Friday, July 20, 2007

We're Moving To WordPress

After careful consideration, Pam and I have set up camp at http://thefreedonian.wordpress.com/ . It gives us the best platform possible for presenting information to you and gives you a much better platform for interacting with us.

This site will still be here--- A lot of good people have linked to us over the last fourteen months, and I won't have those links lead to a blank page. But our complete archives, including comments, have been copied onto the WordPress server. And the WordPress site is where you'll find all of our new content.

We hope that you'll join us over there, and if you subscribe to us in a reader, please update your bookmarks.

Thank you,
Rick and Pam

http://thefreedonian.wordpress.com

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Satanic Panic and the West Memphis 3


For the first time in the fourteen year history of the West Memphis Child Murders, there is actual physical evidence conclusively pointing to a suspect--- And as most people with functioning brain stems expected, it does not point to the West Memphis 3.

The DNA of Terry Hobbs, stepfather of murder victim Steven Branch, was found in the rope used to tie up one of the murder victims. You can read the forensic report here.

There was a time when I thought the West Memphis 3 did it. One of the suspects had allegedly made a full confession, and West Memphis Police Chief Gary Gitchell (Think Inspector Clouseau with a southern accent) never tired of regaling reporters with information that appeared to be the result of a small town rumor mill on crack than any true investigative work.

During the first trial, we found out just how questionable the confession was. Wannabe professional wrestler Jessie Misskelley, whose IQ tested at the lower end of comfortable room temperature, was questioned by police for three hours, only 46 minutes of which was recorded. In this “confession”, he told police that the murders took place in the afternoon before the three young victims were even missing (Something the police can be heard coaching him on even on the recording). He said that one of the boys was raped, which turned out not to be true. He insisted that the boys were all tied up with rope, when in fact, two were tied up with their own shoelaces.

If such a “confession” had been made in New York or Massachusetts, it would have been tossed immediately as having been worthless. But he confessed to something that piqued small town hysteria.

When asked why he, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin killed the three boys, he claimed to have been a member of a satanic cult for three months, and that the boys were killed as part of a ritual.

A quick Google search on churches in West Memphis showed 66 distinct results--- That’s quite a bit for a town of only 28,000 people. Church is part of the daily life in the town. When you cry “Satanism!” you get a response.

The defense team for the three defendants asked for a change in venue--- Certainly not an unreasonable request considering that Chief Gary Gitchell and his Mini-Me, Detective Bryn Ridge seemed to be in front of the cameras more often than Britney Spears’ hoo-ha.

But it ended up playing into the hands of the prosecution--- The trials were moved to perhaps one of the few places more heavily churched than West Memphis. Jonesboro, Arkansas has 206 churches and is so bound by biblical doctrine that alcohol cannot be legally sold in Craighead County.

The jurors spent months listening to stories about Satanism, including unintentionally comical testimony from occult killings “expert” Dale Griffis (Revealed under cross examination to be the customer of a mail order diploma mill) who, with a straight face, said that the defendants’ taste in music (Pink Floyd and Metallica) and their taste in literature (Stephen King and Anne Rice) was proof of their Satanism.

And the jury returned with the shocking, yet at the same time predictable verdict--- Guilty as charged.

The news broke two months ago that the case was being reexamined by, among others, noted forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, perhaps best known as the focus of HBO’s “Autopsy” documentary series.

Did Terry Hobbs do it? Perhaps. I do not know. I know that when John Mark Byers, the stepfather of another of the victims, heard erroneously that bite marks had been found, he had his teeth removed. I’m not aware of a strong connection between Byers and Hobbs, so I have no idea if they would have worked in concert or why they would have done it.

But at the very least, this is evidence that should be heard in court, and it’s high time that this case got a second look. The three fendants have lost fourteen years of their lives already. Damien Echols is known to have been raped and severely beaten in prison. Jason Baldwin was just moved from one facility to another as part of an investigation into abuse at the hands of prison staff. The case against them was so weak that my suspicion is that there were only 24 people on earth who couldn't find reasonable doubt--- Unfortunately, they were the jurors at the two trials. They deserve to have evidence that might exonerate them be heard. And all of us deserve the truth--- For if three men wrongfully convicted of this murder sit in jail, then the person or persons who did it walk freely among us.

