Why criminalizing genocide denial is bad

Nearly a century after between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians were killed by Ottoman Turks in what is considered the one of the first examples of modern genocide, Turkey continues to fight efforts to label the event as such.

Turkey’s prime minister on Saturday sharply criticized France for a bill that would make it a crime to deny the 1915-23 mass killing of Armenians was genocide, The Associated Press reported.

“Saying France should investigate what he claimed was its own ‘dirty and bloody history’ in Algeria and Rwanda, Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted Turkey would respond ‘through all kinds of diplomatic means,’” the wire service reported.

While Turkish officials quibble over labels, there’s little question of the horrors inflicted upon Armenians by Ottoman Turks as their empire collapsed.

However, Turkish leaders reject the term “genocide” for the tragedy, arguing that the toll is inflated, that there were deaths on both sides and that those killed were victims of civil war and unrest.

Later this week, the lower house of French Parliament will debate a proposal that would make denying that the massacre was genocide punishable by up to a year in prison and $58,500 in fines, putting it on par with Holocaust denial, which was banned in the country in 1990.

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Melt a penny, risk time in the slammer

Recently I stumbled across the news that’s it’s illegal to melt down nickels and pennies. In fact, it’s been a crime for half a decade now.

Had this law been in place back when I spent my summers working at the family steel business, I’d have been counted among the nation’s scofflaws.

More than the occasional lunch break was whiled away taking a cutting torch to various metal objects, including many a penny, watching as the heat turned coins first red, then yellow, then white. 

Soon they would bubble and boil, ball up and, if I did it long enough, disappear completely. All that would be left was usually a smudge of yellow where the penny had been.

However, when the US Mint implemented regulations in December 2006 prohibiting the melting of pennies and nickels, it wasn’t to keep bored youth from cheap entertainment. Instead, it was purportedly to prevent individuals from melting the coins en masse in order to realize their copper value.

In addition, the Mint’s rules also prohibited the unlicensed exportation of the coins, with the exception that travelers can take up to $5 in pennies and nickels out of the country.

To show that the Mint meant business, penalties of up to a fine of $10,000, five years’ imprisonment, or both, were mandated.

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Long-dead Americans may be headed home

The bodies of 13 American sailors have rested in Libyan soil for more than 200 years, since they were killed fighting Barbary pirates during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration.

But that may be about to change.

Among measures included in a defense bill passed by Congress Thursday was a provision that would require the Pentagon to report on the feasibility of recovering the remains of the 13, killed in Tripoli in 1804.

The measure has gained momentum with the ouster of Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi’s regime earlier this year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The sailors, fighting Barbary pirates, were killed in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli Harbor in September 1804. The action took place during the First Barbary War during a naval blockade of the harbor.

US plans called for the Intrepid, under Master Commandant Richard Somers, to be packed with explosives, sailed into Tripoli harbor and exploded, with a goal of destroying the enemy fleet.

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Haley: Transparent like a tarpaper shack

If nothing else, perhaps the failure of Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration to turn over public documents related to an S.C. Freedom of Information Act request by the Charleston Post and Courier will prompt the state Attorney General’s office to get off its duff and start looking into the myriad examples of open-government abuse taking place across the state.

Thursday, Haley refused during a public appearance to answer a Post and Courier reporter’s questions about public documents her administration failed to provide to the paper earlier this year. 

Reporter Renee Dudley attempted to question Haley about a possible violation of the state open-records law related to her influence over a nonpartisan health care committee.

According to the Charleston publication, Dudley had been told by Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey that the governor would be available Thursday and Dudley attempted to speak with Haley following a Budget and Control Board meeting on the Statehouse grounds.

Haley regularly speaks with the media following Budget and Control Board meetings.

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1787 American gold coin sells for $7.4M

An example of one of the most enigmatic coins ever struck in the United States was sold this week for more than $7 million.

An exceedingly rare 1787 gold Brasher Doubloon was purchased for $7.395 million, one of the highest prices ever paid for a coin.

Blanchard and Co., the New Orleans-based coin and precious metals company that brokered the deal, said the doubloon was purchased by a Wall Street investment firm, but the identities of the buyer and seller were not disclosed, according to The Associated Press.

The Brasher Doubloon has a strange and perplexing history. It was minted by Ephraim Brasher, a goldsmith and neighbor of George Washington while Washington lived in New York.

