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If you are a traditionalist, you may not agree with my philosophy about raising dogs.

I don’t train them; I just live with them. Visitors to my home may object to their in-your-face methods of greeting, but they will agree my dogs seem to be happy animals, play constantly, and are not particularly threatening.

Now I will admit my approach works better with some animals than others. Maggie, a sleek black-and-tan mutt, is very smart and eager-to-please, and I have no complaints about her. Max, on the other hand, is not exactly retarded, but he’s not very bright, either.

A big white dog who is not yet even a year old, Max’s exuberance often gets the better of him. He chews. He collects unburned milk cartons and other trash from the fire pit. I am tempted to reward his antics with corporal punishment, but he is too fast for me to catch.

I can only hope he will grow out of it.

My friend Ronnie says says I just need to spend more one-on-one time with Max, but then he has taught his dog to obey hand signals (very impressive). Ronnie’s methods and mine differ, and I doubt that Ronnie will ever agree with the premise of my methods.

My dogs do what they damned well please.

I am happy with that. Being happy is the most important aspect for which you manage a household.

Max, however, had gotten me to question my approach when a reader sent me this article about child-rearing, which is in so many ways similar to raising dogs. The latest research suggests that spanking children can result in physical consequences for brain development.

When I think about spanking Max, I realize that the practice could ultimately be self-defeating. He has no gray matter to spare.



Spanking the gray matter out of our kids

by Sarah Kovac, Special to CNN
July 23, 2014
  • Spanking or other forms of corporal punishment can alter children’s brains, research shows
  • Kids who were regularly spanked had less gray matter in prefrontal cortexes, studies say
  • These areas of the brain have been linked to depression, addiction

How to discipline the next generation is a hotly debated topic. In 2012, a national survey showed more than half of women and three-quarters of men in the United States believe a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.”

Science tells a different story. Researchers say physical punishment actually alters the brain — not only in an “I’m traumatized” kind of way but also in an “I literally have less gray matter in my brain” kind of way.

“Exposing children to HCP (harsh corporal punishment) may have detrimental effects on trajectories of brain development,” one 2009 study concluded.

Harsh corporal punishment in the study was defined as at least one spanking a month for more than three years, frequently done with objects such as a belt or paddle. Researchers found children who were regularly spanked had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to depression, addiction and other mental health disorders, the study authors say.

The researchers also found “significant correlations” between the amount of gray matter in these brain regions and the children’s performance on an IQ test.

Several other studies support these findings. A 2010 study published in Pediatrics found that frequent — more than twice in the previous month — spanking when a child was 3 was linked to an increased risk for higher levels of child aggression when the child was 5.

Another, from the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma, found that corporal punishment doled out from the mother was independently related to a decrease in cognitive ability relative to other children. Corporal punishment had the largest effect on children 5 to 9.

Behind all this science-speak is the sobering fact that corporal punishment is damaging to children. That gray matter we’ve been spanking out of them? It’s the key to the brain’s ability to learn self-control.

“The more gray matter you have in the decision-making, thought-processing part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex), the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences,” write the authors of a 2011 study that appeared in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

The sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have. They learn how to be controlled by external forces (parents, teachers, bosses), but when the boss isn’t looking, then what?

Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, has been studying corporal punishment for 15 years, and is known as the leading researcher on spanking in the United States today. Over the years, Gershoff has done a systematic review of the hundreds of studies on the effects of corporal punishment.

“There’s no study that I’ve ever done that’s found a positive consequence of spanking,” Gershoff said. “Most of us will stop what we’re doing if somebody hits us, but that doesn’t mean we’ve learned why somebody hit us, or what we should be doing instead, which is the real motive behind discipline.”

Initially it was believed that spanking, at the very least, was associated with immediate compliance in children, and that parental warmth would buffer any harmful effects.

But the finding that spanking produced compliance “was overly influenced by one study,” Gershoff said; it turns out spanking “doesn’t make your kids better behaved. You think it does. … It doesn’t.”

What is spanking associated with? Aggression. Delinquency. Mental health problems. And something called “hostile attribution bias,” which causes children, essentially, to expect people to be mean to them.

This bias makes the world feel especially hostile. In turn, children are on edge and ready to be hostile back. Over time, across cultures and ethnicities, the findings are consistent: Spanking is doing real, measurable damage to the brains of our children.

And yet in 19 states, Gershoff notes, it is still legal for schools to paddle children.

