My apologies to all who were waiting for my last blog from the Olympic Games in Sochi!
I was running behind for several reasons but resumed with my blog from the Russia Open Games in Moscow where I departed after the Games were over. My plan for this particular blog was to report on some of the sports accomplishments and feats I found most notable. Of course there were many, but one friend asked me to summarize what were my proudest moments. For the sake of brevity, I will say there were three. I think my proudest moment of the Olympics was when I witnessed the women’s biathlon relay where the Ukrainian girls won the only gold medal for Ukraine just days after over 100 of their fellow countrymen died in Independence Square massacre in Kiev in what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. I was screaming encouragement to them out on the course as I had a good position to watch as they would pass by. Most everyone was from Russia, but I had my Ukrainian flag yelling their names and “Davai (go)” as they would pass me. They did Ukraine proud in their performance. It was their plan to wear black arm bands to honor the victims of Euromaidan, but the IOC didn’t allow them. Instead at their press conference after their win, they held a moment of silence for them. I also got to attend their medal ceremony the next night in medal’s plaza of Olympic Park under the flame. It was indeed amazing and emotional to see the Ukrainian flag raised above the others while the anthem was played, although the Russian band butchered the melody such that it didn’t sound right((. My two second proudest moments of the Olympics were when Russia won the medals competition on the final day and attending the victory ceremony for Viktor Ahn who competed for Russia in short track speed skating. You see, Viktor Ahn was formerly named Ahn Hyun Soo, was born in South Korea, and won gold medals in 2006 competing for South Korea. However, he defected to Russia in 2011 for training purposes and because it suited him. I thought perhaps the ethnic Russians would be less enthusiastic, but saw that night how much he was embraced as one of their own. It seemed they even cheered louder for him because he chose his Russian nationality and contributed 3 gold medals to the 13 won by Russian athletes. Another gold was won by American born Vic Wild, who in 2011 changed nationality to Russian after marrying his Russian snowboarding girlfriend Alena Zavarzina. He was embraced too by the Russians there now calling him ‘Vitya’. I said a sarcastic comment to my friend from Moscow that it used to be that Soviets would defect to America for freedom. Now with Victor Wild and Edward Snowden, the famous whistleblower on how our National Security Agency spies on our own citizens, and others, Americans are now seeking freedom in Russia!!! I heard that Russia might be able to clinch the medal championship the last day as I went to Krasnaya Polyana to attend the bobsled. Suddenly on the train there, there was a buzz among the people in my wagon as word was spreading from people’s smart phones that something exciting had happened. I asked what it was, and a neighbor sitting close to me said that Russians swept all 3 medals in the men’s 50 km cross country skiing!!! Russian Alexander Zubkov also later won the bobsled gold as well. When I exited the Sanki bobsled Center, I was greeted by a victory line of volunteers shouting their enthusiasm at winning the medals competition and wishing us a fond farewell (pictured here). I embraced and congratulated many of them. Some of their signs after all said, “Free Hugs!” For me, the volunteers (who actually came from 66 countries) made the Sochi Olympics special. They constantly greeted me both when I was coming and going from the venues and always ready to help me with directions or questions. They were the friendly face of Russia as most of them were from Russia and came from every distant region of the country purely out of a love and pride for themselves and their country at what an opportunity this was to shine. Shine indeed they did. I was proud too to be a part of it in my small way as I love all Slavic people.
You know, I told people Sochi indicated to me the kind of country Russia can become: progressive, open, warm, and welcoming to the world and all its minorities. It seems Russians indeed want to develop the region in this way as a sports and entertainment capital much like Las Vegas with a twist of the Olympic Training Center for athletes of all sports to train and compete. Indeed after the Paralympic Games which are now being contested, Olympic Park will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Russia in October a week before the US Grand Prix in Austin, TX. Sadly however, Moscow indicated to me the kind of country Russia is today, with some people still intolerant of sexual, gender, and racial minorities with an infrastructure that still dates back to its Soviet past. To be honest, my country the USA, was once in this condition too not that long ago and is now becoming a more open country toward its LGBT community in both its population and laws beginning to protect equal rights of all.