Gee-Dubya and the Small Businessman

President Bush is revisiting NashVegas today, the scene of one of the all time legendary Bushisms--- The infamous “Fool Me Once” speech--- to focus on how he helps small businesses.

You know--- Like that tiny Mom and Pop operation Halliburton.

But he claims to do a lot for small businesses, so I decided to make a list of small businesses that do benefit from his policies.

See? We've gotta give credit where it's due.

Worst. Band. Ever. (WAY Off Topic)

Listen at your own risk. (Hat tip to Ubermilf)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hey Fatass!

I know this sounds like a strange question, but it's certainly one that should come up the next time President Bush does one of his rare Q&A sessions in the Rose Garden.

"Mr. President, would you describe yourself as 'fat'?"

See, according to governmental standards, he is. Standing 5'11" and weighing in at 191 pounds, his BMI is 26, a full point above what the government deems "normal".

Now, I've certainly levelled many criticisms against him over the years, and I'm certain that many more are lurking around the corner. But fat? Not one of them.

He's in good company. Using the same scale, George Clooney is overweight. So are Michael Jordan, Johnny Depp, David Duchovny, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, Harrison Ford, Yao Ming, Brad Pitt, Vin Diesel... Need I go on?

And beyond overweight, we have the "obese" category. I don't smell what The Rock is cooking, but the government says it made him obese. So are Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Scwarzenegger and Mike Tyson.

I played around with my own height and weight to see what category I was in. I'm the same height and weight as Nicholas Cage--- Overweight. I could stand to lose a few more pounds, so I'm not arguing with my own classification too much. I decided to see what kind of weight I would have to get down to before the government deemed me "normal".

At 6'1", I would have to get down to 180 pounds. Sorry--- I've weighed 180 before. My ribs were sticking out. I had people asking if I was terminally ill.

It was not my first encounter with the BMI. Several years back, I was working for a national gym chain. As you might expect, during off-peak hours, we'd change clothes and catch a workout. As a result, I was in a shape that I haven't been able to dream about for years now. At the time of my insurance physical when I switched plans, I was 240 and had a bodyfat level that consistently tested in the ten percent range.

Sorry. Obese.

And that's when you cut through the bullshit and get to the real reason for such absurd standards--- Medical insurance companies get to charge more for coverage if they assess you as a risk.

You know, for being overweight.

The government sticks to this standard for one reason and one reason alone--- The insurance industry loves it. It allows them to charge a premium by assessing "extra risk" to the very least likely people to need their services.

We could make a list of the things about the health care industry that need to be reformed, and the list would be so expansive that we could bring the internet to a screeching halt. Most of those reforms would take a lot of time and a radical restructuring of the existing system.

Fixing this is easy. It's low hanging fruit. This is something we could fix next month if the political will can be mustered. And it's not terribly expensive, either.

I did about thirty seconds' worth of Googling. You know, painstaking research and all. You can get an AccuMeasure Fat Track Pro for about $75, about the same amount most hospitals charge for an aspirin. We kept three of them at the gym. While there's no way to certify 100% accuracy, it's certainly a more reliable indicator of fitness than an arbitrary set of numbers that doesn't take into account bone density or lean mass.

And just for fun, until the change is made... If you find yourself in the company of the president, as Nashvillians will this week, don't hesitate to point out the lunacy of this standard by shouting "Hey Fatass!"

One for the road--- Just showing you the government's idea of obesity.


*** Hat tip to Kat Coble at Music City Bloggers for this post, which led me to this page tracking which celebrities are fat.

Have You Seen This Man?



He was last seen wandering around the Hart Senate Building in Washington DC saying:

“Marriage is a core institution of societies throughout the world and throughout history. It's something that has provided permanence and stability for our very social structure.”

***Update***

We still don't know where he's hiding, but at least we know why. He better be wearing one seriously heavy duty cup under that diaper.

“I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary . . . If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me.”

Wendy Vitter during the Monica Lewinsky scandal

Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey...

It was early May two years ago. I was getting ready to walk out the door to visit my sick father when my friend Brad Watkins called me on my cell phone.

"Have you been hearing something about a corruption scandal involving local Democrats?" he asked. "I'm hearing they got "John Ford for taking a bribe."

I pulled up the News Channel 3 website and said "Aw shit. They got Kathryn Bowers too."

Bowers, of course, was Chairwoman of the Shelby County Democratic Party at the time, so there was a special sting to her getting busted for corruption that we wouldn't have felt had it been a lesser known player.

She was the tiny firebrand of a woman I'd met over the course of the 2004 campaign season, the chain smoking, hard drinking woman with a kind word and an amusing story for everyone.

Over the next few weeks, Tennessee Waltz dominated the local media, and even gave the city more than a few kicks in the dangly bits by broadcasting our scandal, our shame on a national scale. Fox News, in particular, loved the story of corrupt Democrats gone out of control.

I missed much of that media coverage. Right after the scandal broke, my father took a turn for the worse and passed away on May 31, 2005. I remember June 2, 2005 well--- I wanted to get back in the swing of things immediately, so I drove straight from my father's funeral to the SCDP Executive Committee meeting during which Bowers tendered her resignation.

What does my father have to do with Tennessee Waltz, or Kathryn Bowers, or anything else? Absolutely nothing, directly. And everything all at the same time.

My father was still alive when this scandal broke. And I've had twenty-five months to get used to living without him.

The last two Waltz holdouts finally pled out over the last few days, with Bowers bringing up the rear. She said the other day that her conscience led her to change her plea.

Where was that conscience twenty-six months ago? It's not like the evidence against her was any weaker then than it is today.

My friend Chris wrote an extraordinary piece waxing sentimental about her. I can understand that. I disagree, but I can understand it.

I'm one of the people that was in the trenches in 2004. I spent much of that year swinging by SCDP Headquarters at 2100 Poplar first thing in the morning, working a full day, then going back for more on the way home.

She didn't sell herself out on the cheap. She sold ME out on the cheap. She sold out Vicki Lyons, David Upton, John Freeman, Meg Siegenthaler, Pam Saavedra, Joe Weinberg, John Marek, Jim Vandiveer, and dozens upon dozens of others on the cheap. She sold out, on the cheap, everyone who turned out to help her out when she decided to shift from the House to the Senate despite their campaign fatigue. She sold out Mike Kernell, Beverly Marrero, and every other honorable lawmaker whose office space she stunk up with her corruption.

John Ford, Roscoe Dixon, Ward Crutchfield, Chris Newton, both Michael Hookses, Calvin Williams, Charles Love, William Cotton, and yes, Kathryn Bowers. You all deserve a Political Darwin Award. Your departure from the Tennesseee political genepool has made it stronger.

The Road To One America...

...stopped in Memphis last night. Kibitzer, Autoegocrat, David Holt, Vibinc, Blogfather Cracker, Jon Carroll, and of course, the lovely Pam and I were all on hand.

In a departure from his usual stump speech, Edwards addressed the crowded house at the MIFA Thrift Store on Vance about the need to eliminate poverty once and for all.

Here, we walk in the steps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and his work is not finished," he said, invoking the famous "Poor People's Campaign" in the poorest ZIP code in the city, an area with a median income of about $10,000 per year.

"We are still confronted with a huge moral issue in this country," he told the 500 on hand. "It is not okay in the richest nation on the planet to have 37 million people who work every single day that have to worry about feeding and clothing their children. We're better than that. America is better than that."

You can view photos from the event by clicking here.


***Special Mega-hat tip to Jackson Baker, who came to the rescue with his audio of the speech when my voice recorder failed on me last night.

***UPDATE***

Vibinc, who recorded last night's event on a high definition camcorder, has posted the YouTube video.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Draft This.

Notice I said “actually in the race” in that last post. That kind of brings me to another thing I absolutely loathe in American politics. It’s the “draft me” syndrome.

Several years ago, I was involved in a race in another state that went pretty well. A friend of mine was eager to set up a lunch between me and someone else who was considering a run for office.

I sat across from him and discussed message and strategy should he decide to get in the race. He interrupted me as I was getting wound up, and I’ll never forget what he said.

“What you say sounds all well and good, but you haven’t given me a reason to run yet.”

