Saturday, 29 December 2007

Who's Next For The McCann Treatment?

Metodo3, the company of private investigators hired by Kate and Gerry McCann seem to have failed to deliver on their promise to definitely have Madeleine back in time for Christmas, maybe! Metotodo's boss was so sure they knew where Madeleine was perhaps and who was holding her possibly. Well, Marco, boss of Methadone3, (substitute for a real missing person's agency!) Christmas has come and gone and emmmm, it's not just Amazon that's late with the deliveries.

So, just what have the McCanns got for their dosh? £50,000 a month is not cheap, even for an agency that doesn't normally look for missing children, who claimed to be doing this for a nominal fee plus expenses. Well, a few Moroccan families have had their privacy invaded and their children made the focus of world-wide attention. There have been so many reported sightings since Methadone was hired, I'm surprised my postman and the local shopkeeper have not been investigated. I hear they have been seen with blonde children.

It looks like the Portuguese police, in co-operation with the UK police are gradually ruling out the possibility of an abduction in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Fifty-two Bitish sex-offenders with links to the Algarve have now been traced and eliminated from the investigation. We still have DJ Shifty, though. Methadone 3 is trying to trace
Christian Ridout, a Briton whose parents run a bar in Praia Da Luz.

The private detectives seeking Madeleine McCann say they are hunting a Briton who fled Praia da Luz after being accused of grooming an under-age girl for sex.

Part-time barman and disc jockey Christian Ridout, 32, allegedly sent the British girl obscene text messages when he worked in an expats' pub 200 yards from where Madeleine disappeared."

Daily Mail

" The spokesman for Madeleine's parents Gerry and Kate confirmed that the Spanish detective agency working for them, Metodo 3, was seeking more information on the missing man."

Mr Ridout had been sending obscene messages by text to a 12 year-old girl. When the girl's mother discovered the messages, she contacted the police. Ridout subesequently disappeared and has not been seen by his parents for two years.

"Jill Ridout said: "I haven't seen Christian for two years. I have no comment on this subject."

The girl's mother said:

"I went to the police station in the large regional town of Portimao, and they took all the explicit messages. I went in to see them just before Madeleine disappeared and they confirmed they're still looking for him. 'No one knows where he is, but he could have been back to this area"

So,what now? Mr Ridout appears not to have been seen in PDL recently, for two years in fact. I doubt he is going to turn up, loitering with intent to abduct from holiday apartments, when he is so well-known and the police are looking for him.

We also have, according to good old Uncle Clarence, people who are not on that list of sex-offenders. So, if you have been to the Algarve this year, keep your mouth shut! It may be you next!

What can Methadone3 do now? Well, ummmm, there's those 347 calls they've had since that tear-jerking (not!) Christmas Eve appeal and would you adam-and-eve it? Two women who were on holiday at the same time as the McCanns have contacted Methadone3 to say that they saw Robert Murat outside the Ocean Club soon after the alarm was raised about Madeleine's being missing on the evening of May 3rd.

"Annie Wiltshire, 58, of Aylesford, Kent, and Jayne Jensen, 54, of Maidstone, Kent, were on holiday in Praia da Luz at the same time as the McCanns, it was reported.

They believe they saw Mr Murat smoking cigarettes near the Ocean Club at about 10.30pm on May 3 - about half an hour after Madeleine was found to be missing.

The sisters were interviewed by British police after they returned home.

They have also contacted Metodo 3, the firm of Spanish private detectives hired by Kate and Gerry McCann, from Rothley, Leicestershire, the reports said.

An unnamed source close to Metodo 3 told the Daily Mail: "Jayne remembers seeing him outside the Ocean Club, smoking cigarettes, between 10.30 and 11pm.

"Every time they see him claiming he was not there on the night, they find it ridiculous."

Three friends on holiday with the McCanns - Russell O'Brien, Rachael Oldfield and Fiona Payne - are understood to have told police they saw him near the Ocean Club on the night of May 3."

"But Mr Murat's mother Jenny, 71, whose villa, named Casa Liliana, is just yards from the McCann holiday apartment, has backed his alibi."

So, the witnesses who report seeing robert Murat in the vicinity of the Ocean Club on May 3rd are three friends of the McCanns plus these two women, who are reported elsewhere as having made friends with the McCanns whilst on holiday. No local people, who must know Robert Murat rather better than the tourists have identified him as being seen near the Ocean Club that evening. I hope that when this is over that Robert Murat sues the pants off the McCanns and their two-bob agency Metodo3.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto Assassinated

Well, I guess this was just about inevitable. Ms Bhutto knew she was taking serious risks every time she appeared in public, and today an extremist was successful. Ms Bhutto was shot in the chest and neck as she was getting into her car following a rally in Rawalpindi. The killer then blew himself up, killing at least 15 of Bhuttos supporters and injuring many others.

WTF kind of civilisation is this? You don't like their politics, so shoot them? Disagreeing with someone's political stance is a worthy reason to blow yourself up and take as many others as possible with you?

Benazir Bhutto returned from exile in October, and was hoping to stand for Prime Minister in democratic elections due to be held in January. She survived a previous attempt on her life when a suicide bomber killed 139 people at her homecoming rally in Karachi and vowed not to be dictated to by extremists.

Sky News

The stength of character for which Ms Bhutto was renowned was first seen after her father was imprisoned and charged with murder in 1977 following a military coup.

He was executed two years later.

Ms Bhutto spent five years in prison herself, most of it in solitary confinement.

She later set up a Pakistan People's Party office in London and began a campaign against the then President, General Zia.

She returned to Pakistan in 1986 and became PM for the first time two years later after General Zia was killed in an explosion on board his aircraft.

A decade later, she faced corruption charges and was convicted in 1999 after failing to appear in court. Pakistan's Supreme Court has since overturned that judgement."

Sky News Foreign Affairs Editor Tim Marshall

"She knew the risks, she gambled, she lost.

And Pakistan has lost. Lost a leader who, despite all her faults, was a democrat who wanted to move her country forward, bring its extremists to the centre, and take on the irreconcilables.

That is why they murdered her. They could not reconcile with the possibility of a woman coming to power again. A strong, modern, working woman involved in politics is everything the Islamists fear.

It challenges their world view.

Bhutto knew how much she embodied their fears and knew they wanted to kill her.

I'd asked her about the dangers shortly before she returned to Pakistan from exile. She was quite open, acknowledging that there would almost certainly be attempts on her life, but she said she trusted in her security and in Allah.

I asked her again in Karachi just a few hours after the first attempt which killed over 130 people.

She did not say it was her destiny to go forward and lead Pakistan, but she alluded to it and said she would not be cowed from realising her dream.

But it was a gamble. Could she stay alive long enough to win the office of Prime Minister and the enhanced security the post brings.

Two weeks before the election we have the answer.

So she has lost her life, Pakistan has lost a leader, and two young girls have lost a mother.

Written by Tim Marshall, December 27, 2007"

What now in Pakistan? There are already reports of riots and bloodshed? The January elections will probably be cancelled. Benazir Bhutto has been killed by Islamist extremists. Is this supposed to be a religion? I know it's a whole political model, but is it to be taken seriously as a religion, one that encourages its followers to extremes of violence and killing to meet its ends? It's not religion as I know it. Even the Catholics stopped inquisiting hundreds of years ago. In Pakistan, though, we still have religious nutters who know nothing besides bloodshed and killing to further their ideology.

Yes, WTF kind of civilisation is this?

Wey hey! My Polo Saved From the Scrappie!

Well, good news today! Repairs on my lovely little Polo have been authorised by the insurance company, for whom I have nothing but praise. That little car has served me well and I have no wish to replace it. If it takes me to where I want to go and brings me home again then it will do for me. VW cars are definitely made to last judging by the number of Polos and Golfs there are on the road, which are considerably older than my Polo.

I see no good reason to scrap a car that is in reasonable condition, just for the sake of having a newer model in the driveway. My self-esteem does not depend on the make or model of car I drive, on the range of functions on my mobile phone or on any other blatant status symbol.

I am so pleased that my beautiful little Polo will be coming back.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Shall I Just Stand here And Mumble?

That's what I said to the woman at the car showroom when I went to fetch my courtesy car, but I'm way ahead in the story by telling you that.

Sunday morning I set off with beloved son to go shopping in Solihull. I know. Why Solihull? Because that's where the specialist shop is where they do something fancy called, "Gait analysis," and fit you up with the appropriate running shoes. For son. Not for me!

Anyway, off we went in my 10 year-old VW Polo. That car has a full service record, and has been lovingly cared for. Many years left in the old gal yet, I thought!

About two hundred yards from home, I had what the nice woman at the insurance company said was the most common accident they deal with. Behind one car at a roundabout. I can see clearly the traffic approaching from the right. Nothing coming and the guy in front pulls out. As I am looking to my right and moving forward, because there is nothing coming, the guy in front slams on his brakes and I do a fender-bender! I didn't even see it happening! The guy stopped in the middle of the roundabout, got out, inspected his vehicle and drove off!

When I inspected my car, I found a headlight smashed, the radiator grille twisted and some other damage, which looked minor. I decided to go home rather than drive on the motorway because it was very misty and I did not want to do motorway driving with one headlight.

So, I got home and phoned the insurance company. The lovely woman took the details and said she was faxing a repair place as we spoke. The repair place would collect my car and bring a courtesy car on Monday.

So, on Monday morning a woman from Foxhole (name changed, but it rhymes!) phoned to make arrangements. Before even looking at my car, she said it would probably be a write-off because it was so old. Two mechanics came and collected my car, but did not bring a replacement. I was told that they would ring me during the morning as they were closing at lunchtime. I waited until one o'clock and then rang to see what was happening. I spoke to a woman who knew nothing about it and who said she would try to find someone to speak to me. I could hear the ringing and ringing and ringing as she was attempting to transfer the call. Eventually she put me through to a male colleague to talk about a courtesy car. He said that since they had not had eight hours notice, they couldn't supply a car until Thursday. I replied that I had a family Christmas to go to. This is how the conversation went.

Me: I have a family Christmas to get to tomorrow. You really don't have a car available? Why didn't you tell me?
Foxhole employee: We don't need to. We didn't get eight hours notice.
Me: I will need to ring the insurance company and let them know.
FE: Hold on a minute. (Approx 5 seconds later) Actually we do have a car, but you'll have to fetch it because I'm short-staffed and get here by three because we're closing.

Try to get a cab on Christmas Eve? No way! So, after a twenty-five minute walk, I arrived at the Foxhole showroom, where the first impression was of a lot of cars. I could see a portico which obviously led to the main entrance, but it took some time as the vehicles on the forecourt were so closely squashed together I couldn't find a way through! Anyway, after trampling over a steep grassy bank, I found the double glass doors. A man in a red uniform approached me, and asked what I was looking for. Not, I might say, "Can I help you?" No, he asked what I was looking for!

So, I told him...bla bla bla courtesy car and he pointed me to the service desk, behind which were three women, equidistantly spaced, each facing a chair in front. One of the woman beckoned me with a nod of the head. I went over and did my bla bla again to which she replied not at all. She just stared! So, I said, "Would you like to tell me where I should go or shall I just stand here and mumble?"

"You go out through those doors, walk round to your right and in through the double glass doors."

So, out I went, round to my right, found the double glass doors and went in. Wrong double glass doors. "Round to your right, in through the double glass doors," said the man! So, out I went, more double glass doors. Wrong double glass doors! "Round to your right........" said another man....double glass doors."

Third time lucky! As I opened the door, a man at a desk immediately inside pushed a form towards me and asked me to and here. "Have you driven a Foxhole before?" he asked as he headed outside. I said yes, I had driven a Stellar and a Bextra (Names changed, but I'm sure you know what I mean!) Was it one of those? No, he said. It's just here. and there it was, facing the double glass doors!

It was a red box-shaped thing with huge, and I mean huge, white writing advertising Foxhole and their service from only £99. The man opened the driver's door, showed me the wipers, the lights and where to find reverse and off he went.

In I got! Now, I'm five feet nothing tall. So, first thing I did was pull the seat forward. Next, tried out the foot pedals. Problem! The seat was very high and I couldn't reach the clutch properly. Couldn't find a lever to alter it!

So, in I went through the double glass doors and found that the man had disappeared. Hello! No reply! I wandered through a doorway into a deserted workshop and called again. Hello! Five minutes of hellos later the man reappeared. I asked him if the driver's seat could be put down. Here is the conversation!

Me: Is there a lever to move the driver's seat up and down?
Foxhole Employee: No.
Me: Well, you may have noticed that I am vertically challenged and I can't reach the clutch properly.
FE: That's easily sorted.
So, he went out and after trying to move the seat forward, discovered it was already moved. Did he really think I wouldn't have moved it? Duh!
Me: Is there any other vehicle available?
FE: No, that's the one we use as a courtesy car.
Me: My son is insured on my policy. So, if you would drive the vehicle out of here, he could collect it later.
FE: No I can't do that and we're closing in five minutes.
Me: I shall have to phone my insurance company.

So, I phoned the insurance company from where I was and was given the advice which I repeated to the Foxhole man.

Me: I have been advised to drive the vehicle out of here somehow, and park it outside for my son to collect later.
FE: Well, actually, only the double metal gates get locked. So, I could drive it through those, park it and your son could collect it later.

So, how's that for service?

The engineer is not back until Thursday and he will then decide if my ten year-old car is worth repairing at which point if he decides that my lovely little Polo is for the scrap heap, they will want their product endorsement vehicle back immediately. Fortunately, if that happens my insurance company will provide me with a hire car.

But what about global warming and conservation? How can that be reconciled with writing off a car because an engineer at the Foxhole showroom decides that my car, with probably many good years left, is not worth repairing? My car has what looks like minimal damage to the front end, but high labour costs mean that the car may be worth less than the cost of reparing it.

So, beware dear readers, the double glass doors at the Foxhole!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Stan Tookie Williams

On Tuesday December 13th, 2005, Stan Tookie Williams was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin Prison, California.

CNN December 13th 2005

SAN QUENTIN, California (CNN) -- Death did not come quickly for Stanley Tookie Williams, the co-founder of the violent Crips street gang who was executed by lethal injection early Tuesday for the 1979 robbery murders of four people in Los Angeles.

Witnesses and prison officials said Williams appeared to grow impatient as prison staffers searched for several minutes for a vein in his muscular left arm.

"Seventeen reporters witnessed the execution and gave their accounts afterward. (Watch the witnesses describe Williams' last minutes -- 10:04)

They said inserting the IVs to administer the lethal chemicals took nearly 20 minutes, with staff having particular difficulty getting a needle into Williams' left arm."

"The execution went ahead as scheduled after the U.S. Supreme Court late Monday rejected a last-ditch appeal.

The high court's ruling followed California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to deny clemency for Williams.

So, who was Stan Tookie Williams? He was born in New Orleans on December 29th 1953 and became one of the early leaders of the notrious Crips gang in South Central Los in 1971. In 1981, Stan was convicted on four counts of murder and sentenced to death. He spent six and a half years in solitary confinement for assaults on prison staff and fellow inmates. Stan had led a very violent existence as a founder of the Crips, and his violent behaviour continued in prison.

After being released from solitary confinement, Stan's behaviour changed dramatically. He wrote several children's books advocating non-violence and an alternative to gangs. He wrote several books about his life, including an autobiography, "Blue Rage, Black Redemption." Holywood honoured Stan in 2004 with a film about his life, "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story."

Stan maintained his innocence of the murders throughout his time on death row. Numerous appeals were posted and all were unsuccessful. The final avenue open to Stan was an appeal for clemency to the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who turned it down.

"Thousands of people signed online petitions calling for Schwarzenegger to commute the death sentence. Those who campaigned against the execution included celebrities, politicians, and Nobel laureates."

"In 1997, Williams wrote and posted on his website an apology for his role in creating the Crips. In 2004, he helped broker a peace agreement, called the Tookie Protocol For Peace, for what had been one of the deadliest and most infamous gang wars in the country, between the Bloods and the Crips, in both the state of California and the city of Newark, New Jersey. On the nomination of William A. Harrison, a minister from West Monroe, Louisiana, Williams received a letter from U.S. President George W. Bush commending him for his social activism, one of some 267,000 "Call To Service Awards" that were sent out."

Stan Tookie Williams was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his books which were intended to help disenfranchised youth.

The death penalty process does not seem to have space for nor embrace the possibility of redemption, that a person can be truly remorseful and, as in Stan's case, make very valuable contributions to society. Whatever his guilt or innocence in the four murders for which he had been convicted and sent to San Quentin, Stan Tookie Williams redeemed himself in his work for peace and reconciliation. It was a sad day when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down the appeal for clemency. This decision led Arnold Schwarzenegger's home town in Austria to rename a sports stadium which had been named in Schwarzenegger's honour, so strong was the world-wide support for Stan.

Stan Tookie Williams is gone, but definitely not forgotten. A reprint of his autobiography, "Blue Rage, Black Redemption," has been published in November this year and hopefully many more people, especially the young and disadvantaged in American inner-cities, will hear the Tookie message of non-violence and alternatives to the gang culture.

Stan Tookie Wiliams, I salute you and honour you as a true example of the redemptive power of the human spirit. Rest in peace Tookie.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

UN Assembly calls for death penalty ban

Bangkok Post Breaking News

Tuesday 18th December.

"New York (dpa) - The UN General Assembly on Tuesday voted 104-54 to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty, defeating vocal opposition from countries that maintain the practice does not violate human rights.

Countries that favour ending the death penalty are a uniformed bloc, arguing the practice "undermines human dignity" and that a moratorium "contributes to the enhancement and progressive development of human rights."

"There is no conclusive evidence of the death penalty's deterrence value and that any miscarriage or failure of justice in the death penalty's implementation is irreversible and irreparable," the proponents said in the resolution adopted by the 192-nation assembly. There were 29 abstentions.

The resolution submitted by more than 90 countries, including most Europeans nations, voiced concern about the continued use of the death penalty and demanded that the UN "establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."

It called on countries that still apply the death penalty to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the rights of sentenced prisoners and to "progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed."

Countries that opposed the moratorium renewed their criticism before the vote, a replay of the debate last month in the human rights committee of the assembly. Opponents included the block of 13 Caribbean nations and others like Singapore, which accused Europeans of imposing their values on other sovereign nations.

There are 134 countries that have abolished the death penalty.

But countries that continue to use it, like the United States and China, have remained mostly silent during the whole debate.

Despite Washington's official stance on maintaining the death penalty, New Jersey on Monday became the first US state to abolish the sentence in more than 40 years, as Governor Jon Corzine signed into law a measure eliminating it.

New Jersey joined 13 other US states that do not allow executions.

"Today New Jersey evolves," Corzine, a Democrat, said in a statement. "This is a day of progress for us and for the millions of people across our nation and around the globe who reject the death penalty as a moral or practical response to the grievous, even heinous, crime of murder."

Before the final vote in the UN General Assembly Tuesday, the human rights committee voted 99-52, with 33 abstentions, last month to approve the moratorium, and sent the draft to the 192-nation assembly for a final vote.

The issue split the committee into two camps, with the Europeans, led by Italy, on one side against mostly small countries in the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East that said the death penalty is not a human rights issue."

Jon Corzine Signs Abolition Into Law

On Monday 17th December, Jon Corzine, Governor of New Jersey signed into law the bill approved by the state's Assembly and Senate last week. Although New Jersey re-adopted the death penalty in 1982, following its reinstatement by the Supreme Court in 1976, New Jersey has not executed anyone since 1963.

"The measure spares eight men on the state's death row. On Sunday, Corzine signed orders commuting the sentences of those eight to life in prison without parole.

Among the eight spared is Jesse Timmendequas, a sex offender who murdered 7-year-old Megan Kanka in 1994. The case inspired Megan's Law, which requires law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living in their communities."

New York Times

New York Times editorial, Saturday December 15th. "A Long Time Coming."

"It took 31 years, but the moral bankruptcy, social imbalance, legal impracticality and ultimate futility of the death penalty has finally penetrated the consciences of lawmakers in one of the 37 states that arrogates to itself the right to execute human beings."

This is the opening paragraph in what I think is an excellent editorial. The author reports on a couple of recent cases where convictions have been overturned. One of the best reasons for ending the death penalty; it's not easy to apologise to the dead!

