Black Shards Press – Electronic Gumbo is Our Specialty

Near Miss Between "Rocket" and Continental Flight Over Texas

02.06.2009 (8:31 am) – Filed under: Texas ::

An interesting tidbit from my neck of the woods:

Liberty County Sheriff’s officials are expected to meet with the FAA on Tuesday to discuss what a Continental Express pilot reported as a “missile or rocket” flying near his airplane.

A pilot reported to the Federal Aviation Administration that at about 8:15 p.m. Friday, an object passed within 150 feet beneath the aircraft, sheriff’s officials said.

The aircraft was near the southern edge of the county, flying at about 13,000 feet

Local authorities searched the area reported by the jet’s pilot but turned up nothing.

Senate Now Telling Texans What to Eat

08.05.2009 (8:20 pm) – Filed under: Politics,Texas ::

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In a move that seems more appropriate in the big-government Mecca of New York City than on the open range in Texas, the state senate has passed a measure this week that would dictate to Texans what kind of food they can order at restaurants. 

Under a bill passed Friday by the Senate, restaurants across the state would be banned from cooking with oil that contains trans fat.

Many major fast-food chains and doughnut shops already have stopped using trans fat, said Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, sponsor of the measure.

It’s hardly surprising that the bill was sponsored by a Democrat given the party’s natural tendency to inflict its help on innocent citizens, whether they want it or not.  Unbelievable.

That we don’t should be obvious to an observer of any intellect whatever.  See, we already have a foolproof – and I use that word with some specificity here – way to avoid food with trans fat in it.

How could a lone individual ever hoope to accomplish a miraculous feat that, according to Shapleigh and other Democrats, seems to require the legislative force of the state senate to achieve?

Simple:  Don’t frequent restaurants serving such fare. 

Lesson for the Texas Senate:  Free market solutions are always the best ones because there’s no dissonance between the solution and the people it’s being solved for.

Ertman & Pena’s Killer To Finally Die

06.05.2008 (7:28 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Death Penalty,Texas ::

The horrifying murder of Jenny Ertman and Elizabeth Pena was my welcome home to Houston after living in Oregon for several years.  I remember the case like it was yesterday because their brutal, gang-related rape and strangulation happened only a short distance from where I worked at the time.  Now, after nearly 15 years of legal wrangling and international intrigue, justice will finally be served on the illegal immigrant who, along with the other animals in the Black and White gang, brutalized these two beautiful young girls.

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On a summer night in 1993, Jennifer Ertman and her friend Elizabeth Pena, both students at Houston’s Waltrip High School, took a shortcut home through a park from another friend’s house when they encountered Medellin and seven other members of the Black and Whites gang.

Raul Villareal, 17, was being initiated into the gang, which required him to fight other gang members for several minutes. Following the ritual, the teens sat in the park drinking beer.

Around 11:30 p.m., as Ertman and Pena passed the young men, Medellin grabbed Pena and dragged her down a hill.

According to court testimony, Ertman was able to run away but heard Pena’s cries and returned to help. The other boys grabbed Ertman, and for the next hour proceeded to rape, sodomize and beat the girls before strangling them.

The final act of brutality came when the girl’s bodies were stomped on to make sure they were dead, court testimony shows.

The boys’ were so brazen about their actions that one of them, Derrick Sean O’Brien, even turned up smiling on videotape taken by local news crews reporting at the scene.

Happily O’Brien has already been executed for his crimes.  Now Medellin, who is no longer able to hide behind his status as an illegal immigrant and therefore, some said, not subject to the death penalty, will follow.

Medellin, who was born in Mexico but lived most of his life in Houston, had exhausted his appeals, but a legal struggle over international law had kept his case on appeal to the Supreme Court.

Even President Bush had said Texas should reconsider the case, based on the 1963 Vienna Convention. That international agreement established ground rules under which countries must treat the citizens of other nations that signed it, including contacting the embassies of foreign nationals without delay.

But the high court ruled in March that President Bush had overstepped his bounds in 2005 when he ordered Texas and other states to conduct hearings for 51 Mexican nationals on death row, including Medellin, who claimed their rights were violated when local consulates were not notified of their arrests.

