Thursday, June 21, 2007

Iesha and Shaniqua go to the Rose of Tralee...

Long story and sorry I don't have time to post it now; when I get back from the hearing (beginning of July) I will edit this and fill in.

Here's my fabulous Iesha hairdo for the Irish banquet I attended in Dallas on June 9th with my girlfriend Evonne McG...

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Too crazy busy to post...

Between the hearing I'm prepping for (last week of June plus a few days in July) and finding a carpenter to do our built-in bookshelves at the new house when the sellers move out (June 30), it's been crazy around here. Mitch's parents left Sunday evening, we're interviewing for our investigator position here at work, and I'm getting into the serious workaholic mode necessary before all hearings. Sadly too, my friend and second-chair, Katherine, is not attending the hearing as planned due to a spike in her workload plus serious illness in her family. So it's me and Carole by ourselves. That's fine, Carole is quite smart, but this is also her second-ever hearing, so it will be fun juggling the witnesses amongst ourselves.

On top of it all I'm still dealing with sadness over my friend Brian's death, plus the inevitable irksomeness of having my whole life in boxes stacked in Mitch's house. I will be happy to move in, unpack for a week, and get organized.

Once I can do that much, I'll feel better.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sorry Bush is an Idiot...

News Flash-- Death Penalty Deters Crime

Studies Say Death Penalty Deters Crime

Published: June 11, 2007

Anti-death penalty forces have gained momentum in the past few years, with a moratorium in Illinois, court disputes over lethal injection in more than a half-dozen states and progress toward outright abolishment in New Jersey.

The steady drumbeat of DNA exonerations -- pointing out flaws in the justice system -- has weighed against capital punishment. The moral opposition is loud, too, echoed in Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, where all but a few countries banned executions years ago.

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument -- whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

The reports have horrified death penalty opponents and several scientists, who vigorously question the data and its implications.

So far, the studies have had little impact on public policy. New Jersey's commission on the death penalty this year dismissed the body of knowledge on deterrence as ''inconclusive.''

But the ferocious argument in academic circles could eventually spread to a wider audience, as it has in the past.

''Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,'' said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. ''The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.''

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. ''The results are robust, they don't really go away,'' he said. ''I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) -- what am I going to do, hide them?''

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory -- if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

To explore the question, they look at executions and homicides, by year and by state or county, trying to tease out the impact of the death penalty on homicides by accounting for other factors, such as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, and more.

Among the conclusions:

-- Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).

-- The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston.

-- Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.

In 2005, there were 16,692 cases of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter nationally. There were 60 executions.

The studies' conclusions drew a philosophical response from a well-known liberal law professor, University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein. A critic of the death penalty, in 2005 he co-authored a paper titled ''Is capital punishment morally required?''

''If it's the case that executing murderers prevents the execution of innocents by murderers, then the moral evaluation is not simple,'' he told The Associated Press. ''Abolitionists or others, like me, who are skeptical about the death penalty haven't given adequate consideration to the possibility that innocent life is saved by the death penalty.''

Sunstein said that moral questions aside, the data needs more study.

Critics of the findings have been vociferous.

Some claim that the pro-deterrent studies made profound mistakes in their methodology, so their results are untrustworthy. Another critic argues that the studies wrongly count all homicides, rather than just those homicides where a conviction could bring the death penalty. And several argue that there are simply too few executions each year in the United States to make a judgment.

''We just don't have enough data to say anything,'' said Justin Wolfers, an economist at the Wharton School of Business who last year co-authored a sweeping critique of several studies, and said they were ''flimsy'' and appeared in ''second-tier journals.''

''This isn't left vs. right. This is a nerdy statistician saying it's too hard to tell,'' Wolfers said. ''Within the advocacy community and legal scholars who are not as statistically adept, they will tell you it's still an open question. Among the small number of economists at leading universities whose bread and butter is statistical analysis, the argument is finished.''

