Monthly Archives: August 2013

Bracing for War?

Syria nerve gas

The August 21st attack in the Ghouta region of Damascus killed hundreds (Reuters)

On Saturday, in a national address from the White House Rose Garden, President Obama said he would seek Congressional approval for an attack on Syria, who last week seemed to unleash chemical weapons upon its own people in a Damascus suburb.

I use the word seemed because I believe some evidence is still under review, but it’s pretty clear that Saran gas was used. U.S. intelligence analysts observed Syrian chemical weapons personnel making “preparations” in the area up to three days prior to the deadly attack. And just before the attack took place, allies of the Syrian regime were told to take precautions which included wearing gas masks.

Strange that this attack couldn’t have been prevented, but it’s possible the intelligence had to be confirmed or something first. Who knows?

At any rate, the gas killed more than 1,400 people—at least 400 of whom were children—and the U.S. simply cannot ignore this heinous act. With or without the backing of the United Nations, but with the support of a Congressional vote to attack, it is possible U.S. military forces could be heading to Syria soon. We’ll just have to wait and see, but President Obama certainly seems ready:

It’s important for us to recognize that, when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 or 99% of humanity says should not be used even in war, and there is no action, then we’re sending a signal that that international norm doesn’t mean much. And that is a danger to our national security.

At the moment, America has strong support from France, Turkey and the Arab League. But Russian President Vladimir Putin called the assertion that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons “utter nonsense” recently. And Russia has vowed to block any U.N. measure that includes military action against its ally Syria, so the U.S. will find no support there.

President Obama seeks Congress’ approval, but is ready to strike (Reuters)

Many also fear this may turn into a repeat of the whole “weapons of mass destruction” fiasco in Iraq a decade ago—where the U.S. invaded despite having hard evidence and subsequently found no WOMD to speak of. Secretary of State John Kerry is obviously aware of this perception, but has assured the American people the information has been “reviewed and re-reviewed” by the intelligence community.

“We are more than mindful of the Iraq experience,” Kerry told reporters recently. “And we will not repeat that moment.”

I hope not, because it was pretty embarrassing, at least from an international perspective.

Whether we launch an attack on the Syrian regime or not, what I hope most is that they were not behind this horrible massacre and did not release Saran gas on their own people. But if they did—and if no one else is willing to step up and teach them a lesson—I guess this responsibility will once again fall to my homeland, the United States.

Do I believe we should have to police the world? Absolutely not. We have tons of problems back home that need attention, problems we could address if the resources we used around the world were suddenly used here instead. However, when some foreign government turns against its own people and innocents die by the hundreds—especially in a manner deemed excessive, immoral or just plain wrong under international law—something must be done. We have the means, we have the might and we have the motivation.

Now all we need is hard evidence, and even that seems to be forthcoming.

Look out, Syrian regime—and look to the skies, opposition forces—because America could be coming your way soon. And someone is going to pay for gassing all those innocent children, believe me.

The Devil and Beyoncé

Rocky Twyman (credit: Cherri Gregg)

Rocky Twyman: Soul Saver (Cherri Gregg)

Is it possible that music juggernaut Beyonce—half of a power couple that includes Jay-Z—could be possessed by demons?

Apparently, that’s what Rocky Twyman, founder of the Pray at the Pump Movement, seems to think. And he has made it his personal mission to save her soul.

“We are praying that God will deliver Beyonce from the demons that are possessing her,” he explained recently. “There have been so many YouTube things that have proven that she really is possessed by the devil.”

I get possessed by devilish thoughts when I see Beyonce! (GQ)

I get possessed by devilish thoughts when I see Beyonce! (GQ)

Personally, I have no idea what Twyman means, but he believes this so completely that he follows the blonde-haired superstar everywhere she goes and protests at each and every concert.

This weekend he is slated to appear outside Jay-Z’s second annual Made in America festival, where Beyonce will be performing. Keep your eyes peeled for him if you’re heading to the show!

Leave Those Kids Alone!

Help put an end to child abuse (Fanpop)

Help put an end to child abuse (Fanpop)

Yesterday, I published a disturbing article about Stacey Dean Rambold, a teacher in Montana who recently received a whopping 30-day sentence after raping one of his 14-year-old students, who ultimately committed suicide as a result (“Child Rapist Gets Month-Long Sentence”).

As if this wasn’t bad enough, I started noticing a lot of stories about people mistreating or harming children in the recent news. In an effort to bring attention to something I consider worthy of—at the very least—a serious ass kicking, here are some stories from around the nation that illustrate just how evil and uncaring some of our brothers and sisters can be. Heaven forbid I ever end up in the same room with them!

BELFAIR, WASHINGTON

David M. Navarro is a Washington man who once served as president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Belfair Elementary School. To acquire this position, Navarro had to first pass a background check performed by the state patrol, which he did. Unfortunately, no one ever picked up on the fact that he actually had a criminal record in San Diego, California: a 2009 charge for lewd and lascivious acts with a child.

