Thursday, January 21, 2010

Criminals and Civility

I stumbled on the Christianity, philosophy, and chess blog "you think, i thought, who confirm?" and specifically a post where author Luke Leong provides famous quotes on the philosophy of criminal law:

"The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead


"The quality of a criminal justice system is an important measure of the value of a political community. Apart from waging war, no decision made by the state is more significant than its judgment about what conduct should be proscribed and how severely to punish it." - Douglas Husak, Overcriminalisation: The Limits of the Criminal Law


The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.

A calm, dispassionate recognition of the right of the accused, and even of the convicted criminal - a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment - a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry those who have paid their due in the hard coinage of punishment: tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerative processes: unfailing faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.

These are the symbols which, in the treatment of crime and criminal, mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation and sign and proof of the living virtue in it.

- Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons (1910)

Balancing the rights of the accused, the dignity of all individuals, a respect for the rule of law, and civil order has always been difficult, but in the hundred years since Churchill spoke those words, it is clear to me that America has drifted a bit too far down the "tough on crime" road. The Innocence Project would not be in such demand if juries (in representing and reflecting the nature of our society) were not so quick to replace the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" with "probably did something worth going to jail (or dying) for." Another example are the numerous variations of "three strikes and life" legislation that slams the door shut on rehabilitating and nurturing the heart of so many.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Becase whiteys pass and shoot three-pointers?

From NPR, I just had to post this:

This idea offends so many people on so many levels that I can't believe it will get anywhere:

A promoter says he's going to start up a whites-only professional basketball league with teams in 12 Southern cities.

And Don "Moose" Lewis says there's nothing hateful about the idea.

"I don't hate anyone of color," he told the Augusta Chronicle. "But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here's a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like."

Players would have to be "natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race."

Rick Chandler at NBC Sports' Out of Bounds blog says he "made a couple of calls to make sure this isn't some sort of prank, and sadly, it's indeed legit." Then, he adds:

OK global warming, we're pretty much done here. We thought we were making progress, but you can go ahead and cook us up. Just try and spare the dolphins; they're smart.

WJBF-TV in Augusta aired this report:

In idea so backwards and laughable that even ol' Augusta finds too objectionable - I didn't know that was possible. I kid, I kid, I grew up in Disgusta, it does have its advantages.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Call the Po Po!

Leave it to the French government, which if it has its way, will make yelling at or insulting your spouse or roommate a crime:

A bill being put forward by Nicolas Sarkozy's government would make "psychological violence" between married or cohabiting couples a matter for state intervention. It's a puzzling and problematic idea, for all manner of reasons.

For starters, there's the question of defining an act of psychological violence: as it stands, the legislation would appear to cover everything from nagging, to false accusations of infidelity, to sustained campaigns of verbal abuse, to a failure to supply the correct answer to the question: "Does my bum look big in this?"
I will start this with a statement and disclaimer. I love my wife, and I don't know anyone that has a fundamentally stronger relationship than the Mrs. and I. We are happy as husband and wife, and are also great friends who deeply enjoy sharing life together. That, and the following few paragraphs are (kinda sorta) tongue in cheek.

Having said all that, I AM half-Italian. Multiplying the decibel level, turning red in the face, and waving my limbs violently is pretty much my genetically programmed default setting for having a discussion. Add to this the faulty on/off switch on my sarcastic remarks generator, and the result is a propensity for unfortunate missteps when it comes to domestic disputes.

Lest you call me a monster, let me assure you that I married the right woman, and Mrs. Hommes gives as good or better than she receives. I knew I had to find a strong woman that could keep me in my place, and apparently you have to be careful what you ask for, because I certainly got it and then some.

Overall we have a complimentary and functional, even if messy at times, communication style. By wearing our relationships on our sleeves, we always know where we stand with one another, nothing is ever left unsaid (good or bad), and we are quick to fix problems and not allow them to fester or grow. As we get mature together, we are mellowing out a bit and smoothing out more and more of the rough edges everyday, but let's just say we are both still glad we don't live in France!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Everyone on the internet seems to see in this film whatever they are looking for, be it religious, racial, economic, political, or cultural. I have not seen it, and really have not had the desire to go watch it up to this point, but at the same time, as was the case throughout my un-cool childhood (not that the situation is any different now), there is the fear of passing over this cultural phenomena, be it for better or worse, and then forever not understanding all future references.

