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Larry Benjamin's blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A waste of parole time

Lawrence Adair, one of the area's most notorious criminals in the 1970s, was told in 2004 that he has to wait 50 years to be considered for parole. That's too long, an appellate court ruled last week. It's sending his case back to the state Parole Board to set a shorter time frame.

What a waste of the Parole Board's time! Adair is 52 and should die in prison. He's serving a term of life plus 66 to 75 years for murder and sodomy (in Dover Township), armed robbery (in Lakewood), and abduction, rape and robbery (in Freehold Township). That crime spree occurred soon after he was paroled for a string of offenses. That's in New Jersey alone. New York has 25 years-to-life sentences for two murders awaiting if he's ever released here.

Is Adair going to be a better prisoner if he knows he might be released in 30 years instead of 50? If anybody deserves a parole eligibility beyond the 30 years cited by the court, Adair is it. After all he's done in a lifetime of crime, it's a shame New Jersey taxpayers have to pay to keep him in prison.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A GOP revolt

The rank and file of the Monmouth County Republican Party has spoken in naming Anna Little of Highlands to fill Amy Handlin's vacancy on the Board of Freeholders. She's a 38-year-old attorney, a mother of three, who is the fresh face with fresh ideas and no baggage that the majority of Republican County Committee members seem to want. The corruption scandal that rocked the party obviously affected the voting Saturday.

Little's election speaks volumes about the power of the party leaders. Chairman Fred Niemann, Sen. Joseph Kyrillos and Freeholder William Barham all backed others. Of course, they circled the wagons around Little when the votes were tallied.

The lesson is clear: This Republican Party will not kowtow to its leadership. They may be Republicans, but they want their party to be democratic. The days of the good ol' boy network are over. They want diverse, ethical and independent thinking officials. That matches what the public wants. The leadership had better take heed.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Student Voices

As editor of Student Voices, the Press' monthly opinion writing and drawing contest for grades 7-12, I get to peek into the minds and hearts of middle- and high schoolers in our area. The response to this month's topic - who was the greatest American and why? - shows that students can think and write. We had plenty to choose from, as my colleagues and I judged 299 entries.

You would expect to receive essays about George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison and the Rev. Martin Luther King, and we did. Several students focused on the American soldier; others on doctors and researchers and even their parents. But we also read of people we didn't expect: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Alvin Ailey, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt and others. Essays that were more than biographies and emphasized these Americans' lasting achievements stood out.

For those concerned about the next generation of leaders and thinkers, our Student Voices winning essays offer reassurance. Catch them on the op-ed page this Tuesday and the fourth Tuesday of each month from October through May.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Save us from perfection

Thank goodness the Olympics are almost history. Maybe now the public can recover from its mania for perfection.

Take the women's figure skating, for example. The USA's Sasha Cohen is a failure for falling twice and only finishing second. Russia's Irina Slutskaya is a failure after falling once, settling for third. Other top skaters stumbled, including the two other Americans. Only Japan's Shizuka Arakawa didn't mess up, so she won the gold.

Isn't finishing second or third or even competing in the Olympics, with the whole world watching as you skate alone for four minutes, an achievement? Why do we saddle our athletes with the burden of being perfect? A baseball player can make the Hall of Fame by failing to get a hit more than 7 out of 10 times. The top football quarterback doesn't complete every pass. Same goes in any sport.

Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything, it is the only thing.'' Maybe if we didn't make perfection the only thing, athletes would enjoy themselves more. I didn't see many unforced smiles on the faces of the women skaters. That's sad.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Marriage sham

The sanctity of marriage was thrown for another loop this week when a couple willing to take a chance on love met for the very first time for a commitment ceremony arranged by a New York radio station. Their applications for the bride and groom contest were screened by the radio jocks, they proposed on Valentine's Day and they were committed Wednesday, in New Jersey no less. They didn't have to go through the blood test, residency stuff or officiant to make it a binding marriage.

What a crock! The gag makes the real commitment of marriage a joke and a mere excuse to juice up ratings.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The college for you, maybe

There's a place for students who don't do well on standardized tests and their worried parents right here in New Jersey: Drew University in Madison. The highly rated school no longer requires SAT scores. That's good news for high schoolers whose high grades are not matched when they take the multiple-choice tests so many colleges use to assess prospective students.