This would obviously be valuable information when determining whether or not to assign someone to a position that could involve contact with children. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of it and Navarro assumed his role at the head of the Belfair PTA—a decision that would come back to haunt administrators later.

Belfair Elementary School (King 5)

Belfair Elementary School (King 5)

During an investigation into child pornography, U.S. authorities working in Australia and Denmark came across a video with a GPS stamp linking it back to Belfair Elementary. FBI agents were soon dispatched to Washington State and at the end of the trail they found none other than David Navarro. Aside from posting the aforementioned video, they also linked him to 14 child pornography images, which resulted in a search warrant being issued for Navarro’s home.

Navarro has been arrested and charged with multiple counts that include ownership, production and distribution of child pornography. The video discovered by authorities showed an 8-year-old Belfair student performing oral sex on an unidentified man, who may or may not be Navarro. He shot it on his cell phone and then sent it out into cyberspace for the whole world to see.

Thankfully, though, no one may see much of Navarro anymore. He is currently being detained as he waits for his detention hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday. I only hope this judge doesn’t follow the example of the one who gave that child rapist a 30-day sentence!

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON

You would think that legalizing recreational marijuana would make people in Washington more laid-back and peaceful, but our second story comes from the same state that gave us Navarro, the child pornographer from Belfair. This time, however, there were two sickos responsible for harming one of our young people.

Brandon Gunn and his wife Viviana were recently arrested and charged with kidnapping, assault and unlawful imprisonment for allegedly holding a 13-year-old boy captive and torturing him for three months. And believe it or not, but the boy was actually Brandon’s brother!

According to the latest reports, the Gunns invited the young man to stay with them for the summer. Once he arrived, though, his personal hell began. Until he escaped several weeks ago, the boy had been held in the Gunns’ cellar and garage for the duration of his stay. They duct-taped him to a chair, covered his eyes, beat his head and torso with metal bars and a baseball bat, put his hand in a vise and even drove a nail through his hand with a hammer. The poor kid was cut with knives, deprived of food and water, locked in the dark for days at a time and spent some time naked in a portable pet carrier. Apparently, these behaviors were identified as punishments for breaking the house rules or failing to complete chores.

Brandon and Viviana Gunn tortured a family member (KIRO-TV)

Brandon and Viviana Gunn tortured a family member (KIRO-TV)

Eventually, the young man was able to escape from the cellar and spent several weeks living on the street, stealing food and trying hard to survive from day to day. Some Navy officers happened upon him in a bus shelter, saw his injuries and immediately rushed him to the hospital, where he was soon interviewed by police. The Gunns were arrested a short time later and will appear in court next month to face the charges.

Torturing anyone is horrible, but doing this to your own brother? Something is seriously wrong with these people, and like you, I hope they pay dearly for what they did to this kid. More importantly, though, I hope he can somehow learn to trust people again. It won’t be easy since the people you can normally trust most are your family members… at least they should be.

MANDEVILLE, LOUISIANA

An 11-year-old girl got off the school bus the other day and started to walk down the sidewalk towards her home. Just as she reached her driveway, a late-model sedan—possibly a Cadillac—pulled up beside her. The driver—a Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s—stepped out and asked the girl if she needed a ride home. Fortunately, someone taught her well because instead of speaking with him or approaching him, the young girl ran screaming into her house.

She immediately told her father what happened, but when he went out to confront the would-be kidnapper, he was nowhere to be found.

A composite of the wannabe child kidnapper (Mandeville Police Department)

A composite of the wannabe child kidnapper (Mandeville Police Department)

“She was crying, extremely upset, and it took me a minute to find out what was wrong,” her father, David Crawford, said later. “He’s lucky that he took off.”

The good news is that police have a detailed description of the Hispanic man in question, who many had seen driving around the neighborhood before. I don’t know about you, but I hope they find this guy soon because the next little girl he approaches might not be so lucky.

WALTERBORO, SOUTH CAROLINA

Few things upset me more than mothers who leave their children locked in their cars or abandoned in some other way. Such was the case with 25-year-old Ashley Elizabeth Murdaugh of Walterboro.

On Wednesday, police arrested Murdaugh after her daughter—a 7-month-old—was found in a shopping cart car seat in the parking lot of Wal-Mart. Fortunately, a customer noticed the child, collected her and took her inside. A store employee phoned the police and Murdaugh was subsequently charged with child neglect.

Oddly enough, police found a phone number written on the side of the car seat, called it and spoke directly to Murdaugh, who returned a half hour later to be apprehended. Her child was placed in protective custody and for all intents and purposes should be fine. She is currently living with a family member who, I assume, knows how to care for children much more effectively than Murdaugh.

I suppose they couldn’t be much worse, huh?

Ashley Murdaugh abandoned her child (CCSO)

Ashley Murdaugh abandoned her child (CCSO)

OVIEDO, FLORIDA

I don’t know what it is about elementary schools that cause people to snap, but this happened yet again at Carillon Elementary School in Florida recently.

According to local authorities, a guidance counselor at the school has been accused of abuse and suspended without pay pending an investigation. She allegedly grabbed a 5-year-old boy by the chin, twisted him and dropped him on the ground, causing some minor bumps and bruises.

Even that is far too much when it comes to physical contact with a child. And since other parents at the school were not notified of this incident, people in Oviedo are pissed off, to say the least.

“The safety of our child is the utmost priority here,” Bobby Fishbough—the parent of a first-grader at the school—said after hearing of the abuse. “Parents need to know what’s happening in our schools. This is not a situation where the school needs to be hush hush.”

I couldn’t agree more. And if something like this were to ever happen to my child, it would take an act of Congress to prevent me from going ballistic on school administrators. Believe me.

What motivates people to hurt children—whether physically, sexually or even emotionally—remains a mystery. However, is there ever a good reason to harm a child? Hell no. And with any luck, the people responsible for hurting the children in this article will get the justice they deserve.

So long as they don’t live in Montana, that is!

Child Rapist Gets Month-Long Sentence

Rambold got only a slap on the wrist for child rape (Billings Police Department)

Unfortunately, the title of this article is accurate, much to my chagrin.

In 2008, Stacey Dean Rambold was a teacher at Billings Senior High School in Montana. He was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old student—something her mother, Auliea Hanlon, described as “pre-sexual grooming” of her daughter—and resigned from the school. Later that same year, Rambold was charged with three counts of sexual intercourse without consent.

Sadly, the trauma he inflicted on his young victim was too much for her to bear. She ended up taking her own life on February 6, 2010, a few weeks shy of her 17th birthday. Hanlon immediately filed a complaint, which included this statement:

“As a result of the sexual assault and its aftermath, (the teen) experienced severe emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment and fell into irreversible depression that tragically led to her taking her own life.”

I think we can all agree that this was likely the case. Unfortunately, though, not everyone viewed this situation the same way.

Following the young girl’s suicide, prosecutors entered into a “deferred prosecution agreement” with Rambold. Basically, all the charges against him would be dropped if he agreed to complete a program for sex offenders and met several other requirements.

One of them involved having no contact with children.

As you might imagine, Rambold didn’t hold up his end of the bargain and had contact with children, primarily his young nieces and nephews. He also hooked up with several women, but never disclosed this information to his counselors, as he was required to do. As a result, the deal was dropped and his case was reactivated last year.

This past Monday, Rambold finally had his hearing and the prosecution hoped to send him to prison for at least 20 years or more. The defense, of course, argued that their client had suffered enough. He lost his job, his marriage collapsed and now he had to deal with the stigma of being labelled as a sex offender.

Montana teen Cherice Morales committed suicide following a sexual relationship with her teacher.

Rambold’s young victim, now deceased (Auliea Hanlon/Facebook)

That’s a small price to pay when you consider his victim killed herself, if you ask me. The judge in this case—the “honorable” G. Todd Baugh—disagreed and instead claimed the young girl “seemed older than her chronological age.”

Despite Rambold admitting to at least one rape, Baugh sentenced him to 15 years in prison, but suspended all but 31 days. He even credited Rambold for a day he spent in jail and dropped his sentence to 30 days.

One month behind bars for raping a 14-year-old girl and driving her to suicide! What in the hell is going on?!!

Needless to say, Hanlon was not pleased with the sentence and expressed her anger and disappointment in court, yelling “you people suck” before releasing the following statement through her attorney:

“She wasn’t even old enough to get a driver’s license. But Judge Baugh, who never met our daughter, justified the paltry sentence saying she was older than her chronological age. I guess somehow it makes a rape more acceptable if you blame the victim, even if she was only 14.”

Baugh stood by his ruling and even claimed that Rambold posed no threat of committing a sexual offense again, which I can’t understand at all. If you ask me, someone driven to rape a child will always be capable of trying again and again and again. It’s a sickness, and not one that is easy—or even possible—to cure.

This whole situation outrages me as much as it does you, at least I hope it does. The good news is that Hanlon and the Montana Organization of Women aren’t lying down and accepting this horrible failure of our justice system. They have started a petition to try to correct this mistake, so please consider joining them by going HERE.

If our system of justice can’t get this right, then perhaps our citizens can!

Tuff Love

Tuff’s bravery warranted a call from the Commander-in-Chief (gossiponthis.com)

In July, 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill of Henry County, Georgia pleaded guilty to making terrorist threats and was sentenced to anger counseling and three years of probation. According to his brother Timothy, the charge resulted from Hill pulling a gun on him and threatening to shoot him. Of course, Hill had an extensive record of mental illness, so this sudden violence came as no surprise to Tim.