For those thinking, “I was spanked, and I turned out fine,” or, “I spank my kids and they’re great!” consider that you don’t know who you would be or how your children would behave in a world without spanking.

It could be that your children are thriving not because you spank, but in spite of it.


Sarah Kovac is a motivational speaker and author of In Capable Arms: Living a Life Embraced by Grace.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the Ames Brothers performing “It Only Hurts For A Little While”


PS: Ronnie says he believes in spanking, but never hit his girls in all the years they were growing up. I say a man is judged more by his deeds than his words.


kickstarter kickoff

Estrella Vista & Corazon Peak

I’ve decided to try something new. I’m reaching out to a wider (or at least new) audience and asking for its support for Estrella Vista (as distinct from direct services to kids). I have prepared a Kickstarter proposal, which you can see here. It was launched just last night.

Maybe it will succeed, maybe not. It’s worth a try.

As soon as the project launched, I received several emails from organizations that want me to provide up-front money to promote the project to Kickstarter supporters, media outlets, etc. that they say they can reach more successfully than I can. Forgive me for being skeptical, but they give me the impression that their primary way of making money is by feeding off the dreams and credulity of project creators who think their idea is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I am prepared to be wrong. Maybe there is something to this “crowd-funding” after all. Maybe the crowd is capable of achieving something beyond just registering “likes” for novel ideas with the potential for lessening human suffering.

Click. There, I’ve done something. Big deal.

I have faith in you. You’ve never let me down. You’ve never been satisfied with just providing lip service for juvenile justice. Working together, we have achieved substantive results for our kids and their families.

Will you please do me a favor? Go to my Kickstarter Page and then tell me what you think. While you’re there, you can leave a pledge and get the ball rolling. You won’t be charged unless we reach the goal. Think of it as a “like” for now. Thank you.

But I for one am prepared to be surprised. When I started this blog, there were no guarantees of success. People can and do astound me with their generosity and kindness. It could happen again.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Crosby, Sills, Nash & Young performing “Our House”


compassion redux

One of my readers had directed me to the case of a cute kid in Utah who had participated in an armed home invasion and reached a plea bargain with the prosecutor, only to have it overturned by the judge and replaced with a severe term in adult prison.

I think my reader’s intent was to get me wound up about the judge, who had done a very unfair thing. That worked alright, but my main reaction at the story was how a boy, obviously from a good family, could be so uncompassionate  that he would terrorize someone in their own home with a gun?

I had decided to react to my reader’s input by writing another essay on compassion, but I didn’t know what to say. I had just begun researching the word “compassion” on Wikipedia, hoping it would stimulate some ideas, when a wonderful story about compassion came on the radio.

It was a coincidence that was too good to ignore: a report about a 12-year-old program called the Saint Joseph of Armathea Pallbearer Ministry, at the all-male Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland OH.

Saint Joseph of Armathea Pallbearer Ministry, at Saint Ignatius High School 3

The pallbearers group consists of 440 boys, and the activity of the group appears to have made a deep, life-changing impression on the young men. It serves at funerals for deceased people who were homeless, financially insecure, or without family to give them a dignified burial. It is the largest activity at Saint Ignatius.

The students are requested by the family of the dead to serve as pallbearers. The boys, each dressed in a blue blazer, khaki slacks, shirts and ties, follow the funeral director’s quiet orders, moving the casket to where it should be placed for the service. After the service, the body of the deceased is returned to the hearse for the trip to the burial spot, and it is the boys who lift the casket again. At the cemetery, they stand in a group offering their own silent prayers for the grieving family.

Saint Joseph of Armathea Pallbearer Ministry, at Saint Ignatius High SchoolThe ministry is busy, answering the requests of many families that have no one to serve as pallbearers for the funeral of a loved one. Sometimes the deceased had been a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and his family had requested St. Ignatius students carry him to his burial site. But more often, the deceased is old, poor, or both. Even during the days when there is no school, the pallbearer teenagers are there, ready to help.

“The great teaching of our faith is to care for the individual and to value human life from the womb to the tomb,” said Dan Baron, a theology teacher at St. Ignatius and one of the advisors to the pallbearer group. He and fellow theology teacher James Sker provide guidance to the group.

“The ministry was designed to not only give students an opportunity to perform the work of mercy, but also to help them see the real meaning of service,” said pallbearer Charlie Casa.

“When you’re out on a funeral, you kind of feel close to the families although you don’t even know them,” said St. Ignatius student Danny Dreiling.

