Joe Pug covering Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money." Was actually recommended on Twitter by Braves beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dave O'Brien. Not a bad way to end a day that has been rather dark, literally and figuratively.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Idaho's Twenty-Eighth

Tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. the death warrant for Paul Ezra Rhoades will be read. He will have already been moved to Idaho's new execution chamber and at 8:10 a.m. the lethal injection is scheduled to begin. Within minutes, Paul Ezra Rhoades will be the twenty-eighth prisoner to be executed by the state of Idaho since 1864.

Paul Ezra Rhoades has exhausted all appeals, including asking for and being denied a stay of execution by the United States Supreme Court. Barring an unforeseen granting of clemency, Rhoades will be executed tomorrow morning.

To further understand Rhoades' case, his appeals, the execution process, and Idaho's history of executions, I highly recommend the following:
It is unfortunate that the state of Idaho will not be allowing the media witnesses to view each step of the execution. In fact, Rhoades will spend twenty-five minutes in the execution chamber without any witnesses present. It is not out of any morbid fascination that we should demand that the press be witness to such a gruesome event. It is so that we can ensure that the letter of the law is followed when the state carries out an execution. It is out of respect for and protection of the First Amendment that we should demand the press access to each step of the execution process. It is so we, as residents of the state of Idaho, can fully realize the actions we allow our elected leaders to take in our name. Tomorrow's execution of Rhoades is, after all, the taking of a life by the state of Idaho in the name of justice and protection of the people of this state.

I cannot state any clearer why this matters than the Idaho Statesman editorial board did today: "The state that kills in the name of its people should be completely and fully accountable to its people." Unfortunately, tomorrow's execution is not being treated with the sensitivity such an event demands. The leaders of this state, both in the governor's office and the Department of Corrections, are behaving as if the executing of a prisoner is just business as usual. When I stated that I was grateful to live in a state that isn't as blasé about executions as Texas, I never imagined that when the time came to execute a death row inmate, the governor would feel no obligation to be in the state and we would deny the media access to the execution in its entirety.

Yes, you read that right, though Idaho Governor Butch Otter has received hundreds of letters addressed directly to him regarding the execution of Rhoades, Otter is in Hawaii and Lt. Governor Brad Little is currently at the helm. Neither have expressed any opposition to the death penalty and it is doubtful that the many out-of-state letters asking for clemency will outweigh the hundreds of comments the governor has received from Idahoans in support of tomorrow's execution. Idahoans fall largely on the side of vengeance (vengeance was something I discussed here) when it comes to the whether or not a convicted killer like Rhoades should be executed. The state that is resoundingly pro-life, the life of a man on death row is not to be shown mercy. Instead, Idahoans will sit quietly by, some surely cheering, as the state of Idaho takes a life in our name.

Tomorrow Idaho will continue, business as usual, and chances are there won't be seventeen years between this execution and our next. Will Idaho's twenty-eighth teach us anything?

Update: The state of Idaho executed Paul Ezra Rhoades Friday, November 18th at 9:15 a.m. (MST).

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Tribute to Rep. Allen Andersen

Allen Andersen's parents were buried in Arbon Valley, Idaho where they spent most of their lives farming. As a young man, Allen spent a great deal of time in Arbon Valley as well, though he attended school in Pocatello. It's fitting that Allen, the former state representative, will be laid to rest in the city to which he devoted so much of his life.

For those of us who knew Allen, it came as a great shock when he passed away last week of a sudden heart attack. If others who knew Allen were at all like me, the shock of it all left us struggling to put into words what Allen meant to us. One word that consistently came up when I spoke to others who knew Allen was kind. Allen was one of the kindest people I ever had the privilege of knowing. His sincere kindness was a constant, as was his sense of humor.

Not only did Allen serve in the Idaho House of Representatives and as chairman of the Bannock County Democrats, he most recently served as co-chair of the first Idaho Redistricting Commission. But Allen's service didn't begin and end with politics. As a former teacher and regional director of the Idaho Education Association, Allen's heart belonged to public education. His more than two decades advocating for public education touched thousands of lives. The Idaho Education Association's collection of responses to the passing of Allen Andersen speaks to how deeply he was loved by his friends and colleagues.

For me personally, Allen Andersen was both a friend and mentor. I came to greatly appreciate his gentle friendship and deeply admired his dedication to public service. Allen was never content with a simple handshake, instead always offering a hug. I was blessed to co-host a local access television show for the Bannock County Democrats with Allen and will always cherish those segments as well as the wealth of knowledge he shared with me during filming. I was also blessed to have the opportunity to campaign for Allen in 2006 when he, James Ruchti and Diane Bilyeu were running for District 29 legislative seats. The truth is, it was one of the easiest campaigning efforts ever due to everyone loving Allen. When I was involved in student government at ISU, Allen was very supportive of everything I was doing and we had many a conversation that ended with him encouraging me to run for Pocatello City Council. That was never in the cards for me, but his confidence in me and support of my goals will never be forgotten. Allen's passing leaves a void in my life and the lives of so many.

