As leaders from around the world meet in Copenhagen to address global climate change this month, we thought it was a good time to reflect on our own carbon footprint. In 2007, we committed to become a carbon neutral company. We know that it isn't possible to write a check and eliminate the environmental impact of our operations. So what does “carbon neutrality” mean to us?
First, we aggressively pursue reductions in our energy consumption through energy efficiency, innovative infrastructure design and operations and on-site renewable energy. Our Google designed data centers use half the energy of typical facilities. We're also working to accelerate the development of economic, clean renewable energy at scale through research and development, investment and policy outreach. At this time, however, such efforts don't cover our entire carbon footprint. Therefore, since 2007 we've gone a step further and made a voluntary commitment to buy carbon offsets to cover the portion of our footprint that we cannot yet eliminate — which is what we mean by "carbon neutrality."
So what exactly is a carbon offset? The idea behind an offset is that we pay someone to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in a specific, measurable way, thus offseting an equal climate impact on our side. To determine our impact, we calculate our annual carbon footprint, which is then verified by an independent third party. We include direct energy consumption (like natural gas) and electricity use, employee commuting, company vehicle use, business travel and estimates of carbon emissions from building construction and from the manufacturing of servers used in our datacenters. We then buy an equivalent number of carbon offsets.
While carbon offsets seem simple in principle, in practice they are surprisingly complicated. In particular, it's often difficult to say whether or not the offset project results in emissions reductions that would have happened anyway. We find ourselves asking whether the project in fact goes beyond "business as usual." In the world of offsets, this concept is referred to as "additionality." Carbon offsets have a mixed reputation because some projects are not additional. Here at Google, we have set a very high bar to ensure that our investment makes an actual difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing offsets that are real, verifiable, permanent and additional.
To date, we have selected high quality carbon offsets from around the world that reduce greenhouse gas emissions — ranging from landfill gas projects in Caldwell County, NC, and Steuben County, NY, to animal-waste management systems in Mexico and Brazil. Our funding helps make it possible for equipment to be installed that captures and destroys the methane gas produced as the waste decomposes. Methane, the primary component in natural gas, is a significant contributor to global warming. We chose to focus on landfill and agricultural methane reduction projects because methane's impact on warming is very well understood, it's easy to measure how much methane is captured and the capture wouldn't happen without our financing (for the projects we're investing in, they couldn't make enough money selling the gas).
We need fundamental changes to global energy and transportation infrastructure to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions over the long term. In the meantime, the projects to which we contribute offer measurable emissions reductions and allow us to take responsibility for our carbon footprint. To that end, we're always looking for good emissions-reduction projects to support. If you have a landfill gas or agricultural methane carbon offset project you think we should consider, please visit this page for more information about how to participate in our latest carbon-offset procurement round.
As leaders from around the world meet in Copenhagen to address global climate change this month, we thought it was a good time to reflect on our own carbon footprint. In 2007, we committed to become a carbon neutral company. We know that it isn't possible to write a check and eliminate the environmental impact of our operations. So what does “carbon neutrality” mean to us?
About five years ago, veteran financial manager Woody Tasch and his colleagues at the Investors' Circle began discussing how an intentional and organized influx of investment into localized sustainable food systems could be paired with a general increasing philosophical commitment to slow food principles.
The result is the Slow Money movement, shepherded by the Slow Money Alliance, of which Tasch is executive director. Now 750 members, including individual investors and sustainable farms and food-related businesses, are members of the alliance, and 450 people attended a Slow Money conference in Santa Fe in September.
The goals and structure of the alliance and the movement are fairly amorphous -- cynics might say squishy -- more on the philosophical than pragmatic level for the time being. Tasch’s recent book "Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered" (Chelsea Green) aims to spark and incubate investment at all levels in local or regional food systems. This means not only organic farms, dairies and ranches, but food processing facilities, food artisans (makers of jelly, cheese, etc.) and retail or distribution networks, restaurants and stores.
"It is two things: a new way of thinking about money at a macro level, in terms of philanthropy and social investing, and on the ground it is getting money into local food systems," said Tasch. "Our objective is a very robust network at regional and local levels across the U.S. -- many, many players who are all interested in the same goal: rebuilding local food systems."
Butterworks Farm in Westfield, Vermont has been practicing slow food, and by extension slow money principles for 35 years. The family-run business makes organic yogurt, cream and other dairy products, with a small sideline in rolled oats and other grains. Jack and Anne Lazor started the farm as "back to the landers" with "one cow in the garage." They have stayed small and hands-on, with about 10 employees and 50 cows, and they have thrived economically, with products sold throughout Vermont and in Whole Foods stores down the east coast.
"We’re paying attention to things that modern industry has sort of forgotten," Jack Lazor said. "If we don’t take care of our soil and our earth, we’ll be pulling the foundation out from underneath us and we’ll topple. We’ve been channeling all our income and profits back into the earth we steward. Our farm has just become this verdant paradise of incredibly lush pastures, grasses high in minerals, and you can turn around and taste that in our products because our milk is naturally sweet. If you are generous to the earth, the earth is going to give back to you. It’s an investment of giving back more than you take. That’s certainly not the American zeitgeist, which is about greener pastures over the next hill."
Other alliance members include Let’s Be Frank, a Berkeley-based hot dog company that relies on free-range, antibiotic-free livestock and fair labor standards; and Hawthorne Valley Farms, a 400-acre biodynamic, organic farm 100 miles north of Manhattan founded in 1972 that also has programs for city schoolchildren.
"An industrial structure for a living system is what we need to correct," said Martin Ping, executive director of the Hawthorne Valley Association. "We will correct it because we have to, there is no alternative. It’s obviously an uphill climb because it’s a fairly entrenched system. But the message is certainly resonating. People know things are out of balance."
Woody Tasch has impressive credentials in the finance world, with a background in venture capital. He is chairman emeritus of Investors' Circle, a nonprofit network of angel investors, venture capitalists, foundations and family offices that has steered $130 million to hundreds of budding sustainable social enterprises. But with slow money he expands the definition of investment to include not just formal stock purchase or loans but also more broadly supporting local enterprises, for example subscribing to a CSA.
"If you take a CSA, you could call them self-organizing micro-finance: hundreds of people get together and provide a form of financing directly to a farmer," he said.
"People joining CSAs and shopping at farmers markets is the beginning of this sea change. People think of those as consumer rather than investment dollars, but they are a kind of investment."
Tasch doesn’t want or expect the Slow Money Alliance to maintain leadership of the movement; rather, he hopes it can start people talking, and investing. "A bunch of people around the country are starting to do slow money in their own way in different regions," he said. "They are way out ahead of our capacity as a small, new NGO -- we’re very excited to have been the catalyst for that."
How much Slow Money can raise remains to be seen. Rather than using athey are seeking to mobilize hundreds of thousands of members contributing millions of dollars per year which will then be used to seed the nurture capital industry. Founding members -- 150 of them -- contributed at least $1,000 each. And the overarching goal, Tasch said, is connecting investors with food systems in their own regions.
Lazor said organic farms will likely never be as profitable for investors as more traditional stocks, but he thinks people are increasingly seeing such investments as an attractive option in the holistic sense.
"People's perceptions of good [financial] risks are the traditional exploitative and extractive industries that are ruining the earth," he said. "Folks that have the dough are going to need to be satisfied with a lower return on their dollar, and get their satisfaction from knowing they’ve made the earth a better place."
The movement has some things in common with two financial or consumer trends that get much attention, especially around the holidays: socially responsible investing and fair trade.
Socially responsible investing (SRI) has become a highly respected and lucrative sector in the past decade, with investment firms essentially screening investments on a range of criteria and packaging stock portfolios that are both in line with investors’ values and profitable. Such funds usually eliminate oil companies and other highly exploitative industries and alcohol and tobacco, and also look at companies’ records on issues like domestic partner benefits, transparency and environmental responsibility. SRI would in many ways overlap or dovetail with slow money investing.
But Tasch notes that SRI portfolios are generally expected to be competitive with the stock market as a whole, usually on the same timetable. Slow money involves the belief that investment in sustainable local food systems is likely to pay off financially in the long run, since it simply makes more sense and curbs the costly environmental and health damage wrought by industrial agriculture. But it may not pay off quickly -- hence the "slow" -- and the payoff may not come in direct dollars back to the investor but rather tangible or intangible benefits to food producers, the environment and the general public. Slow money also encompasses philanthropy – investments made without any expectation of financial return.