Susan Gzesh, director of the human rights program at the University of Chicago believes that President Bush was obligated to follow international law:

If the U.S. is going to disobey the obligations we’ve undertaken under the Vienna Convention, then other countries could retaliate," Gzesh said.

Jennifer Ertman’s father disagreed, saying that then-Governor Bush shook his hand and promised to keep his daughter’s killers on death row, only to later wrote the memo that might have spared Medellin’s life.

But that injustice was not to be as the U.S. Supreme Court thought otherwise.

By a 6-3 vote, the court said that a memo by Bush instructing states to comply with the World Court decision for new hearings was not sufficient to require states to act.

Another defendant in the case is on death row pending an execution date while two more had their sentences reduced to life in prison because of a Supreme Court ban on executing those who were juveniles at the time of their crime.

Now, having been held in prison for nearly the entire length of Jenny Ertman and Elizabeth Pena’s too-short lives, Medellin’s will make this world a better place by leaving it, courtesy of the state of Texas.

Texas Killer’s Death Sentence Upheld

19.04.2008 (7:13 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Death Penalty,Law,Texas ::

In 1991, Kenneth Wayne Morris, a 9th grade dropout who is now 37, killed James Moody Adams, co-founder of the Northwest Academy while while his wife, Marcene, hid in a closet.  Yesterday Morris’ attempt to have himself declared too mentally retarded to be executed was rejected by the Supreme Court.  This ruling, coupled with the court’s earlier decision that lethal injection is not cruel and unusual punishment, may finally allow justice to be done in Adams’ case.

Morris was twice tested by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice before the 2002 Supreme Court ruling [Atkins v. Virginia]. He received a score of 97 both times, court filings said.

After the ruling, he scored 53 and 64, which the state later called "thoroughly discredited."

A new execution date could be set as soon as a month from the day prosecutors go to court to request one.

After watching Barack Obama try to bowl a game, one thing is clear:  It’s pretty darn easy to act dumber than you are.  The most likely explanation for Morris’ loss of IQ points is that his lawyers told him to play the fool on the test after the Atkins decision. 

By ruling 7-2 that lethal injection is constitutional, the Supreme Court seems to have stated in no uncertain terms that the death penalty will remain part of the criminal justice landscape for decades to come.  Clearly this is the right decision.   

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the main opinion, said the Kentucky inmates had failed to show that the three-drug method poses an unconstitutional risk of pain. He said prisoners who challenge a method as unconstitutional would have to show that it presented a "substantial risk" of harm to the prisoner. "Simply because an execution method may result in pain," Roberts wrote, "does not establish the sort of objectively intolerable risk of harm that qualifies as cruel and unusual."

That Morris might suffer a few moments of pain is inconsequential when compared to the agony Marcene Adams suffered watching her husband being gunned down by Morris and his murderous cohorts, to say nothing of the emotional pain she has undoubtedly suffered in the years since.

Justice Roberts again:

We begin with the principle, settled by Gregg, that capital punishment is constitutional. See 428 U. S., at 177 (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and Stevens, JJ.). It necessarily follows that there must be a means of carrying it out. Some risk of pain is inherent in any method of execution—no matter how humane—if only from the prospect of error in following the required procedure. It is clear, then, that the Constitution does not demand the avoidance of all risk of pain in carrying out executions.

As a result, America is that much better a place to call home today.

(h/t Ann Althouse)

What Are the Common Elements?

28.03.2008 (11:15 am) – Filed under: Child Care,National Security,Stupidity,Texas ::

These 3 events have at least 2 things in common.  What are they?

First, the father who microwaved his 2-month-old "loves his baby" and today refused to give up his parental rights.

Second, some un-heroic Transportation Security Administration workers have been accused of having forced a woman to remove her nipple piercings with pliers in order to board her domestic flight.

Third, a Dallas strip club that allowed a 12-year-old girl to dance nude won’t be shut down.

OK, the first one is really too easy.  All of these events are freaking ridiculous! 