Several authors of the pro-deterrent reports said they welcome criticism in the interests of science, but said their work is being attacked by opponents of capital punishment for their findings, not their flaws.

''Instead of people sitting down and saying 'let's see what the data shows,' it's people sitting down and saying 'let's show this is wrong,''' said Paul Rubin, an economist and co-author of an Emory University study. ''Some scientists are out seeking the truth, and some of them have a position they would like to defend.''

The latest arguments replay a 1970s debate that had an impact far beyond academic circles.

Then, economist Isaac Ehrlich had also concluded that executions deterred future crimes. His 1975 report was the subject of mainstream news articles and public debate, and was cited in papers before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing for a reversal of the court's 1972 suspension of executions. (The court, in 1976, reinstated the death penalty.)

Ultimately, a panel was set up by the National Academy of Sciences which decided that Ehrlich's conclusions were flawed. But the new pro-deterrent studies haven't gotten that kind of scrutiny.

At least not yet. The academic debate, and the larger national argument about the death penalty itself -- with questions about racial and economic disparities in its implementation -- shows no signs of fading away.

Steven Shavell, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School and co-editor-in-chief of the American Law and Economics Review, said in an e-mail exchange that his journal intends to publish several articles on the statistical studies on deterrence in an upcoming issue.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Brian's funeral.

I'll scan the first page of the memorial booklet from the funeral on Monday and post it then.

I had a 3 hour drive to Houston, so I left around half past ten yesterday morning. I thought about Brian, our relationship, his friends, and the awful possibility that there was something wrong all along that I'd never seen. I've never had anyone remotely close to me commit suicide before, and while it sounds trite, the guilt was pretty heavy. I suppose it's trite because in general it's the standard reaction. However, a small part of me kept mulling over my theories: one, that it wasn't Brian after all, it was a mugger who got hit by a train and was unidentifiable (but had Brian's papers etc in his pocket)... and that 2-3 months from now someone would get an email from Brian, with a photo of him standing on an iceberg somewhere. Typical stage-one grief-- denial. The other theory was that if it WAS Brian, it wasn't a suicide.

I checked at the Davilas' hotel when I arrived at 1:30 but most everyone had already gone to the church a few blocks away. The neighborhood around the church reminded me of River Forest-- stately homes of brick and stone, on arching green lawns with curving flowerbeds. When I arrived, there were small groups of people talking quietly in the antechamber of a peaceful and elegant church. Several posterboards (like what you used in school science fairs, with a center section and two wings) were displayed on tables, holding photographs of Brian from infancy on.

I signed the guestbook and entered the sanctuary-- it was a long oval with the entrance on a narrow end. In the center was a pointed oval made of communion railing with kneelers, and prominently inside was his casket covered in an embroidered cloth. The pews and chairs were circled all around this railing, with a pulpit/lectern at the other narrow end. Behind that were the ornate pipes of a very large organ. Also, on one of the long sides of the oval was the church's rose window, a modern stained glass in greens, blues, and pinks.

Brian's dad Fidel and mom Susan both came up to me with warm hugs even though they'd never met me before. Victor, Brian's cousin who lives in Austin, invited me to sit with him and the rest of the family, which I deeply appreciated. Victor and I had met the last time I ever saw Brian-- two years ago almost to the day, when his stepsis Jenn got married in Austin and Brian and Victor met me out for some salsa dancing.

I realized that Brian actually died on May 25. (I thought it was the 24th originally.) My father passed away eleven years ago on May 25, so it was already a sad day for me.

While waiting for things to begin, Victor and I discovered we shared the same two theories about Brian. With tears streaming from his eyes, Victor said there'd been a viewing at the wake the night before and it was definitely Brian. He said there was no doubt in his mind that it was him, so there went my first theory. In the background the organist was playing "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" which we both thought odd, since it's more traditionally heard at weddings.