Saint Joseph of Armathea Pallbearer Ministry, at Saint Ignatius High School 2“I’ve learned to cherish my life as it is and to cherish my friends and my family,” said student pallbearer Chris Bunder. “It really kinds of puts everything in perspective,” he added.

Brendan Wagner said the ministry has helped him in his growing and maturing process. “It’s one of the best things we provide here at St. Ignatius,” he said.

All the boys said they better understood the fragility of life because of their participation in the ministry.

It has made them more compassionate.

The boys provide their services under the guidance of funeral homes that participate in the St. Ignatius project.

“They’re not only pallbearers,” said Lou Ripepi, owner of Ripepi Funeral Home. “They pray with the families, sit through the services, funeral masses, graveside services, and present a card to the family. These are young men that really care.”

The school ministry is named after St. Joseph of Aramathea, who appears in all four Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Christ. Joseph of Aramathea is said to have donated his new tomb outside Jerusalem to receive the body of Jesus.

The boys all said their work is more than a service. They view it as a mission.

To listen to the radio broadcast, click here.


Groove of the Day

Listen to “Nearer My God To Thee” from the soundtrack of Titanic




With per capita water use in the US between 560 and 700 gallons per week, my use of 17 gallons a week must seem pretty unbelievable. But it’s true, and it presents no hardship beyond going into town to take a weekly shower.

For several years, all my water needs have been met by the rainwater which falls in this desert environment. A large roof, combined with gutters and a water catchment system which includes a 1,250-gallon storage tank, provides for all my needs. The last time I had to haul in water was about 3 or 4 years ago, when a leak in my catchment and storage system resulted in hundreds of gallons of this precious commodity flowing into the ground. But this experience is becoming a distant memory. It rained a couple days ago, and my storage tank overflowed.

So when I hear stories about the drought and water catastrophe facing places like California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Northern Texas, and when I hear that farmers and other citizens are responding to the crisis by drilling wells and depleting their groundwater reserves, I can only shake my head.

Reservoirs, creeks, and rivers usually supply a large portion of California’s water for drinking and irrigation. Because of the drought, groundwater is now furnishing close to 70% of the state’s water, up from 40% in a typical year. A report released in May shows that groundwater levels in California have hit record lows since 2008.

“The severity of the drought has been compounded by poor planning, poor management, and population growth putting pressure on already overcommitted resources,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Oakland, California-based Pacific Institute, a nonprofit that conducts interdisciplinary research on water issues. “It is the third year of the drought, and we did not act in the first two years as though anything was abnormal.”

Places like Sacramento, where 60% of residential water use goes to the watering of lawns, have instituted lawn-watering bans and restrictions. Such a reaction appears to make sense, but it relies on enforcement to work, and California is notoriously short-staffed with enforcers (read that as water police).  A system-wide solution is required.

Despite its enforcement approach, water use in California has gone up. A simple philosophy should be instituted that is applied to all citizens and businesses without exception.

Some jurisdictions have taken to the incredibly counter-productive practice of outlawing or taxing the use of water which falls from the sky. Other jurisdictions fail to charge money for water that is drawn from the ground. What is wrong with this picture?

I say that water which falls from the sky should be free, and water which depletes our groundwater and aquifers should cost users money. This principle would incentivize the creation of rain catchment systems such as mine, and would discourage the depletion of the groundwater upon which our civilization depends.

It is not the business of government to regulate whether people have swimming pools, reflecting ponds and fountains, water their lawns and gardens, or wash their cars. How people can afford these uses should be up to them.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the Stone Roses performing “Waterfall”


reincarnation revisited


When I wrote a post about reincarnation and made some personal disclosures a couple years ago (“My Second Chance”), I was deafened by the silence which ensued.

Maybe this is because, in Western culture, reincarnation has been considered an oddball belief ever since 325 AD when the leaders of the Catholic Church convened the Council of Nicea and declared reincarnation (versus resurrection) an heretical belief. Maybe it is because reincarnation is popularly associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern (and—according to certain supremacists—inferior) cultures. Or maybe it’s because it cannot be proved conclusively enough to replace the teachings and superstitions of our childhoods about an eternity spent in heaven.

It doesn’t matter. All theories are speculation and, in the end, come down to selecting the One True Belief that feels right to you.

I settled on reincarnation because I have observed that everything else in the Universe experiences cycles in its existence, and if you believe in the survival of one’s soul after death, why shouldn’t that recycle, as well? (But then cycles, especially business cycles, are described as “theoretical” by those who profit from them, want to maintain popular ignorance and skepticism, and hence, a competitive advantage.)