Dude, you put your baby girl in an oven and turned it on.  You’re not a man at all, let alone a father, and the 25-year sentence in the state pen probably won’t improve your disposition, sense of right and wrong, or ability to guide a child to maturity.  The other guys in the pokey will make that clear enough, I expect.

As for the nipple-piercing removal scandal, the Houston Chronicle says:

"I wouldn’t wish this experience upon anyone," Mandi Hamlin, 37, said at a news conference. "My experience with TSA was a nightmare I had to endure. No one deserves to be treated this way."

She said she heard male TSA agents snickering as she took out the ring. She was scanned again and was allowed to board even though she still was wearing a belly button ring.

TSA officials said they are investigating Hamlin’s allegations to see if its policies were followed.

"Our security officers are well-trained to screen individuals with body piercings in sensitive areas with dignity and respect while ensuring a high level of security," the agency said in a statement.

Right.  I certainly feel safer with these fine, upstanding officers in charge of our air travel system.  I’d hate to go through this airport with a metal screw in my hip joint, that’s for sure.

Finally, it’s obscene that a strip club not be smacked down hard for allowing a pre-teen to dance naked in front of its "clientele".  Small wonder that smutty club owners think that laws don’t apply to them if such an obvious case warrants no response.

(Meanwhile, the FBI is breaking down doors and arresting people who click on fake web links – that they put up – advertising child pornography, regardless of the fact that no illegal content was served in response. 

Logic?  Sense of proportion?  Anyone?)

Any ideas about the second common element? 

It’s a tricky one, but all 3 cases took place in Texas.

Ya think Davy Crockett brought Old Betsy down here and had his head blown off by the Mexicans at the Alamo fighting for a state that calls this kind of bull**** good?  I don’t think so.

All of which reminds me of the recent report that the U.S. is ranked 22nd in the world in "stability and prosperity".  Some theorized that small nations have an inherent advantage in that regard because there is simply less to manage and fewer chances to screw up.

That sounds right and should lead to questions about the wisdom of increasing centralization of power in democratic nations, for that is the very thing that the framers of the American Constitution guarded against when defining the framework for this nation.  Coming from a monarchial world, they understood the danger and folly of putting too much power in the hands of the king.  Or the federal government.  Texas, with the 15th largest economy in the world,  seems to suffer from some of the same issues.

Texans Against Nukes

29.12.2007 (2:30 pm) – Filed under: Energy,Texas ::

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The Houston Chronicle says:

Texas anti-nuclear activists are rallying their forces to challenge the so-called nuclear renaissance that could see the state become home to the country’s first new nuclear power plant project in nearly 30 years. 

Austin-based officials with the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition said they don’t yet know if they will intervene in the [the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s] review separately or under one name. But they don’t plan on sitting on their hands.

“We need to draw a line in the sand here in Texas and create a new nuclear resistance movement to say no to the nuclear regurgitation,” said Karen Hadden, director of SEED.

Experts disagree.

NRG spokesman David Knox said building new nuclear plants like the one his company is planning will be major steps toward battling global warming.

“Nuclear is clean, safe and secure and will be critical to help meet rising electrical demand without contributing to global climate change,” Knox said.

NRG would be a major stakeholder in the new plant, so Knox’s words are to be expected.  Yet the nuclear power industry’s record has been good in the U.S. and our power needs must be satisfied, whether the Sierra Club likes it or not.

Clearly they do not:

In Texas organizers spent a lot of time and effort in the past two years fighting TXU’s plans to build nearly a dozen new coal-fired power plants.

While environmentalists’ impact was probably negligible, central Texas was recently passed over as the site of a near-zero emissions coal-fired power plant.  No doubt the local Sierra Club undoubtedly regards that as a victory.

If so it’s a Pyrrhic one; Greens will be no less in the dark than the rest of us should the power grid be compromised because we failed to invest properly in our infrastructure.

Nuclear power can and should be an important part of that infrastructure.  It is more viable as a long-term energy source than ethanol, cleaner than coal, and more available than hydrogen. 

Rather than give in to the Sierra Club, et al, we should embrace nuclear energy as a practical alternative to foreign oil and as the base of a hydrogen-based economy of the future.

That may take proponents of nuclear power to become activists themselves.