"There are long-term modest rates of return but nowhere near venture capital rates of return," said Tasch. "We’re not trying to put a one-size-fits-all approach, we have members who are foundations to individuals looking for venture capital investments. There are also those who might take low or even negative rates of return. We have plenty of angel investors too, who are just looking for interesting food projects to be involved with."
Fair-trade coffee, chocolate, crafts and other commodities from developing countries have become an increasingly profitable and popular market, especially around the holidays. Slow food and hence slow money have much in common with fair trade. Tasch said for the time being the Slow Money Alliance is focused on local and regional systems within the United States. But he wouldn’t be surprised by more cooperation and connections with global fair-trade groups in the future. He noted producers from six countries were at the Santa Fe conference.
Midwestern farmer and coffee roaster David Meyers is not formally involved with the slow money movement, but he has been practicing slow money and slow food philosophies on a grassroots, DIY level for the past six years. After burning out on grant-writing for non-profit organizations, he sought a way to combine food justice, community activism and a sustainable lifestyle of his own. He single-handedly runs the CSA On the Fly Farms from a several-acre farm in southwest Michigan and roasts and sells fair-trade Resistance Coffee. He donates proceeds of both operations to local activist or community groups and spreads awareness of social justice struggles through coffee bag labels and fliers in CSA deliveries. He is also helping to start a small coffee-roasting business in Chicago to employ immigrants affiliated with a local workers center.
This fall Meyers sent out a plea for "investors" to help support his enterprises, though he didn’t offer any financial returns. He said supporters responded with about $1,000 in donations, the use of a car and apartment and paid speaking gigs. He advocates restructuring community-based micro-economies based on direct connections, subverting the larger finance system. Among other things he notes that people with unused land in regions like southwest Michigan could "invest" in local food systems by allowing low-income people or community groups to farm their land.
"We should reconfigure the system so it’s for the good of everyone, rather than people fighting for spots on life rafts," he said.
Slow money proponents see the economic crisis, paired with increasingly alarming news about the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, as an opportunity for a new economic and agricultural paradigm.
"Our historical experience with global industrial finance is now in question -- people are not completely sanguine about the prospects of venture capital and investing in China as it has been practiced," said Tasch. "There’s a lot of economic uncertainty, so just the idea of diversification, putting one percent of our money to work in local food systems, is more attractive. And the number of people just interested in food is at an all-time high, people are starting to understand problems with industrial agriculture, industrial food."
Tasch is hoping to get thousands of signatories to the Slow Money Principles, which include, "We must bring money back down to earth" and "We must build a nurture capital industry." Whether or not people invest or donate, he hopes people use the holiday spirit to forward the principles far and wide.
And slow money proponents naturally advocate that people buy gifts and meal ingredients locally, and experience the transaction as a gift within itself.
"It’s a joyful act to buy a gift for someone that is well-considered, well-made, that will support someone who can then give back to the local economy," said Martin Ping. "Enjoy how positive that feels when you are actually handing your money over to your neighbor or friend. It is such a totally different feeling than just materialism for the sake of materialism."
While two county judges have stricken the least defensible parts of Lee County’s sex-offender registration ordinance as too broad, the bigger issues with this kind of law remain.
We need a rational discussion of those issues. Our laws get more draconian because it’s politically popular to marginalize and punish sex offenders — often for good reason. Yes, we must be tough, but let’s be reasonable.
If sex offenders are so dangerous that they have to be registered, their addresses made public and their movements heavily restricted for life after their release from prison, why should they even be released to live among the public?
Life imprisonment might do less to undermine a key principle of justice, that once you’ve paid the price for your crime, you should be able to get on with your life, even encouraged and helped to do so if you are willing. With sex offenders, we hold their crime to be so heinous and incurable that we try to keep them in a kind of quasi-imprisonment through registration and restrictions on their movement.
Some communities, however, have so restricted residency that sex offenders become homeless or go underground, according to Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres.
Aronberg commended the Lee County ordinance because, while it is overly broad, it seeks to control movement and monitor sex offenders 24 hours a day. Aronberg, who is running for state attorney general, said he is co-sponsoring legislation to employ Lee’s approach — with the right execution — statewide.
“Lee County has taken the approach that should be a model for the rest of the state,” he said. “The state has put its head in the sand on this issue. It’s a ticking time bomb.”
However, the Lee judges rightly ruled that portions of the county ordinance were too broad and vague, banning registered sex offenders from coming within 300 feet of not only such places as schools, day cares, video arcades, bus stops, public pools, playgrounds, certain restaurants, zoos, skate parks and beaches, but “any other similar type places where children congregate.”
We agree that sex-offender laws need updating. At the very least, let’s be sure a less dangerous offender — say an 18-year-old who had consensual sex with a 16-year-old girlfriend — is not included along with the those who pose a real threat to children.
> ...and a sex offender poses no threat to children. Sex offender means the perpetrator of any of a wide range of illegal acts from actual child rape to things called molestation (which may or may not be) to indecent exposure, and with the exception of certain ones which specifically involve a child, there is no reason to believe they are any danger to a child. Sex offense also covers quite a few completely consentual acts by adults with each other. Until we stop lumping such a tremendous disparity of acts together we cannot have a meaningful dialog about any one of them. Specific types of sex offenders may be a threat to children, not just sex offenders. Whether persecuting rather than prosecuting them helps make anyone safer is another subject. <
The following is a news release from the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Today, the United States Supreme Court refused to review a lower court's dismissal of a case brought by four British former detainees against Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers for ordering torture and religious abuse at Guantánamo. The British detainees spent more than two years in Guantanamo and were repatriated to the U.K. in 2004.
The Obama administration had asked the court not to hear the case. By refusing to hear the case, the Court let stand an earlier opinion by the D.C. Circuit Court which found that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute that applies by its terms to all "persons" did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo, effectively ruling that the detainees are not persons at all for purposes of U.S. law. The lower court also dismissed the detainees' claims under the Alien Tort Statute and the Geneva Conventions, finding defendants immune on the basis that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants." Finally, the circuit court found that, even if torture and religious abuse were illegal, defendants were immune under the Constitution because they could not have reasonably known that detainees at Guantanamo had any Constitutional rights.
Eric Lewis, a partner in Washington, D.C.’s Baach Robinson & Lewis, lead attorney for the detainees, said, "It is an awful day for the rule of law and common decency when the Supreme Court lets stand such an inhuman decision. The final word on whether these men had a right not to be tortured or a right to practice their religion free from abuse is that they did not. Future prospective torturers can now draw comfort from this decision. The lower court found that torture is all in a days' work for the Secretary of Defense and senior generals. That violates the President's stated policy, our treaty obligations and universal legal norms. Yet the Obama administration, in its rush to protect executive power, lost its moral compass and persuaded the Supreme Court to avoid a central moral challenge. Today our standing in the world has suffered a further great loss."
The four former detainees -- Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, and Jamal Al-Harith -- were held from 2002 to 2004 at Guantánamo before being sent home to England without being charged with any offense. They filed their case in 2004 seeking damages from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and senior American military officers for violations of their constitutional rights and of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits infringement of religion by the U.S. government against any person. Their claims were dismissed in 2008 by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit when that court held that detainees have no rights under the Constitution and do not count as "persons" for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Last year, the Supreme Court granted the men’s first petition, vacated the Court of Appeals decision and ordered the D.C. Circuit to reconsider its ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Boumediene v. Bush, which held that Guantánamo is de facto U.S. territory and that detainees have a Constitutional right to habeas corpus.
On remand, the D.C. Circuit reiterated its view that the Constitution does not prohibit torture of detainees at Guantánamo and that detainees still are not “persons” protected from religious abuse. Finally, the Court of Appeals held that, in any event, the government officials involved are immune from liability because the right not to be tortured was not clearly established.
A second petition filed with the Court on August 24, 2009 pointed out that the Court of Appeals decision stands in conflict with all of the Supreme Court’s recent precedent on Guantánamo and attacked the notion that the prohibitions against torture and religious abuse were not clearly established in 2002 when the petitioners were imprisoned.
Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Shayana Kadidal, co-counsel on the case, said, "We are disappointed that the Supreme Court has refused to hold Secretary Rumsfeld and the chain of civilian and military command accountable for torture at Guantánamo, and that the Obama administration sought to block torture victims from having their day in court. Where can these men seek justice now for the terrible things that were done to them? The entire world recognizes that torture and religious humiliation are never permissible tools for a government, yet our highest court seems to think otherwise."
CCR has led the legal battle over Guantanamo for the last seven years – sending the first ever habeas attorney to the base and sending the first attorney to meet with a former CIA "ghost detainee" there. CCR has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country in order to represent the men at the base, ensuring that nearly all have the option of legal representation, and is representing detainees at Guantánamo before the Supreme Court for the third time this term. In addition, CCR has been working to resettle the approximately 60 men who remain at Guantánamo because they cannot return to their country of origin for fear of persecution and torture.
Baach Robinson & Lewis, a Washington, D.C. litigation firm has been in the forefront of detainee litigation, working on behalf of both Guantanamo and Afghan detainees, since early 2004.
Earlier this week, I told you about an open letter for writers in support of a treaty that would ensure that blind and disabled people all over the world would have legal protection when they converted books and other written matter to accessible format.
You'd think this would be a slam-dunk at the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization. Who could oppose non-profit blind/disabled groups helping disabled people get access to written work?
Well, The US Chamber of Commerce, the MPAA and the RIAA, that's who. All three organizations have urged the US trade delegation to oppose the treaty, because they fear it might set a precedent that users have rights to copyrighted works.But that prospect doesn't sit well with American business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest lobby representing 3 million businesses, argues that the plan being proposed by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay, "raises a number of serious concerns," (.pdf) chief among them the specter that the treaty would spawn a rash of internet book piracy.
The treaty also creates a bad precedent by loosening copyright restrictions, instead of tightening them as every previous copyright treaty has done, said Brad Huther, a chamber director. Huther concluded in a Dec. 2 letter to the U.S. Copyright office that the international community "should not engage in pursuing a copyright-exemption based paradigm."Echoing that concern, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry of America told the Copyright Office last month that such a treaty would "begin to dismantle the existing global treaty structure of copyright law, through the adoption of an international instrument at odds with existing, longstanding and well-settled norms."
An upcoming round of negotiations for the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA, the notorious, punishing secret copyright treaty) is schedulef for New Zealand in April 2010. Under the terms of the treaty, New Zealand could be forced into accepting the "three strikes" rule that was defeated after a lengthy parliamentary battle last year ("three strikes" means that if someone you live with gets three unsubstantiated accusations of copyright infringement, you and everyone you live with loses access to the Internet and it becomes a crime for any other ISP to hook you back up again).
The opposition movement that formed in response to the "three strikes" rule is ready to take action on ACTA, to make sure that New Zealand's information policy is made democratically, and not through secret meetings in back rooms. They are organizing their response to the ACTA negotiations next April, and given their amazing mobilization against "three strikes" the last time around, I expect great things. If you're from .nz or live there now, tell your friends and loved ones about this: your family's ability to communicate, earn a living, get an education and participate in civil society could be jeapordized by the decisions the elite plan on making in your country.
And hey, Mexico! There's an ACTA meeting headed your way in January. Got anything planned?
by Paul Lilly
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday that 13 more social sites, including those owned by Google, Yahoo, and AOL, have all agreed to purge sex offenders from their sites. The agreement comes just a week after Cuomo announced that Facebook and MySpace had removed over 3.500 New York sex offenders.
"It is no secret that sexual predators abuse social networking websites to find and manipulate victims and to insinuate themselves into their victims' lives," said Cuomo. "e-STOP allows social networking websites to identify these sex predators and help prevent them from harming again."
Cuomo was referring to New York's Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators Act (e-STOP), of which 15 major social networking companies have now agreed to use. The law makes it mandatory for sex offenders to register their email accounts, screen names, and any other online identifiers with the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. That information is then passed along to social networking sites.
Written by Ernesto
The first rule of Usenet is, you don’t talk about Usenet. This rule kept Usenet providers and users out of sight from anti-piracy organizations for years. Ironically, the Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN are now the first ones trying to enforce this rule in court.
The Usenet community FTD allows its nearly half a million members to discuss and report the location of material they find on Usenet, without explicitly linking to copyrighted content. The operators of the site see no harm in what they do, but according to Dutch anti-piracy organization BREIN, online communities should not be entitled to allow these kinds of discussions on their websites.
Talking about copyrighted content on Usenet is illegal they argue, and BREIN wants FTD to be shut down for allowing this. The newsgroup community, however, is not prepared to tolerate BREIN’s accusations and has decided to take action. Earlier this year FTD took BREIN to court, demanding that it should retract its numerous statements that FTD operates illegally.
In a letter to the court in this ongoing case, FTD’s lawyer Arnoud Engelfriet stated yesterday that BREIN is going too far with its statements. Downloading copyrighted files and music for personal use is perfectly legal in The Netherlands, so he sees no reason why merely talking about it should be illegal.
FTD users do not ‘make files available’ and are therefore not acting against the law. “Hyperlinks, torrents, NZB-files or other technical possibilities to download copyrighted works are not provided. BREIN says in effect that it should be forbidden to talk about downloading material,” Engelfriet added.
Undeterred, BREIN maintained their stance and declared FTD a criminal operation. In a counter-claim against FTD, the anti-piracy outfit has demanded $70,000 a day in penalties if the Usenet chatter continues.
Needless to say, if BREIN wins their case this will have serious implications for many other websites and communities, including TorrentFreak. Simply mentioning that a movie such as 2012 can be downloaded through BitTorrent would no longer be allowed according to Engelfriet.
FTD’s lawyer is confident about the positive outcome of the case, arguing that FTD is operating within the boundaries of Dutch copyright law.
“We fully expect to win our case. BREIN is big on statements but often short on facts and legal arguments to back them up,” Engelfriet told TorrentFreak earlier, adding that they “have the law and the facts” on their side.
The verdict in this case is expected to be announced sometime next year. Until then, here’s a Usenet tutorial.
Mental exhaustion. Battle fatigue. PTSD. Whatever it's called, many of our soldiers who served in wars over the years came home with combat-related mental illness, traumatized by the carnage and destruction they saw and experienced.
Unfortunately, too many veterans' mental conditions have fueled criminal behavior resulting in their imprisonment. Dating back to the Civil War, veteran incarceration rates increased after each conflict.
This is not a small, marginal problem. Government statistics for the 1980s show that 21 percent of state prison inmates then were Vietnam veterans. The U.S. Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration estimate that two of every five of the 800,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
The stories of two such veterans illustrate this tragedy. This fall, Vietnam veteran James Floyd Davis was finally presented the awards due to him -- a Purple Heart and a Good Conduct medal -- in a small ceremony held in a hearing room in a North Carolina prison. Davis, now 62, was not permitted to keep his medals after the ceremony.
That's because Davis was convicted and sentenced to death for shooting and killing three people at an Asheville, North Carolina tool company from which he had been fired. At trial, evidence was introduced that he lived alone, talked to himself, instigated arguments with co-workers and shot imaginary groundhogs on his front lawn with his .44 magnum. Further testimony revealed that when he was a child, his alcoholic father threatened to cut Davis' and his siblings' throats while they slept and burn down the house. Davis' father beat him with a mop handle, and would lock the refrigerator and hide the key while Davis went hungry.
What wasn't introduced at trial was that Davis, who attained the rank of sergeant in Vietnam, fought on a Central Highlands firebase during the Tet Offensive, where he lost his hearing, was hit with shrapnel, some of which remains in his leg, and went home with depression, paranoid schizophrenia and PTSD. His marriage fell apart, and he attempted suicide. It isn't certain if Davis will be executed, but he has given up his legal appeals. North Carolina's Center for Death Penalty Appeals and one of its attorneys, Ken Rose, continues to advocate for him.
Manny Babbitt, another Vietnam War veteran and a Marine, earned his Purple Heart for courage under fire in the battle of Khe Sanh, where 737 Americans died and more than 2,500 soldiers were wounded. Hit by rocket shrapnel that opened his skull, Babbitt lost consciousness and was thought to be dead. He was loaded onto a pile of corpses by helicopter operators where he regained consciousness surrounded by severed limbs and bodies.
