13 December 2011

Memorandum on Civility in Personal and Public Discourse

To be frank about it, the biggest worry I have isn't the deficit in the U.S. or the debt crisis in Europe.  It isn't about immigration, whether legal or otherwise.  It's not about the continued instability in the middle east, or regarding the oil supply.  Now, don't get me wrong:  These are all extremely serious issues, every one of them.  I can think of still others that are potentially very grievous, such as international terrorism, or whether Iran or North Korea are about to go nuclear.  In all these things and still others, there are many people who are in harm's way on a daily, even continuous basis. 

But you know what often worries me still more, what causes me to sometimes flip the channel when I watch the news?  It is that as a nation, we are less prone to seeking common ground when faced with challenges, and more prone to frank hostility and knee-jerk thinking.  I am even concerned that the very fabric of our nation is beginning to unravel after this manner, to the point where we even take our Constitution and freedoms for granted, or worse, as a thing of naught.  This is not to single out any group or political party for either ridicule or praise.  The truth is, I've even fallen into knee-jerk thinking on occasion.  But I strongly believe the time has come, and is arguably overdue, where we look ourselves in the mirror and resolve to do better in our interactions with others, beginning with our spouse, our children, our extended families and neighbors, and then, if we dare, in the political realm as well, even on the world stage. 

For I believe you can find common ground whenever possible without compromising one's own values.  I believe it is possible to be respectful and that doing so is not a sign of weakness.  I believe it is possible to state a view, even forcefully, and yet not raise one's voice or talk over others.  I believe it is possible to even do this when the other side isn't attempting to abide by these principles. 

I hope and pray that from this point hence, I will go forward with the resolve to just a little bit better, and more after the pattern of our Creator, in all of my own interactions and dealings.  And I will continue that prayer with respect to others until it covers the entire Earth.  And that pretty much concludes what I have to say tonight.  Ultimately, may God bless us all.  --SJR

27 November 2011

In re.: State Intervention for Obesity

Source: CBS News (27 Nov 2011)

Synopsis: An eight year-old Ohio boy, allegedly weighing about 200 pounds, was placed into foster care based on allegations the parent(s) were not doing enough to control his obesity. 

Comment: I have some very mixed feelings on this, in part because the news report is so incomplete.  It is very difficult to imagine an 8 y/o reaching 200 pounds and there NOT be an underlying medical problem that goes above/beyond dieting, such as a metabolic disorder.  Also, I believe reasonable minds, even among doctors, would disagree regarding the nature and extent of the medical intervention that will be needed under the circumstances.  Ultimately, the state would have the burden of proof of showing that parental neglect had occurred, and in my view, it's going to require expert medical testimony, or at minimum, proof of some egregious acts on the part of the parent(s) that would directly cause the weight gain.  --SJR

14 November 2011

Sunday Memorandum: Gordon B. Hinckley on Avoiding Cynicism, Negatism

Note: For whatever reason, this didn't publish when I posted it last July.

Sincere thanks to David Kenison for sharing the following. I'm just now reading this for the first time, and it is arguably even more relevant now than it was when it was first published in 1986.‎
"I am asking that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life we 'accentuate the positive.' I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course. 
"What I am suggesting is that each of us turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good among those with whom we associate, that we speak of one another's virtues more than we speak of one another's faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears. When I was a young man and was prone to speak critically, my father would say: 'Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.'"
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Continuing Pursuit of Truth," Ensign, April 1986, p. 2

05 July 2011

17 June 2011

Public Prosecutor (Singapore) v. Nguyen Tuong Van

Synopsis: In December of 2002, Nguyen Tuong Van, an Australian national is accused of smuggling a controlled substance on his person in a country that has the death penalty for such an offense. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and ultimately executed on 2 December 2005, just under three years later.

The transcript of the verdict is rather lengthy, and appears here http://bit.ly/iDM2nQ (via Foreign Prisoner Support Service). There are a lot of things that could be said about the case, but three things jump out at me.

1. The verdict was rendered by a judge, rather than by a jury, in a death penalty case. I think we take for granted the right we have to have a jury determine guilt or innocence, and the standard of proof that is needed to establish a conviction.

2. The right to an attorney does not happen immediately, if it even happens at all. My read of the transcript is that police began interrogating him straight away upon his arrest, and it does not appear he had opportunity to contact anyone.

3. The right to remain silent is far from universal; in fact, Singapore appears to take the opposite approach. Here's what their law says about the matter:

(6) Where any person is charged with an offence or officially informed that he may be prosecuted for it, he shall be served with a notice in writing, which shall be explained to him, to the following effect:

“You have been charged with/informed that you may be prosecuted for —

(set out the charge).

Do you wish to say anything in answer to the charge? If there is any fact on which you intend to rely in your defence in court, you are advised to mention it now. If you hold it back till you go to court, your evidence may be less likely to be believed and this may have a bad effect on your case in general. If you wish to mention any fact now, and you would like it written down, this will be done.”

(8) In subsection (6), “officially informed” means informed by a police officer or any other person charged with the duty of investigating offences or charging offenders.

In the U.S., we hear the Miranda warning so often on television programs, dating back to the 1960's, that I suspect most people have it memorized. In Singapore, on the other hand, you're informed that if you remain silent, your very silence is detrimental to your defense. Mind you, the person subjected to the "cautioned statement," as Singapore law calls it, does not have an attorney with him and cannot make an informed decision about what really would help his case. Even worse, the person in question is not even a citizen or national of Singapore--he was actually only connecting there--and would presumably be less familiar with their system of jurisprudence.

I think the message from all this is clear. First, while all is not perfect, and there are many elements of the American system that can be improved, we really don't realize how good we have things here. Second, when traveling internationally, we must remember that we are no longer in our home country. To the extent we ignore or don't understand the other country's laws or system of justice--or it's grave seriousness--we operate to our own peril. --SJR

17 January 2011

YouTube - Raw Video: Courtroom Outburst

Memo to Defendant: When making the initial appearance before a judge, be sure to keep it polite. At the very least, don't drop an "F bomb." Remember, the jail time you could receive for contempt for court may exceed what you'd have to serve on the original charge, especially if it had been a misdemeanor. (Video: WLKY-TV)

YouTube - Raw Video: Courtroom Outburst