There are few people who have so completely and passionately devoted their lives to public service the way Allen Andersen had. This state would be the better for it if more approached public service as Allen did. His presence in Idaho politics, public education, his church, and his community will be deeply missed. Though we will all miss him greatly, the mark he left on our lives and hearts will never be forgotten.

[This piece was cross-posted at 43rd State Blues. The photo that appears here was attained from the Cornelison Funeral Home with permission of the Andersen family.]

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Buck!

Today would have been the great Buck O'Neil's 100th birthday. Take a look at this local NBC video about the Buck O'Neil exhibit at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

Friday, November 11, 2011

TGIF Tunes

They tell me love requires
A little standing in line
-- Warren Zevon, "Searching for a Heart"

In the closing moments of this week's Covert Affairs, Rebecca Pidgeon's cover of Warren Zevon's "Searching for a Heart" played. I'd forgotten how much I love this song. The video is a 1991 performance of the song by Zevon on Letterman. Check out Zevon's son Jordan performing the same song on Letterman after his father's death. Rebecca Pidgeon's version is now available at iTunes.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

IDP on Allen Andersen's Passing

Editor's Note: The Idaho Democratic Party released the following statement on the untimely passing of former state representative, redistricting commission co-chair, and county party chairman Allen Andersen. I'm still trying to find the words to express how sad I am about Allen's passing. My thoughts are with Allen's wife, Bev, their children and grandchildren.

(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hitchcock: What's Wrong With Class Warfare?

Editor's Note: The following article was submitted to the Idaho State Journal by Professor Leonard Hitchcock. Hitchcock is a professor emeritus at Idaho State University.


Republicans have reacted to the Occupy Wall Street movement with contempt for the cause and disgust at the participants. They have revived epithets they once reserved for the hippies, and stigmatized the demonstrators collectively as a “mob” that is engaged in “class warfare.” This reaction is, needless to say, just as it should be, for Republicans are the defenders of precisely that class of Americans against which the protests are directed.

It’s unclear, however, whether Republicans deplore class warfare simply because their interests are threatened by it, or because they believe it to be un-American to assume that classes exist in this country, or perhaps because, while admitting that there are classes, they reject the notion that the ruling class in American is anything but deserving and beneficent.

It is unlikely, I think, that any Republican could be so willfully blind to the economic facts as to deny that there is a describable class of American citizens that are properly called “the super-rich”. Nor could any Republican pretend not to know that though there was a time when such a class was composed of “captains of industry,” the current crop of those enjoying multiple dwellings, yachts, private jets and Lamborghinis have largely amassed their wealth by figuring out ways to make the money that they already possess multiply like rabbits, without, in the process, producing anything of tangible value or use to the general public. There may be the occasional Bill Gates or Steve Jobs among that class, but, to a considerable extent, these billionaires have never made a widget in their lives. Instead, they’ve contrived ways of doing clever things with loans, mortgages and securities that bring in floods of profit without employing anyone but bankers and accountants.

But let’s be fair: even if there is a layer of the hyper-affluent that floats atop the national economy like pond scum, that doesn’t justify class warfare. After all, the rich, as the Bible says, will always be with us. What entitles us to blame them for our troubles? To answer that question, let’s consider an archetypal case of class warfare, the French Revolution.

By the latter half of the 18th century, France had indulged itself in several unnecessary wars -- wars that it had funded largely by borrowing money. Since the higher strata of French society -- the clergy, the nobility and, the King and his bureaucracy -- had become accustomed to lives of considerable ease and opulence, when the country found itself deeply in debt it sought frantically to increase the national income, largely through the imposition of new taxes and higher tax rates. Because the privileged classes were legally exempt from the most severe of these taxes, and successfully evaded most of the others, the burden of taxation fell, perforce, upon the lower and middle classes.

The French peasantry was, at that time, experiencing greater poverty than it had endured during the Middle-Ages. What little protection the mutual obligations of serf and lord had provided for them during the Feudal period had now vanished and the land-owning classes aimed only to extract more profit from their estates. Peasants paid taxes to clerical and noble land-owners for the right to work the fields and then paid consumption taxes on the wretched provender that kept them alive. They had no voice whatsoever in local village government because the Crown made it a practice to sell municipal positions to the highest bidders to augment the state’s income.

