Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Will Vang use insanity defense?

Chai Vang made his first court appearance today, and the news account is pretty much stuff we already knew. Though there was one section that caught my eye.

Vang, who was represented by Milwaukee attorneys Jonathan Smith and Steve Kohn, said he understood the changes against him. Kohn said Vang is competent to understand today’s hearing and continue with the court proceedings. When asked if that meant Vang’s competence would become an issue at trial, Kohn said “there is a difference between legal competence and legal responsibility.”

If I may read between the lines here, I'd say that Vang's attorneys are going for an insanity plea.

UPDATE: More on the insanity defense and Wisconsin law in this article.

The bizarre case, which erupted after hunters confronted Vang on their land, has attracted widespread attention, and several Minnesota and Wisconsin defense attorneys said that their sense is that the defense's options in the case appear limited.

Vang's attorneys could pursue an insanity defense, a strategy based on diminished mental responsibility or - if the evidence supports it - self defense. But both options present problems.

A successful insanity defense under Wisconsin law would require jurors or the court to find the defendant suffered from "a mental disease or defect" and that he could not "tell right from wrong or conform his conduct to the requirements of the law," said Dick Lawson, a longtime defense attorney in Wausau, Wis.

Even if such a defense is offered, Lawson said, "it's a very difficult defense to sell. Juries don't buy it very often."

So far, there has been no evidence that Vang suffers from mental illness.

If attorneys employ a defense strategy of self-defense, Lawson and others said, they'll have to show that Vang believed that he was in imminent danger. That argument might be easier to make had Vang shot only one or two victims, rather than eight, attorneys said.

And this is interesting:

Although police said Vang waived his right to an attorney during the initial discussions, Butterfoss said attorneys will check to see if any of his constitutional rights were violated.

"If you can get some of the most damaging statements suppressed about his intent and chasing people down, maybe that helps a little bit," Butterfoss said. "But it doesn't exonerate him by any stretch."

Monday, November 29, 2004

Vang changed his story at least once

As expected, Chai Vang was charged with six counts of first-degree intentional homicide today, and two counts of attempted homicide. The criminal complaint filed today contained one rather interesting addition to the accounts we've been hearing for the last week.

Apparently Chai Vang first told authorities that he didn't shoot anyone at all. Instead, he claimed that Terry Willers, the man who first encountered Vang on the property Willers owned with Robert Crotteau, took Vang's gun and shot the others. Only later did he change his story to an admission that he had shot the eight hunters he encountered.

The complaint also contained a bit more of Hesebeck's and Willers' testimony that wasn't included in the earlier statement.

Hesebeck and Willers reported that Robert Crotteau swore at Vang while ordering him off the property, directed others to write down his hunting license number and threatened to report him to the state Department of Natural Resources.

Vang told an investigator the group made threatening gestures and racial slurs. Hesebeck and Willers said no one in the group threatened the suspect at any time.

After walking roughly 30 yards from Willers and the others, Vang removed the scope from his 7.62 mm SKS rifle. He then turned and faced the group.

Willers told an investigator he unslung his rifle and held it in front of him while directing Vang to leave. Vang then began shooting, according to the victims' account.

Vang has said Willers fired at him first, but missed.

Furthermore, Vang's statement differs on the number of rifles carried by the hunters who arrived at the scene.

With six hunters now killed or wounded, [Al] Laski and Jessica Willers approached the scene on an ATV, in response to Hesebeck's call for help. They drove about 10 to 15 feet past Vang, who shot them off the vehicle.

The suspect told an investigator that Laski was taking a rifle from his shoulder, but no gun was found near the ATV he and Willers were riding.

Here was Vang's statement to the investigator:

Vang stated that Vang then observed another ATV coming with 2 more people on it. Vang stated that the driver of this ATV had a gun on his shoulder. Vang stated that Vang began to run and Vang stated that they saw Vang running and were going too fast to stop and drove past Vang. Vang stated that they stopped approximately 10 to 15 feet past Vang at a 45 degree angle. Vang stated that the man removed the gun from his shoulder with one hand while the other hand was on the handle bars of the ATV. Vang stated that Vang shot 3 or 4 times and both people fell off the ATV and onto the ground.

When I first read this it didn't seem quite right. Based on the few times I've driven an ATV, I imagine it would be quite difficult to drive though the woods with one hand on the handlebars, while holding a gun on your shoulder with the other. Or if your rifle is held there by a strap, then it would be quite difficult to remove the rifle from your shoulder with one hand, while keeping the other on the handlebars.

Now that we know he changed his story at least once, it suggests that his official statement may be less than truthful.

Vang makes his initial court appearance tomorrow at the Sawyer County jail.

New (old) Al-Qaeda Threat

A new video of Osama bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, was aired on al-Jazeera television today. In the video message, Zawahri promises to continue fighting the United States "until the last hour."

But as with Osama's video message the week before the election, there's a bit of pleading amidst all the sabre rattling:

Our final advice to America, although I know they will not heed it: You must choose between two methods in dealing with Muslims. Cooperate with them with respect and based on mutual interests or deal with them as free loot, robbed land and violated sanctity.

I think this means we've got 'em on the ropes.

The video was apparently filmed some time before the election earlier this month. Note that Zawahri says:

As for the American elections, the two candidates are competing for Israel's favor -- that is, competing for the crime against the Muslim nation in Palestine which has lasted for 87 years to continue.

Some leader. He can't even get a videotape out in a timely manner. Maybe that's what you get for using al-Jazeera. I'm sure if he'd gone to CBS, they would have released it at a most optimal time.

But here's something. Zawahri says John Kerry was "competing for Israel's favor"? Even Joe Lieberman wouldn't go that far.

"Sky Captain and the World of CGI"

My wife granted me a reprieve from husbandly duties Saturday night so I could go out to a movie. My neighbor and I had both been wanting to see "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" but missed it when it was in the regular theaters. Last week it reappeared at our local "cheap seats" theater, so with the blessings of our patient wives, we took in a late show.

I had wanted to see the movie based solely on the look of the trailer. Plot? Who cares about the plot!? This thing had giant robots, flying aircraft carriers, blimps, submarines, hovercraft and ray guns all wrapped up in a future-by-way-of-the-1930s style. I'd recently suggested that I'd like to see someone do an authentic Buck Rogers movie (or TV show) based on the original comic strips. And "Sky Captain" is how it would look.

"Sky Captain" isn't merely an homage to old movie serials, it is an old movie serial. As a film disconnected from its roots, it doesn't work. The acting is wooden, the line reading comes off a bit forced, the music is tinny and overblown. But those things are exactly what makes it fun to watch. One can easily imagine this film cut into twelve parts, each ending in one of the film's many cliffhanger sequences. In fact, the movie might be easier to take that way.

The visuals are almost entirely overexposed, desaturated, and rendered largely in sepia tones. Call it "soft-focus film noir." In fact, when color creeps in or the image suddenly sharpens, it's jarring.

What of the plot? Not that it matters, but the plot involves the search for a German scientist who has unleashed his mechanical monsters on the world to steal . . . er, electric generators I think. It's pretty much in the "quest" genre with most of the movie taken up by the search. The supposedly humorous banter between the two leads just falls flat.

But I didn't care because the movie was a treat for the eyes, and in that sense better on the big screen than the small. While I'm usually quite annoyed by movies that are all style and no substance, in this case I'll make an exception. It's worth a matinee ticket just to spend two hours looking at the movie. Yes, this makes me shallow; easily dazzled by the latest developments in computer generated imagery. But does anyone ask for a great plot from a Renoir?

Books worth rereading

Hugh Hewitt asks whether there are any modern novels worth reading more than once. The emphasis there, I suppose, is on the word "modern." Certainly the reason classics become "classics" is because they are worth rereading; they say something about the human condition, or they contain timeless truths that are always worth reflecting upon.

I'm often surprised when people remark to me that they can't understand why I would read a novel more than once. I gather that these are people who never see a movie more than once. Maybe they never go to the same restaurant more than once either. When we reread books, we discover new insights or truths that we may have missed on the first reading. Perhaps the first time you read a book you were at a very different stage in life, and what spoke to you when you were 20, for example, isn't the thing that speaks to you at 40.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: "No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally, and often far more, worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond."

I might alter that a bit to say "No book is really worth reading which is not also worth rereading."