I stood up, tossed my cloth napkin onto the table, and walked out. And the reason for that is very simple. I can’t remember precisely what I said to him (And I won’t pretend that there was no profanity involved), but I’ll give it to you today as I would say it today, and I’ll tell this to LaSimba Gray and anyone else that wants to “draft” Mayor Wharton or any of the Astroturf guys masquerading as grass roots on the other side of the fence pretending that the “draft Fred” effort is genuine.

You simply do not have to draft a leader. You do not have to poke and prod them into action. A real leader has the testicular fortitude to stand up and tell you he wants to lead you. When he loses the race, you have to tell him to sit down and shut up.

I don’t say this to insult Mayor Wharton--- On the contrary, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the man, and I genuinely like him.

But just as I believe it’s wrong to come up with answers and try to come up with a question that fits them, it’s wrong to ask the voters to support a candidate that will not actually say he’s in the race.

Just level with the people, AC and Fred. If you want to run, say so. But please, in the name of God’s ass, give us a break from the Astroturf.

All Herenton, All the Time

A very good friend of mine just sent me the new Gadfly piece from The Memphis Flyer. As much as I like Gadfly and respect much of what he has written in the past, I read “Why the Mayor Will Lose” and had to scratch my head, wondering if Gadfly is new to the city.

First, there’s the obvious. He seems to read the public’s disenfranchisement with Mayor Herenton as some kind of sign that they’ll actually do something crazy like, you know, vote against him.

First, of all, it’s flawed logic that public displeasure with a candidate automatically translates to votes against him. We’ve made that assumption before. Remember November 2, 2004? People of my political persuasion call that “Dark Tuesday”, as it guaranteed us four more years of the leadership of a guy that couldn’t find nipples in a titty bar.

Memphians are always “tired of Mayor Willie Herenton, including his shenanigans and histrionics”. Yes, they’re tired of them now. They were also tired of them in 2003. And 1999. Oh, and don’t forget 1995.

He also refers to the recent “thumping” of Robert Spence in the Senate District 30 primary as evidence that the people want the mayor cut loose. Nice theory, but another false association.

First, Spence was walking into the lion’s den by even running in District 30. District 30 and white liberals were made for one another. I think that I and the rest of the liberal bloggers were perhaps giving Spence credit for having game that he didn’t actually have when we thought he would be a real contender in that race.

But perhaps more importantly--- This was not Spence’s first attempt at running for office. When the Herenton machine was still riding high, he ran against Wanda Halbert and spent well over $100,000--- Most of the candidates for US Congress last year would love to have had that kind of money to play with--- Yet he still only managed to eke out a third place finish, winding up Election Night with numbers only Lyndon LaRouche could love.

By the way--- You mention Herenton discounting the polls as if there’s something outrageous about that. The mayor discounted the polls for the same reason I discount those very polls. Partially because we’ve seen more than our fair share of unreliable polling (Just ask President John Kerry).

One of those polls was taken out by a Cordova firm that has polled for Ed Bryant in the past (They had him up, by the way--- How did that one turn out?), and at 500 likely voters, is far too small a field to get what I would consider reliable data. And the other was taken out by… The very guy that now stands accused of attempting to blackmail the mayor by paying a topless bar waitress to videotape herself having sex with him (As if that would even work--- Herenton would likely sell copies of it at fundraisers. We know Herenton likes to have sex with women. That is how babies are made, right?)

If I was him, I wouldn’t sweat those polls either.

Make no mistake. I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. I’m not particularly fond of Herenton. Unlike some of his critics, I can separate personal foibles from abilities as an executive, and I tend to overlook a lot of the personal garbage. I care about politics, not the “Melrose Place” that politics is often reduced to by people that don’t care enough to learn real issues.

He’s certainly not a political ideal either. For every brilliant thing he’s done, my friends have no trouble bringing up at least one thing that makes me say “Yeah, that was pretty bonehead of him.”

But at this point, no one that is actually in the race has given me or anyone but their own diehards a solid reason to vote for them other than “I’m not Willie”.

Yes, voters are fatigued with Herenton. They always have been. As much as I have read and enjoyed Gadfly in the past, this seems pretty off the mark.