"New Jersey’s decision to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole seems all the wiser coming in the middle of a month that has already seen the convictions of two people formerly on death row in other states repudiated. In one case, the defendant was found not guilty following a new trial."

The United States of America is the most powerful of the western civilised nations, but in keeping the death penalty on its statutes, who is it keeping company with?

"By clinging to the death penalty, states keep themselves in the company of countries like Iran, North Korea and China — a disreputable pantheon of human mistreatment. Small wonder the gyrations of New Jersey’s Legislature have been watched intently by human rights activists around the world."

So, lawmakers of Texas, the state which has executed more people than any other since reinstatement of capital punishment, take note. The time has come to consider what place executions have in a civilised world.

"In a sense, the practical impact of New Jersey’s action may be largely symbolic. Although there are eight people on New Jersey’s death row, the moratorium was in place, and the state has not put anyone to death since 1963. Nevertheless, it took political courage for lawmakers to join with Governor Corzine. Their renunciation of the death penalty could prick the conscience of elected officials in other states and inspire them to muster the courage to revisit their own laws on capital punishment.

At least that is our fervent hope."

New York Times Editorial

Sunday, 16 December 2007

New Jersey Abolishes The Death Penalty

On Thursday 13th December, the New Jersey Legislature followed up Monday's approval by the State Senate, and in a vote of 44-36 made NJ the first state to abolish the death penalty. The US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, but New Jersey has not executed anyone since 1963. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill into law when it arrives on his desk.

The Guardian

A New Jersey state commission found in January that the death penalty was expensive to administer, had no deterrent effect and carried the risk of killing an innocent person. It was, said the commission, "inconsistent with evolving standards of decency".

"We would be better served as a society by having a clear and certain outcome for individuals that carry out heinous crimes," Corzine said."

I think that, "clear and certain outcome," is a very important factor in abolishing the death penalty. Prisoners will not be sitting on death row, year-after-year, waiting to be taken on their last walk, or to hear last minute news about their latest appeal. The families of victims will achieve some level of closure and not be waiting for the next round of publicity given to the person found guilty of murder. And just as important, no innocent person will be put beyond the oportunity to experience the proof of innocence or to walk free.

The abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey would seem to just write into law what the state has been doing in practice since 1963, but it is a very important piece of legislation. The state legislature has voted for what the Governor calls, "...evolving standards of decency," and I congratulate those who have worked doggedly to get this legislation onto their statute books.

Now what about Texas? Time for that state to look carefully at its standards of decency?

Saturday, 15 December 2007

When the Bullies Turned Faceless

New York Times

"LIKE most mobs, the one that pursued Megan Meier was cruel and unrelenting. Its members gathered on the social networking site MySpace and called Megan a liar, a fat whore and worse.

Megan, 13, fought back, insulting her tormenters with every profanity she knew. But the mob shouted her down, overwhelming her computer and her shaky self-confidence with a barrage of hateful instant messages.

“Mom, they’re being horrible!” Megan said, sobbing into the phone when her mother called. After an hour, Megan ran into her bedroom and hanged herself with a belt.

“She felt there was no way out,” Ms. Meier said."

Megan Meier’s suicide made headlines because she was the victim of a hoax. Lori Drew, another mother in the neighborhood, said in a police report that she had created a MySpace profile of a boy, an invention named “Josh Evans,” and that she and her daughter had manipulated Megan into thinking that this fabricated person liked her.

Then, after a few weeks, Ms. Meier said, girls posing as Josh wrote MySpace messages telling Megan that he hated her. He insulted her, and other girls — most unaware that Josh did not exist — viciously piled on. (Later, through her lawyer, Ms. Drew, 48, denied knowing about the hoax.)

In some ways, the hoax was a tragic oddity. Most mothers don’t pull vicious pranks, and few harassed adolescents become depressed and commit suicide. But Megan’s story is also a case study about cyberbullying."

Now, I know that there has always been bullying for as long as young people have socialised and congregated in groups. Most schools, in most countries of the world, will be doing their best to combat bullying, but they will never eliminate it. At least, though, the traditional methods of bullying in the playground and in communal areas of schools was easier to confront; the bullies had faces and could be identified. Mobile phones and text messaging, web sites like MySpace, allow the new breed of bully to remain faceless, to hide behind an anonymous ID. They also allow more people to join in at the speed of cyber-communication.

"And unlike traditional bullying, which usually is an intimate, if highly unpleasant, experience, high-tech bullying can happen anywhere, anytime, among lots of different children who may never actually meet in person. It is inescapable and often anonymous, said sociologists and educators who have studied cyberbullying."

It used to be that a child who was being bullied at school could enjoy some respite in their own home. Not so now. Children have mobile phones and so many have a computer in the bedroom. Mobile phones and the internet allow the bully a way into the sanctuary of our homes and very often parents have no idea that it is happening or have any means of combatting it or of confronting the bullies. Do you take away your child's mobile phone and computer and then render them more isolated and out of touch and maybe more vulnerable than they are already, sitting alone in their bedroom, trying to deal with an anonymous barrage from people who can be brave because they are faceless?

And, as in the Megan Meier case, the victim of cyberbullying is often isolated, yet never free from attack. “The target sees this entire cyberuniverse where everybody is against them, and no one will come to their defense,” said Dr. Walter Roberts, professor of counselor education at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “The harassment is not limited to the portion of the day when the kids are in school. The targeted kids have no escape.”

The internet is a wonderful invention. It allows instant communication around the globe. When my son was on a gap year, travelling round the world, he found cyber-cafes even on small islands off the coast of Thailand from where he could tell his professional worrier of a mother that he had been swimming with a harmless species of shark! Mobile phones have opened up a new world of communication for deaf children via text messaging and have also probably saved many lives when someone has met with an accident in a remote place. However, they have also rendered our children vulnerable to this new virile form of bullying, and of course, as some parents have discovered, the internet also opens up a world where our children are vulnerable to the most nasty aspect of all, online grooming for sex.

I bid you adieu for now, dear readers. Christmas shopping to do. Thanks to the wonderful internet, I have ordered a load of lovely clothes for my beautiful grandson and a Tokyo Flash JLr7 watch for my son, but Wellesbourne market is calling and I'm off to snap up some bargains!

On this cold December day, may all our children be safe.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Madeleine McCann Found: Home By Christmas

Yes, Metodo3 boss Francisco Marco says they know where Madeleine is and she will be home by Christmas. The Daily Mirror, Daily Express, the free Metro and other UK publications have all quoted Metodo's boss.

Daily Mirror

In his boldest claim yet, the director general of Metodo 3 said: "We know who kidnapped her. We believe she is in an area not very far from the Iberian peninsula and north Africa. And we have a fairly certain idea of who she is with."

Something may be lost in translation there. An area not very far from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa? What? The Canary Islands? I guess he could mean that.

There appear to be a few contradictions to Mr Marco's certainty:

"Mr Marco said: "I have always said publicly Madeleine is alive. I have to believe it 100 per cent because I know how to look for living people, not dead ones. But I have no proof Madeleine is alive.

