Saturday, July 23, 2011


I just read a very long, very good article about the execution of a man in Texas:

Trial By Fire
By: David Grann
September 7, 2009

The basic point of the piece comes in one of its last sentences: "There is a chance, however, that Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the 'execution of a legally and factually innocent person.'"

Since this was written two years ago, there have been a few updates to the investigations into the case. From the relevant Wikipedian entry: "A four-person panel of the Texas Forensic Science Commission investigating evidence of arson presented in the case acknowledged on July 23, 2010, that state and local arson investigators used "flawed science" in determining the blaze had been deliberately set."

After reading through all this tonight, I found myself looking up some basic information on prisons. (The article presents a stark view of prison life.)

Also from Wikipedia:

As of 2006, it is estimated that at least 9.25 million people are currently imprisoned worldwide. . . .

In absolute terms, the United States currently has the largest inmate population in the world, with more than 2½ million or more than one in a hundred adults in prison and jails. . . .

As a percentage of total population, the United States also has the largest imprisoned population, with 739 people per 100,000 serving time, awaiting trial or otherwise detained.

This is definitely some food for thought. I knew that the United States had a large number of prisoners, but I didn't realize how it compared to other countries. The same Wikipedia page has a small comparative chart:

Prison population per 100,000 inhabitants

Country - Prison population per 100,000 inhabitants

United States of America - 756
Russian Federation - 611
New Zealand - 186
United Kingdom - 148
India - 22

So at first I thought that maybe the USA just had a larger number of people (which wouldn't make logical sense anyway, since it's a measure of a percentage of the population)... but look at that last figure. India is the second most populated country in the world.

We should be constantly questioning whether our penal system is working to create better Americans. I think there is a real danger for everyone to (1) want to find swift justice in heinous crimes (aka, want to quickly find a guilty criminal, to prove that justice can be done in the world by simply taking out the bad seeds) (2) want our prejudices and hunches to turn out to be true so we don't have to be proved wrong (3) lock up the 'criminals' so we're safe (4) bring down other humans so we feel better about ourselves.

Also, as a final aside, the idea that a state governor is in many cases a final arbiter of who is deemed guilty and who is deemed innocent, who is granted life and who is granted death (through their ability to grant a pardon), made me yet again question the competence of Governor Rick Scott, who, incidentally, started out his career by practicing law in Texas before he went on to lead Columbia / HCA, the healthcare company that had "the largest fraud settlement in US history."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Old poem I found on my external hard drive

I'm trying to organize everything in preparation for a big move. I stumbled across this poem I wrote in November of 2007. (Final revised text: 10/22/2007, 1:44 a.m.)


Children's Wear

I don't remember clearly, but my mother says
she wrapped my tiny body, low in termperature,
in my soon-to-be favorite, tight-knit blanket,
a bright red and blue affair, a Superman's cape

two years later for an energetic boy fighting crime
with his dogs and hamsters, who alternated between the roles
of trusty sidekicks and maniacal arch villians
bent on total destruction.

My mother doesn't know where that blanket
has gotten off to — perhaps it was a prisoner
of childhood wars, stuffed into a forgotten crevice
by a forgetful sibling after a battle of freeze tag

or hide and seek or monkey in the middle,
and overlooked by a family focused on leaving
the cold behind to set up a new home
in a rented house down south.

A painting by my balding father helps me
to remember next a woolen cap pulled down past my ears:
I'm treading through the soft snow, cheeks ablaze,
my sled floating magically behind me while my cap

devours my smooth skull. My mother says that portrait
reminds her of my grandfather in the winter,
whose bald head could not afford to lose
what loving warmth he had left to spend in his old age.

I wore that cap until it was beyond repair, the crown
of my head weathering a hole into its thinning fibers
like a group of unrelenting gases pushing through
a single spot in the Earth's atmosphere.

[Edit: And here's an earlier incarnation of this one:
Forgot I had posted it.]

Monday, July 04, 2011

Stephen Colbert On The American Dream

Stephen Colbert is motivated by the American Dream:

"And that dream is simple. That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they could grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections."
—"The Serious Implications of Stephen Colbert's FEC Stunt," The Atlantic Wire, 14 May 2011

He just formed his own super PAC. If like me you didn't know what a super PAC is or does, the Christian Science Monitor has a good simple rundown here:

In time for Election 2012, a Stephen Colbert super PAC. What is that?

You can read the FEC decision here.

Or you can just watch Colbert's victory speech: