Friday, September 29, 2006

Travis Biehn wins on appeal

Travis Biehn, the Newfoundland-born teenager who was convicted in Pennsylvania last year of making a bomb threat against his school and possessing explosives, has won his appeal. Biehn's conviction was overturned last month, and the DA has not filed a counter-appeal.

Travis emailed me last week to let me know that common sense had prevailed, and earlier this week he emailed me a link to the text of his appeal, which unfortunately has gone dead, so I can't link to it here.

To summarize, the appeal court reached the same conclusion that any reasonable person would: the evidence against Biehn was insufficient to warrant a conviction.

Biehn was originally convicted of making a bomb threat, but there was absolutely no evidence that he had made the threat. In fact, he was one of two students who reported the threat, and the teacher's aide to whom he reported it did not take it seriously enough to take it any further.

He was also convicted of possessing bomb-making materials, which, at the time, I erroneously wrote was more or less a slam-dunk. I was trying to take the most balanced view that I could, but I was wrong. In fact, under Pennsylvania law, it is only an offence to possess bomb-making materials if you have the intent to commit a crime with them. And of course, the DA had no evidence whatsoever that Biehn had any such intent. On the contrary, the evidence showed that Biehn had legal purposes for the materials.

The DA's argument was essentially circular: Biehn must have made the threat, because he possessed explosive materials, and he must have had criminal intent, because he made the threat. The only "evidence" supporting either charge was the existence of the other charge, and Biehn was convicted based on innuendo. The second charge, of possessing explosives, is a felony.

The appeals court drew the obvious conclusion, the conclusion that the trial judge should have drawn, and overturned the convictions.

Congratulations, Travis. Reason has finally won the day.

From Canadian newspapers and television, which treated Biehn's conviction as a major story, there has not been one peep. Consequently, a Google search on Biehn's name won't find that his name was cleared. The media is good at reporting stories, but is usually piss-poor at correcting them, or following them up months after the fact. If Travis Biehn's original conviction was big news, then the fact that it was overturned is equally important. But that sound you hear is, as the song says, the sound of silence.

Before we start waxing triumphant about the world o' blogs, let me direct you to the Trenchcoat Chronicles, which has reacted to news of the appeal by insisting that the trial judge was right all along. That would be the much-touted "self-correcting nature of the blogosphere" at work, folks.

The really important thing, when you're running a single-issue blog like the Trenchcoat Chronicles, dedicated to the proposition that schools are filled with out-of-control, dangerous kids, is never to admit that you could be wrong. Because it's hard to piss your pants if you let go of fear.

Fear is what this whole sorry story is about. Biehn was charged, in the absence of evidence, because of fear. He was convicted, based on innuendo, in a climate of fear. His conviction became news touted by a media that acts to magnify that fear, and commented on by bloggers who were, by and large, too busy pissing themselves to use their brains.

The results is that whenever anyone Googles Travis's name, they'll find a pile of hysteria suggesting that he was once a mad bomber.

That's the crime here.

Friday, April 7, 2006

Life is not baseball

In baseball, it's three strikes, and you're a complete and worthless moron who is chased out of town by rabid dogs and sportswriters.

In life, you get to reiterate the same dumb bullshit a fourth time. In fact, you get to keep repeating it for as long as you can find people dumb enough to listen.

Yes, it's a terrorist strike on Tim Hortons ... again.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Yer daily paranoia

Now that the Conservatives are in power, everything is messed up here in the world o' blogs. Somebody has to post paranoid conspiracy theories and similar drivel, and Angry in the Great White North is too busy being a martyr. Where will you get your daily dose of wild, unsupported and unsupportable speculation? What's a wingnut to do?

Gentle reader, we at the Wonderdog Institute for the Politically Insane have heard the call, and we are on the job. Which brings me to yesterday's diplomatic crisis, in which Canada and the United States nearly came to stern finger-wagging over Arctic sovereignty.

It is tempting to observe that Angry speculated at length over the possibility of armed conflict between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island, but has yet to make a peep over the possibility that we might invade the United States and teach them a lesson they won't soon stop giggling over. But I digress. Again. Which I do a lot, these days, as I am now digressing on the subject of digression. Dammit! Stop typing!

Where was I? Ah, yes....

Does anyone recall our last spat with the US over the Arctic? It occurred in 1985, when they sent a Coast Guard icebreaker called the Polar Sea through the northwest passage without asking nicely.

Does anyone recall who was in power down there? A Republican president named Ronald Reagan.

Does anyone recall who was in power up here? A Conservative prime minister named Brian Mulroney.

Does anyone recall what their relationship was like? Downright cuddly, by the standards of the day. They used to sit around, get plastered, and sing old Irish drinking songs together for the benefit of the cameras, although Reagan often had difficulty remembering the words. Mulroney, for his part, had a hard time saying "Shamrock Shummit, or shummit like that" as the evening progressed.

Every time we've had a Conservative PM over the past 30 years, the Americans have challenged our sovereignty in the Arctic.

Coincidence? You'd like to think so, wouldn't you?

What secret messages have the Conservatives been sending to Washington? What military threats have they made? I can't tell you, as I'm busy hiding in the closet for fear of the blueshirts. I may not get to finish this post before they come to get me.

As a matter of fact, I hope I don't get to finish it, as I'll only end up writing something relatively sane. I might point out, for example, that Standing Up for Canada over Arctic sovereignty is something of a red herring when the real issues in our relationship with the US involve the privacy of Canadians, that security perimeter, and so on.

And where's the fun in that?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hide the razor blades

Maybe Santa Claus wants Hans Island, too. Whatever the reason, Canada must have really pissed him off, and in retaliation he's giving us this for Christmas: one of these two men will be our next Prime Minister.

That's the bad news; the good news is that the other one will be finished in politics.

Paul Martin is leading in the polls, though not by much, and he may just be able to pull off a second term. His strongest ally is Stephen Harper, whose tin ear for politics, utter lack of charisma, and inability to connect with the public resulted in his squandering a commanding lead in the polls in a mini-campaign swing through Ontario this spring. No Canadian politician has demonstrated Harper's ability to repel voters.

Yes, with Stephen Harper on his side, Paul Martin just might win this thing.

Stephen Harper enters the campaign as the underdog, but his strong campaign team includes such allies as Paul Martin. Martin, during his short term in office, has developed an international reputation as an ineffectual ditherer. He's had over a year to prove himself to voters, and yet nobody in this country -- including Paul Martin -- actually knows who he is and what he stands for.

Yes, with Paul Martin pulling for him, Stephen Harper may just become our next Prime Minister.

That, my fellow Canadians, is the reality that faces our sorry nation. If, thanks to a steady diet of happy pills, you fail to see just how foul our future appears, consider our recent history.

Pierre Trudeau, love him or hate him, was not lacking in vision. His vision of Canada made a mark on our country, whether you call it Canada or Trudeaupia.

Brian Mulroney, whatever his myriad faults, had a vision of his own, and he was not afraid to destroy his career, his party, or his country to pursue it. So he did.

Jean Chretien, finally, had a ... no, on the other hand, he seems not to have had any vision at all. What he did have, however, was the common touch. He may have been a thug, a weasel, and a slimeball, but he could connect with Canadians and make them believe that thuggery, weaselhood, and slimeballitude were reasonable traits that, you know, a reasonable person would have. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the politician's art.

What choice faces us today?

On the one hand, Paul Martin, who is so lacking in vision that a staff of seeing-eye dogs must lead him from one ineffectual wafflefest to the next.

Exactly what the hell is Paul Martin's vision for our fair nation? Nobody knows. The odds at this point are on "none," for Pauly has had over a year to demonstrate vision and has thus far come up with diddleysquat.

All Paul Martin's government has proven itself to be good at is the game of parliamentary procedure. It may come as a shock to some of his supporters to learn this, but that doesn't impress the public much. It's the equivalent to saying, "Buy this car because I'm a good salesman," or "Vote for me, I'm sneakier than him."

The best thing he has to offer -- and make no mistake, this was the main selling point that won him the last election -- is that he is not Stephen Harper.

On the other hand, we have Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, whatever their faults, are not lacking in vision. Unfortunately for him, they've told us about their vision for Canada, and many Canadians aren't impressed. A lot of people think it sucks.

That leaves Harper to flounder about trying to convince people that he's actually the new, improved Stephen Harper leading the new, improved Conservatives, and that he really does love this second-tier socialistic country just the way it is. Yes, Harper has a new vision for Canada that isn't utterly repellent. He's just reluctant to tell us what that vision actually is.

So far, the little detail that the Conservatives have provided, is, well, similar to Harper's portrait of a tree in the photo above. It's crudely painted with a broad brush and utterly lacking in detail, but at least it matches his tie.

And at least it's not a corrupt, Liberal tree! In other words: "This car may be a lemon, but the price is fair -- you should buy it!"

Face it: the best thing Stephen Harper has to offer -- and make no mistake, this is the point that has hobbled Martin with a weak minority -- is that he is not Paul Martin.

Welcome to the new Canada. And please hand over your belts, ties, sharp implements, and anything else with which you may injure yourselves. It's going to be a long, dark ride.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

A done deal done

I already said my bit, but I'm a long-winded type, so....

Let me say that I'm proud of Canada for passing this legislation, and acting as a leader. I hope that other nations will follow suit.

Let me say that I am happy, after all those people harmed and lives ruined by prejudice that Canada has eliminated one of the last legal obstacles to equality fo homosexuals. We've come a long way.

Let me say that I will be proud, when my grandchildren are learning history, to tell them that I was not among those sending the black folk to the back of the bus. History will regard this one as a no-brainer, as we now see the civil rights fight in the States.

Let me say that in a time when gay men are still beaten up for being gay men, we still have work to do as a society - just as racism is still with us.

I think that's about it.

UPDATE: One-trick pony Peter Rempel, ambassador of conservative maturity, reaches deep into his bag of rhetorical tricks and pulls out, well, his usual bullshit. Why Peter uses such a large bag to store a such a small trick, nobody knows, but I'm sure it impresses someone.

Interestingly, I never did conflate same-sex marriage and gay bashing, as Peter claims. He's apparently unable to understand that one can point out that gay-bashing is an ongoing problem simply to point out that gay-bashing is an ongoing problem. And while some of us apparently think (and in Peter's case, I know that's a stretch, but bear with me) that gay-bashing is just a problem for the police, it does indicate that our society is not as tolerant as we might like to think - unless, of course, you believe that these crimes are all committed by visitors from Mars.

Peter claims that it is possible to oppose same-sex marriage on rational grounds. As risible as the notion of a rational Rempel is, I'd love to read those grounds. We've heard it all before, of course, but I think there's a good deal of humour to be derived from Peter's floundering attempts to write rationally.

So go ahead, Peter: try to think. Keep a bucket of water handy to cool your brain.