Applications are up 19 percent this year at Drew. School officials attribute it, in part, to their SAT optional policy.

But before the many high achievers who are average test takers put Drew atop their list they should do their homework. Peterson's Online reports an enrollment of only 1,613, a student-to-faculty ratio of 11 to 1 and a location convenient to New York City. But then there's the matter of cost: $39,800 for tuition, room and board, books, mandatory fees. Sure, the average financial package is $21,000, but almost $20,000 a year is still quite a load.

Do you think its status as an SAT optional college makes Drew more attractive?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

So much for the spirit of the Olympics

Any semblance of the Olympics as a national team competition has been dashed by the Torino games. Shani Davis wins the 1,000-meter speedskating event after forgoing his leg in a USA team pursuit race to preserve his energy for the individual racing. Without him, the USA foursome didn't medal. Skater Chad Hedrick said Davis' absence deprived the USA - and Hedrick - of a medal. The animosity between Hedrick and Davis is so thick you'd wonder whether they are on the same team. Are these games for individual or team glory?

Then there was ice dancing, which produced strange national allegiances. The female silver-medalist became a U.S. citizen late last year after special congressional legislation to make her a citizen. The female of the Azerbaijan team is a Californian who has never visited that former Soviet republic, but was granted quick citizenship to continue skating with a native. Strangely, they help provide a New Jersey angle. She and her partner train in Montclair, as do the gold-medal winning pair, who ostensibly are from Russia. Or is it the USA? What a farce!

Law and order?

Michael LaSane should be thankful for lawyers. LaSane, who admitted killing a Middletown school teacher in a tape-recorded carjacking gone bad in 1996, has been given more than a year to decide whether to retract his plea after an appeals court ruled that his defense was tainted because his lawyer had a one-night stand with his mother. Now, after running through a string of defense attorneys, LaSane has decided to stand trial again, which may have surprised his latest lawyer, who said he hadn't made up his mind when they met the day before.

Why can't some lawyer somewhere convince LaSane that he's far better off with his sentence of life without parole for 30 years for felony murder than facing trial on that charge plus carjacking, kidnapping and robbery? Sure, everyone is entitled to a fair trial and fair representation, but isn't this case ridiculous and a terrible reflection on the legal profession?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Censor police

So a town in Missouri has banned its high school students from performing "Grease" and "The Crucible" as being morally offensive. After all, the characters in "Grease'' drink, smoke and kiss. And "The Crucible" is about the Salem witch trials. Horrors!

When will the censors of this world learn the value of artistic expression in sparking discussion? "Grease'' is a satire of teenage life, yet the culture police take it seriously. My sons had roles in "Grease'' in high school and somehow we all survived. One of them (Dave) pursued a career in radio after playing DJ Vince Fontaine. "The Crucible'' is not only about 17th century witchery but is Arthur Miller's response to the congressional hearings about Communists running Hollywood in the 1950s. What a rich source of classroom lessons!

Will the student play soon disappear from the school calendar because somebody who probably hasn't read or seen the play decides it will offend some undefined group? Is any play censor-proof? Even Shakespeare isn't safe, given the Bard's double-entendres. Save us!

Olympics blur

The time difference between Italy and the U.S. enables NBC to produce a slick, fast-moving prime-time show from the Olympics each evening. But the news junkie that I am leads me to check the results via the AP here in the newsroom during the day or online at home during the weekend. If something newsworthy, especially involving an American, takes place, I'll watch. But even then, I'm not sure what I'm watching. The athleticism is obvious, but other than a ski run or ice skating tumble, the difference between a first-place finisher and an also-ran is hard to fathom. A competitor is branded a failure by missing a medal by a tiny fraction of a second. Am I missing something? I'm turned off by NBC's tape delay. Is that fair?

The Cheney shooting

So Dick Cheney has fessed up, something rarely heard from the Bush White House. He did shoot his hunting buddy and he's sorry about it, some say even depressed about it. Of course, the apology comes four days after the incident, which we didn't learn about until 24 hours after it happened.

But is this front-page news? Is anything the vice president does worthy of immediate coverage? Is there any difference between this incident and Clinton's White House liaisons with an intern?