In the cities, members of the urban working class were treated like beasts of burden by the bourgeoisie and the upper classes. Few had work on a regular basis, most lived close to starvation, and their political power was nil. Beneath them were swarms of unemployed beggars, prostitutes, and petty criminals, all of whom lived in even greater misery than the working class.

It was perfectly clear to any member of the lower classes that his enemy was not just the king, or his local landowner, or his bourgeois employer; it was the entire class of owners and exploiters, those who collectively ran the country and arranged the affairs of state to benefit themselves. It was also clear that those privileged classes, however much they might be in conflict with one another, had a shared interest in preserving their hegemony over the lower classes, and every intention of preserving the system that provided them with lives of luxury and security.

And what is our current situation, those of us who belong to the 99%? We seem to live in a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy. The rich write the tax laws and the banking regulations. The rich buy the politicians and are therefore able to reimburse themselves from the public till when their investment gambles fail. The corporate aristocracy has emerged from the economic catastrophe that it caused richer and more powerful than before. It seems capable of decimating the public sector, of crippling organized labor, and of thwarting those who seek to implement traditional measures to aid the unemployed and the helpless. Is that aristocracy not the ruling class, and have we no cause to go into the streets to denounce it?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Idaho Reports: Reinke Interview

This interview footage comes via Idaho Reports and features Idaho Department of Corrections Director Brent Reinke. Reinke discusses the process that IDOC is going through as they prepare for the looming execution of death row inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades. It's a lengthy interview, but really worth the time.

Thanks to host Greg Hahn and Idaho Public Television for permission to post this video in full.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Smorgasbord Saturday

Editor's Note: The piece I've been working on for three weeks has been delayed once again due to me being under the weather. In the meantime, here are some links that caught my attention this week and deserve a read.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Changing Tide?

Since the Idaho Department of Corrections announced that Paul Ezra Rhoades had been served with a death warrant scheduling him for execution on November 18, 2011, there has been a wide array of reaction. Idahoans from all corners of the state have expressed a range of reactions from relief and what can only be categorized as a display of vengeance* to disappointment and opposition.

It may not be all that telling that in this state, one of the most conservative in the Union, that many wholeheartedly believe in the death penalty. There are not only thousands of Idahoans who believe in the death penalty, there are many who believe that inmates like Rhoades have been given too many appeals and too much time on death row before being executed. I've read many comments at various sites in the past week from people who would throw out due process and the right to appeal in favor of speedy vengeance against predators like Rhoades. These, of course, are the same folks who claim to love and defend the Constitution. In Idaho even conservative Catholics are divided on the issue of the death penalty despite the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops stating that the death penalty is no longer necessary and Christians should work to rehabilitate criminals through God. It probably isn't, but should be, surprising that officials at the Idaho Department of Corrections actually have volunteered to carry out the execution.

What is more telling, I believe, is the varied reaction of those closest to the case. Following the announcement of the execution date, a former homicide detective with the Bonneville County Sheriff's Office said he hopes that the execution of Rhoades will bring closure to the families of his victims as well as to the myriad of law enforcement officials who are associated with the case. When the family of victim Nolan Haddon was asked for comment regarding the announcement, one brother stated that Rhoades' execution may bring relief to the community while another brother of the victim said there will never be closure for the Haddon family. I, too, am of the opinion that there will never be closure for the families of Rhoades' victims whether Rhoades is alive or not.

What is also telling and may reflect a changing tide in Idaho is what the media is saying about the Rhoades execution. The Twin Falls Times-News, hardly a bastion of liberal thinking, said in an editorial that they do not believe that the state of Idaho "should be the agent of the guilty party's death." They also went on to make two very good points about the construction of a new death chamber, what the Department of Corrections is calling "F Block", and the seemingly unjust nature of executions in a state that has executed relatively few inmates since statehood:
"We don’t believe it makes sense for the state to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new execution chamber. We don’t think it is just punishment when, over a course of 54 years, only three men are executed out of a death row population that has numbered dozens during that time span."
As a native Idahoan myself, I am grateful to live in a state that isn't as blasé about executions as, say, Texas. However, I agree with the Times-News that the state of Idaho hardly had the money to spend on a new and unnecessary execution chamber. I also adamantly agree with the Times-News' assertion that the practice of executing prisoners seems unjust when it has been utilized in such a way.

