Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Prominent Is Racism In Our Legal System?

I read an interesting article in the New York Times today about the racial disparities of death sentencing in Houston. Some highlights:

  • "A new study to be published in The Houston Law Review this fall has found two sorts of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty there, one commonplace and one surprising.
    The unexceptional finding is that defendants who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill blacks. More than 20 studies around the nation have come to similar conclusions.
    But the new study also detected a more straightforward disparity. It found that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death."
  • "Scott Durfee, the general counsel for the Harris County district attorney’s office, rejected Professor Phillips’s conclusions and said that district attorneys there had long taken steps to insulate themselves from knowing the race of defendants and victims as they decided whether to seek the death penalty.
    'To the extent Professor Phillips indicates otherwise, all we can say is that you would have to look at each individual case,” Mr. Durfee said. 'If you do that, I’m fairly sure that you would see that the decision was rational and reasonable.'"
  • "Professor Phillips wrote about percentages and not particular cases, but his data suggest that black defendants were overrepresented in cases involving shootings during robberies, while white defendants were more likely to have committed murders during rapes and kidnappings and to have beaten, stabbed or choked their victims."
There has long been suspicion that the color of one's skin affects the nature of one's sentencing, but it has always been difficult to prove. Is racism still a major factor in America's justice system or have we, by and large, moved beyond that? Furthermore, is this study only indicative of Houston's court system or can it logically be assumed that it is representative of the American court system?
I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

American Politics

It's funny to me that the ongoing election has become such a gong-show. Candidates are being persuaded to do ridiculous things that have everything to do with appealing to voters and nothing to do with politics. I get it.

But the absurdity of the race has never been more delightfully bizarre than THIS.

What's extra-great about this, is that I once said, over a year ago, that the best thing Obama can do is adapt the catchphrase "Can you smell what Barack is cooking." I'm like the professional-wrestling-Nostradamus of the political scene.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Busted Digit

I broke my thumb last night. To exacerbate the issue, it was my right thumb and, being right-handed, this has proven to be quite problematic.

You see, I play in a basketball league at the YMCA with some friends and our team is in the playoffs. Last night we were playing particularly well, and found ourselves up by about 25 with eight minutes left. I was guarding my man on the left side of the court, when a pass was sailed to an open opponent coming towards the hoop on the right side. I made a hurried effort to get over there to stop him and, upon realizing I had his shot timed, prepared to attempt The Block of the Century.
Instead of merely deflecting the guy's shot, I jumped as high as I could, swinging my hand in massive arc at the ball. At the peak of my jump, I swatted at the ball. I was successful in my endeavor, but in rejecting the shot, my hand was turned sideways and the force of my maximum-effort arm-swing resulted in the slamming of my thumb against the backboard.

As soon as I landed, I knew something was wrong. Looking at my throbbing hand, I noticed that my thumb no longer extended straight out from my palm. Instead, it darted in towards the rest of my hand before jutting back out away from it. Fortunately, the game was well in hand at that point, so I didn't feel terrible about sitting out the rest of the game.

Gratefully, the YMCA is next door to the Up & Up, and since it was Weekly Wednesday, the logical thing to do after the game was go drink with my friends. I kept hoping that maybe the thumb was just dislocated, but it was becoming clear that it was broken. After downing a couple of beers, I went outside and reset my thumb, nearly biting through the bill of my hat in the process. The good news is that my thumb was a bit straighter afterwards. The bad news is that after resetting it, my thumb ballooned into a bulbous, discolored version of its former self.

This morning I woke up to find that my hand still looked bloated but I was pleased to discover that the pain wasn't unbearable, even after the Ibuprofen had worn off.

Today, my awesome roommates Kyle and Ben devised a splint for me made of gauze and a custom-cut pizza box, which lasted nearly the entire day.

This afternoon I went into my job at SPIE to sign my time-card. My co-worker Chris commented, while we discussed the injury, that our thumbs are important. "They're what separates us from the apes," he said. I cocked my head slightly and looked at him quizzically. he quickly added, "well, they're what separates us from the lizards anyways."