The service began with the church bell tolling, once for every year of Brian's life. About 16 chimes into it, someone revved a motorcycle (not a rumbly Harley-- it was clearly a crotchrocket) and zipped down the street outside, and Victor and I shared a smile and said "That's Brian!" at the same time.

The Lutheran liturgy is understandably very similar to a Catholic Mass.. readings, psalms, and songs. As a group we recited the 23rd Psalm together, and another reading was I think the 121st, beginning with "From whence cometh my hope? I raiseth mine eyes to the hills." The pastor's homily was a little long and a little hard for me to hear, but it emphasized that nothing can impede the love of God, and it was God's will that we all be together again at some point. I can't recall what other songs we sang, but fortunately we did NOT sing Amazing Grace, because I would have bawled the whole way through.

The first person to speak about Brian personally was his father. I cannot imagine the agony of speaking at your son's funeral, yet he was so strong and didn't break down once. He began by wryly noting that this is the only time he'd be able to talk without Brian arguing back (and the hush that followed was almost suffocating in its completeness.) He mentioned that Brian bore the dual curse of being a perfectionist and a procrastinator, which got a little laugh from me and Victor. He told stories about how smart and clever Brian was-- including a high school class where Bri got a B without cracking a book. When his dad asked him how he did it, Brian said "They're weekly pop quizzes, all sentences the teacher reads aloud, which we have to mark true or false. I would watch the smartest person in the room-- if they started writing in the middle of the sentence I wrote 'false,' but if they waited until the sentence was completed before writing, I wrote 'true.'" That got a bigger laugh from the audience. He shared how Brian agonized over finding his true purpose in life and was troubled for many years that he couldn't discern his role. He mentioned that Brian had even taken medication to help with his sadness. He seemed so convinced that Brian committed suicide that I wondered if maybe it was true. He noted that Aristotle said we should be ruled by philosopher-kings age 35, because at that age you know everything you need to know-- and how sad it was that Brian had just turned 35 on May 13, becoming a philosopher-king too late. What I remember Fidel closing with was his sad rumination that everyone tried to love Brian as much as they could, but it just wasn't enough. That broke everyone and the sobs were pretty audible.

Another cousin, Ramon "Chito" spoke next. He read an email of Chuck's, sent to Bri's mom, and then said simply "I miss him already." Chuck's email recounted some little pieces of the past, and I remember "black on black Converse hi-tops, listening to the Beatles while playing SimCity, and him telling me the next time I was in Dallas I had to try a Shiner Bock with him." There was a lot more to Chuck's email, but I can't recall it all. It was very moving nonetheless.

I spoke third. I started with an epiphany I'd had while listening to the bell toll for him-- when Brian and I met, neither of us would ever have thought of 35 as young. I know I shared some of the stories from my first blog post. I also said that when I thought of Brian, I thought of someone quick and generous-- quick to speak and laugh, someone who nodded quickly to hurry you up, someone quick to hug you if you were down, who even flipped his pen quickly (which made lots of people laugh while they all lifted their hand and imitated the movement.)

He was also generous, I said, never stopping to count the cost to himself, only seeming to ask how much his actions could bring to someone else. And I hoped that people never forgot that, whatever had happened to him in Switzerland. (Later I thought, what the heck did that sound like? And what I meant was, whether Brian committed suicide or maybe had gotten himself in with some unsavory people, we should remember him as he lived and not as he died.)

[I have to admit, though, to having moved past the denial stage and into the anger stage-- I'm pissed at him! I want to shake him and say look-- just because you haven't found all the answers you seek didn't mean you just give up! But I know that's a simplistic answer, and I have no clue what misery or pain he was enduring. For all I know I would have done the same.]

Then his uncle stood up and recounted some adorable memories of Brian and the "gang of the Tres Bandidos" (the cousins he summered with in Texas, at Momo's, his grandmother's.) Because they were inside jokes for the most part, I only partly got it, but it was cute even from my ignorant perspective. Brian's nickname there was El Guero Gueron. I don't know exactly, but I do know a 'guero' is a white person, and my guess is something like "whitest of the white." LOL. If anyone knows please let me know!