One last point. The Times went on to make one more point that may be the crux of why there seems to be a changing tide when it comes to public opinion and the death penalty: "[The death penalty] has never proven to be an effective deterrent; there is no agreement that execution is less costly than incarcerating someone for life." We have the ability to incarcerate individuals for life who have committed horrific crimes. There has been no proof that executing death row inmates deters crimes like those of Rhoades in any way. And if the brother of Nolan Haddon is a bellwether, there is absolutely no closure for the families of victims taken at the hands of a monster like Paul Ezra Rhoades. If there is no closure to come from it and no just way of administering it, what is achieved by executing a prisoner who could instead spend the rest of his life behind bars?
*To better understand how I came to refer to some of the responses to Rhoades' execution date as vengeance, I encourage you to wade through the comments left following this thoughtful, reasoned piece by Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman. Where Richert was dispassionate (his word, not mine), the responses were anything but.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Cost of Executions

Today AP reporter Rebecca Boone has a fascinating article about the new execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution south of Boise where death row inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades will be executed next month. Because I mentioned the cost to the prison officials who are responsible for carrying out the execution in my post on the Rhoades execution, I found the following portion of the Boone piece insightful:
"It's also a weighty issue for the prison employees who will be involved in the process, [Idaho Department of Correction Operations Chief Kevin Kempf]. But whether they are involved or not, all prison officials are keeping the victims' families in mind, he said.

" 'Our hearts, literally, are with the victims. This obviously cannot be a very easy time for them and certainly what they have gone through to get to this point is an incredible amount of tragedies,'
Kempf said. 'That said, yes, this is impactful to our staff, to everyone involved in this thing. You have to have a level of toughness just to do this job every single day.' "
Many of us certainly wouldn't have the "level of toughness" Kempf speaks of and I for one would undoubtedly refuse to be involved in the execution of a prisoner. The words of the former prison officials in Georgia who opposed the execution of Troy Davis bear repeating:
"Like few others in this country, we understand that you have a job to do in carrying out the lawful orders of the judiciary. We also understand, from our own personal experiences, the awful lifelong repercussions that come from participating in the execution of prisoners...

"Living with the nightmares is something that we know from experience. No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a lifelong sentence of nagging doubt, and for some of us, shame and guilt. Should our justice system be causing so much harm to so many people when there is an alternative?"
Unfortunately, the state of Idaho is not going to suddenly decide against the execution of prisoners. So, as the 18th of November approaches, I hope we will all keep in mind both the families of Rhoades' victims as well as the men and women at the Idaho Department of Corrections who must carry out the execution of Rhoades.

[Editor's Note: The portion of Rebecca Boone's piece that is quoted here was done with her generous permission.]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Rhoades Execution

Today the Idaho Department of Corrections announced that inmate Paul Ezra Rhoades had been served with a death warrant. The state of Idaho will execute the death row inmate on November 18th. It will be the first execution of a prisoner conducted by the state of Idaho since 1994. Having exhausted all of his appeals, including a lawsuit against the state challenging the legality of the method of execution, he will be put to death by lethal injection.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you likely noticed last month when my attention turned to the Georgia execution of Troy Davis. As I said repeatedly then, I cannot, will not and do not support the death penalty. The case of Troy Davis made the news because there was a complete lack of proof of his guilt. Uproar surrounding the execution of Troy Davis arose due to his apparent innocence. That was not the only reason to oppose his execution. Those of us opposed to the death penalty also had our sights on an execution taking place in Texas--the execution of Lawrence Russell Brewer. Brewer was found guilty of the murder of James Byrd, Jr. and there was never any doubt as to his guilt. The Brewer and Davis cases could not have been any more different, but their result the same. I find it perplexing when others support putting to death one prisoner, Brewer, but not another, Davis.

My personal belief about the death penalty takes into account two things. First, as was discussed around the execution of Troy Davis, the impact of carrying out an execution on the lives of the prison guards, staff, doctors and wardens. Taking a life, even if it is state sanctioned has horrendous costs. And second, the potential of executing an innocent man. Far too many men and women on death row have been exonerated which suggests the obvious--that the justice system is not perfect and mistakes are made. The exonerations also mean that inevitably we have put to death innocent prisoners.

Despite believing that the death penalty is flawed, as is the justice system that accounts for inmates on death row, I have found the announcement that Idaho will execute Paul Ezra Rhoades challenging. I find it challenging not because I believe he should be put to death for his crimes, but because I thought about how it reflects on me that I don't. Why do I say this? A personal connection.

Paul Ezra Rhoades was convicted in Idaho of three murders, though all told he is believed to have murdered at least six people. One of the three murders he was convicted of in Idaho was the sister of a family friend. I know what her death did to her family. I have seen the cost, the pain and the anger. However, knowing what I do, I cannot fathom any amount of closure or relief coming from the state executing Rhoades. It will not bring back his victims and it will not make what he did any less evil. If the law enforcement officials who brought Rhoades to justice will not find any satisfaction in his execution, what satisfaction can the state find in their killing him?