Neil Carman, director of the clean air program for the Sierra Club in Texas, said the state’s environmental community hasn’t addressed nuclear energy for many years.

“But it’s been quite amazing to see a lot of people coming out of the woodwork and wanting to work on this,” Carman said. “I think you will see a very strong anti-nuclear movement in Texas.”

Rise, silent majority, and let your voices be heard.

Oysters a Bad Business

23.12.2007 (11:51 pm) – Filed under: Business,Texas ::

Get a bad one and you’ll wish you’d never tried shellfish, for sure.  In Texas, some oyster processing companies are having a bit of indigestion with their end of the business cycle because they can’t find enough labor to perform the unpleasant labor needed to turn a pile of oysters into a viable food product.

Typically at this time of year, oystermen are scouring Galveston Bay, rushing to meet orders from area seafood companies. But with no oyster shuckers, Hillman Shrimp & Oyster Co. may not crack a shell at its Dickinson plant this season.

Already, the company — one of the nation’s largest suppliers of oysters — has had to lay off 20 percent of its staff and faces $3 million in lost production, owner Clifford Hillman said.

For nearly a decade, Hillman got the bulk of his shuckers from Mexico under the federal government’s H-2B visa program, which allows businesses to hire foreign workers when U.S. workers can’t be found.

As painful as this has to be for Hillman, the fact is that he’s been running a non-viable business for years and economic reality is finally catching up to him and his company.  The proof?  Hillman’s own words:

Could he find workers if he paid more? Perhaps, but he said to remain competitive, he is limited on what he can pay.

“You’re not only competing with local markets. You’re competing with imported oysters as well,” Hillman said.

When unemployment is low, it’s tougher to find local workers, he added.

“Oyster shucking is a dying art in this country, and you just can’t get enough oyster shuckers,” said Hillman, who in January pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of conspiring to commit fraud in relation to hiring undocumented workers for a period before June 2004.

By definition a market wage is the rate at which free people are willing to perform a given task.  If an employer cannot find candidates for a job at the wage being offered then the company is not willing to pay the market rate for the position (with respect to benefits, etc.).

The fact that Hillman cannot make a profit if he pays a higher wage for the glamorous position of oyster shucker does not mean that that workers will not accept the market rate for the job.  Rather, it means that his business is not a viable one because he cannot survive unless he hires workers willing to work for less than a market wage.

Who might that be?  Immigrants, legal and otherwise, being less choosy, are his best bet, as Hillman knows well.  Not surprisingly his Democratic representative is for cutting Hillman some slack:

U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, however, supports an extension of the [H-2B] visas.

“If we don’t take action, we run the risk of harming the Texas oyster industry and our economy,” Lampson said in a prepared statement. “The oyster industry in Texas is important.”

Actually, oysters are a niche luxury item of no practical importance whatever.  But Lampson, who took over Tom Delay’s seat after he resigned amid scandal, is willing to bend a few immigration rules to help the industry.

If Lampson does so in 2008 the same problem still exist in 2009 unless there is a dramatic and unfortunate change in the domestic labor market such that local labor is willing to shuck oysters for much less than they will do so today.  Hillman’s business simply isn’t efficient enough to compete with foreign companies’ lower cost structures. 

The business world, with its hard and fast rules of profit and loss, has declared Hillman’s company a loser and only government intervention can forestall its inevitable demise.  In contrast to yesterday’s article about workers being responsible for enhancing their own skills, in this case it’s the business owner whose offerings have fallen behind the times and are now obsolete.

The irony, of course, is that Hillman’s problems with his labor pool were originally created by government interference in the form of visa quotas, without which he would be free to import workers from other countries as he sees fit. 

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we practice government regulation.

The Myth of Student Free Speech

03.10.2007 (11:57 am) – Filed under: Education,Free Speech,Media,Politics,Stupidity,Texas ::

Saw this and it made me laugh.

OK, so this kid decides to wear his John Edwards 2008 T-shirt to school (High School) and gets upset about his free speech being infringed upon when they sent him home.