I wish I could read a 400-page novel in the same time it takes me to sit through a film version of the same. Probably because of time constraints and a desire not to read something that I'll later regret, in the last few years I've found myself rereading more of my favorite books instead of discovering new ones.

Here are a few novels I've recently reread:

Refiner's Fire, Winter's Tale, and Memoir from Antproof Case, all by Mark Helprin. I still need to read A Soldier of the Great War a second time. (I've blogged about Helprin a number of times, so I won't repeat my praise for his writing. But if magical realism, absurdist humor, and poignant imagery is your cup o' java, give him a try.)

The Violent Bear it Away and Wise Blood, both by Flannery O'Connor. I've also read many of her short stories more than once. More people should read O'Connor.

I've lost count of the number of times I've reread C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. I know I've read his Space Trilogy at least twice. I've also reread The Great Divorce and The Screwtape Letters. (I need to reread Till We Have Faces, because I don't think I really understood it.)

I've probably read Tolkien's The Hobbit three or four times. I'm currently on my third reading of The Lord of the Rings, too.

I reread Ray Bradbury's short stories quite often, and I've also reread his novels Fahrenheit 451, and The Martian Chronicles (which is really a collection of stories anyway). Fahrenheit 451 seems more prescient all the time--not so much in the book-burning, but in its depiction of the future of television.

If we include non-fiction, then I'll add Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Teaching a Stone to Talk, and Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard, Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, and A Walk Across America, by Peter Jenkins.

I know I'm forgetting a lot. So many of our books are packed away in boxes right now because we had to clear off the bottom two shelves of all our bookshelves due to a toddler with an appetite for the written word. (And when I say "appetite," I mean that literally.)

Here are a few novels I intend to return to soon.

Silence, by Shusaku Endo. It's the story of a Jesuit priest in feudal Japan who faces brutal opposition to his attempts to spread the gospel. I found it to be profoundly disturbing, but in a good way.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. A novel about the tragedy that befalls a Jesuit mission to a newly discovered planet. The sequel, Children of God, isn't as good, but it's a necessary follow-up.

The River Why, by David James Duncan. Fly-fishing and the search for God. I have often reread favorite passages from this book, because some of it is really funny, and other parts are quite moving. But I haven't reread the book as a whole yet.

The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. A fallen priest vacilates between his desire to escape persecution in Mexico, and his calling to remain to serve the people. It's still the only Graham Greene I've read.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. It's probably a good thing this was the first novel by Irving I read, because after this I tried The World According to Garp and loathed it. I've been warned that most of his other novels are similarly vulgar. But Owen Meany affirms the notion that there is a higher purpose in seemingly random--and even tragic--situations.

I'm also planning to reread a lot of the classics that I haven't read since high school or college. I've found that some books I really disliked in high school I ended up enjoying quite a bit as an adult. The Red Badge of Courage is one in particular that I got really bored with in 9th grade, but was absolutely fascinated with when I read it at age 30. Similarly, I think The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is wasted on children. The satire in it may best be appreciated by grown-ups.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

We were convinced it made our fish happier

When I was in college, my roommate and I had five aquariums of various shapes and sizes in our apartment. Two aquariums sat side by side on a shelf, and we connected them by inserting one end of a U-shaped piece of PVC pipe into each aquarium. (Somehow we got water into the pipe, and the laws of physics kept it there.) This allowed the fish to swim from one aquarium to the other. They used this "Fish Habitrail" quite a bit, and we were pretty impressed with ourselves.

Now that I've seen this, I don't think we dreamed big enough.

(Ours looked very much like the one shown in this patent from 1877)

Rash Advice

An odd question for Darn Floor readers: what works good on diaper rash? Lid's got a nasty one, and we've decided that Desitin doesn't work at all. If you know something that does work, drop me a note or leave a comment. Lid's butt is depending on you.

UPDATE: Okay now, this post has generated more comments than any other. It appears that if I want comments, I need to talk about diaper rash. Something's not right.

Small updates on shooting incident

I see people are still coming here for news about last weekend's shooting incident near my home town where six hunters were killed and two wounded. I was up there for Thanksgiving, but didn't hear any new news. I'd wondered about the rumor I'd heard that this wasn't the first time Vang had trespassed on that same property. My family had heard that rumor, too, but no confirmation. I did hear that it was just within the last couple of years that large groups of Hmong started hunting on public land in that area, and that may have caused some tensions with hunters who'd been hunting those lands for many years. In that context, it's entirely possible that the group of hunters who were gunned down last Sunday may have previously encountered Hmong hunters on their land. And given that, it's even possible that they may have encountered Chai Vang in particular.

But I fear some may want to exaggerate the issue of racial tensions between the Hmong and the white populations of the upper midwest.
In the St. Paul neighborhood known as Frog Town, where many Hmong people live and run businesses, a few people voiced fear that the killings would somehow tarnish their image in the eyes of others. But Cheu Lee, part owner of the Hmong Times newspaper, says most Hmong are convinced that whites will understand simply that Vang is "a bad apple."

. . .

Out in the woods or fields, there has always been the occasional disagreement between hunters. It's no secret some whites grouse that Hmong hunters are poachers, and some of the Hmong consider the whites bigots. But Tom Jordan, a hunter from Milwaukee, says the love of hunting typically transcends cultural differences. "For sportsmen," he says, "there's a fellowship, a kinship."

It was the bountiful hunting of the Northwoods, in part, that drew so many of the Southeast Asian immigrants to the area, says Xiung. "We're an agricultural people," he says. "We're just like our neighbors up here. We like to go out and enjoy the wilderness and hunt."

While I'm sure such tension does exist in places, I don't believe it's at all widespread. There are plenty of Hmong people where I live, and I've never seen anything to suggest there's a current of racial tension bubbling under the surface. But last week Joe Bee Xiong, the director of the Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association in Eau Claire (and recent candidate for State Assembly) suggested that Hmong hunters may want to skip the rest of the hunting season for fear of some sort of backlash. I have no idea how many took his advice.

The Hmong community has been very supportive of the victims' families, and has established a relief fund for them.

“As a community, our hearts go out to the families whose loved ones were wounded or killed during this horrible tragedy,” says Vue Chu, spokesman for the Hmong 18 Council, a Saint Paul non-profit organization made up of clan representatives from each of the 18 last names in the Hmong culture. “We want to show our community's support through the establishment of this fund and encourage Minnesota residents, and others across the U.S. to do the same.”

Individuals who would like to make a tax-exempt contribution to the “Hmong Community Support Fund for Wisconsin Hunting Victims and Survivors” may send their donations to:

Hmong Community Support Fund for Wisconsin Hunting Victims and Survivors
c/o University Bank
200 University Avenue West
Saint Paul, MN 55103

Four of the funerals were held this past weekend. I understand that one priest will be conducting five of the six funerals. While praying for the families, please remember also to pray for this priest. That's got to be a strain.

Chai Vang is expect to be charged tomorrow in the murders. He has hired three Milwaukee attorneys, and they are expected to address the media today (Sunday). I'll add more to this post if I hear anything new.

UPDATE: Here's a news report on the press conference with Vang's attorneys. Not much there, but the attorneys have had some high-profile cases.

Vang is being represented by a relatively high-profile legal team. Kohn, the lead attorney, represented Christopher Scarver, who pleaded guilty to killing serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 1995.

Kohn's partner, Jonathan Smith, represented former Green Bay Packer Mark Chmura, who was acquitted in 2001 of sexually assaulting a teenager. James Mentkowski, Vang's third attorney, has represented Hmong clients and a Hmong community group in the past, he said.

UPDATE II: Jib posts a link to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story on the "cultural gap" between Hmong and white hunters, and then adds futher thoughts about how stronger ties between the two groups can strengthen the northwoods community.

Fewer shoppers this weekend?

It snowed all day yesterday; a big wet sloppy snow. Not the kind of snow you want to drive in. But I ventured out to the shopping centers nevertheless.

I don't like Christmas shopping. I don't care for the pressure to check off purchases on my shopping list, and I really, really don't care for the crowds. But risking a panic attack, I actually entered the mall yesterday, and while it certainly was crowded, I didn't think it was all that bad. Now I don't think my aversion to crowds has lessened, so I can only conclude that the number of Christmas shoppers had lessened--and on this, the big pre-Christmas shopping weekend.

I doubt the low number of shoppers was due to this, and I can't imagine that a little sloppy snow would dissuade Wisconsinites.

The National Retail Federation estimates that 130 million shoppers would descend on stores last Friday and projects a 4.5 percent increase in retail sales for the November/December period. But that's a smaller gain than last year. And Wal-Mart reports weaker-than-expected sales for November. Hey, I guess there hasn't been a mass exodus from Target to Wal-Mart after all.

The world's largest retailer estimated that the month's sales at U.S. stores open at least a year would be 0.7 percent higher than last November, well below the 2-to-4 percent range that the company had said it expected last week.

The new projection was based on four weeks' worth of sales, from Oct. 30 through Friday, the company said in a statement on its Web site.

"Sales fell below plan this past week, which impacted the results of our November forecast," the statement said. "Keep in mind that this past week was the largest week of the reporting period."

Remember, folks, we are the economy. Spending is good. (And since I'm planning to spend less this year, I'm counting on the rest of you to do your part. If it'll help, you can buy stuff for me.)

The poor will always be with us (but there might not be as many of 'em)

(Hat tip: Pejmanesque) David Brooks writes in the New York Times:

I hate to be the bearer of good news, because only pessimists are regarded as intellectually serious, but we're in the 11th month of the most prosperous year in human history. Last week, the World Bank released a report showing that global growth "accelerated sharply" this year to a rate of about 4 percent.

Best of all, the poorer nations are leading the way. Some rich countries, like the U.S. and Japan, are doing well, but the developing world is leading this economic surge. Developing countries are seeing their economies expand by 6.1 percent this year - an unprecedented rate - and, even if you take China, India and Russia out of the equation, developing world growth is still around 5 percent. As even the cautious folks at the World Bank note, all developing regions are growing faster this decade than they did in the 1980's and 90's.

This is having a wonderful effect on world poverty, because when regions grow, that growth is shared up and down the income ladder. In its report, the World Bank notes that economic growth is producing a "spectacular" decline in poverty in East and South Asia. In 1990, there were roughly 472 million people in the East Asia and Pacific region living on less than $1 a day. By 2001, there were 271 million living in extreme poverty, and by 2015, at current projections, there will only be 19 million people living under those conditions.

Brooks notes that this is due largely to the removal of trade barriers which brings those evil multinational corporations into poorer third-world countries. Do those who complain about free trade and "outsourcing" jobs overseas recognize the benefits of this to the world's poor? This line from Brooks is sure to give my lefty pals conniptions:

Write this on your forehead: Free trade reduces world suffering.

Brooks does note some trouble spots and points out where we must concentrate globalization efforts in the future:

Of course, all the news is not good. Plagued by bad governments and AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa has not joined in the benefits of globalization. Big budget deficits in the U.S. and elsewhere threaten stable growth. High oil prices are a problem. Trade produces losers as well as winners, especially among less-skilled workers in the developed world.

But especially around Thanksgiving, it's worth appreciating some of the things that have gone right, and not just sweeping reports like the one from the World Bank under the rug.

It's worth reminding ourselves that the key task ahead is spreading the benefits of globalization to Africa and the Middle East. It's worth noting this perhaps not too surprising phenomenon: As free trade improves the lives of people in poor countries, it is viewed with suspicion by more people in rich countries.

Just once, I'd like to see someone like Bono or Bruce Springsteen stand up at a concert and speak the truth to his fan base: that the world is complicated and there are no free lunches. But if you really want to reduce world poverty, you should be cheering on those guys in pinstripe suits at the free-trade negotiations and those investors jetting around the world. Thanks, in part, to them, we are making progress against poverty. Thanks, in part, to them, more people around the world have something to be thankful for.

Now I'm no economist, but it seems to me that the efforts of globalization and free trade can be further promoted by creating a stable democracy in Iraq. Could it be that the agitating of anti-war protestors and the protestors at World Bank meetings actually works to keep the world's poor stuck in the cycle of poverty?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Eight-legged freaks

I'm glad it's winter, or I might be tempted to try this: (Hat tip: Abigail Brayden)

If you have a backyard and a flashlight, and it's dark, go do this right now.

Hold the flashlight right next to your eyes and shine the beam in front of you as you walk around the yard. If you see a tiny reflecting dot, like a dewdrop, walk towards it with the light shined on it. It is the reflection of a spider's eyes, and you can walk right up to the spider.

You can find spiders from 30 feet away with this technique. I did it tonight and found spiders all over the yard.

Geez! The very thought makes my skin crawl! I'll try to keep this in mind when summer rolls around again, but it's winter here, so the spiders have all moved inside.

. . .

Okay . . . why did I write that? Now I'm going to be walking around the house in the dark tonight with a flashlight.

Stem cell success

The Korea Times reports that a woman who could not even stand up for the last 19 years due to a spinal cord injury can now walk thanks to stem cell therapy.

"The stem cell transplantation was performed on Oct. 12 this year and in just three weeks she started to walk with the help of a walker," [professor Song Chang-hun] said.

The patient’s lower limbs were paralyzed after an accident in 1985 damaged her lower back and hips. Afterward she spent her life in bed or in a wheelchair.

For the unprecedented clinical test, the scientists isolated stem cells from umbilical cord blood and then injected them into the damaged part of the spinal cord.

The sensory and motor nerves of the patient started to improve 15 days after the operation and she could move her hips. After 25 days, her feet responded to stimulation.

This is great news, and shows the amazing potential of stem cell therapy. It's important to note that the stem cells used here were taken from umbilical cord blood. There shouldn't be any controversy involving these stem cells
, given that there is no harm done to any living thing, and the blood from umbilical cords is routinely discarded.

While some in this country dishonestly tout embryonic stem cells as the miracle cure that George Bush is keeping from people, the successes in stem cell therapy have not come from embryonic stem cells but from adult stem cells, or in this case umbilical cord stem cells, which are futher developed than embryonic stem cells.

Here in Wisconsin, Governor Jim Doyle recently announced that the state would invest $750 million to build and staff two research centers that would study, among other things, the medical uses of embryonic stem cells. This means that my state tax dollars will go to support the creation and destruction of human embryos. I am not pleased.

When discussing this issue during the campaign, Democrats refused to acknowledge the controversy surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells. They simply repeated that we mustn't let ideology trump science--a statement which is ridiculous on the face of it. It bothers me that Democrats say President Bush "outlawed stem cell research"--a bald-faced lie--but it bothers me more that they behave as if there was no controversy at all.

It's important that the public understands two things about this issue: First, that the only successes we've had with stem cell therapy has come from non-embryonic stem cells. And second, that research beyond the existing embryonic stem cell lines means that scientists will be routinely creating life in a lab--and then destroying it.

There's still a chance that the state legislature will put the kibosh on Doyle's plan.

But in the meantime, a woman in Korea can now walk again with stem cell therapy that didn't involve creating embryos and destroying them. Shouldn't the research lean in the direction of successes?

Friday, November 26, 2004

Resume Winter

Up here in the Northland, it seems summer is the anomally; winter is the status quo. Though we did have a brief snow flurry over a month ago, we never had another--until last night. And now it feels like winter is going to resume its hold on us after granting us a few months' reprieve.

About three weeks ago we had a fantastic late-fall weekend. Warm enough on Saturday the 6th that I took my last lengthy bike ride of the season; and still warm enough on Sunday that I mowed the lawn one last time. The weekend culminated in one of the best displays of the Northern Lights I've seen in a few years. Three years to be exact. Click here to see some pictures taken of the aurora on November 5th, 2001. That one may have been the best display I've ever seen.

Even though we've had some cold days since then, we haven't had a hint of snow. But yesterday up north--Thanksgiving--the snow began to fall. Just a dusting last night. Heavier today. And though it didn't accumulate much, it did make driving hazardous. So we took our time driving back home today. The temperature rose slightly above freezing, and hardly any was left when we got home (instead, it turned to rain) but it reminded me that I want to make sure the snowblower is ready to go, because it'll be back. Winter has resumed.

Winter has resumed, and Christmas shopping will commence. It always takes a good snowfall to get me into the Christmas mood. Because I was a bit buoyant from today's snow, I even ventured out to the shopping centers on the day after Thanksgiving (which I would normally never do) in search of some Christmas presents. Didn't buy anything except some candles we needed for the fireplace candelabra.