Unfortunately, in my life I have known the families of two victims of horrific murders. The murderer of the first victim was convicted and sentenced to death, but died on death row before the state could execute him. Why I say I have been challenged by how it reflects on me that I don't believe Rhoades should be executed is because I have thankfully never before been in the position to question how my opposition to the death penalty meshed with knowing the pain, loss and anger of someone whose loved one was taken by someone who is actually about to be executed. My personal connection in this case has only solidified my belief that the death penalty serves no reasonable purpose. It brings no closure. It deters no crime. It kills the guilty and occasionally the innocent. Is that a trade we are willing to make? I'm not. It solves no problem that lifetime incarceration can't. It sanctions the act of vengeance without returning the innocence that was lost in the commission of the crime itself. The cost is just too high.

When Paul Ezra Rhoades is put to death on November 18th, nothing will have changed for the families of his victims and his death will eliminate no major burden for the state of Idaho. He will simply be the fourteenth inmate executed in Idaho since statehood and one less person on Idaho's death row.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"The Most Powerful Man in the World"

The trailer for J. Edgar is very intriguing. Written by Dustin Lance Black, writer of Milk, and directed by the brilliant Clint Eastwood, it could be a major contender come awards season. One thing is certain, the film tagline--"The Most Powerful Man in the World"--isn't far off. J. Edgar hits theaters next month.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Smorgasbord Saturday

Friday, October 14, 2011

TGIF Tunes

It's been a rough day, topping off a rough week. Seems music may be the only cure. Here's the first video released from the new Bush album Sea of Memories. "The Sound of Winter" was also the first single off the album.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Blue Elephant

Want to see something amazing that turned up in a thrift store in the Treasure Valley? Even if you don't:

Why would I want a blue elephant figurine emblazened with "G.O.P."? This is why:

Yes, this figurine originated in one of Herman Welker's two campaigns for the United States Senate. Welker, as those of you familiar with Idaho history may remember, served in the U.S. Senate for one term before being defeated by Frank Church. Welker is also responsibile for something else important in Idaho history--he recommended a young Harmon Killebrew to then-owner of the Washington Senators Clark Griffith who sent a scout out to Idaho and the rest is baseball history.

A big thanks to the friend who spotted it and knew exactly who Welker was and that I would value this piece of Idaho history.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

More Than A Stretch

No-longer-Idaho's-problem & AFA wingnut Bryan Fischer said at the Values Voter Summit that by singing "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch of Major League Baseball games, another terrorist attack like 9/11 has been prevented. Seriously. That's exactly what he said. From saying Mitt Romney is not qualified to be president because he's weak on the issue of marriage to saying baseball's 7th inning stretch is keeping us safe from terrorist attacks...and all in less than a week! Mississippi, he's your problem now.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hitchcock: Further Questions About Tolerance

Editor's Note: This is part 2 of the article I posted Friday by Professor Hitchcock. It was submitted to the Idaho State Journal for consideration and is published here with his permission. Scroll down for part 1 or you can follow this link.


If, as I suggested in a previous column, tolerance consists in restraining the desire to “act out” one’s disapproval of others’ behaviors or beliefs, the question then becomes: what degree of restraint is required? If total restraint is exercised, there will be no behavioral manifestations of disapproval whatsoever, including speech. No doubt there are circumstances under which this degree of inhibition, whether theoretically necessary or not, is the wisest course of action. If, for example, I am convinced that my daughter-in-law is raising my grandchildren to be savages, silence may be the best way for me to practice tolerance.

Silence is also something often recommended by parents. How often did our mothers say: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?” Of course many of us failed to follow that admonition and therefore encountered another piece of childhood wisdom: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However untrue that may be for children (or adults), we Americans have tended to regard critical and abusive speech as not only harmless, but, in a certain sense, privileged.

The right to not remain silent is, of course, assured to us by our Constitution, and the rationale for that right is generally understood to be that democracies function most effectively if all opinions on topics of social interest are heard and discussed. In the “marketplace of ideas”, the more competing opinions there are, the greater the chance that the truth will be recognized and acted upon. Moreover, as John Stuart Mill argues in On Liberty, a person whose opinions are borrowed from others and who has never personally tested those opinions against the full spectrum of contrary opinions cannot be rightfully said to hold them at all. The public conflict of ideas is thus as essential to the individual’s intellectual integrity as it is to the welfare of society. As a result, the expression of opinion is much more than a right: it is an obligation.

If, then, giving voice to one’s opinions serves the best interests of both society and the individual, it would seem very odd to stigmatize all those who do so as intolerant. We must conclude that, under most circumstances, acting out one’s disapproval through speech is not incompatible with being tolerant.

Some might suppose, nonetheless, that though speech, per se, is not intolerant, the manner of speech may be, for a speaker may show insufficient restraint in his or her choice of words. Mill thought that the manner of expression was irrelevant. He pointed out that those holding minority view are often condemned for abusive language, while the prevailing majority’s inflamed rhetoric is ignored. A local illustration of this is a recent ISJ “Faith” column by a Pocatello minister who asserted that all those who embrace “the lie,” (i.e. the view that god does not exist), are selfish, narcissistic, rebellious, disdainful of the lives and property of others and actively engaged in destroying morality, peace, and culture. No one was moved to publicly question the ferocity of this attack, much less accuse the minister of intolerance.

That minister’s vehemence in his denunciation of atheists might well remind us of the historical roots of the concept of tolerance. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that when and wherever Christians have had the ability to do so, they have not just willingly, but eagerly, persecuted those who did not share their beliefs. Pagans, Jews, Muslims, and heretics faced not only denunciation, but oppression, exile, torture, death. By the end of the 17th century, religious wars between Catholics and Protestants had raged in Europe for one hundred and fifty years. In 1689 the English philosopher John Locke, fearful that his homeland was about to witness an outbreak of this warfare, sent a long essay to a friend in Holland which came to be known as the Letter Concerning Toleration. In it he argued that it was both inconsistent with the principles of Christianity, and beyond the legitimate purview of civil government, to use force or the threat of force to extirpate or inhibit the practice of religious beliefs with which someone disagreed. Hence, sectarians and governments alike must tolerate all religious beliefs and practices.

It seems sensible to extend this conception of religious tolerance to tolerance in general, i.e. to conclude that the sort of restraint tolerance requires is an unwillingness to engage in the use of coercive force to halt or impede behaviors and beliefs of which we disapprove. That seems satisfactory, as far as it goes, but important questions remain unanswered. Is it, for example, intolerant to circulate a petition that seeks to create a law banning certain behaviors or beliefs? Laws, after all, represent intolerance that is socially-approved, and because of that approval we don’t usually regard as intolerant those who support and enforce them – nor, perhaps, those who campaign to enact them. But then sometimes we do, as in the case of the infamous Jim Crow laws. Why is this the case?

It seems clear that a satisfactory analysis of tolerance must go beyond this column’s conclusions regarding the proper definition of a tolerant act. What must also be explored is the substantive question that lies at the heart of the matter: what sorts of beliefs and behaviors actually deserve to be treated with tolerance?

Friday, September 30, 2011

TGIF Tunes

"I Won't Let You Go" by James Morrison from The Awakening.

Hitchcock: What Does It Mean to Be Tolerant?

Editor's Note: The following article was submitted to the Idaho State Journal by Professor Leonard Hitchcock and appears here with his permission. Part 2 will be available in the coming days.


The word “tolerance” has often been bandied about in letters and op-ed pieces in the Idaho State Journal, most recently in connection with a letter that rather forcefully attacked Pocatello’s gay pride celebration and those who advocate the elimination of prayer at city council meetings.

It seems to be generally agreed by users of the word that it is a good thing to be tolerant and a bad thing to be intolerant. But beyond this general sense of approval or disapproval, it’s hard to discern exactly what the words are intended to convey.

What is it to be a “tolerant” person? It’s not implausible to think that the ideally tolerant person is one who values human diversity and hence accepts, or perhaps even welcomes, behaviors and beliefs that differ from his or her own. Such a person could be said to have, at a minimum, a “live-and-let-live attitude” or, more probably, to agree with that memorable expression from the sixties and cheerfully acknowledge that there are “different strokes for different folks.”

Yet the preceding conception of what tolerance amounts to may not find favor among many. The notion that a tolerant person must take a positive view of other people’s differing behaviors and beliefs may seem excessive, if not downright wrong-headed. It might be thought more accurate to say that a tolerant person should be non-judgmental about such things. There is a local church that advertises itself as “less judgmental,” which seems to mean the same thing as “more tolerant.” So perhaps all that is required is that a tolerant person refuse to make judgments or form opinions. This does, indeed, echo traditional Christian advice from the pulpit, such as “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” yet, in practice, it is difficult advice to follow, for more often than not, we form judgments quickly and involuntarily. It’s important to notice, here, that the discussion is now focused upon negative judgments. From the present perspective, it is the disapproval of others upon which tolerance crucially depends, not the acceptance of them.

But if it’s true that our minds are so plentifully supplied with categories of wrong-doing and wrong-believing that we rarely undergo a conscious decision-making process when making negative judgments, and hence that withholding judgment is not really an option, what, then, can being tolerant consist in? The obvious answer is: in not expressing those judgments.

In giving this answer, we have entered a very ancient current of moral thought.
We’ve reached two conclusions regarding tolerance: 1) the person who is being tolerant must disapprove of or dislike the thing, person, or behavior being tolerated, and 2) the tolerant person must intentionally refraining from “acting out” that disapproval. That puts tolerance within the traditional domain of “virtuous” behaviors, since at the heart of “virtue” is a willingness and ability to exercise control over certain appetites and urges. The courageous person suppresses fear and carries out his or her duty on the battlefield; the temperate person reins in the desire for food and drink; the generous person overcomes selfishness, the honest person fights off the urge to lie. And the tolerant person restrains the desire to act out feelings of anger and disapproval.

It is, at the same time, an odd consequence of this way of thinking about virtues that the degree of praiseworthiness of virtuous behavior is directly proportional to the strength of the urges that are suppressed. Hence, one who naturally feels little fear deserves less credit for courageous behavior than one who experiences intense terror and is able to conquer it. From that same perspective, the most virtuously tolerant person is someone who manages to exercise restraint while harboring the deepest and most passionately hostile feelings and opinions. That easy-going, live-and-let-live sort of person we discussed earlier is definitely not going to shine in the tolerance department.

Another interesting component of the concept of tolerance, consistent with its being a virtue, is that it can be overdone; that is to say, it’s possible to be too tolerant. Most people agree that one must not tolerate that which is a serious moral wrong, nor, in most cases, that which is not legally permissible. Unfortunately not much more can be said than that, because there is evidently great disagreement among people about exactly which behaviors are morally intolerable, and even about what circumstances might render law-breaking acceptable.

Many questions remain about the nature of tolerance, e.g.: exactly what degree of restraint is sufficient to merit the label “tolerant?”; why are the histories of tolerance and religion so closely intertwined?; and how does tolerance relate to freedom of speech? I will address these questions in a future column.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Miles Davis: Twenty Years

The Miles Davis single "No Blues" from the bootleg Live in Europe 1967 series is available from iTunes this week for free.

This download is fourteen minutes of what jazz is supposed to be. It was recorded live November 2, 1967 in Tivoli Konsertsal, Copenhagen, Denmark.

I highly recommend this download. Especially on this, the twentieth anniversary of his death.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day

"My mother was a warrior...Her weapons of choice were compassion, an enormous heart, a sharp intellect and a competitive spirit. She used her full arsenal of talents to fight for those who were not viewed by society to be capable, to be fully human, to be deserving of the opportunity to play, to compete, and to contribute to their community worldwide."
-- Maria Shriver on her mother, Eunice, for the Huffington Post

It is no coincidence that Eunice Kennedy Shriver is one of the seven individuals I have spotlighted on my blog masthead. Her life will remain an inspiration to thousands of individuals for decades to come and has been an inspiration to me for most of my own life. It is only fitting that a woman who gave so much to her family, her community, her country and eventually the entire world would be celebrated today. Today is Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day.

To gain an understanding of who Eunice Kennedy Shriver was, it is impossible to simply say she was the founder of Special Olympics and leave it at that. She was that and so much more. Many would say she was the sister of Jack, Bobby and Teddy. She was that and so much more. She was also the wife of Sarge Shriver, but yet so much more. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was and will always be the person who truly opened our eyes to the kindness, joy and capability of an entire minority of Americans--the disabled.

Eunice, like me and millions of Americans, had a family member who was disabled. I often wonder if Rosemary, Eunice's sister, knew what her life inspired. The Kennedy family became leading advocates of the disabled and introduced this nation to the joy they can bring to our lives. The Kennedy family, led by the advocacy of Eunice, taught acceptance and ability. To this day the children of Eunice, through her beloved Special Olympics and numerous other organizations, are leading the charge for acceptance and inclusion.

Could Eunice have helped her brothers' campaigns and left it at that? Of course, but not Eunice. Could Eunice have helped her husband push the Peace Corps toward a future mark of 200,000 Americans serving in 139 countries? Of course, but not Eunice. In 1968 she created the Special Olympics and was intricate to its success, leading it to eventual international status with more than 3 million athletes in nearly 180 countries. What is truly impressive about the Kennedy family is, and always has been, that they have never been content with simply running for and holding office.

There are few Americans born after 1968 who have any interest at all in the Kennedy family or truly grasp the legacy of the Kennedy brothers. Americans born after 1980 have no memory of a Kennedy brother running for president. Few Americans my age and younger know anything about the Kennedy sisters. Many Americans do not even know or could name the generation of Kennedys that includes a congressman who just left office (Patrick Kennedy), California's former first lady (Maria Shriver, who has an impressive list of causes she supports as well), a city councilman (Bobby Shriver) or a former gubernatorial candidate and Lieutenant Governor (Kathleen Kennedy Townsend) and those are the Kennedys on the front lines of public service.

There are Kennedys who run amazing non-profits and distinguished organizations as well (Jean Kennedy Smith, Very Special Arts; Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Timothy Shriver, now at the helm of Special Olympics International; Anthony Shriver, Best Buddies International; Mark Shriver, Save the Children; Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation & Amnesty International Leadership Council; Joe Kennedy, Citizens Energy; Max Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Natural Resources Defense Council; William Kennedy Smith, Physicians Against Land Mines; and the late Kara Kennedy, VSA & National Advisory Board of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Their service and advocacy knows no bounds.

We would all be better people if we, like the Kennedy/Shriver children, sought to be like Eunice and were constantly in the volunteer mindset.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was fearless, kind, and unbelievably caring. As was referenced in a video in her honor on this day, she was a revolutionary. As her daughter Maria recently wrote, she was a warrior. And, is evidenced by the tens of thousands of people in more than 100 countries who celebrated the second annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day today through all types of service, she was an extraordinary woman who set out to blaze a trail and ended up changing perceptions the world over. It will be another lifetime before another comes along as inspiring as Eunice and she will be missed for lifetimes to come.

For more on Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day
For more on Camp Shriver
For more on the End the Word campaign

Smorgasbord Saturday

Editor's Note: Stay tuned today for a post in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day.
  • Matt Kemp is not-so-suddenly a contender for baseball's triple crown. If not for the craziness that is the Dodgers, he'd be leading the talk for National League MVP. Triple Crown Edition/Jayson Stark,
  • Morgan Freeman: The Tea Part is racist/Caitlin McDevitt, Politico
  • Another bow tie-wearing historian who paved the way for generations of American historians (especially those interested in urban studies) passed away this week. The Pulitizer Prize winner brought something relatively new to the field of History--the study of Census data. For every historian who has spent hours, days even, looking at Census data and trying to navigate the Census website, we have the great Oscar Handlin to thank for it. Oscar Handlin, Historian Who Chronicled U.S. Immigration, Dies at 95/Paul Vitello, New York Times
  • The Netflix saga continues. Now that Netflix has announced they'll be concentrating on streaming and Qwikster (not to be confused with QuickStar, the Amway company) will be the portion of the company responsible for mailing out DVDs, I'm beginning to rethink doing away with my streaming service on September 1st when Netflix raised their prices. The problem with Netflix streaming is their small inventory and the fact that Starz did not extend their contract with Netflix, therefore taking away a big chunk of videos from said inventory.Qwikster: Not to be Confused With Quixtar, QuickStar, Kwikster, Quickster, Kwik Star, or Kickstar/Harry McCracken, Technologizer; Netflix says it's sorry, then creates new uproar/Michael Liedtke, AP; Netflix's Focus on Streaming: Too Soon?/Robert Seidman,
Update: Noticed after I posted this that I had forgotten entirely about the screwy color scheme that needs fixing on this template. I'll get to it soon, I promise! In the meantime, I apologize for the color of links, followed links, and hovering.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Smorgasbord Saturday

My excitement about it being Constitution Day was dampened by the horribly sad news of Kara Kennedy's passing. I don't believe in curses, but the Kennedy family has sure had more than their share of heartache. Also sad to hear about Eleanor Mondale and Charles Percy. Percy's passing made me really think about what it meant to be a liberal Republican. Hardly possible in this day and age and certainly not the type of ideology that would be elected in the modern Republican Party. Arlen Specter always sort of reminded me of Percy.

Here's a round-up of links that are worth a read (things that caught my eye, topics that have been in the news, etc.):
Strangely enough, I haven't listened to any music today. Usually I listen to something as I start my day, but today I started my day with the kind of headache that actually sent me back to bed. I have been doing a great deal of Ezra Pound reading lately. I'd like to say that is what is causing my headache, but not even the craziness of Pound could cause the headache I had this morning. Headache or not, I did spend plenty of time yesterday trying to figure out what 'bunyah' meant. Pound's grasp of language, not just the English language, makes reading anything of his incredibly difficult. My vocabulary is by no means limited, it's just not even in the same universe as Mr. Pound. I'm not even sure that's a bad thing.

I'm always contemplating posts, in the rough draft stage or doing research on some post idea. Such is the case now, I've just been slow getting things completed due to not feeling well. Patience.