Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Better Late than Never...

I have not posted in a couple of weeks now. If I had any sort of a regular readership, I'd probably be worried about that...but the past weeks have been very busy with the combination of finals, gearing up for the holidays, a really tremendous legal opportunity, and the end of my employment and accounting career.

But, in the midst of all that, last week was ONE GREAT WEEK. I've resigned my job, and will no longer be working as an accountant - but will be going to school full-time, along with several school projects on the side, and an exciting opportunity to get some actual experience. I finished up with my finals for Fall 2005. And - probably most exciting:

HOUSTON HAS AN MLS TEAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wonderful. Here is the website:
MLS Houston

Exciting developments. The (as yet un-named) team will play at Robertson Stadium on the campus of the University of Houston...and it is not an expansion team. The former San Jose Earthquakes are re-locating - so this is a team stocked with talent, and that finished first in the Western Division standings last year, and won MLS Cup two of the past five.

Quite a Christmas present, huh? Yes, more 'important' things have been going on the past two weeks - but this was mighty exciting to me.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Politics of death...

This story is another example of why capital punishment in America is wholly unjust and arbitrary - and is simply unjustified.

The story of Tookie Williams is pretty well know these days. Founder of a notorious gang (the Crips) convicted of four murders, but now while on death row, he has become a leading anti-gang activist and is credited by many former gang members as being the reason for them getting out of the gang lifestyle.

Does that 'conversion' merit the clemency of his sentence of death? I don't know. Obviously I tend to think so - but I'm not convinced that capital punishment works to begin with. Regardless of if he "deserves" clemency, the reason why Williams' case is a textbook example of the arbitrariness and illegitimacy of the death penalty is this:
"Clemency has become part of the politics of criminal punishment and has been slowly evaporating," said Frank Zimring, a clemency expert at the University of California at Berkeley. "When it comes to crime and punishment, there's been a conspicuous toughening of the governor and the public."
Schwarzenegger is still smarting from the defeat of four ballot measures he backed during a November special election, and political analysts have said that granting clemency would not sit well with the conservative base the Republican needs if he hopes to win re-election next year.

An independent poll last year found that 68 percent of Californians support the death penalty -- 54 percent of Democrats and 87 percent of Republicans.

"If he granted clemency, I would say, it would be a very divisive opinion," pollster Mark DiCamillo said. "Large segments of the public would take him to task."

I do not know Tookie Williams. I do not know if he committed the heinous crimes he has been convicted of. I do not know if his anti-gang work while on death row is a result of true repentance and conversion, or simply an effort to save his own life.

But I do know that the life and death of a human being - a human being named Tookie Williams - is likely going to be determined more by polls and politics than justice. I do know that is shameful.

Other capital punishment posts:
The wise words of Harry Blackmun...
An incredibly sad textbook example...
Stevens: 'Serious flaws' in death penalty
Believe it or not...
Go buy this book...
Capital Punishment in Texas...
Will Texas lose the death penalty?
Lethal Injustice...
Software Models Capital Punishment Outcomes

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Harry Potter spoiler alert...


This week I finished reading the latest in the Harry Potter series of books - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I was fortunate to be able to get this in over the Thanksgiving holiday - now that I'm in school I very rarely have much time for reading for pleasure. I borrowed Half-Blood Prince from a friend and was about 100 pages into it, a week or so ago, but I was totally lost. There were characters and story lines being referenced which I had absolutely no recognition of. So, then I decided that I needed to go back and read
Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix again, because I literally did not remember a thing about that book. That is kind of a scary proposition - the fact that you have read a book before and could not remember a single event, character or plot twist only a year or two later. I console myself thinking about how the thousands of pages of legal cases I've read since then has simply pushed these stories from my mind...but I'm really just worried I'm getting old.

Well, if you've read Half-Blood Prince, you know there are some - shall we say - twists and turns, or surprises in store. Well, I want to talk about some of those surprises a little bit in this post...


If you have not read Half-Blood Prince, but intend on doing so, please stop reading this now - because I am going to write about somethings that happen that you will not want to know before you read. If you do not want to spoil the plot of Half-Blood Prince stop reading now.


The purpose of this post is I have some ideas kicking around in my head about something that may happen in the seventh and final installment of the Harry Potter books - and if I'm right, it may well not surprise you as much when you read that book. So, if you do not want to face the possibility of a surprise of Book 7 potentially being revealed here, stop reading now.


Okay, as I mentioned, after reading Half-Blood Prince, I got to thinking about the ending, and something came to me that might be an important part of the final book - and I want to record that here so that, in two years when the final book comes out, I can verify if I was correct or not. I do want to add here - I do not read Harry Potter websites - so if this is a very common theory of what is happening in the books, then I apologize for not citing those sources, but this comes simply from my thoughts about the books, not anything external I've read.


As you know if you have read Half-Blood Prince, Professor Dumbeldore (Hogwarts Headmaster, and mentor/protector of Harry Potter) dies toward the end of the book. That was a bit of a surprise - not completely, but to some extent. What was much more surprising to me was the source of his death - he was killed by the killing curse by none other than Hogwarts Professor Severus Snape. Snape is a former Death Eater, who had turned spy for the Order of the Pheonix (those whom fight the antagonist in the books - Lord Voldemort). But many in the Order - if not all other than Dumbledore - still did not trust Snape. They felt he was still too entwined in the Dark Arts, and was really still a follower of Voldemort. But Dumbledore steadfastly trusted Snape, and refused to listen to anyone's doubts of Snape's pure loyalty.

And yet it was Snape who administered the curse which killed Dumbledore.

What to make of this. Well, clearly, the idea from the book is that Harry and the other members of the Order were correct all along about Snape - that he was still evil, still following Voldemort, and that Dumbledore was wrong to trust him.

I do not think this is the case. I think Snape is still loyal to the Order, and that even now - having killed Dumbledore and on the run back to Voldemort - he will be acting as spy.

How can that be?

My conjecture is that Dumbledore had a reason to put his trust in Snape fully. What kind of a reason - an Unbreakable Vow. We learn in Half-Blood Prince about these Unbreakable Vows that bind the two oath takers together to the point that death will result if the Vow is broken. What if - and it is a big what if - Dumbledore had convinced Snape to take an Unbreakable Vow of loyalty to him, to the Order, and against Voldemort, but always as spy, never revealing his true loyalties - even if that meant he had to kill Dumbledore in front of other Death Eaters to remain with his access to Voldemort.

This is how I support such a conjecture:

1. Dumbledore never waivered in his support of Snape. In the books, has Dumbledore ever been proven wrong about such a massive point? No.

2. When Harry was chasing Snape and Malfoy from the Hogwarts grounds, Snape fought back only with defensive spells. If he was truly working for Voldemort, there is no reason not to kill Harry at that point - after all he had just killed Dumbledore.

3. My idea is that Dumbledore knew that in order to defeat Voldemort, Harry would need someone on the inside to do something, which will provide Harry the access to kill him. My gut feeling is that at this point, Dumbledore felt his life was less important than Snape's in defeating Voldemort - Snape has to be there in order to accomplish the Feat, the Something which will enable Harry to end the War. Harry doesn't know this. The Order doesn't know this. But Snape does, and he will accompolish the Feat just before he himself perishes - and is redeemed - in the final book.

Who knows. Maybe Snape is just evil. But I think that Dumbledore had a master plan, and he saw his sacrifice as simply a piece of that plan.

We shall see.

Keep the Promise...

Today is World Aids Day. The idea of the world-wide day of awareness is to encourage the international community to step up to the plate and fight the disease.

The theme of this World Aids Day is accountability. There will be international observances calling for nations of the world, and international organizations to keep their committmens in fighting AIDS.

Clearly, the AIDS pandemic is at its devastating worst in the poorest areas of the world. The expense of getting AIDS treatment drugs, combined with lack of proper medical facilities, labratory testing facilities, and proper basics such as nourishment and hygiene make fighting AIDS in developing portions of the world extremely difficult. But it is clearly not a lost cause.

A study to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine today reveals that a holistic approach - even in the poorest areas - can be successful. The study shows that low-cost treatment programs can dramatically increase survival rates in poor countries.
Typically only 30 percent of AIDS patients survive for one year in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere where the HIV infection rate is about 3 percent among adults.

But integrating drug care -- usually generic drugs -- with nutritional support, tuberculosis treatment, counseling and other public health programs brought the survival rate up to 87 percent for adults and 98 percent for children, said Fitzgerald of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

That is a rather staggering improvement - especially for the children. And - it's economically efficient:
Fitzgerald and his colleagues said the annual cost of giving a three-drug combination to fight the AIDS virus was about $500 for generic medicines and $750 for brand-name drugs. "We estimated the overall cost per patient per
year (including medicine) as about $1,600," they said.

If you are able to spend a paltry $1,600 and re-gain a functioning memeber of the community, who is able to go back to work...or if a child, is able to grow up and contribute to the community - that is a bargain.

But of course, the poorest regions of Africa, central America, and Asia are not the only places where there is suffering from this disease. Even here, in one of the wealthiest nations of the world, people struggle with AIDS - and at all levels, the poor, middle class, and even the wealthy. AIDS is no respecter of income. And even though many here in America are able to take advantage of drugs and treatment which enables them to live strong, vibrant lives - there still is no cure...which I was reminded of all to closely this year. Much has been done, but there is so much left to do.

A few more links:
US Dept. of State
Kaiser Family Foundation

Stop AIDS. Keep the promise.