Category Archives: Crime

I was wrong about Sen. Al Franken

And I’ll be the first to admit it. I was never fond of his books, his characters on SNL were amusing, but never gratuitously hilarious, and I thought that the same warmed-over smarmy attitude would be ill fit for the Senate, regardless of whether he won the election fairly or not.

Which he didn’t, by the way, if you agree with Bill O’Riley.

But Franken has done a fabulous job winning over, starting with his solid line of questioning with Justice Sonia Sotomayor (though it was a bit cheesy), continuing with his excellent filmed debate with his own constituents regarding health care, in which he only revealed his pretentious liberal side a few times, and then subsequently apologized for it while defending his viewpoint and perhaps swaying a few opponents.

Watch this, it’s pretty enlightening. And no, they’re not an “angry mob” as the video’s title alleges them to be. Sheesh, the left loves its labels.

And just two days ago, Franken proposed Amendment No. 2588, which has the following purpose: “To prohibit the use of funds for any Federal contract with Halliburton Company, KBR, Inc., any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, or any other contracting party if such contractor or a subcontractor at any tier under such contract requires that employees or independent contractors sign mandatory arbitration clauses regarding certain claims.” This is a direct response to the alleged rape of Jamie Leigh Jones, who says that while at a Halliburton/KBR camp in the Green Zone of Baghdad she was raped by several co-workers and placed under guard in a shipping container.

The amendment passed by a vote of 68-30, as it darn well should have, further giving credence to the theory that Franken is a senator who actually has his wits about him, and would like to use his office to actually accomplish something. Also, he made the Republicans look like they’re pro-rape (though 10 Republicans did vote for it). It seems as though Franken really is good enough, smart enough and dog-gone it, I like him.

As for Franken’s speech on the Senate floor…


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Filed under Crime, Culture wars, Government, Health, Military, Morgan

Have gun, will travel

He holds a counter productively-large gun, eyes in a wrinkled, taut squint with a mouth distracted by a cigarette, a toothpick or just the undeniable urge to contort into an ever-shrinking sneer. The criminals, those entitled, slimy scumbags with leering, sprinting eyes running suicides atop their sunglasses, stumble down alleyways opposite the man with the scrunched face. But he’s no longer a man, he’s the law, the living embodiment of the boiling revenge that sits on society’s stove until someone’s brave enough to put on the oven mitts of justice, grab hold of the scalding kettle and drain a culture’s repressed vengeful and just desires with a single minded righteous fury that few can summon.

The vigilante, that time-honored, hard-broiled, overly-narrated icon of American iconography. Just think about how dominant the idea of not just a tough guy, but a tough guy who isn’t bound by rules or societal norms, whose actions are determined by pure emotion and driven by instinct. The cowboy epitomizes the lone, lawless figure. The 20th century in particular has been inundated with vigilantes, or at least characters who live by the same code of conduct. Nearly every character Clint Eastwood has played, almost every superhero, a good number of John Wayne’s roles and of course, the ever-present anti-hero of the past few decades, contains the same personification of lawlessness and inherent disapproval of authority, regardless of their role within or outside of the system. Even before then, the glamorization of Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok and other lawless gunmen held their own.

They all looked like they needed some fun...

They all looked like they needed some fun...

I bring this topic forward because I recently saw “Taxi Driver” for the first time, and while the film is a powerful piece of work, the following it has received is even more interesting than the movie. There are plenty of people who like Taxi Driver, and many folks who have recommended the film to me have this amped-up, excited  attitude toward it, a sentiment that is bizarre given the proceedings of the film. It’s not a movie that brought me excitement, there was no adrenaline rush, only a lingering and compounding sense of dread.

The catchphrase from the film, the oft-repeated, “Are you talkin’ to me” routine has been turned into a celebration of masculinity, because the reaction of many is that they want to be Travis Bickle, they want to be completely unrestrained, to be so lost that they’ve found a clear-cut idea free of the haze of societal morality. Bickle isn’t necessarily someone to be admired, it’s open to interpretation as to whether or not his actions, as fueled by delusion and madness as they were, were ultimately worthy of condemnation or praise. But more often than not, people decide that the ends justify the means, even if the means involve a severe detachment from reality.

Just think of the hooplah over “The Dark Knight” (and we’re talking thematically, not the initial outpouring of interest due to Heath Ledger’s tragedy). It wasn’t because everyone was captivated by Batman, it was because his vigilante spirit was completely overshadowed by that of the Joker’s. In the villain, audiences found someone who took the attitude of the likes of Dirty Harry, “Death Wish’s” Paul Kersey and Bickle to its ultimate conclusion. The complete sovereignty of the individual over society, a complete removal from social constructs and the demotion of humanity to the status of animals. Vigilantes are driven by their individual senses of justice, this is what limits them from going completely off the wall, because fundamentally, their justice is dictated by the purest form of justice that their society tends to stray from. Push a vigilante to his breaking point, and that moralistic sense of justice will disappear.

I mean, Jack Bauer does the sort of thing the Joker would love to do in his spare time...

I mean, Jack Bauer does the sort of thing the Joker would love to do in his spare time...

If anything, the vigilante’s admiration has made a comeback in recent years, with the ongoing resurgence of the superhero as a prominent archetype. Just look at the way in which the vigilante activity was handled in the “Watchmen” film compared to its literary counterpart. In the comic book, the actual violence is far from the focus of the narrative, it’s handled as a revoltingly brutal activity that is always handled without any sense of glorification. The film, on the other hand, bathes itself in the gore, the degree of violence was featured heavily in the promotional activities and fight scenes were edited, emphasized and even created out of thin air. The viewer is left with the impulse to think, “Oh, this is so bada**,” instead of the, “Ugh, do they have to?” in the book. The film treats vigilantism as awesome, while the book treats it with moral ambiguity. And it should come as no surprise that the comic was written by an Englishman, while the film was directed by an American.

It’s interesting to see that, during the reemergence of the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” syndrome, especially in reaction to Obama (who is apprently a clone of some Egyptian dude now…) that Clint Eastwood’s “final” film, “Gran Torino” features a conclusion that forgoes the typical vigilante bloodbath between the hero and criminal scum, but instead revolves around utilizing the civic spirit from which vigilantism stems to use law enforcement against scum. If Dirty Harry renounces violence and its glorification, what does that say about the legitimacy of those who look at Taxi Driver and think, “Awesome!”

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Filed under Books, Crime, Culture wars, Hollywood, Media, Morgan, Uncategorized

Somalia caught in the riptide

Columnist Neel Arora put together a piece this week about the ongoing glut of piracy off of the coast of Somalia, and argued that the pirates are brutal criminals free of honor, who must be dealt with quickly using coordinated military measures. While there is a heavy argument that such measures could be counterintuitive, and serve to embolden said pirates and give them the sort of PR that would serve to allow them to portray themselves as bold Robin Hoods, the Obama administration has made its stance clear via a few snipers and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s more recent comments regarding the detainment of pirates.

Though the motivations of these pirates at first seem to be self-explanatory, ransoms and hostages are typically the tactics of criminals who wish to rush in, grab as much cash as possible and make a speedy escape. Certainly the excessive poverty and lawlessness that permeates Somalia can only serve to exacerbate matters further.

But Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for a contingent of pirates in the Putland region (one must wonder whether he needed a degree or at least a look at a PR textbook to obtain such a position), said that the hijackings are their way of “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years.” Of course, this news comes from Al Jazeera, it appears that western media has strayed from covering such statements.

While successful piracy can lead to great personal wealth, could it be that at least some of these men are are fighting not purely out of vanity and personal gain, but for revenge against a system of trade that they think has irreversibly altered their homeland and its people?

The first reports of the dumping of toxic waste came in the late 80’s, but they hit a peak in 1997 and 1998 when Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian newspaper, produced evidence of major Italian firms participating in signing agreements with what amounted to Somalia’s “government’ at the time so that they could dump their waste off the coast for about $8 per ton, a drastic reduction from the $1,000 per ton rate that was common across Europe at the time for waste disposal.

Then in the wake of 2004’s tsunami disaster, the toxic waste that accumulated for years at the bottom of the ocean washed ashore, providing garish evidence of the sheer disregard displayed by countless international firms.

“Initial reports indicate that the tsunami waves broke open containers full of toxic waste and scattered the contents. We are talking about everything from medical waste to chemical waste products,” Nick Nuttal, a representative from the United Nations Environment Program told The Times in 2005.

The U.N. also reported that citizens living in areas close to the northeastern coastline of Somalia suffered from a greater-normal number of respiratory infections, ulcers, hemorrhages and additional maladies.

Al Jazeera checked with Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, Somalia’s envoy to the U.N., and he reported that the U.N. does have information that proves that European and Asian firms are dumping not only commercial and industrial waste off of Somalia’s coast, but nuclear waste as well.

“The intentions of these pirates are not concerned with protecting their environment,” Ould-Abdallah later said, contradicting the claims made by Ali Jama.

It comes down to a matter of belief, and just how much faith one can put in statements made by the talking head of a organization based upon piracy. Regardless of whether or not Somali pirates are actually jumping into their boats, replete with weaponry, with environmental vengeance in mind (my best guess is that Ould-Abdallah is completely correct on this, and Ali Jama’s claims are either the representation of a small minority of the pirating population’s stance, or a call for populist support.) the issue of the toxic waste still remains.

It’s easy to put the blame entirely upon the pirates for their desperate leap to hijacking international freighters, but it’s essential to remember that such decisions don’t exist in a vacuum. Somalia is a lawless state without any way to provide anything for its people, with feuding “leaders” unable to pass up making a measly sum off of compromising the health of its people and the integrity of its waters. When backed into a corner, people will do anything to better their lives, as so long as Somalia is an unstable mess, pirates will cruise out into the ocean from its coast, regardless of heads full of noble causes or hearts laden with greed.

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Filed under Crime, International, Media, Morgan, Pendulum

Everything you need to know until tomorrow…

I’m actually not sure why I’m blogging right now, the weather’s brilliant, obligations have freed up a bit and that sensation of stepping into the vast unknown of an unstructured summer break is keeping me on my toes. Nonetheless, the rest of the world is moving on, and Elon’s doing its best to keep up.

  • An issue near and dear to Elon’s heart is the matter of Dr. Ocek Eke being denied tenure, a matter that has from the very get-go struck me as incredibly suspicious. By not speaking out about it, the University has allowed rumors and accusations to fly about the campus, with a great deal of the student body genuinely comfused as to why such a high-quality professor is being let go. Yes, he’s highly political, but his advocacy doesn’t just serve a bully pulpit, but he works tirelessly to improve the world around him. There’s something to be said for those who don’t just pencil push and wallow in academia, but instead try to demonstrate the power of the individual in the political landscape. For more info, click here for some Pendulum coverage.
  • Stop the presses. President Obama has shaken hands with Hugo Chavez, further cementing his reputation as a horrible communist. As we all know, the proper way to deal with a foreign leader we don’t agree with is to leer at them from across the table, and pretend not to when they look in your direction.
  • Of course, the major issue everyone on campus is buzzing about is Pirate Bay’s founders being found guilty, and sentenced to millions of dollars in payments they can’t possibly afford as well as up to a year in jail. We can pitter and patter about whether or not the court made the right decision, but like it or not, the decision is most likely going to stay. The implications that arise from this are far-reaching and could signal the end of the pirating culture that has become the norm in the Internet. To be sure, there will always be Internet piracy, but it has reached a point now where it seems to be the norm, not the exception to download media illegally. By indicating that those who provide the means to pirate can be just as accountable as those who engage in the acts of privacy, the suppliers, the big guns are now being aimed at. Speaking of guns, by this similar logic, can’t gun makers be accountable for providing folks with the means to murder? Can drug companies be held responsibile if their products can be addictive? Can film companies be held responsible for emotional damages if a movie is terrible?

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Filed under Business, Crime, Elon, Government, International, Media, Obama, Pendulum

News briefs!

Put down those preemptive Peeps, it’s not Easter break yet. Here’s a quick rundown of everything that you’ll need to know until tomorrow…

  • Somali pirates boarded the U.S. container ship Alabama and are currently holding its captain, Richard Phillips captive, though the remainder of the ship is reportedly back in the control of its crew. The Alabama, which was carrying food aid intended for Mombasa, Kenya, was boarded at 7:30 a.m.. The crew has made contact with the media and some of their families, and it seems as though none of them have been hurt, despite their unarmed disadvantage against the gun-toting pirates.

    This comes just two days after the Malaspina Castle, a British ship, was boarded by pirates. Last year, almost 100 ships were attacked across the globe by pirates, 40 of which were assaulted close to Somalia. There’s been a strong international effort to bring about an end to such activities, with the American, Chinese, Japanese and Russian warships all patrolling the region.

    It’s nice to think that by tossing some battleships into the sea, this growing pirate problem can be put to an end, but they operate in such small groups, and can vanish so quickly that they’re akin to the small group of terrorists who laid siege to Mumbai last year.

  • Three cheers for diplomacy! If the State Department is to be believed, the U.S. will soon join up with Iran, the U.N. and other European powers discuss Iran’s nuclear program. This is, of course, pending Iran’s acceptance of its invite. Sure, Iran isn’t the most lovable of countries, but this is certainly an improvement over the U.S. wrinkling its brow and poo-pooing them from behind plate glass while they step ever closer to the bomb.
  • In a report that’s sure to shock everyone, the International Association for Dental Research in Miami concluded that prolonged partaking of sports drinks, with all of their hydrating, sugary goodness, can be bad for your teeth. Next week, they’ll decide that eating a diet comprised entirely of Fruit-Roll-Ups is also detrimental to one’s health.
  • Newt Gingrich has come out and said that the Obama administration is “intensely secular” and “anti-religious,” though Obama hasn’t done anything regarding religion one way or the other. Could it be that he’s creating a space, a void, perhaps even a separation between the church and the state? Meanwhile, I’ll go listen to Pearl Jam and boot up my Sega Genesis, because apparently it’s 1994 and Gingrich is important.

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Filed under Crime, Government, Health, International, Iran, Military, Morgan

The cage or the whip?

Two issues involving incarceration arose today that are, inexplicably, related. One, involves the despicable Bernie Madoff’s expected guilty plea for criminal charges related to his estimated $65 billion fake investment scheme. The other involves the castration of sex offenders in the Czech Republic, an increasingly common practice that is deemed, “invasive, irreversible and mutilating” by the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee (but a-OK for Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal signed in favor of it).

The matter at hand? What, exactly, the purpose of a prison should be.
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Filed under Business, Crime, Morgan