Anyway, last night I did some research into the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson (1918-2007), a psychiatrist who worked for the University of Virginia School of Medicine and was known as the world’s foremost scientific researcher into reincarnation. He spent over 40 years traveling the world to meticulously investigate over 3,000 cases of small children who appeared to recall previous lives. His life’s work was funded by a bequest from Chester Carlson, the inventor of Xerography. To Dr. Stevenson and his many admirers, his detailed case studies provided more than ample room for, as he liked to put it, “a rational person, if he wants, to believe in reincarnation on the basis of evidence.”

Unconvinced by the Freudian view that personality is fixed in early childhood, Dr.  Stevenson began to explore other theories for the origin of individual characteristics and the development of personality. He became interested in accounts gleaned from newspapers and journals about children who claimed to have memories of previous lives.

Dense with statistical data, his studies avoided any theoretical speculation on Eastern philosophical theories about the transmigration of souls. In fact, “soul” was a word Stevenson was always keen to avoid. He preferred the term “personality”, and was always careful to state that the mountain of evidence accumulated in his research “permitted”, rather than compelled, a belief in reincarnation.

In 1977, the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease devoted most of one issue to Dr. Stevenson’s work. In the issue, psychiatrist Harold Lief described Dr. Stevenson as “a methodical, careful, even cautious, investigator, whose personality is on the obsessive side.” He also wrote: “Either he is making a colossal mistake, or he will be known as ‘the Galileo of the 20th century.’ “

The evidence he did provide came not from past-life readings or hypnotic regressions but from using the techniques of a detective or investigative reporter to evaluate claims that a young child, often just beginning to talk, had spontaneously started to speak of the details of another life. In a fairly typical case, a boy in Beirut spoke of being a 25-year-old mechanic, thrown to his death from a speeding car on a beach road. According to multiple witnesses, the boy provided the name of the driver, the exact location of the crash, the names of the mechanic’s sisters, parents and cousins, and the people he hunted with—all of which turned out to match the life of a man who had died several years before the boy was born, and who had no apparent connection to the boy’s family.

Some of Dr. Stevenson’s most important findings were that more boys than girls expressed such spontaneous past life memories, that children started recounting these stories were between the ages of 2 and 5 (yet seemed to have forgotten them by age 8 or 9), and that 60% of them described sudden, violent deaths. He also found that many of these children had birth marks which corresponded in location and shape to wounds suffered by the subjects who had previously died.

Toward the end of his life, Dr. Stevenson accepted that his long-stated goal of getting mainstream science “to seriously consider reincarnation as a possibility” was not going to be realized in his lifetime. One scientist—typical of the mainstream—wrote: “Why, in their past lives, was everybody a princess or mighty warrior? Didn’t anybody dig ditches in the ancient world? Who took out the garbage? Who fed the elephants?”

He obviously didn’t acknowledge that most, if not all, of Dr. Stevenson’s cases were ordinary people with unexceptional lives. He was not taking into account the possibility that knowledge of, and belief in, reincarnation can lead to benefits beyond the mere curiosity of it.

I am attracted to reincarnation because I like the idea of getting a second (or third or thousandth) chance to do it right or better than before. It is the idea of Continuous Improvement on a cosmic scale.

But I am also fascinated by another idea.

I believe that the purpose of life is to mature into an integrated personality, to learn from all of the experiences and mistakes of the past, and become a truly wise and good person. What if that past includes not only one’s present lifetime, but as many past lives as one can remember?

If this vision of the continuity of lives is true, it could bring a new meaning to the notion of a truly enlightened being. It could bring a transcendent quality to “the meaning of life.”

I have only a vague idea of my last former life. I don’t remember being a prince, a rich man, or famous man. It is more likely I was a nobody, an unremarkable person who died betrayed and disillusioned, whose life never had a chance to develop to its potential. Yet I got a chance at a better life this time around. A chance to redeem not only my early self from this life, but my past self as well.

I don’t know how else to put it, but that is living a life with meaning. A chance to experience immortality in the here-and-now. If it is wishful thinking, a fantasy, or self-aggrandisement, so be it. Leave me to my illusions.

They work for me.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the Forseter Sisters performing “(I’d Choose) You Again”



still in the news

Although the case of Paul Henry Gingerich is settled and not currently active in the courts, it continues to command the attention of media in Indiana because of the changes in state law that it brought about. This is a story that ran last Wednesday on WRTV-6, the ABC affiliate in Indianapolis.