Nevertheless, it was a close call. And like Timothy, many of us would likely assume that brother Michael would finally receive the psychological help he so desperately needed. After all, this incident could have turned deadly at any moment, so why take the chance of something violent happening in the future?

I wish I could say that Hill was doing well or improving—that someone had finally recognized his mental distress and addressed it accordingly—but sadly, that was not the case. I can’t say for sure what came of those anger management classes, but I do know what Hill did less than a week ago because it was all over the news.

He walked into the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school near Atlanta, and brought some items with him that should never enter a school again, especially after Newtown and all the other school tragedies in the last few years: a .762-caliber AK-47-type weapon and hundreds of rounds of ammunition—some say as many as 500!

Hill’s first and only stop, however, was at the school’s front desk. There he met a bookkeeper named Antoinette Tuff—a beautiful young woman with dimples that appear when she smiles—and that is where his misguided school attack came to an abrupt end.

No, she didn’t leap over the desk, disarm the gunman and beat him senseless with his own weapon… although that would have been cool. Instead, she applied something that most people need and that I employ almost daily: tough love.

Or for the sake of this article, Tuff love. The irony of her last name will become apparent soon, believe me.

Hill told the brave bookkeeper that he was mentally ill, was not taking his medication and should have gone to a mental hospital instead of hatching this terrible plan. He also mentioned how he didn’t care if he lived or died, which is something you obviously never want to hear from someone armed to the teeth and seemingly intent on hurting people.

If Hill did snap, odds are Tuff would be the first casualty, after all.

Gunman Hill needs help… and fast! (Huffington Post)

In what can only be described as an amazing feat of bravery, sympathy and—believe it or not—love, Tuff took a different approach in dealing with this potential threat to her life and the lives of others, most of them children. Rather than fleeing and allowing Hill to move unhindered into the school, where he could have killed countless people, she treated him like a human being. Tuff even shared some of her own personal struggles with Hill, all the while consoling him and telling him how much she cared.

“Don’t feel bad, baby,” she told him. “My husband just left me after 33 years… I’ve got a son that’s multiple disabled. It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you, though, okay? We all go through something in life. [You’re] going to be okay.”

Granted, her love may have been a little softer than I first described—tough love usually has more of an edge to it—but it was definitely effective. Tuff spoke to the disturbed gunman softly and kindly. And where others may have trembled in fear—unable to speak for fear of being fatally silenced—she connected with no other motive but to help.

Hill obviously picked up on this and appreciated it, because he surrendered after only 25 minutes. After placing his weapons, ammo and the contents of his pockets on the counter, he laid face-down on the floor and waited patiently for police to arrive. And Tuff made sure he knew how much it meant to her—as well as everyone in the school, whether they realized it or not.

“It’s gonna be all right, sweetheart… I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing that you’re just giving up and don’t worry about it.”

The police arrived a short time later and apprehended Hill without incident. No one was injured and more importantly, no one was killed.

It was a good day. And where potential school shootings are concerned, good days can be very hard to come by.

Of course, Tuff later confessed to be being far less calm and cool than people likely imagined, and who could blame her?

“I’m going to tell you something, baby,” our hero told the 911 operator near the end of her call and after being praised for her courage and bravery. “I’ve never been so scared in all the days in my life. Oh, Jesus!”

I know one thing for certain: Jesus has to be proud of Antoinette Tuff. We all should be because to me, she shows us all what it really means to be human. My hat goes off to this amazing woman who on this day saved countless lives. She truly is an angel.

When in Doubt, Blame Video Games

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Root of All Evil... whatever (Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Root of All Evil… whatever (Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

Near Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a small town with an unusual name, but perhaps a name more fitting given recent events there: Slaughter. Just twenty miles north of the state capital, Slaughter only became a town in 2002 and boasts a population just below 1,000 people.

Actually, there is one less person there now: 87-year-old Marie Smothers, who died this past Thursday.

Smothers was the grandmother and caregiver of her 8-year-old grandson and by all accounts, they had a loving and positive relationship. Rumor has it they even shared a bed from time to time, which isn’t something you do with a relative you don’t care for deeply… or so you would think.

On Thursday, Smothers was caring for her grandson in the mobile home where she lived, watching some television while he played video games in the other room. Out of nowhere, the young boy suddenly appeared with a loaded handgun, walked up behind his grandmother, put the nozzle to her head and pulled the trigger.

Smothers was obviously found dead at the scene by police a short time later. And though the young killer claimed it was an accident, authorities believe he intentionally shot Smothers because he was influenced by the violent video game he was playing at the time: Grand Theft Auto IV.

One of my personal favorites, incidentally, and by far one of my top three favorite game franchises. I guess that means I have the potential to snap and start murdering people too, huh? Go figure.

All the GTA IV hating began when a spokesperson from the East Feliciana Paris Sheriff’s Department issued the following statement:

Is it possible GTA could be therapeutic? (Rockstar Games)

Is it possible GTA could be therapeutic? (Rockstar Games)

“Although a motive for the shooting is unknown at this time, investigators have learned that the juvenile suspect was playing a video game on the Playstation III ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,’ a realistic game that has been associated with encouraging violence and [awarding] points to players for killing people, just minutes before the homicide occurred.”

Moses, smell the roses!

Countless studies have tried to connect video games, rock music, rap music and almost anything else you can imagine to violent behavior—usually in young people—but there has yet to be any definitive proof of a causal relationship between the two. That certainly doesn’t stop the haters from trying, though.

After all, it’s much easier to blame something like video games than to truly get to the root of a problem.

Sure, it is possible some 8-year-old who is too young to make sound, rational decisions while also considering the consequences of his actions might kill his grandmother. Hell, it happened in this very story. But I would ask some more relevant questions before trying to pin this terrible tragedy on GTA IV.

Why was such a young boy permitted to play a game marked for mature audiences and packaged with all the appropriate warning labels for violent content and adult situations?

Is it wise for a child’s caregiver and grandmother to not only keep a loaded gun in the house, but to also make it easily accessible to the very child she’s been tasked with protecting?

Does the child have any mental or emotional issues that may have contributed to his suddenly violent behavior?

Smothers home (Catherine Threlkeld/The Advocate)

Smothers’ home (Catherine Threlkeld/The Advocate)

These are the answers I would like to know, especially before I start blaming a video game for what happened in Slaughter. If GTA IV was the spark that set this kid off, wouldn’t similar things be happening all over the world almost all the time? It makes absolutely no sense because if you think about it, stories you hear on the news can be just as violent and dark as video games, sometimes even worse. Do stories about all the death in Syria turn young people into violent soldiers or rebels? Of course not, so how can we say video games are apt to do the same by turning players into violent criminals?

Fortunately for this young man, the state of Louisiana exempts all children under the age of 10 from criminal responsibility, so he will face no charges for what he has done—if he truly understands what he’s done, that is.

“We have a child who does not know the impact and consequences of the act he committed,” a lawyer named Sclynski Legier told WAFB after the shooting. “He truly doesn’t understand that.”

So I implore you: If you are ever charged with watching, babysitting, caring for or even parenting a small child, by all means, put away the video games, unload and secure your weapons and try doing something together for a change. I promise you the odds of it becoming violent will drop significantly as a result.

And these days, why risk it? Just look what happened to Marie Smothers, for goodness sake!

Knox Going Nowhere

Amanda Knox after her acquittal (Reuters)

It was 2009 when American student Amanda Knox was convicted of murdering her British roommate—21-year-old exchange student Meredith Kercher—in what some believed was a kinky sex act gone wrong.

Knox has always denied this allegation, of course, pointing out that she has never “strapped on leather or [bore] a whip.” And I believe her, if for no other reason than the fact that people who enjoy kinky sex rarely broadcast this desire publicly.

At any rate, Knox spent several years in an Italian prison until her case was overturned for lack of evidence in 2011 and she was finally able to return home. Since her acquittal she has been living peacefully in Seattle, Washington and keeping a low profile… at least until last year.

That’s when the Supreme Court in Italy reviewed Knox’s case, decided some evidence had not been considered and questions still needed to be answered, and decided to retry her for Kercher’s murder. The retrial is scheduled to begin this fall, but now it looks as if the defendant may not even be present.

A spokesman for the Knox family recently announced that Amanda would not return to Italy for her retrial since there is “no requirement she be there.” And Knox never said she would attend in the first place. This means that if the Italian government eventually orders her to return, they will have to go through the American government and request her extradition.

Meredith Kercher (Reuters)

Many believe any such extradition request would be denied by the U.S., but I have my doubts. I worry because of an unrelated case that could toss a proverbial monkey wrench into Knox’s plans: the case of NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

When Snowden fled to Russia after revealing top-secret information about several NSA surveillance programs, the United States requested his extradition and was denied. In our government’s view, Snowden was a traitor and was guilty of jeopardizing America’s national security, so he deserved to return home to face justice. The Russians obviously disagreed and even granted Snowden asylum for one year, renewable indefinitely.

Needless to say, President Obama and the American government were pissed. Despite efforts to improve relations with Russia—efforts they thought were being reciprocated—it looked as if things were destined to get worse. After all, how could the Russians protect someone with the potential to harm America if they were truly interested in improving relations between the two countries?

What the f—?

This is why I think Amanda Knox could be in trouble if Italy appeals for her extradition from the United States—even though the concept of retrying someone a second time for the same crime seems utterly ridiculous to me. Assume, for a moment, that the Italian authorities actually have some new evidence that might prove Knox’s guilt. Would America allow the Italians to extradite Knox simply because of the injustice they suffered when they requested Snowden’s extradition from Russia?

Put another way: Can we really deny an extradition request when new evidence could result in true justice being served?