He returned from Vietnam suffering from PTSD, exhibiting bizarre and violent behavior. Eventually he broke into the home of Leah Shendel, an elderly woman, and beat her. She later died of a heart attack.
His brother, Bill Babbitt, turned him in to authorities believing that he owed it to the larger community, and expecting that his war hero brother would get the medical attention he needed and deserved. But not long after being awarded his Purple Heart, Manny Babbitt was executed one minute after midnight, May 4, 1999, in the state of California, on his 50th birthday.
As veterans ourselves, we believe that people who commit crimes as a result of severe mental impairments should not be executed. In 2006, the American Bar Association's House of Delegates adopted that recommendation, which was officially endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Atkins v. Virginia exempts certain persons with impaired mental capacities from the death penalty. But not all states employ this exemption. Many of the same factors present in the cases of individuals without mental impairments who are executed are also present in the cases of those with them: Inability to afford effective legal counsel, police and prosecutorial misconduct, unfair and racially biased application of the punishment, and unreliable and false witness testimony at trial.
Capital punishment's costs to states drain our tax dollars away from smarter and more effective approaches to law enforcement and crime prevention and from additional quality, affordable mental health services. Abolishing capital punishment would be a major step forward in criminal justice and mental health reform. In November the nation observed Veterans Day and on December 7th it will observe Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, yet another occasion for honoring war veterans. As you do so, please take a moment to remember James Floyd Davis and Manny Babbitt -- and to work to ensure that no other mentally impaired veterans are treated as they were. We owe that much and more to our men and women in uniform.
"We are talking far too much about God these days," writes Karen Armstrong, author of "The Battle for God," "Visions of God," "The Changing Face of God" and "A History of God," at the outset of her new book, "The Case for God." Funny, I was just thinking the same thing.
Still, I think I understand: If the rest of us are suffering from a touch of God Fatigue, surely Armstrong, whose readable, literate books on particular religions and religion in general have earned her a respectable reputation, might well be sick to death of the topic.
But there is no avoiding the topic of God: It’s all the rage these days. God is under attack, and God’s attackers under counterattack, everywhere you look. Anyway, Armstrong’s real complaint is not that we are talking too much about God, but that there is too much talk of the wrong sort. We have misunderstood the very concept of God, and as a result "what we say [about God] is often facile." She isn’t referring only to the so-called new atheists here -- well, primarily she is referring to the new atheists, because they are the ones that really get her goat, but she is careful to assure us that the central modern misunderstanding of religion, which is to see it primarily as a matter of belief, is one shared by most religious adherents, and isn’t just a creation of their critics.
The complaint that the new atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc.) are theologically incompetent, and that a subtler appreciation for the finer points of theology would expose the shallowness of their attacks, is by now a common one. But few defenders of religion attempt actually to spell out the theological details; and the results of those attempts that have been made are, in my experience, deeply unsatisfying.
Can Armstrong’s ambitious survey of the history of Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious thought do better? She is entirely correct that atheistic critiques aimed at naive strict literalist readings of holy texts can take us only so far. Mocking the angry, cruel, unjust deity of the Old Testament, or reminding literalists that the world is considerably more than 4,000 years old, has little force against the moderate, nonfundamentalist faithful. More powerful skeptical critiques, though, do not presuppose Scriptural literalism. They rely on the Darwinian view of how complex life evolved on this planet, or the existence of serious evil and injustice -- things that are well-established and pretty much impossible reasonably to deny and, at the same time, extraordinarily difficult to reconcile with any view of God-as-designer/caretaker, or with any other traditional form of theistic belief.
Pointing out that sacred texts are not meant to be read literally, then, is not enough. Armstrong’s more radical strategy is to de-emphasize the role of belief in religious life altogether: Practice, she writes, is more important than belief, and we misunderstand references to "belief" in the Bible, the Quran and elsewhere if we interpret them in accordance with our modern understanding of belief. (The correct sense, she writes, has more to do with " ‘trust,’ ‘loyalty,’ ‘engagement,’ and ‘commitment.’ ") Critics who focus on the absurdity or implausibility of so many religious beliefs, then, or on the fact that religion encourages people to accept these beliefs uncritically and to hold them in the face of any countervailing evidence, are missing the point: It isn’t believing certain things but rather living a certain sort of life that makes a person religious.
One might well worry, though, that it is not as easy as Armstrong assumes to separate belief from action or practice. Indeed all intentional voluntary action presupposes some set of beliefs. Armstrong may perhaps make a plausible claim in asserting that faith, as understood by mainstream religious traditions before the advent of modernity, involved more than "mere" belief in the modern sense; but if the problem with religious life is that it encourages false, absurd, unjustified beliefs, showing that it does other things as well is not sufficient. What must be shown is that religion does not involve belief, and not merely that it involves other things in addition to belief. So long as religious worldviews differ in certain important ways from that held by the nonreligious, one can still complain that that worldview is poorly founded and, to a large degree, implausible. (Of course, it is open to the faithful to attempt to formulate a worldview that is both plausible and recognizably religious in a meaningful sense. Again, though, reassurances that such a picture can be articulated are far more often encountered than are actual and convincing attempts at doing so.)
Throughout the book Armstrong frequently indicates an attraction to apophaticism, which she sees as promising a response to this worry. Apophaticism, as she understands it, claims that God is ineffable and that talk about God literally has no content at all. Since God transcends all human attempts at understanding, humans cannot think or say anything meaningful about God:
The idea of God is merely a symbol of indescribable transcendence and has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries. The modern God -- conceived as a powerful creator, first cause, supernatural personality realistically understood and rationally demonstrable -- is a recent phenomenon. It was born in a more optimistic time than our own and reflects the firm expectation that scientific rationality could bring the apparently inexplicable aspects of life under the control of reason. […] We have seen too much evil in recent years to indulge in a facile theology that says -- as some have tried to say -- that God knows what he is doing, that he has a secret plan that we cannot fathom, or that suffering gives men and women the opportunity to practice heroic virtue. A modern theology must look unflinchingly into the heart of a great darkness and be prepared, perhaps, to enter the cloud of unknowing.
This rejection of the theistic God, and acknowledgment that the problem of evil cannot be swept away through theodicy, might sound like music to atheists’ ears. And what could any skeptic find objectionable about revelation once we accept Maximus’ view that "[p]aradoxical as it might sound, the purpose of revelation was to tell us that we knew nothing about God"? Surely if this view were widely accepted the most serious problems with religion would simply dissipate. Would people who admitted that they "knew nothing about" God’s will support laws to prevent "unholy" same-sex marriages? Would people who saw God as "that mystery, which defies description" be moved to reject Darwinian views of evolution, contra all the available evidence?
But rather than characterizing such a position as a significant concession to the new atheists, Armstrong insists on continuing to regard them as her primary opponents. Moreover, she is unable to hold herself consistently to her own apophatic view. Indeed, passages like the following, in which she relates with apparent approval the reasoning of Athanasius, suggest that on her understanding the apophatic position, rather than discouraging metaphysical speculation, in fact licenses and encourages it:
It was only because we had no idea what God was that we could say that God had been in the man Jesus. It was also impossible to say that God’s substance was not in Christ, because we could not identify the ousia of God; it lay completely beyond our ken, so we did not know what we were denying.
In other words, it is precisely our lack of knowledge of God that enables us to say, well, pretty much whatever we want about God -- except, of course, that God was not in Christ (but only an atheist or heathen would want to say that anyway). This is mysticism and metaphysical hand-waving raised to a truly objectionable level. If you do not know what you are denying then you also do not know what you are asserting; our inability to conceptualize cannot, on the one hand, prevent skeptics from denying Christ’s divinity while at the same time allowing the faithful to assert it.
Armstrong’s apophaticist’s disavowal of God thus appears to be a conceptual Trojan horse -- a sop to the skeptic whose real intent is to permit religious speculation to go on as before, unchecked by rational criticism and debate. The strategy reduces to saying "God isn’t this, God isn’t that" without ever giving a positive account of what God is, while still regarding oneself as justified in talking about and orienting one’s life around God. This is like the debater who responds to every objection by insisting "Well that’s not what I meant" without ever managing to say what he does mean.