Should juvenile offenders serve time in adult prison?

by Chris Proffitt, WRTV

July 16, 2014

Indiana judges are using a change in state laws to keep juvenile offenders sentenced as adults out of adult prisons.Paul Gingerich was only 12 when he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and he is believed to be the youngest person in Indiana ever sentenced to prison as an adult. Now at age16, he’s in a juvenile detention facility, but has since become the de facto face of children sentenced to serve time in adult prisons.

Attorney Monica Foster represented Gingerich’s case.

“When we’re sending children, babies in some instances, to adult prison, what we’re really doing is saying they’re throw-away kids; that there’s nothing we can do to help them,” Foster said.

In 2011, 53 Indiana juveniles were serving time in adult prisons.

The Head of Youth Services for the Indiana Department of Correction said that juveniles don’t belong in adult prisons and the state has moved to try to keep them out of the system.

“‘It gives them the leeway to send kids to juvenile facilities where they’re at or least not rubbing elbows with hardened adult criminals,” Foster said.

In many cases, children that commit heinous crimes are given a second chance to avoid spending their early lives in adult prisons.

To see the story as it was broadcast, please click here.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Waterboys performing “Good News”



Four boys were playing soccer on the beach in Gaza when they were killed Wednesday by an Israeli naval bombardment. They are but four dead out of more than 230 Palestinian civilians killed (a toll that is rising daily). By contrast, as of Thursday night two Israelis had died in the conflict.
They were just kids, for god’s sake, playing on the beach as kids do.
Yet they have become emblematic throughout the world of the brutality of a vastly more powerful Zionist state in its oppression the Palestinians, who have an historic claim to their homeland which has been progressively stolen from them since 1948.
The Israelis claim that the people of WWII’s Holocaust have a right to a homeland and to their physical survival, but they do not have a right to carry out a war of extermination that is every bit as heinous as the American war against the Native Americans or the Nazi war against the Jewish people.
I don’t have a solution to offer. But the hatred must come to an end or there will surely be a backlash and anti-Semitism will remain a permanent feature in this world.
Israel’s bombing of Gaza is morally justified — and eminently stupid
This conflict will accomplish absolutely nothing beyond creating yet more suffering, volatility, and distrust
Israel’s many wars have many names. The War for Independence (1948). The Six Day War (1967). The Yom Kippur War (1973). The First Lebanon War (1982-1985). The Second Lebanon War (2006). The Gaza War (2008–09).

I’d like to propose that Israel’s current bombing campaign in Gaza be known henceforth as The Stupid War.

Note that I didn’t say The Immoral War. With Hamas and smaller jihadi groups hurling rockets at Israeli cities from the Gaza Strip, Israel is clearly justified in responding. (No nation in the world would accept such a bombardment without striking back.) And though the lopsided body count—over 150 Palestinian dead compared with zero Israeli casualties—is striking, it’s not Israel’s fault that its Iron Dome defensive shield has been so effective at protecting Israeli citizens from the more than 800 missiles that have been launched at the country in the past two weeks. If militants in Gaza had better weaponry or Israel was less adept at protecting itself, many would be dead on the Israeli side.

So yes, Israel is morally justified in defending itself against incoming missiles. But that tells us nothing at all about whether the war is wise. And it most certainly is not.

To grasp the war’s utter foolishness, you need to go back to the June 12 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank. The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knew almost immediately that the teenagers were dead and that the leadership of Hamas likely had nothing to do with it. Yet Netanyahu decided to engage in a breathtaking act of demagoguery. For over two weeks, the public was told that the government believed the boys were alive, and that Hamas was behind the kidnapping. Both statements were blatant lies.

But they were useful lies, since they gave Netanyahu public support for a strong military response, which he used as a pretext for sending the Israel Defense Forces to dismantle Hamas’ West Bank operations. The result was, according to journalist J.J. Goldberg, “a massive, 18-day search-and-rescue operation” in which troops entered “thousands of homes, arresting and interrogating hundreds of individuals” throughout the West Bank.

But that wasn’t good enough for the Israeli public, which with each passing day demanded an ever-harsher response to the kidnapping. Having spent more than two weeks whipping up grief and outrage throughout the country, Netanyahu began to lose control of the situation, with far-right members of his own government insisting that the IDF reoccupy Gaza and destroy Hamas. On June 29, the prime minister attempted to placate these calls for vengeance with limited airstrikes against a rocket squad in Gaza. That bombing killed a Hamas operative. The first Hamas rockets were fired at Israel the next day.

It was the first rocket barrage launched by Hamas since 2012. And all the rocket attacks that have followed in the intervening two weeks—weeks during which Netanyahu’s lies were revealed and a young Palestinian was burned alive by three Israeli teenagers in a revenge attack—need to be viewed in the context of this sordid backstory.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a true tragedy. I mean “tragedy” in the precise sense: a morally wrenching situation for everyone involved from which there appears to be no exit.

Israel—surrounded by hostile powers, still reeling from the collapse of peace negotiations at Taba in early 2001 and the terror of the Second Intifada (2000–05), still stunned by the rapid ascension of Hamas following unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005—understandably fears for its security and worries that a full withdrawal from the West Bank would engender a Palestinian state that actively seeks to destroy Israel.

Palestine—victim of an injustice stretching back 66 years, disenfranchised and wallowing in poverty, subject to enormous inconveniences and mundane humiliations of decades-long military occupation—understandably falls victim to despair, and is prone to embrace political radicalism, including terrorism, in a desperate attempt to better its sorry, seemingly interminable situation.

That would be bad enough. But it is the catastrophic errors of judgment on both sides that have made the circumstances truly tragic.

Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank is an unequivocal outrage. The building of Israeli apartments and residential neighborhoods, along with supporting infrastructure (roads, electricity, plumbing), deep within occupied territory, is simply not the behavior of a nation that intends to withdraw from that territory. It is the behavior of a nation that intends to hold onto the West Bank for good, relegating the region’s Palestinians to permanent noncitizen status, subjected to a future of political powerlessness and degradation as they watch their would-be homeland carved up into a Swiss cheese of military checkpoints and walled-off Israeli enclaves from which they are permanently excluded.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian choice for political radicalism, including support for Hamas, only confirms the worst fear of Israelis, which is that the Palestinians will only be satisfied with the defeat and destruction of the Jewish state. That empowers the maximalists on the Israeli side, who believe Israel should never give up the West Bank or permit the creation of a Palestinian state.

That is the tragedy—and the powder keg.

It was onto this powder keg that Netanyahu tossed a lit match back in mid-June. Instead of responding like a statesman to the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, by announcing the facts of the case right away and seeking to dissipate the predictable rage, he went out of his way to encourage it, hoping he could marshal it for political purposes.

He was wrong. And that appalling error of judgment is what has brought us The Stupid War, which will accomplish absolutely nothing beyond creating yet more suffering, mostly on the Palestinian side. What can Israel possibly hope to gain from its ferocious bombing campaign? It certainly doesn’t seem to be stopping the volley of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. Does Netanyahu expect Palestinians to be cowed into submission? You can’t send an effective realpolitik threat when your opponent considers the status quo worse than any bombing campaign Israel dares engage in.

And what if Israel went further and all but leveled the Gaza Strip and killed thousands of Palestinians? They might be cowed into submission then, but at the cost of inspiring worldwide condemnation the likes of which Israel has never seen. Even Netanyahu surely knows better than to turn Israel into one of the world’s foremost pariah states in this way.

So what can Israel possibly hope to achieve?

Maybe a brief suspension of Hamas rocket attacks. Maybe. But soon enough, the region will find itself in a new, even more volatile status quo, weighed down even more heavily by anger and injustice, grievance and fear. Israel’s airstrikes can lead nowhere but to more provocation, more retaliation, and more tragedy for all sides.

And that’s why this war is so stupid.

Indeed, if the Swedish Academy gave a Nobel Prize for political idiocy, Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance over the past month would make him a shoo-in.


Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at He is also a consulting editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press, a contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.


Groove of the Day

Listen to George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra performing  “Siegfried’s Funeral Music” by Richard Wagner


best friends

I have always wondered what was going on with my best friend. We spent so much time together and never got tired of it. We shared similar interests, and never tired of talking about them. We liked the same music—nothing so unusual there. But we would routinely complete one another’s sentences before the thoughts were even articulated. Even today we can go months between phone calls and just pick up where we left off.

This, at last, is a possible explanation.


best friends 2

Do We Choose Our Friends Because They Share Our Genes?

July 14, 2014

People often talk about how their friends feel like family. Well, there’s some new research out that suggests there’s more to that than just a feeling. People appear to be more like their friends genetically than they are to strangers, the research found.

“The striking thing here is that friends are actually significantly more similar to one another than we were expecting,” says , a professor of medical genetics at the University of California, San Diego, who conducted the study with , a social scientist at Yale University.