So, he is sure they know where Madeleine is, who took her and that she will be home by Christmas, but he has no proof that she is alive?

"I talk of certainties because we know which group may have her or could have kidnapped her to then sell her on to others."

Certainties, but then he says they know which group might have her of could have kidnapped her? That doesn't sound very certain to me!

Mr Marco says he believes that Madeleine was taken by a paedophile ring. If that is true, then I have doubts about Madeleine's being home by Christmas, even if she were to be found alive tomorrow. Does he think that the paedos will have been taking good care of her? If she had been in the hands of a paedophile ring for seven months, that poor child would need some very serious emotional rehabilitation as well as physical treatment and care.

Mr Marco, there would be no happy reunion under the Christmas tree. Madeleine McCann snatched from a paedophile ring would be an emotionally and physically scarred child.

But, I am very sad to say that I don't think Madeleine will be returning alive to her lovely house by Christmas. I don't think she will be returning alive. When Gerry McCann said, "Find the body and prove we killed her," I began to feel that we would possibly never find out what happened to Madeleine McCann, but I continue to hope that she will be found and laid to rest, finally with her own stone marking the place where she is at peace.

Mother of boy in suitcase faces court.

Headline from the story in the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Compassion plea as mother of boy in suitcase faces court."

In October a group of children found a suitcase floating in a duck pond at Ambarvale, near Campbelltown. Inside was the body of two year-old Dean Shillingsworth. Dean's mother, Rachel Pfitzner, has been charged with his murder.

Court documents said police believe Dean died between 11 and 11.30am on October 11 - a week before his body was discovered."

The lawyer acting for Ms
Pfitzner has appealed for compassion for his client, who is in custody in Silverwater Women's Prison.

Outside court, Pfitzner's lawyer, Ugo Parente, appealed for public compassion, saying she was entitled to a fair hearing. "I just ask that she be shown a bit of compassion at this time," Mr Parente said. "It is a sensitive matter and it has to be dealt with fairly."

The Herald reports that she is in voluntary protection in prison and that she appeared in court via video link.

The screen on which her face appeared was dark. The only word she said was "yep" when she was asked routine questions, such as if she could hear."

Very little has been published on this case in the UK and there is very little information available from this article, beyond the fact that Dean's mother has been charged with his murder, that she is in prison and has appeared briefly in court.

Dean's father is also in prison, but there is no information about what charges have been laid against him in the article.

Dean's father, Paul Shillingsworth, is also in jail, in Tamworth. He was released on parole on the eve of the funeral, but his parole was revoked after fresh charges were laid against him.

Dean's mother is due to appear in court again in February 2008. I shall watch this as it unfolds, wondering why this woman deserves my compassion.

Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Baby Grace is Riley Ann Sawyers

Woops! I'm a bit late with this update, but just in case there is someone out there who does not know, or someone reading this who wonders why I haven't updated, this is the most recent news of that little girl whom the Galveston Police called, Baby Grace.

The police are now almost certain, according to this report on 26th November, that Baby Grace is two year-old Riley Ann Sawyers.

ABC News

"Kimberly Ann Trenor, 19, and her 24-year-old husband, Royce Clyde Zeigler, both of Spring, Texas, are being held in connection with the 2-year-old girl's death on charges of injuring a child and tampering with evidence. The two remain in custody in Galveston County jail, each on $350,000 bond.

After Sawyers died, Trenor said in the affidavit to the Sheriff's Office, Zeigler covered the child in a purple towel and the pair then went to a Wal-Mart to purchase items to hide and dispose of the body, including a blue plastic container, bleach, a shovel and latex gloves.

According to the affidavit, Trenor said Zeigler hid the container with the remains in a storage shed for two months before the pair tossed the container into the water off Galveston Causeway.

Meanwhile, Sawyers' father and grandmother publicly wept Monday as they demanded justice in the child's "heinous" death."

It is so sad that the person who should have loved and protected little Riley Ann was responsible for her suffering and death, according to the reported details of the affidavit attributed to Riley Ann's mother, Kimberly Ann Trenor. If Kimberly and her husband are found guilty, which seems likely, I hope they both get sent to prison for life with no prospect of parole.

Rest in peace now, little Riley. No more suffering.

Rodney Reed On Death Row In Texas

Information taken from the Daily Texan online.

Daily Texan online

Rodney Reed has spent the last ten years on death row in a Texas prison. He was found guilty of the murder of 20 year-old Stacey Stites, whose body was dumped by the side of a road in Bastrop, Texas, eleven years ago.

Rodney is a black man who was found guilty of the crime by an all-white jury, in spite of what the lawyers presenting Rodney's appeal for a new trial, report as strong evidence linking other people to the crime.

"......including Stites' fiance Jimmy Fennell, to the murder. Last week, Fennell, who is now a police officer in Georgetown, Texas, was indicted by a grand jury on a charge of sexually assaulting a woman in custody at gunpoint, and he was placed on administrative leave from his job. At the time of Stites' death, Fennell was a police officer in Giddings, a town just east of Bastrop."

The evidence linking Jimmy Fennell to the murder of Stacey Stites is, according to the article, more compelling than that linking Rodney Reed.

"The amount of evidence pointing to Fennell in Stites' murder case is overwhelming. In two polygraph tests taken after Stites's murder, Fennell failed the question, "Did you strangle Stacy Stites?" According to a May 13, 1998, Department of Public Service report, fresh beer cans found at the crime scene contained DNA from Stites and two of Fennell's friends, police officers David Hall and Ed Salmela (the original investigator for the case). Furthermore, the truck alledgedly used to transport Stites' body contained fingerprints from only Fennell and Stites and was handed over to Fennell the day it was discovered. Fennell sold the truck the next day."

So, the truck which was allegedly used to carry the body contained fingerprints (allegedly) only from Fennell and Stites. It was returned to Fennell, who sold it the next day? There goes some of the evidence!

"The main evidence linking Reed to the murders is a semen sample containing Reed's DNA, which was taken from the scene of the crime. That can easily be explained by the sexual relationship he and Stites allegedly had before her death."

Beer cans at the scene of the dumped body, showing DNA from Stites and two of Fennell's friends, plus fingerprints in a truck, which was allegedly used to dump the body, only from Stites and Fennell. Semen from Rodney Reed at the scene. It appears to me that there is a strong case for a retrial.

"Reed has been sitting on death row for more than 10 years for a crime he very likely did not commit. The Bastrop County prosecutors should open the case and start a new investigation into his claims of innocence. In the meantime, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has Reed's case in their hands, should order a new trial in which the jury can hear all of the new evidence."

More info at: Free Rodney Reed

New Jersey Nears Repeal of Death Penalty

New York Times, Tuesday 11th December, 2007. New jersey comes closer to repealing the death penalty after Monday's vote in the State Senate.

New York Times

Published: December 11, 2007

TRENTON, Dec. 10 — The New Jersey Senate voted Monday to make the state the first in the country to repeal the death penalty since 1976, when the United States Supreme Court set guidelines for the nation’s current system of capital punishment.

State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, sponsor of a bill to repeal New Jersey’s death penalty, at the Senate Monday.

Approval in the Senate was seen as the biggest obstacle to the repeal, and in the end, it passed 21 to 16, receiving the bare minimum number of votes required in the 40-seat chamber. Three senators did not vote.

Legislators on both sides of the debate said they expected the measure to pass easily on Thursday in the General Assembly, where Democrats hold 50 of the 80 seats.

Gov. Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat and a staunch opponent of the death penalty, has said he would sign a measure ending executions.

“Today New Jersey can become a leader, an inspiration to other states,” Senator Robert Martin, a Republican from Morris Plains who voted for the bill, said during Monday’s debate.

For those opposed to capital punishment, New Jersey’s repeal would represent a victory that has eluded them in the modern history of the death penalty. Though legislatures across the country have tried to abolish capital punishment since 1976, none have succeeded. This year alone, the legislatures in Nebraska, Montana, Maryland and New Mexico have debated bills to repeal those states’ death penalties, but each measure failed, often by a slim margin.

So far, opponents of the death penalty have succeeded only through court rulings, including the decision in 2004 declaring New York’s capital punishment statute unconstitutional, or through moratoriums imposed by a governor, as in Illinois and Maryland.

“What New Jersey is going to do is have a legislature-initiated repeal, and that’s different,” said Frankin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Opponents of the death penalty said Monday that they hoped New Jersey’s action would give new energy to movements in states that have recently voted down repeal bills, and would serve as a catalyst for other states to revisit their laws on capital punishment.

Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said: “The New Jersey Legislature did the right thing. And we think we’ll be seeing more state legislatures saying, ‘We don’t want the death penalty.’”

While the Senate vote mainly broke down along party lines, four Republicans did break from the party leadership and vote for the bill. Three of them — Mr. Martin, James J. McCullough of Atlantic County and Joseph A. Palaia of Deal — will not be returning to the Senate when the new Legislature is seated next month. Three Democrats voted against the bill.

Earlier Monday, a bill to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison with no parole was approved on a 5-1 vote by the Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee.

Because the Senate voted during a lame-duck legislative session, legislators who might otherwise have voted against the bill were afforded some political cover — a factor that may have tipped the balance.

Mr. McCullough said Monday that he arrived at his decision over the summer after meeting with law enforcement officials and the family of a murder victim. “That’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I’m an outgoing senator.”

But opponents of the bill were sharply critical of Senate Democratic leaders for scheduling a vote during a lame-duck session, when issues of such import are seldom taken up.

“Why not let this go to the new session?” asked Senator Robert W. Singer, a Republican.

Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School who testified on Monday before the Assembly committee, called the process a “charade” and criticized lawmakers for not allowing for more time to debate the bill. “You’ll go where you want to go,” he said. “You’ll abolish the death penalty in New Jersey, and the world will watch.”

Since the legislative elections on Nov. 6, the process to repeal New Jersey’s death penalty has unfolded swiftly. The Senate president, Richard J. Codey, and the Assembly speaker, Joseph J. Roberts, both Democrats, placed bills abolishing capital punishment at the top of their agendas for the lame-duck session, and called for votes to be taken by the end of the year.

Supporters of the bill said the process was not rushed and pointed to a six-month-long review of the state’s capital sentence system by the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, which found that the system was ineffective and recommended that it be replaced with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The state has not executed anyone since 1963. In addition, its procedures for carrying out an execution were declared unconstitutional in 2004 by a state appeals court, and the Department of Corrections has said it has no intention of rewriting them.

Yet prosecutors still seek the death penalty in some cases, and eight men are currently on death row at the New Jersey State Prison here.

The measure approved by the Senate gives the eight men 60 days to file motions to be resentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Codey, who sponsored legislation in the early 1980s that reinstated New Jersey’s death penalty, said the system plays a cruel hoax on murder victims’ families by giving them the false hope of an execution.

“The best thing to do for us as a society to do is to be honest with them,” said Mr. Codey, who more recently served as governor. “Don’t tell someone that we’re going to execute somebody when the reality is it’s not going to happen — at least here in the state of New Jersey. Maybe in Texas. Maybe in other states. But it’s not going to happen here in New Jersey, and we’ve got to accept that.”

David W. Chen contributed reporting.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Christmas in Royal Leamington Spa

This is the view from the bottom of The Parade, looking north. On the right is the Town Hall with good Queen Victoria on her plinth.

Royal Leamington Spa is a spa town built mainly during the 19th century. The town was visited by Queen Victoria in 1838, and was given the "Royal" status.

Leamington's main architectural characterisitic is it's wide main streets, with elegant Georgian, Regency and Victorian buildings, many lined with trees.

Well, I have been looking for images of Christmas lights in my town and this is the best I can find. Not wonderful, but then the rest of the lights are not wonderful either. This is the usual Christmas tree outside the Town Hall. My favourite lights are the very simple strings of white lights, randomly threaded through some of the trees at the bottom of the main shopping street, The Parade, but alas, no photos! Maybe I should have a go at taking some!

In the few weeks before Christmas most of The Parade is closed off on Sundays for the Christmas market. This is very popular and well worth a visit for the variety of craft stalls with unusual gifts as well as the Greek stall with a huge range of olives and feta, and some interesting clothes stalls.

My first visit of the year was yesterday and it was a wash-out! The wind and rain had kept many of the stallholders away and my two large bags stayed empty except for a small pack of hand-made gift cards.

I haven't had a great deal of luck with my shopping this week in general. The Japanese web site, from which I wanted to buy a watch, was sold out of the one I wanted. After trawling deep into Google, where the sites are all in foreign, I spotted a link with the words, "Votre panier est vide." So, I thought, "Aha! A site that is selling the watches, not just doing a review of them." After navigating through the French, I got as far as the checkout and my card wasn't one of those listed! Drat!

Then there was Wellesbourne market on Saturday. This is a huge open-air market on an airfield and at this time of year it is usually heaving with people and the stalls are bulging with Christmas goodies. Well, that was a wash-out too! Where there should have been stalls there were huge empty areas with sodden rubbish blowing across the tarmac of the airfield runways. I narrowly missed a collision with a large green wheelie bin that was doing eccentric wheelies through the rubbish and headed back to my car after just ten minutes of holding a soggy hat to my head and desperately looking for something interesting on the few stalls which were there.

Two more shopping weekends 'til Christmas! For anyone living in the Warickshire area, I hear there is a late night Christmas market in Stratford-Upon-Avon each Thursday until Christmas. I guess I'd better get there! I hate those smug people who are telling me they've got all their Christmas shopping done!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

The Day They Moved Australia!

For some reason, when I spotted the am news alert from the Sydney Morning Herald in my inbox, the first thought after, well it's bedtime, was of an article I came across a couple of years back. It was so funny that I saved the pic and now I've managed to find the article again!

Tired of being isolated and ignored, Australia decides to move"

After what witnesses described as an all night blinder during which it kept droning on about how it was always being bloody ignored by the whole bloody world and would bloody well stand to do something about it, Australia this morning woke up to find itself in the middle of the North Atlantic.

"Good Lord, that was a booze up," said a bleary-eyed Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, speaking from his residence at Kirribilli House, approximately 600 nautical miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

According to Australians and residents of several countries destroyed or lewdly insulted during the continent's nearly 7,000-mile saltwater stagger, the binge began just after noon yesterday at a pub in Brisbane, where several patrons were discussing Australia Day (Jan. 26) and the nation's general lack of respect from abroad.

"It started off same as always; coupla fossils saying how our Banjo Patterson was a better poet than Walt Whitman, how Con the Fruiterer is funnier than Seinfeld, only they're Aussies so no one knows about 'em," recalled witness Michael Ewen. "Then this bloke Martin pipes up and says

Australia's main problem is that it's stuck in Australia, and everybody says 'Too right!'"

"Well, it made sense at the time," Ewen added.

By 2 a.m., powered by national pride and alcohol, the 3-million-square-mile land mass was barging eastward through the Coral Sea and crossing into the central Pacific, leaving a trail of beer cans and Chinese take-aways in its wake.

When dawn broke over the Northern Hemisphere, the continent suddenly found itself smack in the middle of the Atlantic, and according to most of its 19 million inhabitants, that's the way it's going to stay.

"We sent troops to Afghanistan. You never hear about it. We have huge government scandals. You never hear about it. It's all 'America did this,' and 'Europe says that,'" exclaimed Perth resident Arron Gunthorpe. "Well, we're right in the thick of things now, so let's just see if you can ignore us."

Officials on both sides of the Atlantic conceded that would be difficult. "They broke Florida," said U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "And most of Latin America is missing."

Meanwhile, victims of what's already been dubbed the "Australian Crawl" are still shaking off the event.

"Australia bumped into us at about midnight local time," said the Spanish President Juan Carlos. "They were very friendly, they always seem friendly but they refused to go around unless we answered their questions. But the questions were impossible! Who is Ian Thorpe? Do you have any Tim Tams? What day is Australia Day?'"

"Fortunately, somebody here had an Unimportant World Dates calendar and we aced the last one," President Carlos added.

By late morning today, however, not everyone in Australia was quite so blithe. "We've still got part of Jamaica stuck to Queensland," said Australian army commander Lt. Gen. Peter Cosgrove. "I think we might have declared war on it. I don't bloody remember. Maybe it's time to go home."

Cosgrove, however, is not in the majority, and at press time, U.S., African, and European leaders were still desperately trying to negotiate for Australia's withdrawal. But the independent-minded Aussies were not making it easy.

In a two-hour meeting at midday, Australian representatives listed their demands:

  1. Immediate inclusion in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,

  2. A permanent CNN presence in all 6 Australian states,

  3. A worldwide ban on hiring Paul Hogan,

  4. A primetime U.S. television contract for Australian Rules Football,

U.S. negotiators immediately walked out, calling the Australian Rules Football request "absurd."

Latest News

New Zealand becomes the major power in the South Pacific with Samoa

New Zealand awoke this morning to find itself as the lone superpower in the South Pacific, after Australia moved north during the night.

"About Bloody time too" stated the Prime Minister Helen Clarke. "we have had just about enough of the whiners and were considering allowing Ngai Tahu to invade them and claim Queensland.

Look out Northern Hemisphere, you don't know what you are in for. They steal your entertainers, claim anyone who even visit them as their own, and inflict their sports teams on them. We will be better off working with Samoa"

Popular opinion is that New Zealand moves to occupy Australia's place as the weather is better.

No report has come from Tasmania. It is believed that Australia left quietly so Tasmanians wouldn't notice and want to follow. It appears the ruse has worked. New Zealand has offered to adopt Tasmania as West New Zealand."

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Celtic Shamanism: Part One

My shamanic teacher, good friend and mentor passed on from this reality just a few weeks ago. She had been ill for some considerable time and is now at peace.

So, what is Celtic Shamanism? I was introduced to the practice some 13 years ago when I met the woman who was to become my teacher and friend. Am I a Shaman? Not at the moment! Only when I am involved in shamanic work.

Celtic Shamanism, as I and my circle work with it, has its roots in the Celtic traditions of Britain, as well as borrowing practices from Scandinavia and from North America and other Aboriginal peoples. At the heart of shamanic practice is the shamanic journey. This is a journey into non-ordinary reality, without, I must add, the aid of any kind of drugs in this particular form. There are three levels into which the shaman journeys, the upper world, the middle world and the lower world of non-ordinary reality.

The journey rhythm is set by the drummer and it is thought to induce a state of theta brain waves, a trance-like state. A journey is undertaken to find answers to questions and is always in the company of guides and helpers. Non-ordinary reality can be a dangerous place. So, the very first journey of a newcomer is always to meet one's guides and helpers. This journey is also always done in the company of an experienced person, who must ask a particular and very important question before the start and the newcomer must give a particular answer to the question. I'm going to remain vague on that as well as on a few other details!

Before the ritual of journeying begins, there is the ceremony of smudging with incence. This can be a smudge stick, an incence stick or herbal mixtures on a charcoal block in a dedicated holder. The smoke is wafted around the body to cleanse the aura and protect. As this is taking place there is usually chanting. There are many beautiful chants.

"Spirit of the Wind carry me

Spirit of the Wind carry me home
Spirit of the Wind carry me home to myself

Spirit of the Ocean, depth of emotion
Spirit of the Sea, set myself free

Spirit of the Rain, wash away the pain
Spirit of the Storm, help me be reborn

Spirit of the Sun, warm light healing one
Spirit of the Sky, spread my winds and fly

Spirit of the Earth, help me with my birth
Spirit of the Land, hold me in your hand

Spirit of the River, blessed forgiver
Spirit of the Shore, shows me more and more."

There is usually an altar, on which are placed any objects which are special to the circle or are important for the ceremony. At least one candle will be on the altar, and if more than one, there will be a, "Mother Candle," from which all others are lit.

After smudging comes, "Rattling in," which is a traditional ritual with, well, a rattle! There is a set pattern of rattling to the seven directions...yes, the seven directions...the compass points, plus above, below and within. The purpose of rattling in is to summon the guides and helpers and let them know you're ready to boogie. The rhythmic drumming starts and everyone will lie down and cover themselves with blankets, as the drumming reaches journey rhythm and the expedition begins. After 20 minutes or so, the drumming rhythm changes to the, "Call back," and everyone will rise and record their journey in a special book. Then begins the reporting back, the drummer always being last.