Last, his mom spoke. She's an amazing public speaker-- very clear, poised, eloquent. She described how Brian called her last fall on her birthday as he usually does. They chatted for a while and then Brian asked if he could call her back in 20 minutes. 20 minutes later her doorbell rang, and it was Brian, come home to Oak Park for a surprise visit of 2 months. Brian helped her paint the outside of her house, and she said she learned so much about him and herself because they'd never worked together as adults on a project like that. She said that Brian was very clever at problem solving (typical engineer, he said) and that they spent lots of time talking and just appreciating each other. She said everything Brian did turned out right one way or another.

For example, when he was 10 or 12, he asked her for a ride to the library because he had a book report due the next day. Happy he would finally experience some natural consequences, she told him it had already closed at 6pm. OK, he replied, and went up to his room. He came down a while later, exclaiming that he found the book (which he'd checked out at the library 2 months previously and forgotten to return.) That got a big laugh. Then, of course, he read the book overnight, did the report, got an A, and returned the book at the library-- and it happened to be the "amnesty" week where no fines were assessed!

She went on to say that Brian was not satisfied with making lots of money or the other typical goals-- that he wanted a real purpose for his life and was frustrated that he hadn't found it, that he was upset by the prospect of never getting married. I can't remember exactly her words, but she finished with an emphatic declaration that essentially Brian had died in God's good graces and would be reunited with us at the end.

The service concluded after Communion was shared, and everyone made sure to invite me to join them for a reception back at the hotel. I was so wrung out, I felt it might be a good idea to relax a little before trying to drive back to Austin, and I was happy to accept.

At first people were a little wrung out themselves, I think, but once conversations got going, people cheered up a bit. It was like an Irish wake-- some booze, some food, and lots of good memories being shared. Brian's sister Erica was so gracious and kind to me, making sure I joined the "kids' table" of all the cousins and including me in everything. I spent a good 15 minutes talking to his mom, and it about broke my heart. She's just so easy to talk to, so open and direct.

She did tell me a few things that put to rest my second theory -- Brian wrote her a note on the last page of his passport, for one, and also, there were witnesses. She and Erica went to Switzerland to bring him home, and they were able to speak with the police about the case. Ever the engineer, Brian coolly and calculatedly waited to put himself on the tracks until it was obviously too late to stop the train. Interestingly, she said no computer, clothing or other effects were in his hotel room-- and all he had on him was his passport and plane ticket, a small amount of money, and his Ipod. (The battery has run down but they're charging it to listen to whatever may be there. There were no earbuds attached so it is unlikely he was listening to it or distracted by it at the moment.)

She'd spoken with Brian on the phone just thirty minutes before he killed himself, and did not get the impression he was going to do anything other than get on the plane and come home. She said she believed he was going to come home, but just got to a point "where he realized he couldn't make that last leg home."

What can you say to that? Just being in the presence of someone going through that tragedy with such compliant resilience is heartening-- but baffling at the same time. Where do they get so much courage?

I stayed at the reception about an hour, enjoying peoples' reminiscing, but when I started getting a migraine I knew it was time to go. I get migraines when I'm stressed, and since it was catching up to me I wanted to sit in the car quietly, close my eyes, and take an imitrex. Brian's stepmom Trudi was so sweet, they kept insisting they come take me to dinner in Austin some evening, and I promised quite a few people that I would copy 3 CDs Brian gave me years ago.

I got in the car, popped a pill, chilled out for a few minutes until I felt it take effect, and then drove back to Austin.

My friend Adriana appeared in several of the photos at the church-- standing next to Brian before proms or other dances, both of them looking so sweet, wide-eyed, innocent. Most of the other pictures of the adult Brian look either mischievous or irreverent-- he loved to stick out his tongue for the camera, especially after he got it pierced. He was playful and fun-loving, and that is how I best remember him.

I will miss him very much.