In fact, the in Monday’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that friends are as genetically similar as fourth cousins.

“It’s as if they shared a great- great- great-grandparent in common,” Fowler told Shots.

Some of the genes that friends were most likely to have in common involve smell. “We tend to smell things the same way that our friends do,” Fowler says. The study involved nearly 2,000 adults.

This suggests that as humans evolved, the ability to tolerate and be drawn to certain smells may have influenced where people hung out. Today we might call this the Starbucks effect.

“You may really love the smell of coffee. And you’re drawn to a place where other people have been drawn to who also love the smell of coffee,” Fowler says. “And so that might be the opportunity space for you to make friends. You’re all there together because you love coffee and you make friends because you all love coffee.”

They also found some interesting differences among friends: They tend to have very different genes for their immune systems. Other researchers have reported similar findings among spouses.

“One of the reasons why we think this is true is because it gives us extra protection. If our spouses have an immune system that fights off a disease that we’re susceptible to, they’ll never get it, and then we’ll never get it,” Fowler says. “And so it gives us an extra layer of protection.”

“It’s obvious that humans tend to associate with other people who are very similar to themselves,” says, a professor of economics at Stanford University who studies social networks. “This gives us evidence that it’s operating not just at a level of very obvious characteristics but also ones that might be more subtle — things that that we hadn’t really anticipated.”

Taken together, Fowler says the findings could help explain all sorts of things, including how relationships are driven by genetics and how that, in turn, may be influencing human evolution.

“I think the biggest implication is that evolution can’t be studied as a Robinson Crusoe phenomenon. We didn’t evolve isolated — separate from others. We evolved in communities. We evolved with our friends.”

On a more personal level, it could help explain that cozy feeling we get with our friends.

“It’s as if we were surrounding ourselves with a new family,” Fowler says. “It’s the family we chose, rather than the family we’re born with.”

To listen to the radio broadcast, click here.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Fred Rogers performing “You Are My Friend, You Are Special”


unpopular causes

My mentor once told me, “The crowd is always wrong.” I imagine this sentiment amounts to heresy in a world enamored with democratic ideals, but the flip side of democracy has always been the lynch mob.

I was talking the other day with the mother of one of our parricides. Her husband, she said, was the local telephone man and universally loved by their small community. But at home, he was a monster. The son was unknown to the community, as was what he endured at home.

The jury was out exactly four minutes. They didn’t try to uncover what was really going on. The mob agreed on only one thing: someone must pay. Their decision was made before the trial even began. It was the popular way to think. As a result, a 16-year-old boy received a 99-year sentence in adult prison, with all that entails in the popular imagination. I’m sure the jury thought they’d performed a good deed that day.

Travis TylerThey didn’t. They only made a bad situation worse. That boy was Travis Tyler, and he has been incarcerated since 1995—19 years—only two years less than I have been mourning the death of my wife (which has been forever). I thought I had it bad, but this young man’s fate is far worse.

Who would blame me if I were to turn my back on Travis? Certainly few people in the town of Tuleta TX (a small place—population 288—59 miles from Corpus Christi). Certainly few of the people in the town’s 84 families or 119 households, or who work for the oil companies in the area, the grocery store, the water well service, the community center, or who attend the Baptist church.

They banished a murderer from their midst. That’s all they know or care about. Learning what really happened creates a mental strain. It’s hard. It involves stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Exercising understanding and compassion is beyond them.

I don’t care what unthinking people like this think of me.

When I first took on the cause of Jordan Brown five years ago, it seemed that the whole town of New Castle PA was against him. I know that this was not literally true, but the people who were not allowing themselves to be manipulated by the victim’s vengeful family, a corrupt county prosecutor, and dishonest police were hanging in the background. I think I was the first writer to have defended the 11-year-old, and though the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has still not treated Jordan justly, Jordan has won every appeal since he was unjustly incarcerated, and the boy is still able to hold his head up high as one who has defied mob rule. I am proud to have played a small part in lessening his ordeal.

Yesterday I was abandoned by a journalist who, as it turns out, has been fielding the comments of people close to her of the futility of taking on parricides as a cause. Some even suggested that this mission is a scam (I have been scammed, but have never made a promise to my parricides I haven’t kept). I think the demoralization she feels as a result of the resistance she’s encountered is just a temporary thing, and that I will possibly hear from her again. But maybe not.

These parricides need somebody who will never give up on them, even for a day. That is my function, even if I take a beating from the people of New Castle or Tuleta or a hundred other places in America.