It’s unclear if the coin, considered the first American-made gold coin denominated in dollars, was made by Brasher as a public service, or if he minted the pieces to distribute to New York state legislators, in a bid to secure a contract to strike copper coins.

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World’s oldest bell found in Northern Ireland

Archaeologists in Northern Ireland believed they have discovered the world’s oldest-known church bell.

Derry-based Templemore Archeaology discovered a bronze bell dating back exactly 600 years stored in a farmyard in Shantallow near Derry, where it has remained since being excavated in the 1930s, according to the Derry Journal.

The artifact, which measures around one foot in height, is in good condition and shows evidence of Christian design.

Four symbols decorate the bell, which dates to 1411, with one quite clearly visible as “Our Lord on the Cross,” according to Ian Leitch of Templemore. “Another may be St Patrick,” he added.

The team believes the bell may have been made in France.

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Facebook: culling wheat from chaff since ’04

One of the great unintended consequences of Facebook is that it has proven a boon for identifying the addle-minded.

Whereas the old saying used to be something along the lines of “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than open it and remove all doubt,” today many are willing to not only announce to the world that they have the IQ of a soggy kumquat, they do so in print via Facebook, thereby preserving the damning evidence for all posterity.

This goes beyond the unfortunately all-too-common posts about such inanity as, say, a pet’s difficulties initiating a bowel movement, how many kidney beans a favorite nephew managed to wedge into his nasal passage or yet one more reference to how close it is to “party time.”

No, what we’re talking about is the mind-boggling stupid, that which not only offers definitive proof of a genuine shortage of gray matter, but also underscores a generous deficit of good taste, self-respect and simple common sense, to boot.

And that would be where websites such as Failbook and Lamebook come in.

For, much like the philosophical thought experiment that asks “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” there exists a more-pedestrian parallel: “If a halfwit makes a fool of himself and no one is around to laugh at him, is he any less a halfwit?”

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How the Prince of Wales ended up English

A blog with a decidedly British bent has helped answer a long-standing personal question: How did the male heir to the British throne get the title Prince of Wales?

According to the Armchair Anglophile, King Edward I took the title after defeating Llywelyn the Last, the last native-born Prince of Wales, in battle and clearing the way for the English to seize Wales completely.

Llywelyn had started fighting the English while in his early 20s – supporting his uncle, Dafydd, against King Henry III. When Dafydd died in 1246, Llywelyn took the throne and came to terms with Henry the following year, signing the Treaty of Woodstock.

The treaty restricted Llywelyn to Gwynedd Uwch Conwy, the part of the principality of Gwynedd west of the River Conwy; the area east of the river became Henry’s.

Llywelyn wasn’t satisfied, though, and, working with a younger brother, set out to capture more land. He defeated an English army at the Battle of Cadfan in 1257, and after another decade of fighting was recognized as Prince of Wales by Henry.

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High-speed rail headed for fiscal disaster

As an aside to what follows, I’d like to point out for the record that I am a dedicated train enthusiast and would spend my days riding the rails given the opportunity.

I’ve traveled on trains on both coasts and in between: Passenger trains, commuter trains and scenic trains. I even hopped aboard a freight train once.

During college I traveled to Spring Break by train, traveling from Boston and Miami and back on Amtrak. (On the 28-hour ride back, I had no money and nothing to eat except a loaf of French bread and a jar of peanut butter.)

Suffice it to say that were high-speed rail transportation were economically feasible, you’d be hard pressed to find a stronger supporter, if for no other reason than enjoyment, nostalgia and comfort.

But, as is being shown in California, bullet trains and cost efficiency appear incapable of going hand in hand in the US.

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Colonial tin shop unearthed at Williamsburg

The discovery of a Revolutionary War-era tinsmith shop in Williamsburg, Va., has been confirmed by archaeologists reconstructing a site in the historic Virginia locale.

The find at the James Anderson Armoury project has led Forrest Mars Jr. to provide an additional $500,000 for reconstruction and endowment of the tinsmith operation.

When complete, the Tin Shop will be the only working 18th-century tinsmith operation in the US, according to the Virginia Gazette. Historic trades artisans will demonstrate tinsmithing as practiced during the American Revolution once the site is restored.

“The work will complete the most important Revolutionary-era military site in Williamsburg, offering guests an entirely different perspective on the role of the capital during a critical moment in the history of the Commonwealth and the nation,” said James Horn, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president for research and historical interpretation.

The tin produced at the site was actually tinplate, a thin sheet of iron coated with tin, according to the Colonial Williamsburg website.

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