I have a very special drum, called, "An Elk Dreaming Drum," which was made by Nicholas Wood of South Wales. Nicholas is well known in shamanic circles and a Nicholas Wood drum is a very special one.

My drum is similar in shape to the ones in the little photo in the right-hand column, but it is made from elk skin rather than deer skin. Nicholas only makes Elk Dreaming Drums to order as the skin is heavier to work with and requires a stronger hoop than the deer skin drums. One very important piece of information about a shamanic drum is that it is a, "power object," and must never be touched without permission. So, even if you were to see my drum rolling down the road, you must not touch it!

Celtic Shamanism cannot be used to cause harm to another person or to any creature. An attempt to use the practice for harm would result in that harm rebounding on the person intending to injure or hurt.

Oh! I forgot to mention the final part of the journey sequence! When reporting back has been completed, comes the, "Rattling Out," which is similar to rattling in, but this time it's done in reverse order and tells the guides and helpers that they are not needed any longer and can go for their dinner!

"Earth my body
Water my blood
Air my breath (and)
Fire my spirit."

Go well, be well, stay well!

Right Said Fred!

I just thought I'd tell the story about my big desk! For many years the desk at which I worked was a huge ex-army, very plain and functional piece of wooden furniture. Four years ago I decided that it was time for a replacement and with very clear ideas about what I wanted, I trawled the local and not-so-local furniture stores. I found nothing that matched my ideas. So, I then looked for a carpenter who would build one for me. I decided that I wanted a desk in natural wood, and of the same dimensions as the old desk. So, with measurements and design ideas, I eventually found a carpenter.

My desk is big! When you accumulate as I do, you need lots of space! It is made of red pine, named for the colour of the bark on the particular species of pine. It has a honey glaze, water-based with honey to give a golden colour. It is a very simple style: I curly or fancy bits! And it is lovely. Well, to me it is lovely, kind of Shaker-style I suppose!

Do you recall that old song about the men moving a piano? "Right Said Fred"? Well, it was like that when my desk was delivered. When I moved into this house with my old desk, I managed to manoeuvre it quite easily into the room in which it stood for about 10 years. When the new one, of identical proportions, was delivered, two hulking great men huffed and puffed, got the desk trapped on its end in the hallway, then took it back outside to the garden path. I tried to give them some advice about how to just kind of swivel it round to fit through the doorway, but well, what would a little woman know about these things? So, they took the knobs off! They got the desk stuck again and took it back outside! They took the drawers out and unscrewed the door off its hinges, got it stuck upside down in the hallway and took it back outside.

The men then decided that the job was impossible, no matter what I suggested or what I said about the previous desk having been identical in size! So, I watched as my lovely new desk got heaved back into the van and driven away!

Three months later, the men came back with my desk, having taken it apart somewhat, and they part-built it in the room in which it now sits!

So, there you are! My big desk and this is News From My Big Desk!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Serving Life for Providing Car to Killers

Ryan Holle, 25, convicted of murder, is serving life without the chance of parole at the Wakulla Correctional Institution in Florida.

From Adam Liptak in the December 4th edition of the New York Times comes this very strange, to me, story of American justice.

"CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. — Early in the morning of March 10, 2003, after a raucous party that lasted into the small hours, a groggy and hungover 20-year-old named Ryan Holle lent his Chevrolet Metro to a friend. That decision, prosecutors later said, was tantamount to murder."

The friend used Ryan's car to drive three other men to the place where they intended to commit a burglary. Ryan was a mile and a half away at the time. The burglary went wrong and the eighteen year-old daughter of the marijuana dealer, they were robbing, was killed. It did not matter to the prosecution that Ryan was not there:

He was convicted of murder under a distinctively American legal doctrine that makes accomplices as liable as the actual killer for murders committed during felonies like burglaries, rapes and robberies."

This is how the prosecutor justified the charge of murder against Ryan Holle.

"A prosecutor explained the theory to the jury at Mr. Holle’s trial in Pensacola in 2004. “No car, no crime,” said the prosecutor, David Rimmer. “No car, no consequences. No car, no murder"

"Most scholars trace the doctrine, which is an aspect of the felony murder rule, to English common law, but Parliament abolished it in 1957. The felony murder rule, which has many variations, generally broadens murder liability for participants in violent felonies in two ways. An unintended killing during a felony is considered murder under the rule. So is, as Mr. Holle learned, a killing by an accomplice.

India and other common law countries have followed England in abolishing the doctrine. In 1990, the Canadian Supreme Court did away with felony murder liability for accomplices, saying it violated “the principle that punishment must be proportionate to the moral blameworthiness of the offender.”

Countries outside the common law tradition agree. “The view in Europe,” said James Q. Whitman, a professor of comparative law at Yale, “is that we hold people responsible for their own acts and not the acts of others.”

This seems to be a reasonable view, "..we hold people responsible for their own acts and not the acts of others."

Especially not the acts of others, I would say, over which the person had no control and during which the person wasn't there.

"About 16 percent of homicides in 2006 occurred during felonies, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Statistics concerning how many of those killings led to the murder prosecutions of accomplices are not available, but legal experts say such prosecutions are relatively common in the more than 30 states that allow them. About 80 people have been sentenced to death in the last three decades for participating in a felony that led to a murder though they did not kill anyone."

Ryan Holle was not participating in a felony, though. After a raucous party, Ryan Holle lent his car to a friend, who subsequently used the car to drive to the scene of a crime.

"Mr. Holle, who had given the police a series of statements in which he seemed to admit knowing about the burglary, was convicted of first-degree murder."

He, "seemed to admit."? What kind of evidence is that? He seemed to admit knowing about the burglary, so he was responsible as an accomplice to first-degree murder?

"But Mr. Holle did testify that he had been told it might be necessary to “knock out” Jessica Snyder. Mr. Holle is 25 now, a tall, lean and lively man with a rueful sense of humor, alert brown eyes and an unusually deep voice. In a spare office at the prison here, he said that he had not taken the talk of a burglary seriously.

“I honestly thought they were going to get food,” he said of the men who used his car, all of whom had attended the nightlong party at Mr. Holle’s house, as had Jessica Snyder."

New York Times

Jeez! That is justice? A man wakes up with a hangover after a raucous party, lends his car to a friend, thinks they're joking about stealing the safe from the marijuana dealer, and is as guilty as the person who killed the girl?

Not every state’s version of the felony murder rule is as strict as Florida’s, and a few states, including Hawaii, Kentucky and Michigan, have abolished it entirely.

“The felony-murder rule completely ignores the concept of determination of guilt on the basis of individual misconduct,” the Michigan Supreme Court wrote in 1980."

Ryan Holle was the only one of five men charged to be offered a plea deal of ten years in prison, which he turned down. To accept he would have to have accepted culpability for the murder, which he clearly was not prepared to do.

"The laws that they use to convict people are just — they have to revise them,” he said. “Just because I lent these guys my car, why should I be convicted the same as these people that actually went to the scene of the crime and actually committed the crime?"