I may bend in the wind, but I won’t be uprooted. Reverses will happen, but they don’t matter in the long run. You and I are here to stay.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Kiprich performing ” Loyalty”


origin of jury nullification

jury 5

The modern jury evolved out of the ancient custom of many ancient Germanic tribes whereby a group of men of good character was used to investigate crimes and/or judge the accused. The Anglo-Saxons, immigrants to England from Germany, created juries during the reign of Alfred the Great (849 – 899), king of Wessex, in the belief that the king and the people should share power and responsibility for justice. Anglo-Saxon juries investigated crimes, and after the Norman Conquest (1066), some parts of the country preserved juries as the means of investigation.

The jury of this period was “self-informing,” meaning it heard very little evidence or testimony in court. Instead, jurors were recruited from the locality of the dispute and were expected to know the facts before coming to court. The source of juror knowledge could include first-hand knowledge, investigation, and less reliable sources such as rumor and hearsay.

Up until this time, guilt or innocence was determined in trials by ordeal. Suspects were tested as to guilt (for example, in the ordeal of hot metal, molten metal was sometimes poured into a suspected thief’s hand. If the wound healed rapidly and well, it was believed God found the suspect innocent, and if not then the suspect was found guilty).

The modern jury trial evolved into something more like we would recognize today in the mid-12th century during the reign of Henry II (1133 – 1189) when English law was transformed from such ordeal-based systems for deciding the prevailing party in a case, especially felonies, to an evidentiary model. Juries, usually 6 or 12 men, were an “ancient institution” even then in some parts of England.

The new juries looked at evidence of fact. Called juries of presentment, laymen, knights, and ordinary freemen were sworn in under oath, and they inspected the evidence and made inquiry. These juries were adopted systematically throughout the country, and fostered methods that would eventually be known in common law countries as trial by jury.

What became apparent in the early days of juries, is that the outcome of a jury trial could be “rigged” by the jury selection process and outright fraud. What became apparent in the intervening hundreds of years is that those in power, whether a king or a legislature, could pass laws that make lawful the most egregious acts against justice (for example, the anti-Jewish laws of the Third Reich and the Jim Crow laws of the American South). What is a jury to do when it is asked to uphold a law that is just plain wrong?

One of the earliest antecedents of modern jury systems is the jury in ancient Greece, including the city-state of Athens, where records of jury courts date back to 500 BCE. These juries voted by secret ballot and were eventually granted the power to annul unconstitutional laws, thus introducing the practice of judicial review.

Jury nullification means deciding not to apply the law to the facts in a particular case by jury decision. In other words, it is “the process whereby a jury in a criminal case effectively nullifies a law by acquitting a defendant regardless of the weight of evidence against him or her.”

In the 17th and 18th centuries there was a series of such cases, starting in 1670 with the trial of the Quaker William Penn which asserted the right, or at least power, of a jury to render a verdict contrary to the facts or law. Occasionally, juries have asserted what they believed to be their “ancient right” to judge the whole case and not just the facts, and have brought in the verdict of “not guilty”.

Today in the United States, juries are instructed by the judge to follow the judge’s instructions concerning what is the law, and to render a verdict solely on the evidence presented in court. Important past exercises of nullification include cases involving slavery (Fugitive Slave Act of 1850), freedom of the press (John Peter Zenger), and freedom of religion (William Penn).

In United States v. Moylan in 1969, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously ruled: “If the jury feels that the law under which the defendant is accused is unjust, or exigent circumstances justified the actions of the accused, or for any reason which appeals to their logic or passion, the jury has the right to acquit, and the courts must abide that decision.” The Fully Informed Jury Association is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to informing jurors of their rights and seeking the passage of laws to require judges to inform jurors that they can and should judge the law.

In Sparf v. United States in 1895, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, held that a trial judge has no responsibility to inform the jury of the right to nullify laws.

Modern American jurisprudence is generally intolerant of the practice, and a juror can be removed from a case if the judge believes that the juror is aware of the power of nullification.

It seems to me, however, that jury nullification offers an effective strategy for forcing the courts to see most acts of juvenile parricide as something other than a common, violent adult crime. Jury nullification is a faster way around the fact that fifty separate states deal with juvenile parricide differently, even though standards of morality should be universal. Jury nullification is backed by centuries of tradition, even if the judges don’t like it.

The day must come when the complexity of parricide must be recognized by the courts and not dealt with as common crime.


Thanks to Wikipedia for the content of this post.




Groove of the Day

Listen to Jackie Lee performing “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide”


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