I worry for Amanda Knox. And I hope no one sends her back to Italy since she was acquitted for this crime years ago. In America we have something called double jeopardy, which prevents a defendant from being tried a second time for the same crime. I know I’m biased since I am an American, but I like to think I would agree with this regardless of my citizenship.

It is all about fairness, and to me that is pretty important.

Mourning the Loss of Batman

Only two years and counting! (Warner Bros)

Only two years and counting! (Warner Bros)

After the brilliance of The Dark Knight—especially the genius of Heath Ledger as the Joker—and the excitement of The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan and Bruce Wayne himself, Christian Bale, announced they would not return for a fourth installment in the popular franchise. Fortunately, I heard that Warner Brothers wants to keep Batman alive, but filling these vital roles continues to be a challenge. And who knows when we will finally see the Caped Crusader on the Big Screen again… if ever.

Initially, I was crushed at the prospect of having to wait indefinitely for films featuring my favorite comic book hero. Then the rumors started to fly about who would step up to play the next lead. Would Joseph Gordon-Levitt take the helm after his performance as honest cop John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises? Will it fall to an actor like Ryan Gosling, Joe Manganiello or Josh Brolin? Can Christian Bale be convinced to return if the price is right?

Frankly, I was getting weary and stopped thinking about the next potential Batman film altogether. And I would have been fine if the people at Warner Brothers hadn’t dropped a bomb on Batman lovers everywhere this past week. At first, it was the equivalent of winding up and kicking comic book fans square in the nuts. I am happy to report, however, that this effect dulls significantly with time. Here’s what happened.

Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel was released in June and has already pulled in more than $649 million worldwide, a notable achievement for a film produced for roughly $225 million. It is also noteworthy for re-launching a movie franchise most people thought was re-launched by Bryan Singer in 2006’s Superman Returns.

I think we are all fortunate that franchise never happened. It wasn’t a very good film. And even though I haven’t seen Man of Steel for myself yet—the closest theater pretty much sucks and I prefer to save my $50 for more important things, like electricity and food—it is breaking records and entertaining millions of people, so I certainly look forward to screening it soon.

Then this past Thursday and the shocking announcement from Warner Brothers came, which reminded me of someone asking, “So which do you want first: the good news or the bad news?” In this case, the good news is that a sequel is being made for Man of Steel and its Kryptonian hero. Superman—as imagined by British actor Henry Cavill and the aforementioned Snyder—will be back in theaters soon… and he won’t be alone.

Batman will be there, too! Woohoo!

Can Affleck handle a comic book hero like Batman? (Warner Bros)

Can Affleck handle a comic book hero like Batman? (Warner Bros)

For the first time in film history, the two superheroes will meet onscreen. They will even face off against one another, much as they did in the classic Frank Miller graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. Even actors Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane and Amy Adams signed on to return. In other words, it seemed like the perfect sequel and left me with only one nagging question: Who was going to play Batman?

Oh, how I would come to regret asking that question.

If only for the next Superman film—there is no guarantee he will headline the Batman franchise later—it looks like the person wearing the pointy-eared mantle will be… drum roll, please… Benjamin Geza Affleck!

That’s right… Ben Affleck will serve as the next Dark Knight and, if things go well, may even get a shot at the recurring gig. I don’t really see that happening—and thousands, maybe even millions of people online seem to agree—but it is not outside the realm of possibility. After all, some jackass cast him in Daredevil back in 2003, and that horrible hero performance is what many haters seem to be citing as the foundation of their anger over Warner Brothers’ recent decision.

Are we really allowing Ben to screw up another of our comic book heroes? Sadly, it appears the answer is yes.

Then I started to think about it. You know, Ben Affleck isn’t as terrible as people make him out to be. Yes, movies like Daredevil, Gigli and Jersey Girl cast doubt over his acting ability—or maybe his deductive reasoning skills since he’s the one who agreed to star in these flops. But there have been some high points, and I say we give him a chance.

Some reactions were worse than others (The TV and Movie Spot/Twitter)

Some reactions were worse than others (The TV and Movie Spot/Twitter)

I first saw Ben Affleck in School Ties—thinking nothing of him since his role was so small—and again in Chasing Amy, a Kevin Smith-View Askew production I thoroughly enjoyed. Ben did a pretty decent job, I must say. I also liked him in Good Will Hunting—for which he and partner Matt Damon won a screenwriting Oscar—as well as other films some might consider cheesy: Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, The Sum of All Fears, Paycheck and Hollywoodland—a film in which Ben played George Reeves, the actor best known for portraying Superman in the 1950s television series the Adventures of Superman.

Funny how everything comes around full circle, isn’t it?

I won’t lie. Ben Affleck wouldn’t be my first choice for the next Batman, even though I have enjoyed much of his work. He also seems like a pretty decent guy and has done some things in his personal life that I respect: volunteering to spend time with disabled children; supporting Democratic political candidates, at least those worth supporting; bringing attention to the plight of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and contributing to cancer research at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, to name a few.

Even other actors tweeted in response (Richard Dreyfuss/Twitter)

Even other actors tweeted in response (Richard Dreyfuss/Twitter)

Ben also took home the Oscar for Best Picture last year for Argo, so it’s not like his career is declining, either.

I say give Ben a chance to prove to us all—and by us I mean die-hard Batman lovers who question Warner Brothers’ logic and decision-making abilities—that he can pick up where Christian Bale left off and fill the large boots he left behind. I have my doubts, as I said, but at this point, I feel that Ben deserves it. And I, for one, hope he can pull it off.

Self-Serve Justice

Katzenberger took the law into his own hands (WKRN-TV/ABC News)

Katzenberger took the law into his own hands (WKRN-TV/ABC News)

Vigilante justice is not something I normally endorse. After all, we have a system of law in the United States that is designed to dole out justice to those who deserve it. Granted, it can be very dysfunctional, but it is an important part of living in a civilized society… or so I’ve heard.

Occasionally, though—or perhaps more often than occasionally—things go horribly wrong and true justice is not served. When this happens, it is sometimes necessary for normal citizens like you and me to take more extreme action. No, I am not telling people to dress up as Batman and to start kicking criminals’ asses in their home towns and cities. I just know that the law can fail us and we all need to find ways to “pick up the slack” from time to time.

This is exactly what 25-year-old David Katzenberger of Giles County, Tennessee did recently. And though his actions may not qualify as true vigilante justice, they certainly aren’t that far off.

Rosacia and Griffis busted for theft! (WKRN-TV/ABC News)

Rosacia and Griffis busted for theft! (WKRN-TV/ABC News)

Last Thursday, Stacy Rosacia and her pal Christopher Griffis decided to start breaking into people’s cars to steal whatever they could find to support their drug habits. One car they robbed belonged to Katzenberger’s wife, who sells costume jewelry for a living. The criminals stole some of her jewelry and a few additional items before moving on to their next target.

Once Katzenberger realized what had happened, he called the police to report the crime. Of course, he didn’t stop there. Instead of relying on the authorities to track down the thieves, Katzenberger took pictures of the missing jewelry to store owners around town, hoping that one of them either knew the culprits or had seen them trying to sell the baubles they stole. And before he knew it, he had the lead he needed.

One local merchant reported that she saw Rosacia wearing some of the jewelry in Katzenberger’s photos. And then she “pointed him in the right direction,” as he put it later.

Katzenberger found Rosacia’s home, put on some gloves and started to dig through the suspected thief’s trash can, which was sitting by the curb at the time. There he found the pink jewelry bags his wife used to store her costume jewelry, as well as a note she had written. He immediately took this evidence to the cops, who arrested Rosacia and her partner a short time later.

“When I saw them, I knew that they had been caught,” Katzenberger said of his unofficial investigation. “They got them. I feel pretty good about that.”

After being apprehended, Rosacia confessed to her crimes and admitted to breaking into numerous vehicles around town.

“I have a drug addiction that caused me to make poor choices that landed me here,” she told authorities. “You do stupid stuff when you’re high.”

The evidence that led to the bust  (WKRN-TV/ABC News)

The evidence that led to the bust (WKRN-TV/ABC News)

Rosacia added that once she is released, she will make an effort to get clean and to be a better mother to her young children. I certainly hope this is the case and that one more evildoer finally comes back into the light.

Incidentally, Katzenberger is being praised by authorities since the information he provided helped solve as many as ten burglaries. Of course, they also recommend that citizens refrain from similar actions in the future, choosing instead to let law enforcement handle criminal investigations. Despite their flaws, I completely agree that the people who get paid to do this job should be allowed to do it without outside interference.

But what Katzenberger did was kind of cool, don’t you think? I just wonder what might have happened if the jewelry was real!

Weeding Out the Lies

Dr. Gupta has changed his tune on medical weed (Animal New York)

Dr. Gupta has changed his tune on medical weed (Animal New York)

The other day as I was cruising through cyberspace, I came across an article written by Dr. Sanjay Gupta earlier this month that explained why his opinion of medicinal marijuana changed so dramatically in the last several years. For those of you unfamiliar with Gupta, he is the Chief Medical Correspondent for CNN and has always been against the idea of pot being used as treatment for medical conditions.

Recently, though, Gupta is singing a different tune, and this one supports medical marijuana wholeheartedly. In fact, the good doctor is currently working on a documentary called “Weed” that further explains his 180-degree turn on this controversial topic. And I, for one, can’t wait to see it.

For decades, I have heard the same thing most of you have likely heard: marijuana is a terrible drug that provides no real benefit and instead serves as a gateway to other, harder drugs. Since 1970—and at the bequest of the Assistant Secretary of Health at the time, Dr. Roger Egeberg—marijuana has been classified as a schedule I substance. Here’s how these types of drugs are described by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA):

“Schedule I drugs, substances or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Believe it or not, but the DEA ranks cannabis along with heroin, LSD, peyote and ecstasy! It’s even considered to be more dangerous than cocaine, simply because coke has been used for medicinal reasons (mostly as an anesthetic)!