Ultimately it is doubtful that apophaticism can be made to work. If the concept of "God" is genuinely empty, as it needs to be if evidence and rational criticism are to be considered irrelevant to God-talk, then in a quite literal sense people who talk about God cannot say and do not know what they are talking about. (If I walk around constantly referring to "bizzers," and rebuff any request for clarification by saying "I will not place limits on bizzers by defining them, for bizzers transcend all human attempts to come to know them," I am simply talking nonsense.) In her more radical mode, Armstrong wants to preserve religious talk from questions of truth -- in our ordinary sense of "truth" -- by draining them of content. But when we lose content we do not only lose truth, we lose meaning as well. The apophatic retort to the skeptic, then, seems to reduce to: "You don’t know what you’re talking about -- indeed, I don’t even know what I’m talking about. So how dare you contradict me!"
Moreover, Armstrong’s attempts to find respectable examples of apophaticism sometimes cause her to resort to highly implausible interpretive strategies. Consider what she says about Socrates, for instance:
People did not go to Socrates to learn anything -- he always insisted that he had nothing to teach them -- but to have a change of mind. Participants in a Socratic dialogue discovered how little they knew, and that the meaning of even the simplest proposition eluded them.
It requires a profound lack of appreciation of Socratic irony to take Socrates’ insistence that he had nothing to teach at face value. Indeed, Armstrong’s account is not even internally consistent: By her own lights it is false that people learned nothing from Socrates, for what they learned was precisely "how little they knew." The deep point is, once again, that both practice and transformation involve and require belief: One cannot possibly achieve "a change of mind" without changing one’s view of the world -- that is, one’s beliefs. Once again we find Armstrong leaning heavily on a naive and unsustainable either-or dichotomy between belief, on the one hand, and practice on the other.
Then again, where would Armstrong be without her unsustainable dichotomies, her black-and-white either-ors? She steadfastly resists the "religion versus science" dichotomy, identifying it as a modernist artifact, but like many intellectual defenders of religion she adores the "religion or science" dichotomy, as formulated by Stephen Jay Gould:
The magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)? The magisterium of religion extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry. [Gould, "Rocks of Ages," quoted by Armstrong]
As a secular ethicist, and poet, I cannot help but find this rather offensive: My intellectual career seems not to exist, according to Gould’s simplistic way of carving up conceptual space. (His view that the magisteria "do not overlap" also implies, very implausibly, that empirical matters can have no bearing at all on moral questions.) Armstrong, though, finds it deeply amenable: Of course morality and meaning must fall under religion’s purview! After all, she is almost unable to imagine a conception of meaningful human life that does not ultimately rest on God:
Nor, like Nietzsche, Sartre, or Camus, do [the new atheists] face up to the pointlessness and futility that ensue when people lack the means of creating a sense of meaning. They do not appear to consider the effect of such nihilism on people who do not have privileged lives and absorbing work.
Apparently it is to be privilege for some, religion for the rest, and nihilism for those unfortunates who have neither. Is there really no other alternative? Richard Dawkins, for one, has written quite movingly, in "Unweaving the Rainbow" and elsewhere, on the way an appreciation of the nature of the universe, as revealed by science, can inspire and inform a sense of wonder and meaning. There is no apparent reason to assume that skepticism must inevitably lead to nihilism. Nor, for that matter, should we assume that a religion based on an ineffable, unreachable mystery of which we know nothing, and which does not even exist in any sense of "exist" that makes sense to us, will be an effective stay against nihilism. Armstrong takes the link between religion and meaningfulness to be too obvious to be worth spelling out. In fact the link is not obvious at all; it is merely conventional -- a matter of so-called common sense.
Her uncritical acceptance of the "non-overlapping magisteria" view is only one of the mistakes she makes about science. According to her, Einstein’s theories of relativity implied that science was "unable to provide us with definitive proof [and that] its findings are inherently limited and provisional"; Karl Popper argued that all scientific hypotheses "could never be perfectly verified and were no more reliable than any other ‘belief,’ because testing could only show that a hypothesis was not false"; and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle showed "that it was impossible for scientists to achieve an objective result because the act of observation itself affected their understanding of the object of their investigation" and somehow implied "the deep interconnectedness of all reality." All quite wrong, of course. What may be the most serious misunderstanding leads her to utter the tiresome canard that "there will always be an element of what religious people call ‘faith’ in science." Of course "acting on faith" here simply means "acting in the absence of absolute certainty," so that a scientist’s willingness to proceed on the assumption that a certain hypothesis is correct is, to Armstrong’s mind, essentially the same phenomenon as religious faith. (As is drinking a glass of milk or turning a key to start one’s car, for that matter.) But there is all the difference in the world, precisely because the scientist, if reasonable, will so proceed only if there is good practical reason to do so, and only unless and until the evidence proves the hypothesis false. The responsible scientist, that is, respects the fact that she is not absolutely certain, and is thus ready to be proved wrong. Indeed, any responsible scientist can tell you what evidence would cause her to abandon her hypothesis; whereas it is the rare religious believer indeed who is able to do this.
But there I go, talking about religious believers again, when Armstrong has shown that religion is not a matter of belief -- right? Well, as I said above, she has tried to show that, but not convincingly; and even if she could show it, it is not clear that that could somehow defend religion as actually practiced in our world. (In light of polls indicating that a large majority of Americans believe in a personal God, and that less than 40 percent of them believe in evolution, Armstrong’s claim that apophaticism represents the religious mainstream -- at least in this country -- is pretty hard to swallow.) Indeed there are many moments in "The Case for God" when Armstrong seems to drift away from apophaticism and into a deeply subjectivist view of religious truth, which holds that true religious beliefs are essentially private and can be obtained only through committed individual practice. Surprisingly, Armstrong does not seem to notice that this view is not only distinct from apophaticism, it is deeply opposed in spirit. It is not only that subjectivism, unlike apophaticism, attributes truth values to God-talk, but that apophaticism, for all its conceptual difficulties, at least tries to engender skepticism, doubt and intellectual humility by reminding us that we have no knowledge of God. Subjectivism, by contrast, tells its adherents that there are things they can know about God, and that these beliefs are inner matters, known through private experience, that do not need to be justified to their fellows, or to be entered into the tribunal of public reason in any manner whatsoever.
How would a subjectivist know that she was making a mistake of some sort if she were not required, nor even able, to check her understanding against that of her fellow human beings? Presumably she would not; rather, she would write off the concerns of potential critics and correctors who are, after all, outsiders to the tradition or, at any rate, to her subjective experience. (As Armstrong writes, religion’s critics are generally people "who find the ‘beliefs’ of religion arbitrary and incredible because they have not fully participated in its transformative rites.") It is not obvious why Armstrong thinks such a view can be reconciled with the apophatic denial of certainty about and knowledge of the divine. Nor can I tell which one she would prefer, were their incompatibility to be made clear to her. All I can say about such subjectivism is that it seems a recipe for supreme confidence in one’s convictions, if not for fanaticism; and it is odd to find Armstrong, who praises apophaticism for its opposition to certainty and who complains that scientists and atheists tend to be too confident in their convictions, praising such a view. None of us, obviously, can prove with absolute certainty that committed subjectivists do not know the things they claim to know about God. But what really worries me about such believers is that they would not care if we could.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An award-winning video journalist was arrested by Charleston Police Tuesday after he took pictures of Santa Claus and a choir at the Town Center Mall.
Scott Rensberger, 47, of Washington is charged with battery on a police officer and resisting arrest, according to criminal complaints filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.
According to the complaint, Rensberger slapped the hand of Charleston police Cpl. R.C. Basford as the officer attempted to block Rensberger from taking a picture of him. Rensberger then "attempted to pull away" from the officer, Basford wrote in the complaint.
Rensberger, who was hired to take photos of government buildings as a subcontractor for the IRS, had just gotten back from taking photos of the Sidney L. Christie Federal Building in Huntington. He stopped at his hotel room, then went to the Charleston Town Center Mall to eat dinner and do some Christmas shopping at about 5 p.m.
"I took some pictures of the choir singing and I took some pictures of the Santa snow scene," he said. "I take my camera with me almost anywhere."
Rensberger is a freelance videographer and in 1991 won an Investigative Reporters and Editors award and was named National Press Photographers Association Photographer of the Year. He said he takes photos of all the places he visits and sends them to his girlfriend in D.C.
He went into a store to shop for a scarf for his girlfriend when two men stopped him and told him he had taken a photo of one of their children with Santa Claus.
"I didn't even realize there were kids in the shot. It was a wide shot," he said.
Rensberger said he apologized and pulled out his camera and erased the photographs of Santa Claus and the children. He said he scrolled through the photos so the men would know there were no more photos of the child on the camera.
"I did think it was weird and it did shock me a little," Rensberger said. "I understood, too. I didn't want to upset the guy. I think it's a sad comment on the world we live in. ... It's never happened to me before."
When he was finished in the store he walked by "Santa's Cabin" again, talking to his girlfriend on the phone about what had just happened.
He saw one of the two men who had stopped him talking with police and mall security.
"I thought, how crazy is this, all these officers for taking pictures of Santa Claus," Rensberger said.
Rensberger said Basford stopped him and said, "Why are you taking pictures of kids?"
"I can't believe you are asking me that," Rensberger said to the officer. "Do you mind if I take a picture of you?"
Rensberger said he reached in his pocket and pulled out his camera and raised it to take a picture of the police officer. Basford grabbed the camera to prevent him from taking a picture, which is when Rensberger said he took his free hand and brought it up to the small camera because he was afraid it was going to drop on the ground.
According to Rensberger, Basford said, "Don't you touch me."
Rensberger said he told the officer he wasn't touching him.
"Then he grabs my left hand and takes it around my back while Santa and the kids and everyone looked on," Rensberger said. "I'm scared to death he is going to dislocate my shoulder. I'm begging him not to do that and he responded, 'If it dislocates, I'll call the paramedics.' By no means was I trying to resist arrest."
Basford took Rensberger to the ground to handcuff him, he said. Rensberger said he had an old football injury and that his left shoulder dislocates easily. He said he was begging the officer to ease up and not let it dislocate. There were at least four officers, either police or mall security, there by that time, he said.
"Every time I begged him he put it up higher," Rensberger said.
Once in a holding cell, another Charleston police officer got Rensberger some water and listened to his story, he said.
"He treated me with respect. ... He seemed sympathetic," Rensberger said of the sergeant.
Basford, who had taken his camera, interviewed Rensberger once he was in custody. The officer asked him why he'd taken a photograph of a girl still on his camera. The photo is of a choir in the Town Center Mall. It was taken from the second floor of the mall, looking down. A figure is sitting, watching the choir in the bottom left of the frame.
"I'm not even sure it's a little girl," Rensberger said. "I said, 'I didn't know it was against the law to take a picture of an officer in uniform.' He [Basford] said, 'It's not against the law to take a picture of a police officer unless they don't want you to.'"
Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said his department's internal investigations division would look at what happened to determine if everything had been handled correctly.
"What I think the officer is saying is that he put his hand up there and [Rensberger] slapped it and pushed it away," Webster said. "We'll have internal investigations look at that. ... The use of force report will tell more."
He said Rensberger could also file a complaint on the use of force, but that so far that hadn't been done. The chief said he was withholding judgment on what happened until he knew more.
Webster said Basford was working off-duty as one of the officers that helped with mall security.
Basford had the same radios as other mall security, and likely heard the complaint come in from one of the mall security guards, said mall marketing director Lisa McCracken.
When a working journalist takes photos in the mall, they are supposed to let mall management know, she said.
"A lot of our merchants don't want people to come in and film inside their store," she said.
Mall customers can bring cameras into the mall and take pictures, she said.
"The info I received is that in this case numerous parents and Santa Claus and the Santa photo staff recognized that the individual didn't have any children with him and requested that he stop taking pictures," McCracken said. "The mall responded correctly, just to inquire to see what was going on. That's what we did and that's our responsibility."
Rensberger said he doesn't know if he will sue the department over the incident.
"I don't think I have a choice," he said. "If this guy shows that kind of force to a guy who took a picture of a choir and of Santa and a uniformed police officer in the mall, then what kind of force is he going to show someone in a dark alley somewhere where no one was watching."
When asked why he took the photo of the officer, rather than just answer his question, Rensberger said he wanted a record of who was questioning him.
"I was not under arrest and it was not illegal. ... I've taken photos all over the world and this is the only time I've ever been arrested like this," Rensberger said.
THE concept of "failure" should be removed from the British education system and be replaced with "deferred success", according to a motion being considered by a teaching union.
The proposal has been tabled for the forthcoming annual conference of the Professional Association of Teachers in Buxton on July 25.
Its author, retired primary school teacher Liz Beattie, acknowledged that the wording of her motion was controversial, but insisted it reflected the way in which the educational system was developing.
It should be possible for pupils who fail exams to "bank" the parts in which they did well and then retake the remainder, deferring their success until they have passed all the papers and modules, she said.
Ms Beattie told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have made so much development in recent years in making examinations more flexible, doing them in modules so you can concentrate on different parts of them at different times.
"What happens when an exam is failed but, for example, three-quarters of it is perfectly satisfactorily done? It should be possible to do the other bits as add-ons afterwards and to defer the success of the exam."
Ms Beattie said the wording of the motion had been deliberately phrased to spark controversy.
"When one words a motion for a conference or a discussion group, one isn't looking for agreement and a row of nodding heads, one is looking for an interesting discussion," she said.
"Of course in the wording of this we were playing with words, but there is a very serious concept behind it, which is that there is certainly room for flexibility."
The Pat is one of the smaller teaching unions, with 35,000 members in schools, colleges and nurseries across the UK.
Teachers should stop calling bright pupils "clever" for fear they might not be considered "cool" by classmates, a union has been told.
Instead they should refer to academic high-achievers as "successful", the Professional Association of Teachers' conference in Oxford heard.
Simon Smith, a teacher from Essex, said it was important to avoid a culture which "mocks being clever".
A government spokesman said it was "not the brightest idea we have heard".
He added: "The education system is about ensuring that every child is supported and also challenged to achieve the very best that they can. Semantic debates will not achieve this."
Last year, the union discussed replacing the word "failure" with "deferred success" - although it rejected the idea.
Mr Smith said: "Change the language we use; change something.
"If we were to use the word 'successful' rather than 'clever' we could all achieve it at our own level and in our own way.
"With a few exceptions, including sport, academic prowess is in many eyes not 'cool'."
Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: "In this information age, where an increasing number of jobs are in the creative industries, it is vital that all children aspire to academic excellence, whatever their background or ability."
Last month, an "excellent" student revealed she had had a mark taken away in a mock GCSE exam for giving an answer which a teacher deemed "too sophisticated".
Katie Merchant, 16, of Brighton College, missed a "key word" in a Latin test, although she showed more than enough knowledge for a full mark.
Headmaster Richard Cairns said the OCR exam board's assessment scheme, which the school used, was "too mechanistic".
By Riley Yates
The owner of a Lower Nazareth Township ice cream stand claims his three-month sentence for molesting a 12-year-old girl could ruin business.
In Northampton County Court on Friday, Michael Yavorski's lawyer said The Spot, off Route 191, could be forced to close forever because of the negative attention his client has received.
"The collateral consequences for Mr. Yavorski here are tremendous," defense attorney Scott Wilhelm said in a hearing asking for the sentence to be reduced.
Earlier this month, Yavorski, 52, of Lower Nazareth was given three months to two years behind bars, plus a year of probation, after admitting to misdemeanors of indecent assault and furnishing alcohol to a minor. Police said one day in the summer of 2006 he twice fondled the girl and gave her beer.
At the Oct. 1 sentencing, the girl, now 15, said she has been hospitalized five times since the assault and has resorted to cutting herself to ease tension.
Northampton County Judge Emil Giordano did not issue a ruling Friday on the reconsideration request, but he made clear he believes the sentence was appropriate.
"He is a sex offender," Giordano said after Wilhelm argued Yavorski wasn't, since the two crimes he pleaded guilty to do not require Megan's Law sex offender registration. "There's no doubt about it."
What Yavorski did was "deplorable," Giordano said. "If I didn't make that clear on the record the first time, I'll make it clear this time."
In pushing for a lesser sentence, Wilhelm highlighted that there was only one incident and positive psychological reports that said Yavorski is good candidate for community supervision.
Assistant District Attorney James Augustine said the sentence, if anything, should be higher, and he asked Giordano to add more jail time.
< The question is this, if the appropriate sentence for his crime is 2 years, why does the government allow for his entire livelihood to be ruined for the rest of his life? And why don't they work to prevent all the collatoral damage that will result from making someone have such trouble being an upstanding citizen in the future as he will have? They are creating far more trouble than they are preventing. >
Matthew White, 22, said he was surfing for pornography two years ago on Limewire -- a fire sharing application that allows users to trade music, movies, games and pictures -- when he discovered that some of the files he had downloaded were images of children.
Matt claims he quickly erased the files.
"It didn't appeal to me," he said. "I was looking for women my age, so I just wanted to download 'College Girls Gone Wild' and accidentally downloaded underage pornography."
About a year later, FBI agents showed up at his family's home. The family agreed to let agents examine the computer, and at first, they couldn't find anything.
Investigators later were able to recover the deleted images from deep within the hard drive.
"I asked them, 'Where did you get that? I don't remember that.' I asked them, 'Could I access that if I wanted to?'" Matt said. "They said no."
Facing 20 years in prison for possessing child pornography, Matt is pleading guilty on the advice of his public defender in hopes of getting a three and a half year sentence. He will also serve 10 years probation and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Matt's father says other parents need to be warned about the consequences of stumbling across illicit material.
"One day, you're going to get a knock on the door and have your child taken away for many years," he said.
Matt's court date has been moved to January 8th due to paperwork issues, according to reports.
The FBI could not comment on this specific case, but said if child pornography is ever downloaded accidentally, the user needs to call authorities immediately. They may confiscate your computer, but it's better than the alternative.
Internet searches reveal a large number of complaints from people who say they've accidentally downloaded child pornography through Limewire.
by PZ Myers
We atheists are done for now. Behold, the God Equation, which I received in email and proves that a deity created us all:
Scientists working in the UK have discovered robust evidence that the creation of the earth and moon was a deliberate act. The researchers found that the earth, moon, and beyond were engineered according to a specific equation. They have dubbed it the God Equation. The equation, which looks like this:
shows a constant, unchanging relationship between the speed of light, the ratio between the circumference and diameter of a circle, and the radio frequency of hydrogen in space. Artificial intelligence engineer David Cumming, CEO of the Edinburgh-based company Intelligent Earth, recently discovered the equation, and said: "I am a scientist and as such I didn't at first really believe it myself. But physics is physics, and maths is maths, and you can't argue with it."
The discovery of the equation began with research by engineer Professor Alexander Thom (1894-1985) of Oxford University, into the properties of megalithic constructions such as Stonehenge. He found that their construction did not follow existing measurement systems, but did fit in to a pattern of specific lengths which he called megalithic yards. Two independent researchers Christopher Knight and Alan Butler, based in York, then showed that the megalithic system of measurement was directly derived from characteristics of the Earth's movements through space.
Linking this system of measurements with known constants such as π (pi, the relationship between the circumference and diameter of a circle), Hl, the radio frequency of the hydrogen fine transition in space, Ω (0.0123456789 representing all the characters of the base 10 number system), and the speed of light in a vacuum C0 (C0 = 299,792.458km/sec), and building on research by Knight and Butler, and the work of Professor Alexander Thom, former Reading University doctoral researcher Cumming followed a research programme that resulted in his discovery of the God Equation. The God Equation shows a direct link between the speed of light, the radio frequency of hydrogen in space, pi, and earth's orbit, rotation and weight. As the possibility of the Earth having the exact required characteristics to fit the equation by chance is remote, and the equation has, in theory, been in existence since the beginning of the Universe, this means that the Earth's orbit, rotation and weight must have been engineered to fit this equation.
Cumming states: "Although the ratio of a diameter of a circle to its circumference has been known for thousands of years, we have only recently discovered the hydrogen line, the speed of light, and rediscovered the megalithic measurement system. The advance of science, combined with the uncovering of ancient knowledge passed down through the ages, has only now made the discovery of the God Equation possible."
Well, overwhelming, except for a few little problems.
For instance, the term Hl has units of MHz; the other parameters seem to be dimensionless; and C has units of km/sec. This does not compute. That seems like a rather fundamental error in a very simple equation that must have been formulated by a couple of the geniuses of the age, don't you think?
Oh, wait…there's that mysterious Ω term — maybe we're just missing its units. Except…"0.0123456789 representing all the characters of the base 10 number system". Oh, come on. I call shenanigans on that one. That's completely arbitrary and contrived.
How do you get earth's orbit, rotation, and weight from π?
So I plugged in all those numbers anyway, and did the calculation works out to a value for C of 361,448.9 MHz. This is a bit off.
Oh, but there's more! There's a footnote to the email I was sent that mentions that you have to calculate the speed of light in megalithic yards, derived by some esoteric calculation from the dimensions of Stonehenge. A megalithic yard = 0.82966 meters, which then gets you to the right number for the speed of light.
Not bad for a formula with three terms, one of which is pulled out of someone's ass, and the whole thing requiring a magic fudge factor to bring it into line with neolithic technology.
In case you're wondering who could be crazy and ignorant enough to propose this kind of nonsense, the mail included a handy set of bios for them.
David Cumming is an innovative scientist working in the field of artificial intelligence. A former PhD student of famous Professor Kevin Warwick at Reading University, England, David is also a graduate of Glasgow University, and Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. At Robert Gordon University, he was awarded a rare MSc with Distinction for his work on a NASA space shuttle microgravity experiment that flew as a full canister experiment on the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
David was also leader of the Intelligent Earth team that developed the world's first advertising system that changes advertising according to the gender and age of the person watching the advert - a technology that removes unwanted and annoying advertising and makes advertising appropriate to the watchers. The company also developed Doki, 'the World's most gender aware robot, featuring in the Guinness Book of World Records for several years'He is also the CEO of Safe Cities, who developed a prize-winning intelligent custody photography system in collaboration with ACPO's Facial Images National Database (FIND) Project and several large Police Forces. These systems are now installed around Britain as an important front end of the National Database.
Christopher Knight's background is in research. From 1976 he investigated the origins of the rituals used by Freemasons before publishing his first book on the subject in 1996. 'The Hiram Key' became an immediate international best seller selling over a million copies and is now in 37 different languages. This was followed by several other bestsellers chronicling his investigations that were taking him further and further back in time. In 1997 he teamed up with Alan Butler to continue his researches, which had taken him back to the late Stone Age. Following in the footsteps of engineer Professor Alexander Thom, Knight and Butler have reconstructed a complete system of measurement that was used in the British Isles and western France 5,000 years ago. These systems, still identifiable in existing artefacts, were more sophisticated than modern units of measure, although both the Imperial and metric systems have evolved directly from this Neolithic origin.
Alan Butler's historical studies extend to an in-depth research into the Cistercian monastic movement and the Order of the Knights Templar, about which he has also written extensively. As a professional writer, who has always possessed an absolute fascination for history, Alan set out on a two decade search that led to the unravelling of some of the most important details regarding prehistoric knowledge and achievement in Europe. Alan has also been writing on the subject of astrology since his 20's and is the most published writer on the subject in Britain.
Crackpots all across the spectrum.
Proposed Michigan law would make it illegal to ask them to stop
By Kyla KingWith the percentage of nursing moms reportedly climbing to record highs nationwide, some Michigan lawmakers are trying to make it illegal to ask a woman to stop breast feeding her infant in a public place.
A state House bill would protect nursing mothers from discrimination under the state's Civil Rights Act.
Rep. Robert Dean, D-Grand Rapids, said he signed on to co-sponsor the legislation after watching the care his daughter-in-law took to nurse his grandchildren as discreetly as possible.
"I know some persons yet may feel offended, but she was very careful and meticulous and the children are better for it," Dean said.
The bill came before the House Judiciary Committee this week after being introduced by Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor.
State law currently protects moms from being charged with indecent exposure if they are breast feeding in public. But it doesn't protect them from discrimination that would deny them "full and equal access to the enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages and accommodations in public places," as covered by the Civil Rights Act.
"It's sad that it's even needed," said Rebeca Reyna, a 35-year-old Ada Township resident, lactation counselor and member of the local La Leche League.
Reyna, who nursed her two children, said she hopes the legislation will raise awareness of the many health benefits of breast feeding for both mom and baby.
"I feel very strongly about encouraging mothers to breast feed in public because the more the public sees it, the more comfortable people will be," she said.
The issue made news in 2005 when Kent County Clerk Mary Hollinrake, acting on complaints from employees and a vendor, asked a woman nursing her child in the lobby of the administration building to either cover herself, or go to a ground-floor restroom or elsewhere. The incident galvanized protesters who later held a nursing rally on Calder Plaza to support public breast feeding.
Earlier this week at a Target store in the Detroit area, a security guard reportedly asked a mother nursing a 4-week-old baby to leave and eventually called police.
Cascade Township resident Anna Hargrave, who is nursing her second child, said mothers need assurance they can nurse confidently without harassment.
Hargrave, 33, said she has nursed while walking down the aisle in the grocery store, during music class, and at hockey games. The practice has prompted a few dirty looks, but Hargrave said positive experiences outweigh the negative -- like the "thumbs up" she got from a woman shopping at Flowerland as she nursed on one of the store's patio chairs.
"Babies should feel free to eat whenever and wherever they are hungry," Hargrave said.
According La Leche League International, New York was the first state, in 1984, to enact any form of breast feeding legislation.
Since then, most states have moved to protect nursing moms from indecent exposure charges. Many have also enacted laws prohibiting discrimination against public breast feeding. In addition to Michigan, other states that haven't covered it in their discrimination laws are Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, the District of Columbia, and Wyoming.
Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, cast one of the opposing votes when the bill was moved out of committee this week by a 11-2 vote. Amash said he objects to including "activities," such as public breast feeding, in the act, instead of protected classes like race, gender and national origin.
"I thought it was inappropriate (to include in the act)," Amash said. "I don't oppose breast feeding in public. I think employers and businesses should have open policies. That's not to say I would support (another bill) if it was done a different way."
Hargrave said she hopes society reaches a place in which a woman breast feeding in public is not considered unusual, or private.
"I think our culture needs to recognize that that's what breasts are for," she said. "If you go to a beach or a pool, you're going to see a lot more than if a mom is nursing her child."
Famed author Arthur C. Clarke once explained that he never patented the the concept of geostationary communications satellites, which many say he invented, because a lawyer told him the concept was "too far-fetched to be taken seriously." But what about things going in the other direction. If, in a book or a movie, you describe or display a technology that has already been patented, is it infringement? Most people would dismiss such a concept as flat-out ridiculous. But a company called Global Findability apparently disagrees. It has sued Summit Entertainment, the producers of the sci-fi film, Knowing, an apparently otherwise dreadful flick that includes -- as a central plot point -- an "encoded message [that] predicts with pinpoint accuracy the dates, death tolls and coordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years."
Yes, Global Findability is claiming that its patent on "Integrated information processing system for geospatial media" (Patent 7107286) was infringed by this fictional device. Eriq Gardner, at THREsq, sums it up nicely:
We're familiar with patent troll lawsuits. We're also aware that Hollywood is prone to allegations of idea theft. But what we seem to have here is a strange new genre-bending legal claim where one can infringe technology in fiction similar to the way one can defame a person in fiction.
At Precision Dynamics, what started out as simple hospital ID product has become a high-tech admission pass, a cashless debit card, a hotel room key and a way to reunite lost children with parents.
In a nondescript manufacturing plant on a quiet San Fernando cul-de-sac, a khaki-green machine the size of a buffet table sucks in bright pink ribbon and spits out one of the hottest features in theme parks.
Here, Precision Dynamics Corp., a company that began making plastic hospital wristbands out of a Burbank garage more than 50 years ago, has become the nation's top producer of a new microchip-enhanced wristband for amusement parks, concerts, resorts and gyms.
In the last year alone, Precision Dynamics' wristbands came on line at Great Wolf Resorts' newest water park in Concord, N.C.; at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Galveston, Texas; and at Water World, one of the nation's largest water parks, near Denver, Colo. In total, more than 50 theme parks across the country strap the wristbands on visitors.
Company leaders envision a future when they can expand the technology for use in border security and hospital identification, among other purposes.
"All sorts of things can be done with this technology," said Walter Mosher Jr., a founder of the privately held company and a member of the board of directors.
Precision Dynamics began in 1956 when a friend who worked in hospital supplies suggested that Mosher, a UCLA engineering student, design a better wristband to identify patients at hospitals. At the time, hospitals made wristbands from plastic tubes, using separate tools to cut and fasten the bands on patients. For infants, hospital workers strung together lettered beads that spelled the babies' names.
At the machine shop at Burbank High School, Mosher and two partners devised a one-piece plastic wristband that required no tools to fasten. The business that began with only $2,000 in start-up money has since expanded to 680 employees, a handful of trademark patents and offices in Belgium, Japan, Italy, Mexico and Brazil.
In 2006, Mosher sued Precision Dynamics in a dispute over the election of board members. But the dispute was settled out of court last year with a deal that keeps Mosher as a shareholder and a member of the board.
The idea of using radio frequency identification, or RFID, technology in wristbands came to Mosher about 10 years ago when he learned that microchips were being implanted in dogs and cats to identify them in shelters and veterinary clinics. A short time later, company Vice President Robin Barber moved ahead with the idea after meeting with managers from Great Wolf Resorts, who wanted to let guests buy food and drinks at the water parks without carrying a wallet or cash.
Each microchip is programmed with a unique 16-character code. A separate device known as a reader emits a low-power radio wave that activates the chip to collect the information and upload it into a computer. The reader must come within a few inches of the wristband to connect to the chip. Thus the wristband acts as a key to access a computerized debit account or unlock an electronic hotel room or a clothes locker.
The microchip wristbands now account for about $3 million in annual sales for Precision Dynamics, representing only a fraction of the company's more than $100 million in annual sales, according to company executives. The bulk of the company's business comes from the sales of wristbands that employ simpler bar-code technology to identify hospital patients, among other uses, and plain plastic wristbands with colors that tell security officers at theme parks and concerts who has paid for admission.
At theme parks, parents can use a kiosk to upload amounts that their children can spend, using the wristbands to buy food or play video games at the park. The microchips are coded so that the wristbands can be used only on a specific day. Once a hotel guest or theme park visitor departs, the wristbands becomes obsolete.
Because cashless spending is more convenient, industry reports suggest that visitors who use the wristbands spend as much as 25% more at resorts and parks.
"Our guests appreciate the convenience of it all," said Jennifer Beranek, a spokeswoman for Great Wolf Resorts. Precision Dynamics wristbands are used at seven of its 12 water parks nationwide.
But price remains a barrier for the technology. Simple wristbands that use bar-code technology, for example, sell for as little as 14 cents each; the RFID wristbands sell for about $1 each. An RFID reader sells for about $450, roughly twice the cost of a bar-code reader.
Perhaps the biggest hurdles facing the widespread use of the microchip wristbands are the added costs and the persistent fear that personal information could fall into the wrong hands.
Katherine Albrecht, a personal privacy advocate and a leading critic of RFID technology, has called the microchips used in such wristbands "spy chips" because she fears they will be used to track people's movements. But Precision Dynamics notes that the wristbands cannot be read unless they come within inches of a reader.Mark Roberti, editor of the RFID Journal, an online and print periodical on the technology, said such fears are unfounded because the wristbands typically hold no personal information. Once the world's business leaders realize the wristbands are safe and effective, he believes, the technology will be widely used.
"Businesspeople have a bit of a herd mentality," he said. "This technology is very convenient, and it will continue to take off."
Paul Chang, IBM Corp.'s business strategy leader for emerging technology, agreed, saying RFID technology is already in wide use in Europe and Asia. But he said the U.S. is still playing catch-up. He noted that tickets issued at the Beijing Olympics were embedded with an RFID chip to stifle counterfeiters.
"Other parts of the world have already adopted this technology," he said.
Barber, Precision Dynamics' vice president, believes the future of the wristbands is in healthcare. The microchips can be programmed to hold a patient's blood type, medical history, drug allergy information and other data to reduce mistakes and confusion.
Unfortunately, too many hospitals today employ a variety of computer systems, many of which cannot communicate with one another, he said.
That, however, is not a problem at theme parks, he said. "The systems at theme parks are much simpler."