We're not really sure about putting up a Christmas tree this year. As much as we'd like to, we know that Lid would probably try to climb it or would chew on the wires for the lights. But I'll string up some lights outside so that we don't look like complete Scrooges.

And now I think I'll make a cup of coffee (decaf), light the fireplace candles, and settle in with a good book.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A short blogging break

Blogging will likely be light to non-existent for the next few days while we spend Thanksgiving up north with my family. They have only a dial-up connection on an old computer, and I don't want to tire the poor thing out. I also want to spend quality time with my family, perhaps get in some serious card-playing, and do some editing on a couple books that have been circling my desk in a holding pattern for the last month (which makes it a working vacation).

While I'm in the area, I hope to get a local perspective on the killings that took place up there last Sunday. There has been much concern in the local media about a possible backlash against the Hmong community and Hmong hunters in particular, and I wonder what I'll hear among family and friends--many of whom are deer hunters themselves.

Jiblog reports on rumors that this wasn't the first time Vang was discovered trespassing on that property, and that's one aspect to the story that I hadn't yet heard. It's probably just rumor, and there were many rumors going around in early reports that have now been demonstrated to be false. But that's one thing I'm going to see if I can confirm.

But mostly I'm going to try to just enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and show off Lid's new walking abilities to family members. (Hopefully the bumps and bruises she's acquired as a result of becoming vertical won't be noticed.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Declaration of Independence Banned in California School

Words fail me:

A California teacher has been barred by his school from giving students documents from American history that refer to God -- including the Declaration of Independence.

Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek School in the San Francisco Bay area suburb of Cupertino, sued for discrimination on Monday, claiming he had been singled out for censorship by principal Patricia Vidmar because he is a Christian.

. . .

Williams asserts in the lawsuit that since May he has been required to submit all of his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to Vidmar for approval, and that the principal will not permit him to use any that contain references to God or Christianity.

Among the materials she has rejected, according to Williams, are excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, George Washington's journal, John Adams' diary, Samuel Adams' "The Rights of the Colonists" and William Penn's "The Frame of Government of Pennsylvania."

And now comes the twist . . .

Jiblog is reporting that a Clark County (Wis.) hunting murder cold case from 2001 has just been reopened.

According to the Journal Sentinel's report, Jim Southworth was shot in the back twice during the 2001 hunting season, and his rifle was missing. Witnesses reported seeing a silver late model truck leaving the woods that day, with three Asian men inside. Those three men have never been identified or questioned.

The Journal Sentinel reports that Vang has owned a silver 1987 Nissan truck in the past. Early reports of the Sawyer County murders also reported that he had been seen hunting with two others earlier in the day.

It might mean nothing. Then again, . . .

Is this how the media see themselves?

A common complaint among conservatives is the elitist attitude of the mainstream news media. The media, of course, thinks such charges are nonsense. Dan at County Trunk T notes an interesting phrasing in this news story about potential replacements for Dan Rather.

When the media describes the next guy to smile and read off the teleprompter as a "successor", I know something ain't right in the world. In the corporate world we use the term "replacement" or "new hire". While "successor" is grammatically correct, it rings of elitism and power.

I agree that "succession" does seem to connote a transfer of power, such as that between monarchs or other heads of state. I also noticed that the words "successor" or "succession" were used eleven times in that short article.

Normally such word usage wouldn't jump out at me. By definition, "successor" applies to the situation. Still, perhaps this word usage is an indication that, as much as they protest to the contrary, the media really do see themselves as a group of aristocrats ruling over their little serfdom of viewers. They don't just have "replacements," they have "successors."

University senate votes to delay vote on "service learning" issue

I had been intending to write more about the "religious service learning" controversy at UWEC this week, but Sunday's shooting incident took my attention away from it. The subject of the restrictive language added to the service learning guidelines was finally brought to a vote at yesterday's University Senate meeting, but the Senate only voted to move the topic to a different committee for further discussion.

The [chancellor-appointed] committee will be formed before the end of the semester, Chancellor Donald Mash said following the meeting.

It will be very similar to the service learning advisory committee, which has student representation, Mash said.

Once the committee develops a proposal, it will return to the University Senate floor, where it will be voted on and then sent to the chancellor for final approval, University Senate Chair Susan Harrison said.

I have been hearing all along that even if the University Senate approved the ban on religious service learning, the Chancellor--who seems to have veto power--would likely not approve it. And in fact, the Chancellor indicated as much in yesterday's meeting.

Mash opened the religious service learning ban discussion with concerns over the language of the ban.

"I would not be able to sign off on the ban as it has been proposed," he said, "and I wanted you to know that up front."

The opining on this issue in the Spectator and local papers has been interesting. If the letters to the editor are representative--and I don't know that they are--the objections to the ban are coming largely from the community and the student body. Which makes sense given that it is this relationship between students and community organizations that is being called into question. Meanwhile, the support of the religious service learning ban is coming mainly from university faculty. The student opposition to the ban has been better argued and supported than the faculty support, which has been steeped in emotionalism and simplistic, paternalistic arguments.

Here's one example: a letter to The Spectator, the UWEC campus newspaper, from Michael Fine, one of the political science profs.

As someone who suffered from beatings, ostracism and hate in my youth more than 40 years ago when we unfortunately mixed church and state in elementary school, I have hesitated to weigh in on the service learning controversy on campus. But with nearly 30 years at UW-Eau Claire, I feel the particular safety of the university is endangered by the proselytization of professor Kent Syverson.

Rather than consulting professor James Tubbs, the outstanding constitutional lawyer and scholar that we have on campus, Syverson refuses to allow Tubbs to speak freely to the APC, which Syverson chairs. Instead, he chooses to do his own, highly questionable constitutional analysis, guided only by that infamous right-wing organization that is a critic of most established U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the American Center for Law and Justice.

. . .

Let me just point out the simplest errors in his logic. Syverson claims the issue is about religious freedom and freedom of speech. No one is stopping anyone from proselytizing. The question is whether we should advance such activity by giving credit for it. By any theory of establishment, I know advancement takes place if we give "credit." By Syverson's logic, credit is not credit for anything. Should we give credit for nothing?

If freedom were at risk, this exchange would not be taking place. But the religions Syverson wants to advance are having little problem freely existing in American life. It is minorities' freedoms that are in danger from such "credit." Let me assure you, it is the other religions that have always come under the scrutiny of state-sponsored proselytizing. I would prefer to leave proselytizing to the churches, temples and mosques, as the framers of the Constitution chose to do.

But let's assume for a moment that Syverson is right and there is no constitutional prohibition against giving service learning credit for proselytizing religion. Even if that were true, I would suggest that it is still bad policy. The license to do something legally does not obligate us to make bad policy. If no advancement of religion is taking place by the activity, then what service is being provided?

If it advances religion, it is proselytization. If it advances nothing, then it isn't service. Either way, it should not be approved.

I don't know Professor Fine. I do know that he isn't arguing from case law here. Instead he argues from emotion. He talks of suffering "beatings, ostracism, and hatred" more than 40 years ago "when we unfortunately mixed church and state in elementary school," and by doing so suggests a repeat of such things. He says the "proselytization of Kent Syverson" threatens the "safety" of the university. (I'm not sure what he means when he says that Syverson "proselytizes." This issue isn't about whether the APC Chair spends time spreading the gospel.)

If this letter is to be taken as an example, the proponents of excluding religious service learning projects at UWEC argue from a very simplistic--and erroneous--view of the Constitution by which religion and public education must never be allowed within 50 paces of each other. Worse, they are guilty of fearmongering. The arguments presented by the ACLJ, they tell us, are suspect because they are from "that infamous right-wing organization." Furthermore, if UWEC allowed religious service learning projects--as it did for seven years--then, they tell us, safety is threatened and minorities' freedoms are endangered.

If this is true, then there must be some evidence of this having already happened during the first seven years of the service learning program when religious service learning was allowed. Show me the "dangers" and the "threats."

Rather than appeal to emotions and a simplistic understanding of the first amendment, the opponents of religious service learning need to do more than just shout "violation of the Establishment Clause" and dig the entrenchments deeper. How about some logical, reasonable arguments from case law precedent? The ACLJ--"that infamous right-wing organization"--can do it. Why can't System Legal? (Note: If they have, I would appreciate seeing the documents, but it appears that so far their only argument has been "because we say so.")