So two questions: 1) Did I not just write one of the most convoluted sentences ever? and 2) Should I go see Avatar?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Big Business Hearts Big Government

Per the CATO blog:

The late George Stigler, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, is famous in part because of his work on “regulatory capture,” which occurs when interest groups use the coercive power of government to thwart competition and undeservedly line their own pockets. A perfect (and distasteful) example of this can be found in today’s Washington Post, which reports that the IRS plans to impose new regulations dictating who can prepare tax returns. Not surprisingly, the new rules have the support of big tax preparation shops such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, which see this as an opportunity to squeeze smaller competitors out of the market. The IRS and the big firms claim more regulations are needed to protect consumers from shoddy work, but this is the usual rationale for licensing laws and other government-imposed barriers to entry and the Institute for Justice has repeatedly shown such rules are designed to benefit insiders rather than consumers.
When governments and corporations proclaim they have come up with a win-win them, you can almost be certain the average citizen is the loser.

Human nature is the same whether we talk about governments, corporations, organizations, or individuals - even if one's optimal role, size and limitations could be known and defined, there remains the ever-present temptation to go a littler further, wield a bit more influence, gain a bit more control, tweak the rules in one's favor, and/or grow a little richer. When governments are not involved, and no laws are broken, we call this competition, which is great. When businesses lobby/buy the use of government force, however, we should call it for what it is, corruption.

I admit it, I laughed

Judging from the reaction across the internet, I was far from alone in noticing the cowbell girl during the halftime of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. But as SB Nation and EDSBS have since reported, the Boise State Cowbell girl is blind. So is it OK to still think this is hilarious?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcome to The Jungle

The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so Upton Sinclair would likely say were he still alive.

Mrs. Hommes thinks I am crazy for buying more expensive cuts of beef in order to grind my own meat at home to make hamburgers. Perhaps, but my defense is pretty straightforward: It's more fun, I don't eat burgers often enough for the extra cost to become an issue, the burgers taste better when the exact cuts and meat:fat ratios can be controlled, and most importantly, I don't have to eat the ammonia treated and e. coli tainted ground beef that corporate agribusiness produces:

Stephanie Smith, a children’s dance instructor, thought she had a stomach virus…

Then her diarrhea turned bloody. Her kidneys shut down. Seizures knocked her unconscious. The convulsions grew so relentless that doctors had to put her in a coma for nine weeks. When she emerged, she could no longer walk. The affliction had ravaged her nervous system and left her paralyzed.

Ms. Smith, 22, was found to have a severe form of food-borne illness caused by E. coli, which Minnesota officials traced to the hamburger that her mother had grilled for their Sunday dinner in early fall 2007…

The frozen hamburgers that the Smiths ate, which were made by the food giant Cargill, were labeled “American Chef’s Selection Angus Beef Patties.”….ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria.

So before you buy that next package of ground beef or box of frozen patties, be sure to ask yourself if you feel lucky.

As mentioned in the above linked Naked Capitalism blog post as well as the two New York Times articles, feces contamination is the culprit, so the amount of surface area exposed inside a meat processing facility is a key risk factor, and this risk must be multiplied by the number of animals and processing plants that make up the ground beef. A home grind drastically lowers the numbers on both sides of the equation, so it certainly reduces, if not completely eliminates, the chance of e. coli in my burgers.

For those that do not want to go through the added hassle of grinding their own beef, but don't necessarily like the idea of eating ammonia treated beef trimmings as part of their burgers, there are other steps that can be taken. The first is to find a trusty local butcher shop that buys whole sides of beef and grinds their own beef in the store. If this is not feasible, then buying a whole chuck or sirloin roast at your megamart and having the roast ground in the store is another option. Finally, many grocery chains, Publix included, will take the steaks, roasts, and other large cuts that are within a couple days of their "sell by" dates and grind them in the store, and sell them as "market" ground beef. This ground beef will NOT contain fat percentage markings, as the selections will vary daily and there is no in-store inspector. Still, if you ask the butcher, they can tell you when the meat was ground, and often tell you what cuts made up the bulk of the grind. If they talk, you will usually be happy to learn that the expensive and/or organic selections make up the bulk of the selection, as turnover rate tends to vary the most on these items. The cost is just as low or lower than the other ground beefs, and will contain no ammonium treated trimmings, and tastes very fresh as long as it used within a couple of days. With any option, the cleanliness of the grinding equipment should also be questions, but even Mrs. Hommes, who loves to accuse me of being a food snob (justifiably so in some cases), is willing to make a little extra effort to upgrade the selection of ground beef found in our frig.

Are the chances of being infected by e. coli incredibly small? Absolutely. Does that mean that meat producers are doing everything they can and should be doing considering the risks versus profits? Absolutely not.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

From the Reading Chair

In using the New Year's weekend to finally start my current reading assignment in earnest, I came across this rather interesting excerpt:

There came a time (Early Modern) when, apparently, life lost the ability to
arrange itself. It had to be arranged. Intellectuals took this as
their job. From, say, Machiavelli's time to our own this arrangement has been the
one great great gorgeous tantalizing misleading disastrous project.

- Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow