Backwards flag.
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Hi Matt!

I’ve noticed, since at least the first Gulf War, the flag patches on the uniforms of American soldiers are backwards. To me, that’s weird. What’s the story? Nobody I know can fill me in. Why backward American flag? I’m no super patriot and don’t care one way or the other, but I’m curious why the flag is backwards. — Vic, North Park

You’re only looking at soldiers’ right arms, Vic. That patch has the flag “backwards.” If you get the soldier to stand still and you walk around him/her to the left side and look at that arm, you’ll see yet another flag, and this one looks “correct.”

Yep, official flag etiquette sez the blue field on a flat, two-dimensional image of the American flag must be on the left. On a flagpole, the blue field must be closest to the pole. So, it’s a brisk day; red-white-and-bluie is snapping sharply in the breeze. Stand to the left of the flag, the blue field is “correct,” to the left, close to the pole. Hop around to the other side, to the right, and the flag looks “incorrect,” with the blue field still closest to the pole but on the “incorrect” side of the flag image. So we even have real live flags part “right” and part “wrong.”

As for your specific Army patch question, though, we’re not quite through. Of course the Army could have made both patches blue-field-left on both sleeves. But here’s their reasoning, according to the Department of Defense: Way back in the day, the infantry and cavalry fought as a mass of soldiers charging forward to meet the opposing mass of soldiers. Each side had a standard bearer, one man who carried their flag into battle. The flag streamed gloriously from the flagpole as they attacked. Therefore, the patches on contemporary sleeves replicate that “forward into battle” image; think of the soldier as the flagpole. That’s what the patch configuration represents. Using their reasoning, a blue-field-left patch on the right sleeve would indicate retreat. Patch placement is codified in Army Regulation 670-1. Apparently there are even soldiers who don’t know the answer to your question. The DOD works in mysterious ways.


What the heck is aggravated murder rather than regular murder? I think anybody who kills somebody would have to be pretty aggravated. So why isn’t every murder aggravated murder?

— I’m Innocent, I’m from Carlsbad, and I Want My Attorney

Yeah. What’s up with that? And what’s felony murder? Implies there’s a thing called misdemeanor murder. Give a lawyer a pencil and paper and things eventually get confusing for the rest of us. Used to be, you offed a guy, we offed you. But the U.S. was hardly ten years old before we started tweaking the murder laws to account for self-defense and the like. But by the early 1970s there were rumblings that the death penalty was being arbitrarily applied across the country, and states started defining the circumstances of a murder that warranted the death penalty or life without parole. Thirty-six states have their own lists of special circumstances. California’s list has 21 of them. And just for clarification, these circumstances apply during the penalty phase of a trial, for someone who has already been convicted of first-degree murder. It’s the special circumstances that will help decide life without or death. Murder without special circumstances (unaggravated murder?) also includes, as a possible penalty, 15 years to life in prison (life with the possibility of parole). Got it? Hope so. We’re moving on.

Herewith, a casual summary of aggravating circumstances, California style. Murder for monetary gain. Murder by someone previously convicted of first- or second-degree murder. Hiding a bomb, or mailing or delivering a bomb. To avoid arrest. Victim is a law/peace officer, fireman, prosecutor, judge, juror, elected/appointed official, any of whom are carrying out their duties or in retaliation for having done so. Witness to a crime killed to stop testimony or retaliate for testimony. Murder especially cruel, depraved, torturous. Lying in wait for victim. Hate crime. Murder associated with any of 12 felonies (including rape, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, carjacking, lewd acts on a child under 14). Murder by poison. Drive-bys. Murder by active criminal street gang member on behalf of the gang. Anyone who hires, aids, abets, or otherwise hangs out with a convicted murderer in connection with his crime of murder.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, but it looks to me that if you shoot your aggravating spouse, you might avoid the ultimate punishment. Poison him/her, and your odds aren’t so good. Murder by poison is aggravated murder (or “murder with special circumstances”). A simple shooting is not. But please don’t tear out this column and take it with you to court, then file a lawsuit against me from your bunk on death row. I am not a lawyer. I do not play one on TV.

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David Dodd Feb. 23, 2012 @ 5:46 a.m.

Glad to see the REAL Matthew Alice back! Or IS he...


Twister Feb. 23, 2012 @ 8:26 a.m.

To the list should be added "murder under the color of authority." Why Craig Peyer wasn't offed for the murder of Cara Knott is beyond me. While I don't have a soft spot in my heart for the Mexican Mafia, I do appreciate the instinct that came through when they offered to off the SOB in prison. Mr. Knott turned them down, with thanks. To their credit, they honored his wishes.

Maybe rotting in prison is the worst punishment; I believe I would rather die, but I can't help wondering, Matthew Alice, whether the vigilante executions of yore had a higher or lower error rate than "modern" executions, which "let" the guilty party ponder their fate on death row for years(?).


Visduh Feb. 25, 2012 @ 9:07 p.m.

Twister, for years I thought I was the only person who thought that murder BY a cop while acting in or close to an official capacity should be one of the special circumstances. Yes, "murder under color of authority", should be on that list. But would that ever get through the legislature with the cop unions we have today? Peyer could have been charged with kidnapping the victim before he strangled her, but good ol' Ed Miller, DA just wouldn't go for that. Then Miller put one of his weakest prosecutors, a guy who should have retired five years previous, on the case, and he made a botch of the thing in court and that got a mistrial. Had it not been for Paul Pfingst, Peyer might have beaten the rap.


Matthew_Alice Feb. 26, 2012 @ 11:12 a.m.

The CCPOA (California Correctional Peace Officers Association) is said to be the second most powerful union in CA, after teachers. They can do pretty much anything they want, get any chunk of the state budget they want.


Twister Feb. 26, 2012 @ 12:07 p.m.

But then he wanted to railroad Dale Akiki! Power in the hands of the weak is even more dangerous than in the hands of the strong.

Yes, I must concede that Pfingst got the job done, and let us not forget to thank the cops who nailed the monster despite his being a fellow cop. That's the backstory that should be in the forefront.


Matthew_Alice Feb. 23, 2012 @ 1:43 p.m.

Always appreciate your comments, Twister (and refried, too). I was not making a political statement. I just intended to convey facts. rotting in jail seems like a much better option for the guilty. Plenty of time to think about what they did and why they are where they are. Assuming they actually do think about what they did instead of continuing to deny or justify. In jail they enter a world of people like themselves, and they can always find (in fact, for their safety, must find) a "gang" to join. They're not likely to get any helpful philosophizing from the people around them and no "rehabilitation" from the system. Of course, for lifers, that would be wasted time. The inspiration for the defining of various "types" of murder came from the people and the judiciary, not me.


Visduh Feb. 25, 2012 @ 9:18 p.m.

The term "penitentiary" is not just a fancy word for a prison holding long-term prisoners. It came from the word "penitent", meaning one who is learning from his errors, sins and/or crimes. It was supposed to oblige the prisoners to contemplate at length the harm done by their actions and to repent and ultimately to reform and live properly. To pick up the Peyer thread, there is nothing penitent in him; he is not undergoing that self-examination that long term confinement is supposed to provide. To wit: Peyer continues to deny his guilt. He's had three parole hearings so far, and whenever he's made any sort of statement, says in essence, "I'm really sorry about what happened to Cara Knott, but I didn't do it." Why he persists in denial is not clear, because his parents are dead and his wife (the third one) has divorced him. The approach of the parole authorities now is that if a prisoner will not accept responsibility for his/her crimes, the prisoner is not suitable for release. Peyer's denial after all these years is guaranteeing that he will not be paroled.


Matthew_Alice Feb. 26, 2012 @ 11:09 a.m.

Absolutely correct, V. No acceptance and remorse, no parole. Peyer is a particularly dangerous type of killer, I think. He targets at random, making the whole community of young, pretty girls potential victims. Less dangerous, I think, are those who kill a specific person for very specific interpersonal reasons. He hated his wife, he killed her, but he doesn't hate all women or want all of them dead or want to victimize them. I could be wrong, but I suspect parole boards look at those two types of killers differently.


Twister Feb. 26, 2012 @ 12:13 p.m.

Matthew, would you double-check this? I have heard, from competent authority, that remorse or confession is no longer a requirement for parole. It would be interesting to know just how parole boards make decisions, and how much they are governed by rules, politics, and personal judgment.


Twister Feb. 23, 2012 @ 9:22 p.m.

Dear Matthew Alice:

Did the vigilante executions of the past, say in the Wild West, have a higher or lower error rate (hanging the wrong man) than "modern" executions? Are there any statistics that provide a preponderance of evidence one way or the other? Are we so certain that the current justice system is THAT superior to six-gun justice?


Matthew_Alice Feb. 25, 2012 @ 1:09 a.m.

Pretty sure we'll never know the "error rate" of Wild West killings vs. death penalty executions. Not even possible to speculate about such numbers. If you're suggesting that state-authorized executions aren't based on information any more reliable than the hunch the gunslinger has when he shoots a guy in a saloon, well, that might be overstating the situation a little. But to be truthful, I'm dead set against any state killing somebody on my behalf, no matter what he's said to have done. But not necessarily because the state may be making a big mistake. States sure do make them, but the process leading up to the execution at least gives the accused a fighting chance, one he doesn't have with the gunslinger.


Twister Feb. 25, 2012 @ 8:15 p.m.

Thanks. But I meant the work of vigilantes, not "gunslingers." A very different thing.


PS: Some "gunslinging" was just murder, some was a kind of iteration of dueling.


Visduh Feb. 25, 2012 @ 9:29 p.m.

Vigilantism is now treated as something terribly bad. Yet, in some settings it was about the only way aggrieved folks could protect themselves and get a measure of justice. Probably the most celebrated example of vigilante justice was what happened in the gold camps in Montana in 1863. After a series of brutal murders, some people were fed up and concluded that the sheriff they had elected was actually ringleader of the bandits. A group of vigilantes, traveling between two towns some considerable distance apart rounded up many miscreants and after brief, public trials, hanged about 20 of the accused, including the sheriff. The group also banished around 100 others whose guilt was not so glaring, or whose choice of friends was poor. That episode in that state's history is still remembered as a good thing, not anything shameful. In earlier years one of the highways in the state was called the Vigilante Trail, and the Boy Scouts of America called the council in that corner of the state the Vigilante Council in honor of the historical events.


Matthew_Alice Feb. 26, 2012 @ 11:18 a.m.

Vigilante justice in the 1860s in one thing. Vigilante justice in 2012 is something else. And the Montanta Boy Scouts sound like a tough crowd.


Twister Feb. 26, 2012 @ 12:01 p.m.

Social mores or statutes? That is the fundamental question.


Matthew_Alice Feb. 27, 2012 @ 8:53 a.m.

Thanks, everybody. Enjoyed the -- triologue?


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