Here's one of the students' letters. I won't quote the whole thing because it's very long, but here's a portion:

The problem with this new restriction does not lie with the first half of the ban’s language. It lies with the second half. The instant that the Service Learning Center added the wording “since they are generally viewed as constituting a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution” this became a constitutional issue, not an opinion issue. There is one group in charge of interpreting the Establishment Clause, as well as the rest of the Constitution, and it is not Chancellor Mash, Provost Satz, System Legal, the Student Senate, or the University Senate. It is the Supreme Court. So what has the Supreme Court had to say on the matter?

The Establishment Cause is the first clause of the First Amendment, and states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” In order to decide issues about the Establishment Clause, the Supreme Court has created tests to determine a law’s constitutionality. Let’s just say that if this ban were a student at Eau Claire, it would be well on its way to probation with all the tests it fails. The traditional test is called the Lemon Test. Established in the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman, it has three prongs:

1) Does the law serve a secular purpose?
2) Does the law have a primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion?
3) Does the law create an excessive entanglement between government and religion?

The ban does indeed pass the first test, but fails the other two.

Read the whole letter, and note the difference. Many more letters can be found here and here.

Here's the irony no one's pointed out yet (as far as I know). If you're a student at UWEC, and you teach a class on Christianity for your service learning project, you will not get credit for it. But if you're a professor in the religion department at UWEC, and you teach a class on Christianity, you will get a paycheck from the state, and maybe even tenure.

I've written a lot about this issue, but rather than point to all the various blog entries, I'll point out a few starting entries here and here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Good News / Bad News

The good news is Dan Rather is retiring from CBS Evening News.

The bad news is that he's going to 60 minutes, where he will surely continue to play fast and loose with the truth.

Dan Rather, the hard-charging embodiment of CBS News who saw his reputation damaged by an ill-fated report on President Bush (news - web sites)'s National Guard service, said Tuesday he will step down as "CBS Evening News" anchor in March after nearly a quarter-century in the job.

Rather, 73, will become a correspondent for both editions of "60 Minutes," saying he looked forward to "pouring my heart" into investigative reporting.

Hey, if Dan wants a job, I think I know the ideal position for him. It's a job he's already been doing anyway, but I understand there will be a position opening soon. He's just got to fight Howard Dean for it.

Disco Buck

Over at The American Mind, Sean is waxing nostalgic for the late 70s TV show "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," and all I can say is "EW, NO NO NO NO NO!"

What I remember seeing in its original airing, I disliked immensely. I'd spent many hours poring over my Grandfather's collections of old Buck Rogers comic strips, and this was NOT Buck Rogers. This was some sort of weird space show that stole the name, dressed it in a leisure suit, and turned it loose in a disco.

The original Buck Rogers got trapped in a mine cave-in and stuck in suspended animation, emerging 500 years later to discover that half of North America had been taken over by invading Mongols, while in the other half lived a sort of loose association of freedom fighters. There were no spaceships until much later in the comic series. Rather, the Mongols had these cool airships, kept aloft by repellor rays, and their capital was Niagara Falls. The Americans used biplanes. I was thrilled.

The Sci Fi Channel used to (and may still) air reruns of the show. What I saw during a few brief moments on the Sci Fi Channel last year confirmed my suspicions that this show deserves to sit on the shelf along with all those old Gloria Gaynor LPs.

Who knows what episode it was, all I know is that the character of falseBuck was in some 25th Century Disco. The clothes reflected polyester's last desperate grab at glory as it passed from one decade to the next. Leisure suits tricked out enough to give them a futuristic look while remaining rooted in contemporary America.

And of course, there was ubiquitous disco music. The disco beat had all the characters doing some weird dance/stop movements that I'm sure were a hallmark of pop culture. (Imagine a whole room of Mark Spitzes and Farrah Fawcetts going wiggle-wiggle FREEZE! wiggle-wiggle FREEZE! and you'll have an approximation.) Whoever made this show must have been thinking that Disco was the future. That Disco would be around forever. That we would boogie-oogie-oogie until time itself wound down. Disco, of course, died almost a year later after trying one last time with "Funkytown."

Seeing how the past imagined the future can be fascinating. Or, in the case of the Buck Rogers television show, quite depressing.

You know, I would love to see someone try to make an authentic Buck Rogers movie or TV Show, following the original comic strip as closely as possible. That 70's TV show was so far off the original that even my teenaged brain, desperate for Sci Fi in any form (or Erin Grey in a jumpsuit), refused to watch it on principle. There was no friggin' TWIKI in the comic strip.

But there were biplanes, airships, anti-grav belts, disintegrator rays, repellor rays, and a bunch of scrappy Americans fighting their Mongol oppressors. Cool.

But hey, if Disco Buck is your thing, go ahead and buy. Me, I'll save my pennies for "The Bionic Woman" DVDs.

Why I must shop at Target

Hugh Hewitt has been leading the charge to boycott Target stores for barring Salvation Army bellringers from setting up outside their doors. Other bloggers have joined the cause, and now there's even a website where you can sign an online petition if you're the petition-signin' type.

Before I got married, I did my "super-store" shopping almost exclusively at Target. My wife, however, was a Wal-Mart shopper. (This is what's known as a mixed marriage, I believe.) Because of her seductive influence, I have now conceded defeat and shop Wal-Mart with her. But I've never really liked Wal-Mart. The parking lot is always crowded (and ours, in particular, is a nightmare of parking-lot design), the store is always crowded, the aisles are far too narrow, and, . . . well, . . . Wal-Mart's store decor offends my aesthetic sensibilities. (I'd suspect bad feng shui if I was into that sort of thing.)

When I'm shopping alone, I backslide and go to Target, and I will probably continue these clandestine activities. But now I'm sneakin' around on my wife and half the blogosphere.

While I disagree with Target's decision, I'm afraid that I cannot boycott Target completely.

And here's why.

I've searched all over Our Fair City, and Target is the only place I've found that sells Ginger Altoids. So I'll keep shopping in secret. Sorry Salvation Army. I'll stuff a few extra bucks in the Red Bucket when we go to Wal-Mart, but Ginger Altoids are my crack and Target is my dealer.

More details emerge about the shooting

Chai Vang is now telling his side of the story about what happened when a group of hunters approached him about trespassing on their land and using their tree stand. I was hoping it wasn't going to be something like this.

Vang told investigators the hunters surrounded him, and some started calling him racial slurs. The statement quotes him as saying he started walking away but looked back. Vang said he saw the first hunter point his rifle at him and then fire a shot that hit the ground 30 to 40 feet behind him.

Vang told investigators that's when he started firing at the group.

Okay, if someone spoke to me in threatening language and then fired a gun toward me, I'd probably run like hell. Vang was in the army, and I suspect that "fire back" instinct may have kicked in.

But that still doesn't explain why he shot and killed six people, picking some of them off as they arrived on the scene. We're told only one of the hunters was armed.

I suspect the hunting party's story will be slightly different.

UPDATE: WCCO TV has copies of Vang's statement on their website. The statement is in two parts. Here, and here. A "must read" if you want Vang's statement unfiltered. More later.

UPDATE II: Here are a few segments of the report from the investigator (found at the links in the previous paragraph). And I'll just note that it's pretty explicit, though not particularly gruesome.

Reports indicated that the Asian male wandered onto property owned by Terry Willers and Robert Crotteau. The Asian male was located sitting in a tree stand on the private property. The Asian male was confronted by Terry Willers and told by Willers to leave the property. Willers used a Walkie Talkie to advise the rest of the hunting party that were located at the cabin that Willers told the subject to leave and Willers was going to wait and make sure the subject left.

Here's Hesebeck's account which matches most of the news reports so far, but goes into a bit more detail:

Lauren Hesebeck was able to provide the following information. At this point Robert Crotteau, Joe Crotteau, Lauren Hesebeck, Dennis Drew, and Mark Roidt left the cabin and went to Willers location. During another verbal exchange with the Asian male one of the members of the property owner's party wrote the back tag number of the Asian male subject in the dirt on a "mule" which is a 2 side-by-side seat ATV. The back tag number that was written down was XXXXXXX. The Asian male was also advised that law enforcement waas going to be called.

. . .

Vang started to walk away and got approximately 40 yards away. Then Vang appeared to remove the scope from his rifle and turned around and started shooting. Vang shot several times and hit Willers. Prior to being shot, Willers returned fire but did not hit Vang. Vang shot several more shots and struck Dennis Drew and Mark Roidt. Lauren Hesebeck attempted to hide behind the "mule" but Vang moved around the "mule" and shot Lauren Hesebeck in the shoulder. Robert and Joe Crotteau ran away from the scene. Vang then pursued Robert and Joe. Both Robert and Joe were located away from the initial scene and had been shot to death.

While Vang was pursuing Robert and Joe, Lauren Hesebeck was able to call on the Walkie Talkie to the cabin and advised that he had been shot and needed help. Help arrived and removed Terry Willers from the scene. A short time later Lauren heard another ATV approaching and then heard more gun shot. Lauren advised that Vang then appeared again where the shooting originally started. Lauren Hesebeck heard Vang say something like "One of you f****** are still alive." Lauren Hesebeck indicated that he returned fire at that time but is unsure how many times.

Vang's account begins by describing how he got lost and found the deer stand on the private property, so he climbed up onto it. About 15 minutes later, Willers approached and told him that he was on private property. Vang climbed down and started walking away only to find himself confronted by the group. Vang's account adds the detail of the words that were exchanged.

Vang stated that this man stated "You just trespassed through 400 acres of private land. Vang stated that the others in the group surrounded Vang. Vang stated that the man Vang thought to be the owner then started calling Vang names like "gook, chink, f****** Asian." Vang stated that at this point the only one Vang saw with a gun was the first subject that kicked Vang out of the stand.

Vang stated that Vang was told to get off the f****** property and never come back. Vang stated that at one point they wrote down his license number and stated that they were going to call the law enforcement. Vang stated that some of the others in the group started calling Vang names (gook, chink) and were also swearing at Vang. Vang stated that Vang started walking away and got approximately 20 yards away and turned around and observed the man that had the rifle walking towards the rest of the group. Vang also observed the man take the rifle off his shoulder and took the rifle into his hands. Vang stated that Vang was approximated 100 feet away and looked back again. Vang stated that Vang observed the subject with the rifle point the rifle at Vang. Vang stated that Vang immediately dropped to a crouch position and the subject shot at Vang and the bullet hit the ground 30 to 40 feet behind Vang.

Vang stated that Vang removed the scope from his rifle. Vang stated that Vang shot 2 times at the man with the rifle and the man dropped to the ground. Vang saw all the others run toward the ATV's and Vang continued to shoot. Vang stated that 2 or 3 more men fell to the ground. Vang stated that a couple of the men started to run. Vang stated that Vang chased after one of the men that ran towards the cabin. Vang stated that the man was yelling "Help me, help me." Vang stated that Vang shot at the man several times while chasing him. Vang stated that he got to about 15 to 20 feet of the man who was still running away and Vang shot him in the back. Vang stated that the man dropped to the ground. Vang stated that the man did not have a gun. Vang stated that Vang walked up to the man and heard the man groan and then Vang walked away. . . .

Vang stated that at this point Vang heard one of the other men call on the Walkie Talkie and state "We've been shot and need help." Vang stated that Vang observed 3 other subjects coming on an ATV. Vang stated that Vang then turned his reversible coat from orange to camo. Vang stated that he also reloaded his magazine with 5 or 6 bullets. Vang stated that Vang did not shoot at these men because they had guns with them. Vang stated that the men were in by the other injured men for less than a minute and then left. Vang did not know if the men took any of the wounded out with them.

Vang stated that Vang then observed another ATV coming with 2 more people on it. Vang stated that the driver of this ATV had a gun on his shoulder. Vang stated that Vang began to run and Vang stated that they saw Vang running and were going too fast to stop and drove past Vang. Vang stated that they stopped approximately 10 to 15 feet past Vang at a 45 degree angle. Vang stated that the man removed the gun from his shoulder with one hand while the other hand was on the handle bars of the ATV. Vang stated that Vang shot 3 or 4 times and both people fell off the ATV and onto the ground.

Vang stated that Vang then started to run back towards where the original shooting started. Vang stated that Vang looked up the trail and saw that one of the men were standing. Vang stated that Vang yelled "You're not dead yet?" Vang stated that Vang shot one more time in the direction of this man but doesn't know if he hit the man or not. Vang stated that he continued to run away and did not return.

. . .

At the scene there was only 1 rifle located.

There are two major differences in the accounts. In Vang's account he was insulted and shot at before he returned fire. In Hesebeck's account (on which, until today, most news accounts seemed to be based) there is no apparent reason that Vang began firing on the group.

But more telling, perhaps, are the places where the two accounts match. In both accounts Vang chases down and shoots one or more of the hunting party as they attempt to flee the scene. In both accounts he calls out a sort of a challenge statement. ("One of you f****** is still alive?" or "You're not dead yet?")

This is all kinds of disturbing.

UPDATE III: One more thing. Because I've been blogging about this incident the last two days, Google searches on the subject keep pointing to my blog. It's been interesting to see what search terms people are using to track down this story. But one search term in particular really bothered me. Someone was searching with the phrase "redneck robert crotteau" -- Robert Crotteau being one of the murder victims. (My blog came up because an earlier post having nothing to do with this incident had the word "redneck" in it). And there we have one small example of how hunters have been depicted by news of this event.

This, too, is disturbing.

UPDATE IV: It appears that this particular blog entry is getting a lot of traffic. Thanks for stopping by. I've been blogging about this because the incident occured near my home town, and I know the area quite well.

I just wanted to let you know that this isn't my only entry on the subject. If you go out to the main page of my blog and start scrolling down, you should find quite a few. But there are a few recent entries here and here with newer information. I'll likely keep blogging about this until the case is resolved.

Ah, . . . that's better . . .

Much better! Serene. Calm. Soothing in its apparent randomness. More like this, please. That last one was sorta freakin' me out.

Monday, November 22, 2004

That didn't take long . . .

Here's the press release from the Violence Policy Center. (Hat tip: My Good Eye)

SKS assault rifles like the one reported to have been used to murder five hunters and wound three others in Wisconsin over the weekend are a primary threat to police, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) reported today. So far in 2004, at least six law enforcement officers have been slain by SKSs. In the wake of the shooting, the VPC called on President George W. Bush today to use the Administration's executive authority over firearm imports to fully ban the import of all foreign-made assault rifles. . . .


My Good Eye adds:

I also heard a top-of-the-hour CBS Radio sound bite that said the assault weapon ban that Bush allowed to expire might have prevented this. That implication is absolute nonsense, and the VPC knows it:
"the SKS assault rifle was not covered by the recently expired 1994 federal assault weapons ban. The VPC criticized the 1994 law as inadequate and favors enactment of a tougher version of the law that would ban the SKS and many other assault weapons that easily slipped through the old law's loopholes."

The sad truth is, there is no new law that would have stopped this tragedy. . . . [I]t's ridiculous for the VPC or any other gun control lobby to use these victims for their own ends before anyone even has time to plan the funerals. It's the same thing that happened after Columbine and other school shootings--the vultures start circling before the bodies are even cold, pushing for more and more restrictions on gun ownership.

CBS News passing along a falsehood? Gun control lobbies using tragedies to further their goals? I can't believe such things happen!

UPDATE: More vultures here.

Where were you when?

41 years ago today, JFK was assassinated. Almost everyone living at the time can tell you where they were when they heard the news. It's a generational thing, and I suspect that we'll keep being reminded of it every Nov. 22nd until that generation has passed on. I don't quite get the obsession with it, but I wasn't due to arrive until a couple years later.

My own generation--the one that came on the heels of the boomers--has its own moments like that. I can tell you exactly where I was when I got the news that President Reagan was shot and the Space Shuttle blew up on take-off. I can tell you where I watched the Berlin Wall come down and where I watched the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center fall. These will likely be a few of my generation's shared remembrances. These incidents engraved in history will, upon recollection, immediately take us back to a specific time and place in our memories.

Perhaps as a counter to my previous post, I must note that television played a key role in all these events. Will television play the same role in the future? Or in the future will we recall what websites we accessed or which blogs we followed, as events unfolded?

Does Old Media Exaggerate its Role?

This morning I happened to be listening to a couple annoying radio personalities on a local talk station. The news anchor of a local tv news program called up to gently criticize them for the way they reported on the shooting yesterday. He felt they were out of line to report every single rumor they'd heard, including the rumors that as many as twelve hunters were dead or missing, that the shooter was riding around in the woods on an ATV, picking off hunters at random, or that there was a connection to houses that had been shot at some weeks earlier.

The radio guys criticized him for holding off on reporting anything until they had their facts straight. Their view was that the tv station should have run a crawl or something informing people that something was happening, even if they didn't know all the details.

It was interesting listening to the exchange. The radio guys got a little hot-tempered, too. But what struck me was their attitudes about their roles. There was a strong feeling from the radio guys that they would be letting down the community if they didn't report something--even rumors--and that if they held off (as the tv station did) then they would be criticized for not letting people know that "something" was happening.

I should explain that about five hours passed from the time of the killings to the time when the shooter was taken into custody. During that time, hunters who were in the area tried to gather up all members of their groups, because all they knew was that someone who'd just killed 5 people was still out in the woods somewhere. Meanwhile, locals were advised to stay inside and lock their doors, over concern that the shooter might try to get into someone's house.

But I thought maybe the local radio and television stations were slightly exaggerating the role they play in the region. My first instinct when I heard what was happening was to go online and check out news sites. Friends tell me of people in the area of the shooting staying glued to their police scanners--getting the news right from the source. Later in the evening on a drive to the store, I did take one quick trip across the radio dial, but didn't hear anything. I didn't turn on the television until it was time for the 10 o'clock news.

But it would never occur to me to criticize a local radio or television station for not giving me immediate news gratification (except in the case of severe weather). If they weren't currently reporting on a incident I wanted more information about, I would simply look elsewhere. Last night, the internet was where I went first. I doubt I was alone. But as a news consumer, I wouldn't think to call a local station and complain that they didn't give me what I wanted. Why bother? With the new media revolution we can just look around for other options.

I have escaped damnation!

According to the Dante's Inferno Hell Test, I'm headed for Purgatory!

You have escaped damnation and made it to Purgatory, a place where the dew of repentance washes off the stain of sin and girds the spirit with humility. Through contrition, confession, and satisfaction by works of righteousness, you must make your way up the mountain. As the sins are cleansed from your soul, you will be illuminated by the Sun of Divine Grace, and you will join other souls, smiling and happy, upon the summit of this mountain. Before long you will know the joys of Paradise as you ascend to the ethereal realm of Heaven.

Update on the Sawyer County shootings

A very complete story about the shooting in Sawyer County is here.

[Suspect Chai] Vang, who had a hunting license but not for Wisconsin, had wandered onto 400 acres of hunting grounds owned by Robert Crotteau after becoming lost. He eventually came upon an empty deer stand, which are used by hunters to better spot deer without being seen, and climbed into it, not knowing he was on private property, Meier said.

At around noon, one of the members of the group of 14 or 15 on the annual opening-weekend trip to Crotteau's property approached him and asked him to leave. Crotteau and the others in the cabin were notified of the situation and hopped on their all-terrain vehicles and headed to the scene.

Vang crawled down from the tree stand and began to walk away. He then turned around and began firing his SKS 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle at the group, shooting at the victims multiple times.

"The suspect got down from the deer stand, walked 40 yards, fiddled with his rifle. He took the scope off his rifle, he turned and he opened fire on the group," Meier said.

A shooting victim radioed others in the party in a nearby cabin for help. Those people raced to the scene in ATVs, but they were shot at by Vang while attempting to rescue their friends and family.

The suspect was "chasing after them and killing them," Sawyer County Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle said. "He hunted them down is what he did."

Rescuers from the cabin piled the living onto their vehicles and headed out of the thick woods. They left the dead behind.

"They grabbed who they could grab and got out of there because they were still under fire," Meier said.

This is why I don't think "hunting dispute" is an accurate description of what happened. It wasn't an argument that escalated into gunfire. Vang left the tree stand, started walking away, but then just turned around and started shooting. He was still shooting as members of the hunting party tried to get the wounded away from the scene.

I mentioned earlier that we should watch for the cultural angle to be played up. And indeed, it's already started.

Locals have complained that the Hmong, refugees from Laos, do not understand the concept of private property and hunt wherever they see fit. [Ilean Her, director of the St. Paul-based Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans,] said a fistfight once broke out after Hmong hunters crossed onto private land in Minnesota.

The arrest has left some Hmong citizens in his hometown fearful of a backlash.

Michael Yang, a Hmong activist, said various Hmong groups held an emergency meeting Monday to talk about how to respond. Those at the meeting heard stories from some Hmong hunters about friction with white hunters.

The shooting has already provoked racial tension in an area of Wisconsin where deer hunting is steeped in tradition.

"It's pathetic. They let all these foreigners in here, and they walk all over everybody's property," said Jim Arneberg, owner of the Haugen Inn in nearby Haugen.

Oh, look. They got a local man from the victims' home town (that is to say, someone who certainly knew the victims' and was likely quite upset) to make a racially charged statement.

Given that the shooter is a Hmong immigrant, I'd wondered if there was some sort of communications barrier that resulted in the massacre. But Vang came to the U.S. in 1980--when he was probably 11 or 12. He served in the army, is a naturalized citizen and speaks good English. So language certainly wasn't an issue. And how could he live here for two thirds of his life and not come to understand the concept of private property? I do not condone any racist behavior toward the Hmong, but I don't quite buy the "cultural differences" excuse.

It might be important to note the following:

Minneapolis police said they arrested Vang on Christmas Eve 2001 after he waved a gun and threatened to kill his wife. No charge was brought because she didn't cooperate with authorities, spokesman Ron Reier said. St. Paul police say they were called to Vang's house twice in the past year on domestic violence calls, but both were resolved without incident and no police reports were filed.

I'd suggest that the incident had less to do with race or culture and more to do with the fact that the shooter has a history of violence.

I just talked to my folks who had been at a memorial service for the victims at the Birchwood village hall. The article linked at the top of this post includes the names of the dead and the wounded. Please remember their families in prayer, especially during this holiday week.

UPDATE: Fox News just reported that one of the three men wounded by the shooter has now died.

But thanks for sharing!

Ann Althouse's doodles are increasingly disturbing.

More Good News from Iraq

Arthur Chrenkoff posts his 15th installment of "Good News from Iraq," a collection of stories that just don't get reported as much as the bad news.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Five Dead, Three Wounded

This happened very close to where I grew up.

The violence began shortly after a hunting party saw a hunter occupying their tree stand, Sawyer County Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle told KSTP-TV of St. Paul, Minn. A confrontation and shooting followed.

One of the shooting victims radioed back to the deer shack for help, he said. When more hunters came to the scene, they also were shot, Zeigle said.

My dad says he's never seen so many police cars, ambulances, and helicopters around the area.

UPDATE: Watched a bit of the report on the local news. They aren't releasing the names of the victims at this point. I'm not sure whether they were locals or not--by which I guess I mean, I'm not sure if I know them since everyone knows everyone in that area.

There will be a press conference tomorrow morning which should have more details. I'm curious about the kind of rifle the shooter was using for deer hunting since he was able to kill five people and wound three others sniper-style. I mean, did he actually stop and reload?

UPDATE II: More details here.

The shooting started when two hunters returning to their rural cabin saw the suspect in one of their hunting platforms in a tree, Sawyer County Chief Deputy Tim Zeigle said. The platforms or "tree stands" allow hunters to see deer without being easily seen themselves.

Both of those hunters were wounded and one of them radioed friends at the cabin a quarter-mile away. Other members of their group responded and they also were shot, he said.

"It's absolutely nuts. Why? Over sitting in a tree stand?" asked Zeigle.

Zeigle said the suspect was "chasing after them and killing them," with a SKS 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle, a common hunting weapon.

About 20 shots were fired but it was unclear if any of the hunters had fired at the suspect or who might have shot first, Zeigle said. There was just one gun among the eight people killed or wounded, he said.

The dead included a a teenage boy and a woman, and a father and son, Zeigle said. Some of the victims were shot more than once. All five were from the Rice Lake area, about 15 miles southwest of Birchwood in northwestern Wisconsin, he said.

Authorities found two bodies near each other and the others were scattered over 100 yards.

The media around the world is calling this a "hunting dispute," which makes it sound like a bunch of hunters arguing and then turning their rifles on each other. In an earlier story the AP called it "an apparent shootout over who could occupy a hunting platform." Note that there was only one gun among the eight people wounded and killed. And note the reference to "chasing them down and killing them." This was not a "hunting dispute."

But "hunting dispute" is what the world will hear, (and it's really odd to see the name of your tiny Wisconsin hometown in the byline of a news story in Australia) and it will paint a negative image of hunters.

The SKS 7.62 mm semi-automatic rifle used by the killer is legal for deer hunting. The AP news story calls it "a common hunting weapon," but I understand (and I'm no gun expert) that such a weapon is rarely used because they don't have the kind of accuracy you want if you're deer hunting. The St. Paul Pioneer Press used the scare word "assault rifle," so look for gun control advocates to be all over this incident. And watch for the depiction of hunters--99% of whom are very responsible about hunting, firearms, and property rights--as a group of argumentative types running around the woods with assault rifles.

Also, look for cultural issues to emerge because the killer is a Hmong immigrant.

It's a terrible, tragic situation (and extremely rare around these parts) but the fallout will likely be quite interesting.

UPDATE III: Mitch corrects my assumption about hunting with "assault weapons" in the comments section of his blog entry.

The SKS has, actually, become quite a common deer-hunting rifle; the 7.62x39mm round used in the SKS (and AK-series) has about the same stopping power as the very common 30-30 cartridge, and is cheaper than dirt. And the SKS rifle, like most military rifles and unlike most hunting rifles, is breathtakingly reliable, very difficult to jam under sloppy, wet, muddy conditions, and a piece of cake to maintain.

Thanks, Mitch. My experience is limited in this area.

UPDATE IV: Jiblog has some similar thoughts about how this story has been reported by the AP and others.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Building Blocks of a Holy Life

When I was a kid, I spent hours playing with Legos, but I never really thought of it as a valid ministry. Well, throw out the flannelgraphs, folks. Look what you can do with Legos!

It's the story of Noah's Ark!

It's Moses at the Burning Bush!

It's . . . er, . . . Joshua circumcizing the Israelites??? Well, yes it is. Hmmm.

And this lesson from Paul's epistles is . . . er, . . . not entirely appropriate for children, is it?

Okay, never mind. Back to the flannelgraphs!

Friday, November 19, 2004

A couple Mark Helprin appearances

I mentioned earlier that I am a fan of Mark Helprin's fiction, and that I'm currently reading his latest book, The Pacific and Other Stories. So I was pleased to run across this recent interview with Helprin on NPR's Weekend Edition. ( The extended version of the interview is much better than the edited down version.) There's also an excerpt from one of the stories at that same link if you want a taste of Helprin's writing style.

It's a good interview, and not at all political as you'd expect. There's one very Helprinesque exchange in which interviewer Scott Simon asks Helprin if there's a theme to the collection of stories. Helprin responds that there are many themes:

"It's about art, it's about making amends, it's about memory, childhood, marriage, sacrifice, honor, perseverance, courage, war, putting materialism in its place, infatuation, resolution, the holocaust, baseball, god, redemption, loyalty show business, dictatorship, love for one's family, New York in 1869, the loss of one's child, Herman Melville, adultery, World War I, the mountains, idolatry, technology, ocean racing, dying, the nature of love, the Middle East, the Second World War, California, redemption denied, and that's a partial list."

(I think I got it all. If you're familiar with Helprin, you'll instantly recognize "the list," which is a common element in his writing.)

It's great hearing Helprin after all these years of only reading him.

I was also pleased to come across Adam Walter's account of an appearance by Mark Helprin at a Seattle book signing. It's a long blog entry, and shows Helprin's sense of the absurd. And unlike the NPR interview, he did get a bit political at this appearance. He shared this interesting bit about polls.

As someone who worked deep inside the 1996 Bob Dole campaign, Helprin learned a trick to share with us . . . Think of the sample that pollsters are using--say a sample of 15,000 voters taken for a Gallup pole. Well, you have to realize that the presidential nominees are privy to much better polls, polls of a 45,000 or 60,000 person sample carried out in counties all over the country. When you collect and concentrate all of this information, you have to figure that the results are 500 times more dense, detailed and accurate (maybe even 1000 or 2000 times). Now the exact results of these polls are available only to the presidential nominees themselves and maybe 10 people around them. Helprin said that during the Dole campaign they would get print-outs of such polls with single spaced lines, and the pages all together were a stack 3 or 4 inches thick. Helprin claims he could tell the results of the 2004 election back in August by this simple trick: watch the faces of the less experienced people who are in the upper echelons of the campaigns, the younger people who don’t have multiple campaigns under them, but also watch the candidates’ wives, who are also generally less adept at masking their feelings. The fact is that neither candidate wants you to know how the election is really going because each of them depends on us to turn up on the Big Day and vote, but there are people around the candidates who will not always be able to mask the elated or depressed mood they are operating under day-in and day-out.

Helprin also provided a bit of detail regarding the long-rumored film version of his novel A Soldier of the Great War.

Helprin doesn’t expect to see “Soldier” filmed anytime soon. A deal had been struck for Edward Norton to star in it, but then the producer offended Salma Hayek, Norton’s girlfriend at the time, and the deal fell through. The rights revert to Helprin again in two years.

Helprin also shared that he has a new novel coming out next year, which must be what this is, and another novel planned set in New York in the 1930s and 40s.

The account of the book signing is very long, but Helprin fans should really enjoy it. I realize the intersection of "people who read my blog" and "people who are fans of Mark Helprin" is probably less than one, mathematically speaking. Whoever you are, this post is for you. (Or mathematically speaking, a portion of you. Your right shoulder, perhaps.)

Another Meltdown / Lefty "Tolerance"

Wednesday night as my wife and I sat down to watch the latest episode of "Lost" which we'd recorded earlier (and yes, that was Mira Furlan) we caught a few brief moments of Hannity and Colmes on Fox News. The subject was the racist manner in which Condoleezza Rice is being depicted in lefty editorial cartoons. We watched the beginning of the segment with Ann Coulter and former Mondale campaign manager Bob Beckel, and then turned on "Lost."

We missed an exchange that rivals Lawrence O'Donnell's "Creepy liar!" tirade for the title of Liberal Meltdown of the Year. A full transcript is here, but you really need to watch the video (also at the same link) in order to get the full effect. I've always found Ann Coulter to be a bit annoying, but watching her deal with the constant interruptions from Beckel and Colmes--by continuing to carry on a monologue with herself about how they wouldn't let her finish her statements--was quite enjoyable.

In speaking about this cartoon specifically, Beckel says:

Ease up a little bit. The fact is that Condoleeza Rice is a yes woman, a parrot, for George Bush. That’s why he put her at the State Department. This woman oversaw a failed war, and she should be Secretary of State? (Ed. Failed war"? So far it's been a pretty successful war.) I mean, a few cartoons, what’s the big deal?"

Yeah, what's the big deal?

It was a bit odd how Beckel kept going off-topic, talking about the Swift Boat Vets, the treatment of Clinton by conservatives and his own activities in the civil rights movement. One might almost think he was trying to change the subject. In many ways I felt he wasn't really the right guest for this topic, but even so, it was a top-ten meltdown moment.

(Beckel and Coulter had a rematch on Hannity's radio show yesterday, and Beckel came off much better; much more collected than Coulter, who was loaded for bear and taking aim. But both the TV appearances and the radio appearances reminded me why I'd rather watch "Lost," which is really quite good.)

There's a good collection of links and discussion of the racist cartoons here. La Shawn Barber also has an excellent post that touches on how the Democrats treat blacks found here. The meat of the discussion is in the comments section.

What I've found quite fascinating in the aftermath of Kerry's defeat is how the left is dropping all pretense of being the party of tolerance. Republicans need to take advantage of this lefty "unveiling" before they cover it back up again.

If there ever was a time to build the big tent, the time is right now.

UPDATE: Sue Bob has more on the true face of lefty tolerance here.

UPDATE: So does Bigwig, here.

Can you believe this stuff?