“Bong Hits for Jesus” anyone (a.k.a Morse v Frederick)?  The point is that a school has a right to set policy that limits the rights of students to promote an environment of learning and preventing disruption.  The school had a clear policy that T-shirts espousing any political nature were prohibited.  In fact, according to the school’s policy a John Deere T-shirt would be prohibited.  Now, had Mr. Palmer (the student in question) actually been able to show that another student was able to wear a non-sanctioned T-shirt (especially one espousing a political position) then he would have grounds on unequal treatment.  This however will likely go nowhere.  I honestly wonder at the student’s thinking in this matter.  Either he never noticed that no one ever wore a T-shirt with a political message, or he knew better and is doing it as a stunt (a la “Don’t Tase Me Bro”).  Either is disturbing.

Dog Walker Law Bites Volunteers

01.10.2007 (9:38 am) – Filed under: Stupidity,Texas ::

Austin’s city government is now requiring that volunteers at the city’s animal shelter submit to background checks and turn over private information such as social security numbers.

Under the new rules, each volunteer must give his or her legal name, date of birth and Social Security number for an annual background check. Fingerprinting is required if the volunteer has lived outside Texas in the past 10 years.

The rules went too far for some volunteers, who said they don’t trust the city to protect their information. Some said the requirement is overkill considering they’re volunteering to work with cats and dogs.

Tom Oliveri, a member of the city’s Animal Advisory Commission, quit volunteering at the shelter over the requirement.

"Don’t force me to give up confidential, private information (that) if somehow lost could cause great, great hardship," he said. "It is unfair to ask people to hold their nose and say, ‘I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me.’"

This is a trivial yet telling example of what happens when government exceeds its mandated purpose. 

More:

City officials said the requirement, which was announced in September, is meant to protect children from predators. The checks are required for all city employees, contractors and volunteers who work in youth-oriented programs such as city libraries and parks.

That’s fine for youth-oriented programs.  But show a little judgment for crying out loud. 

Perhaps officials are trying to cut down on cases of cat molestation in Austin?  Stranger things have happened there…</sarc>

Justice for Ashton?

21.09.2007 (9:25 pm) – Filed under: Crime,Texas ::

Ashton Glover was 16 years old when she was murdered by two high school classmates last year. 

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After his arrest, Matthew McCombs, the trigger “man”, stated to police that he’d done it out of “morbid curiosity.” 

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The evidence agreed:

There was no fight or adversarial relationship between the girl and the two suspects that led to the killing, and the three had known each other for a long time. The sheriff also said none of the three students had been drinking.

McCombs and [ed. accomplice Sean] Brown left Glover’s body in the field where she’d been shot. “Afterwards, they went and had breakfast, then they buried the body, then they went to bed,” he said.

Her body was found around noon July 10, buried in a shallow grave at a construction site off Oilfield Road south of Sugar Land. About two hours later, law enforcement officials say, Brown and McCombs fled Sugar Land in a black Dodge pickup believed to belong to Brown’s father.

The pair fled to Port Huron, where they attempted to cross the border into Canada.

McCombs and Brown were brought back to Texas and the former today agreed to plead guilty to the crime in exchange for a 50 year sentence with the possibility of parole at the half way point, 25 years from now.  He had faced a life sentence before accepting the plea agreement.

From the article:

Ashton’s parents, Terry Glover and Sue Smith, were consulted by prosecutors about the plea arrangement before it was finalized and agreed to the terms. Both, along with other family and friends, were in court today.

Texas law allows for the death penalty under several different sets of circumstances, such as a murder committed during the commission of a secondary felony, the murder of a police officer, or a murder involving multiple victims.  None of the statutory reasons for a capital murder charge fit the circumstances of Glover’s death.

I’m glad for the parents that this ordeal is winding down and I hope they are content in their souls with the punishment meted out to the boy who killed their daughter.

As far as I am concerned it is a travesty of justice that Ashton’s killers will walk free someday, be it 25 or 50 years from now.  A young girl’s life was taken away simply to satisfy this scumbag’s curiosity.  What more despicable act is there?

Texas leads the U.S. in murders put to death.  Today one got off easy.  That should make the bleeding hearts happy.

Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.