Clearly, there is something wrong with this picture. Thanks to Dr. Gupta, though, I now feel as if I know much more about the conspiracy to demonize marijuana in America. Consider the man who first suggested it be classified as schedule I drug, Dr. Egeberg.

In his letter recommending the status change for weed—the same letter that resulted in this status remaining for 45 years—Dr. Egeberg stated his reasoning as follows—I underlined the most pertinent words or phrases:

“Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue.”

The root... er, weed... of all evil (Tulsa World)

The root… er, weed… of all evil (Tulsa World)

In other words, he wasn’t recommending that marijuana remain a schedule I substance. He just thought more research needed to be conducted before a truly informed decision could be made.

Unfortunately, this never happened because none of the “studies now underway” were ever completed. As disturbing as this half-ass approach was, the truth of the matter is that there existed a plethora of information on marijuana at the time, some of it dating back several decades. For instance, former New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a study in 1944 that found no evidence of marijuana being addictive or leading to harder drug use. More recent studies have even estimated marijuana’s dependence rate at roughly 9-10% (meaning this percentage of people who use the drug actually become dependent on it, at least in terms of psychological dependence). Compare this to dependence rates for cocaine (20%)—a schedule II drug, by the way—heroin (25%) and tobacco (30%) and it should be obvious that marijuana simply isn’t being treated fairly… and hasn’t been treated fairly for almost half a century.

But there’s more.

Consider for a moment the schedule I classification that claims marijuana has no inherent medical use. Gupta contradicted this and referred to the case of Charlotte Figi, a child in Colorado who started having unexplained seizures just after she was born. Every week, Charlotte would have roughly 300 seizures and despite being on numerous medications, nothing seemed to help. Out of desperation, her physicians recommended the use of cannabis to see what effect it might have on calming Charlotte’s brain and, consequently, reducing the rate of her seizures. Ironically enough—and after only a short time—the cannabis helped. Now Charlotte experiences only 2-3 seizures each month and no longer suffers from the cognitive impairment her more frequent seizures caused. By most respects, she is a happy and healthy child who can now enjoy a life that once seemed grim and dismal.

Charlotte Figi needs cannabis to control her seizures (Nurses Labs)

Charlotte Figi needs cannabis to control her seizures (Nurses Labs)

Am I to believe these kinds of benefits should be ignored simply because someone in the 1970s suggested marijuana be classified as illegal and dangerous? Is it possible the large tobacco companies helped fuel the fear that pushed consumers away from marijuana and back to their leafy product instead?

I’m likely getting a little ahead of myself. And it should be obvious that this subject gets me fired up—not because I think we should all become potheads, but because there are people suffering who could be helped once we get our collective heads out of our asses.

During his research, Gupta also examined the medical literature regarding marijuana and went back as far as the 19th century. What he found was astonishing and convinced me even more that we are missing an opportunity here. Between 1840 and 1930, the majority of marijuana-related papers and journal articles focused on the many benefits of this plant. Ever since, however, the majority of the research has focused instead on marijuana’s dangers and adverse effects—a quick search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine brought up more than 20,000 results for Gupta, most of which examined the drug’s harmful qualities. This means that of all the American studies into marijuana, only 6% examine its positive traits.

Does this really paint a clear picture of the drug? I think not.

Like Gupta, I agree that more research should be done on marijuana and a more informed decision should be made, especially with regard to its medicinal qualities. Researchers all over the world have been studying it for years and continue to do so. Some are even making serious progress. For example, scientists in Israel and Spain are trying to determine if cannabis could be used to fight cancer, while others are looking into it as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, a growing problem among our military personnel.

The problem is that to study marijuana in the United States, you have to either break the law—marijuana is illegal, after all—or go through the proper government channels, which can be equally challenging. You also have to get approval and, sadly, this process is skewed as well. Approval for an anti-cancer drug study may need the approval of the National Cancer Institute, for instance, but the same is not true for marijuana. Instead of passing through some kind of legitimate medical board or organization, marijuana studies must seek the approval of the National Institute on Drug Abuse—the very organization whose mission it is to help demonize weed!

A medical marijuana card for California (Contra Costa Health)

A medical marijuana card for California (Contra Costa Health)

Again, there is something seriously wrong with this picture.

The good news is that as of this moment, residents of 20 states—and the District of Columbia—have voted to approve medical marijuana use, and a number of additional states will vote on it soon. Washington State even made recreational marijuana use legal and it seems as if Colorado could be next in line. In other words—and undoubtedly to the delight of Dr. Gupta—the times they are a changing.

They just need to change much, much faster… and without all the government paranoia, fear-mongering and—most of all—bullshit. Only then can we help the people who truly need it. And only then can we finally end their suffering.

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