Sincerely, this trip has been a life-changing one for me. I hope it has been as well to my readers. Perhaps there will be an opportunity again to share a moment in history from a personal perspective. For our world to change however, I like to state my motto that I may have copied from someone else but embrace as my own:
“Be not merely one who is a part of history. Instead, be one who makes history.”
May we all be role models of the change we seek our world to become.
Today opened with the only truly winter event on the Russia Open Games list: curling. The venue was the Moscow Curling Club where some of the Russian Olympic athletes had trained. It’s amazing that a sport like curling, which a few years ago had an extremely small following in this country, now has other curling clubs around the country beside this one. Nonetheless, it was a fitting venue for the last sport on this final day of competition. Some of the athletes had not played this sport in the past. Others had varying levels of experience. I for one had some.
We organized into mixed teams of men and women since there were not many of us to try this new sport. All had an amazing amount of fun as this is a sport that is accessible to all ages and levels of ability, and even on the paralympic list. Our team of 3 surprisingly won a silver medal without a full 4 member team and 2 of our team not having prior experience. Attached are photos of one end of our match.
The medal ceremony for curling was held during the closing ceremony banquet at a prominent gay bar in Moscow. On this final day, it was fitting that there were no interruptions from police authorities, and the 2014 Russia Open Games ended in peace.
The Russian LGBT Sports Federation plans to hold its 4th annual summer sports festival in September.
I competed in the tennis competition today and won by default in the women’s division as there were no local competitors to play against. There were several competitors in the men’s division. Medals were awarded in each classification, and there were no incidents. The venue was an upscale tennis club in a new development near the outskirts of town near Vnukovo airport. It was quite nice, and the courts were in excellent condition.
Competition also finished in volleyball today without incident and medals were awarded in each classification in the evening.
The football teams arrived at their indoor football field and were greeted by a police encircling the entire field. They said there had been an earlier bomb threat. This seemed strange to the event coordinators since the time and venue had been kept a secret for security of the athletes. The police said the athletes would have to wait until the venue had been sweeped by the bomb squad. The delay took about an hour, and play concluded at the end of the day without incident. Medals were also awarded in the evening.
The event organizers also held a tour of the Pushkin art museum of ancient artifacts for those who were not competing in the afternoon and able to attend. It was an amazing tour and sadly too short as more time was needed to see the entire museum. The Greek, Roman, and Egyptian sculptings and artifacts were particularly significant!!!
The human rights conference continued in the evening without incident.
Russia Open Games blog February 28
Today, competitions were scheduled in volleyball, basketball, and swimming, as well as a session of the human rights conference concerning LGBT sport and the Olympic Games given by the LGBT human rights organization ‘vyhod’ (coming out). Medals were awarded during the evening medals ceremony by Dutch minister of health, welfare, and sport Edith Schipper, who was an invited guest of the Games from Netherlands.
I only personally attended the human rights conference as I didn’t compete in the above sports. It was not interrupted as in the previous day and held at the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Library, which has its own security staff.
The volleyball competition was completed without interruption. However, other athletes in my residence from Krasnodar region reported after they began playing their game at the basketball venue, one or several smoke bombs were thrown into the gymnasium, engulfing the court in smoke and irritating the eyes of some of the players. After most of the smoke had cleared, many police were present outside and inside the gym. It was unclear whether they were responding to the aggression or participating in it. Play was postponed and finished the next day with police still present.
The swimming event was never held, even in the days after today. Officials at the swimming pool claimed the athletes had not completed official health questionnaires signed by doctors attesting to the fact they had been tested for HIV and other blood-related diseases required by the minister of health. One Russia Open Games organizer, not the swimming organizer, stated this questionnaire is required at public swimming pools but many times not enforced. This documentation had not been brought to the attention of Russia Open Games organizers since agreement had been made before when individual athletes could have had time to secure them.
The opening ceremonies for the 2014 Russia Open Games were held at an alternate location after alleged bomb threats were made at the previous venue. Special guest Olympic medalist diver Greg Louganis gave the keynote speech. Heavy security was noticed by yours truly((.
Earlier this week, police authorities here in Moscow closed the venue for the opening ceremonies of the Russian Open Games due to alleged bomb threats which authorities say had been received by the venue staff. No confirmation of these threats had been received by the Russian LGBT Sports Federation. Police authorities closed the venue but did not reopen it or bring the bomb squad to investigate, nor was a report brought back to Federation staff. The venue apparently refunded the money to the Russian LGBT Sports Federation under short notice to its representatives.
The Federation had to hastily organize the opening ceremonies at another venue which occurred late.
When our founding fathers put together this document they obviously decided to provide due process rights to anyone accused of committing a crime. The Supreme Court later affirmed that one of these due process rights was that criminal prosecutions against the defendant must be “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Within the scientific and legal community there are a variety of standards of proof that are required to make ones argument and obviously the higher the standard, the more credence is given to the assertion. In medieval Europe for example, when an claim of witchcraft (as a criminal offence) was made against someone, the burden was on the accused to prove themselves innocent regardless of the evidence (if any) that was presented against him. In the family of physical sciences, the scientific method has become the standard for proving and disproving theories. Within civil trials the burden of proof required is that the plaintiff must prove their case by a “preponderance of the evidence”. This means that approximately 51% of the plaintiff’s case must be proven by their evidence to the judge or jury to obtain a judgment against the defendant. I would compare that the threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is equalivent to about 70% to 80% of the full threshold possible. Some believe that this threshold may be a numerical figure wither higher or lower than that while other scholars insist that the exact numerical figure can’t be exactly quantified. Whatever the case we can all agree that this threshold is still less that the full 100% of absolute fulfillment. This leaves remaining undetermined threshold permits a margin of error in criminal law that I argue should be closed.
I make this argument because of the philosophical nature that humans are not perfect in their characteristics or decisions, obviously invoking the need for a criminal justice system. Over the past decade, within our criminal justice system there have been various political or legal action efforts most notably the Innocence Project, as well as efforts by Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union that have in their own endeavors proven the transgressions of our criminal justice system. The national Innocence Project has confirmed a minimum of 280 cases of which innocent defendants had their convictions overturned by DNA based evidence though his number continues to increase as their mission continues. Many of were on death row prior to their exonerations. This means that the prosecutors of the state attempted to murder an innocent civilian and these are just the ones that we know of, so imagine for just a moment all of those that we don’t know about. Statistics from the Innocence Project provide estimates that if just 1% of prisoners in United States prisons are innocent of their convictions, then that would mean that more than 20,000 innocent people are in prison. To say that humans are even 99% infallible (especially lawyers) will lead one to stumble over a very large brick of hubris into the pit of naivety. In many cases there is not the magic of DNA testing that can conclusively determine innocence and so the exact extent of the failure of our police and prosecutors may never be known. Other exonerations have happened as a result of perjured testimony, state misconduct, false confessions, and a host of other factors and causes. Most recently in Texas, Anthony Graves did not have the benefit of DNA testing and many prosecutors even go as far as to fight exonerations. Very recently in Williamson County, Texas the former district attorney fought the Innocence Project’s efforts to obtain DNA testing on behalf of inmate Michael Morton. Those tests later exonerated Mr. Morton of the murder of his wife and led to accusations of prosecutor misconduct dating back to the original trial in the 1980s. When we have a system that clearly is replete with error and prosecutors attempting to conceal error, it is obvious that this system is not working. We need to stop this madness before it starts and decade’s later ends up costing millions and ruining lives.
Referring back to the original history lesson from earlier, we must tack careful notice as to what circumstances this new government was formed in. With the eighteenth century Europe and later North America were in the mist of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution began in Europe after the Renaissance and later spread to the rest of the world. This brought with it many inventions and innovations that could not have even been imagined centuries earlier. In the time of the American Revolution many of the delegates to the Constitutional Conventions represented the wealthiest elite of society and rarely venture more than a hundred miles from their homes. In this world travel was conducted by horse pulled wagon carriages across dirt back roads and communication was done by a postal system in infancy that consisted of horseback curriers delivering letters in a process that took weeks. Within this society, criminal trials often consisted of witness testimony and little if any scientific evidence. I would propose that this is the reason that the stand of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” was used because that was the best that they could do in the eighteenth or nineteenth century America and still maintain some state of order at least as far a criminal justice was concerned. The best that prosecutors had to work with during this time for felony murder cases was maybe a corpse or weapon and witness statements. The witness statements were often the byproduct of society amounting to the “he said, she said” as immature accusations and often difficult to corroborate. Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect example of this as racial discrimination, gender discrimination and other primitive injustices hijacked the integrity of witness statements.
By comparison today we live rather comfortably, with automatic coffee makers, big screen high definition television sets, smartphones that allow us to be connected anywhere to anyone and a whole other host of technological innovations that could have never been imagined centuries ago. When James Madison drafted the Bill of Rights for us he could not have even began to imagine all the technology that would later come forward to test his standard on probable cause and searches including surveillance cameras, electronic online banking, e-mail or Facebook. The reality of the world that we live in today is that with the technological innovations and current resources at our disposal, we can do so much more than we could have centuries ago. Indeed most parents want their children to achieve goals that exceed their own generation’s abilities and continue the chain of progress with their children. Each generation thanks to the product of more sophisticated medical technology has a longer life expectancy than the generation before it.
We should also have the same attitude of progression toward our pursuits of criminal justice always striving to do better than the generation before us. Today during criminal trials prosecutors and police have an enormous amount of investigative resources not available in generations before including police radios, media channels, fingerprints, criminal electronic databases, computer forensics, ballistics, gunshot residue testing, DNA testing, surveillance cameras, voice recordings, space satellites, Amber alerts and cell phones. I argue that since the state now has the ability to do so much more shouldn’t they be held to a higher standard that before?
Earlier I made the assertion that we should have another amendment to our United States Constitution passed. I propose that amendment should be to raise the burden of proof in criminal prosecutions from the current standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to “beyond complete doubt”. This would close the margin of error in criminal prosecutions earlier referenced and likely prevent many wrongful convictions. This new standard of proof would be consistent with our current scientific abilities and the jury in criminal proceedings would have the personal satisfaction that the defendants sent to prison were proven to be 100% guilty by the most recent scientific evidence possible. This would also ensure that innocent defendants are acquitted and that police and prosecutors must better utilize the resources at their disposal to present the best possible case to a jury. It would be more difficult for a prosecutor to bully an innocent defendant into a plea bargain and also give defense attorneys a more level playing field. This would be a huge blessing to the defendants having to pay out of pocket for counsel or having substandard counsel provided by the court going up against all of the mass resources described earlier available to the state.
There is one major party to the criminal justice system that believes that they would not immediately benefit from this change. The district attorney and their lieutenants working for the state will find it more difficult to obtain a criminal conviction at a trial. They must completely prove their theory of factual guilt to a jury to obtain a conviction. This will also make it more difficult for prosecutors to bully and threaten defendants into plea bargains and ensure that only the factually guilty defendants will be prosecuted. Employees of the state will object to this because it does not serve their diluted and sadistic needs or goals. The purpose of this is to serve the interests of justice and not the state.
Most law students are taught to old saying by English Jurist William Blackstone that “it is better serving justice to let ten guilty persons go before convicting just one innocent”. Indeed the intent of our system and rights is to ensure the protection of the innocent and serve justice. Today that mindset seems to have been disregarded by mainstream American citizens (the most conservative of which tend to make it through voir dire and serve on juries) as they have bought the metaphor that one has to scramble eggs to make and omelet. They are perfectly accepting of this so long as they or their loved ones are not one of the eggs to be broken. This means that many American citizens are willing to deliberately convict (and worse) to their innocent countrymen to punish the guilty. Their limit of empathy is that they are willing to subject their neighbors to a fate that they would not consider for themselves.
This is the same behavior that many sadistic psychopaths in history have become famous for. Herod was so obsessed in destroying the baby Jesus that he had the remaining infants (about 20-25 given the population statistics of that time) in the geographic vicinity of Bethlehem slaughtered. While the infant Jesus did not have much of a rap sheet, suppose in his stead we place the local pedophile or serial killer. Is such a sacrifice of even a single innocent life acceptable in the course of punishing those we deem evil?
We need to close the gap in our burden of proof from “beyond a reasonable doubt” (here in Texus we call it purty sur) to beyond complete doubt to make sure that innocent are protected while we administer justice professionally and accurately.
Charles Lee Baird