Here's hoping the recovery doesn't last long!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Dalai Lama

Yesterday I got an awesome opportunity: I got to go listen to the man who heads up both the Tibetan government and Buddhism. His name is Tenzin Gyatso and he was identified as the 14th Dalai Lama at 2 years old. He is one of the world's foremost speakers on non-violence and is a tireless advocate for children worldwide.

This week he is in Seattle for the Seeds of Compassion conference, a five-day festival promoting non-violence and unity. My friend Megan was able to procure a ticket for me and I was treated to an hour or so of listening to the Dalai Lama speak. He had much to say about how we can improve the way we treat each other. He was quite funny throughout his speech and I noticed that he stayed mostly away from religion and politics. instead, he focused on what we all can do as individuals to promote compassion. My favorite part was when he spoke about "internal disarmament," or the release of hate, jealousy, and frustration, in order to achieve "external disarmament," the elimination of violence against one another.

I feel lucky to have heard this great man speak and I hope all of you get a chance to to see or hear him at some point. He was a bit difficult to understand at times, but that only caused me to listen closer.

I recommend reading his autobiography in which he elaborates on the amazing life he has lived, from his childhood in a monastery to his exile at the hands of the Chinese government, and all of the international work he has done. He is the recipient of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and a fascinating man.

Humorous side-note: compare the Dalai Lama's voice to that of Yoda. Keep in mind the Buddhist overtones of the Star Wars movies.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Beyond Celebrity T-Shirts

One of the trendy causes these days is public decrying of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. I mean, what says, "hey, I care SO much about the world and the people in it!" like wearing a t-shirt with a smug look on your face?

Now, this is not to say that we shouldn't care about Darfur, or any other humanitarian crisis for that matter, but that we ought to take some action if we're going to let people know that we know about the situation. There are some celebs, like uber-stud George Clooney (check out the link to the TIME article) and Matt Damon who are actually taking initiative.

Columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote an article about what our government can do to help the Darfur crisis. I don't know how feasible all of his ideas are, but it's encouraging to think that it's possible to help the situation diplomatically without invading another country.

Now, we don't all have to go over to Africa or join the government to have an impact. There are a bunch of ways we can help, if we feel so inclined. Some organizations I recommend are Compassion International (for sponsoring families affected by the crisis), Save Darfur (which gives you lots of options for activism), and Darfur Genocide (which provides numerous ways to get in touch with government leaders).

Also, calling and e-mailing our elected representatitives does have an impact. Those people are elected to represent their constituencies and by letting them know that we care about the Darfur situation, we can enable them to push for legislative resolutions. I'm not here to say that we all have to take action on this, but it's nice to know that there are options for those who want to do more than just let other people know that we know about the crises in the world.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Life and Death

A museum in London sends freelance photgraphers back in time to take pictures of people the day of their deaths. The pictures, once returned to the present and developed, are then put next to pictures of those same people right after they've died. Check out this article.

For a slide-show of the full gallery, click here. The display gets bonus points for putting up the thoughts about death of the people in the pictures.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr.

The leader of the American Civil Rights Movement was shot and killed 40 years ago today. The night before, he gave a speech in Memphis, TN that would prove to be his last. It is among his most powerful and moving speeches and the allusions to his own death are chilling. This country is no doubt better for having had Martin Luther King Jr. in it.

Video of the end of the speech.

The entire transcript.

It's All Good

Got through a rough stretch in the relationship with the girl -- I messed up and she was gracious and willing to try to work through it. I'm crazy about her and when I thought I would lose her, I was miserable. I am so grateful that she is still in my life.

Other high notes:
*North Carolina is in the Final Four (and Tyler Hansbrough won the National Player of the Year)

*My March Madness bracket is in the top 0.1 %

*Baseball season has started

*The Mariners won on Opening Day

*The Youth Council convenes this Sunday to discuss RYD. (Also see: this)

*I just got $1200 worth of elite cigars for only $150.

Life is looking up indeed.