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Lethal Injection and Moral Seriousness

[ 0 ] November 5, 2007 |

An interesting article by Elizabeth Weil on the strange origins of the current formula for lethal injections now under challenge at the Supreme Court:

Hoping to coat the nastiness of killing with a veneer of medical respectability — and also hoping to save the state the expense of fixing its electric chair — Dr. Jay Chapman, then the chief medical examiner in Oklahoma, devised the three-drug cocktail in 1977. Dr. Chapman has described himself as “an expert in matters after death but not in getting people that way,” and he has acknowledged never having done any research on how best to kill a man. Nonetheless, some version of his three-drug cocktail is now used by the federal government and the 37 states that kill inmates by lethal injection. (Nebraska, the 38th state with a death penalty, uses the electric chair.)

The three-drug cocktail is meant to mimic the induction of general anesthesia and it works like this: The execution team inserts an IV line into the condemned prisoner and then delivers a dose of sodium pentothal, an “ultrashort-acting barbiturate,” intended to render the inmate deeply unconscious. A second drug, pancuronium bromide, a muscle relaxant, then paralyzes all skeletal muscles including the diaphragm. (This keeps the inmate from gasping, moaning, flopping around on the gurney or otherwise disturbing the witnesses; it also keeps him from breathing.) The third drug, potassium chloride, stops the heart.

In theory this method should kill inmates quickly and painlessly. The problem is that in practice lethal injections are botched routinely. In May 2006, in Ohio, Joseph Clark raised his head in the middle of his own execution to say, “It’s not working.” In December 2006, Angel Diaz, in Florida, grimaced on the gurney for 26 minutes. He sustained 11-inch and 12-inch chemical burns on his left and right arms respectively, and took 34 minutes to die.

So, basically, we have a set of procedures that don’t always work, that we literally consider insufficiently humane to use on animals, and were developed by someone with no relevant expertise in the field — and yet they were quickly adopted by every state. And as Weil points out, the second, paralyzing drug — which prevents us in many cases from seeing if the prisoner was executed in intense pain — is part of the formula to exempt witnesses from having to see the consequences of the state’s action, which is an especially bad reason to do it.

Also interesting is this case, in which various public officials have reacted in a fury against a judge in Georgia who has taken the radical step of requiring the state to provide adequate resources to a defendant in an extremely complex capital case. This is part of a trend towards death penalty prosecutions that are failing because the state is unwilling to provide the necessary resources, which rather tends to undermine claims by death penalty advocates about its importance to criminal justice. If the death penalty has a powerful deterrent effect, reflects the Moral Seriousness of the Community. etc. etc. then spending the resources necessary to ensure a fair process seems relatively trivial in the context of what the state spends. That many advocates aren’t willing to face these choices simply reinforces my assumption that the death penalty in fact doesn’t accomplish much of anything that imprisonment doesn’t.

And even if (like me) you think that the Constitution does not categorically forbid the death penalty for first degree murder, both of these cases are instances where judicial intervention is appropriate. Assuming arguendo that the death penalty is permissible, it has to be carried out in manner consistent with the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. If states can’t be bothered to design a means of execution that minimizes the possibility of someone being tortured to death, or to provide the resources necessary to mount a competent capital defense, then it shouldn’t be allowed to execute prisoners at all.

Telling it Like it is.

[ 0 ] November 5, 2007 |

It’s Monday, which means it’s time for another round of your [semi-]weekly Adam Liptak appreciation. This week, Liptak takes a closer look at the effect of Female Genital Mutilation on applications for political asylum in the U.S.

When Alima Traore was a young girl in Mali, parts of her genitalia were cut off, which is the custom there.

“In my country, usually there is an old lady who does circumcision,” said Ms. Traore, who is 28, lives in Maryland and works as a cashier. “They have a small knife that they cut the intimate parts with. It is very atrocious.”

In September, the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected Ms. Traore’s plea for asylum and ordered her sent back to Mali. It ruled that she did not face persecution there, because the cutting, while “reprehensible,” could not be repeated. “The loss of a limb also gives rise to enduring harm,” the board said, but it would not be a good enough reason to grant asylum.

The standard for asylum under US immigration laws is that a person must have a “well founded fear” of persecution if they are forced to return to their country of origin. Apparently, having your clitoris sliced with a dirty knife and without anesthetic at some point in the past and being told by your father that if you return home you will be forced to marry your first cousin does not provide a “well founded fear” of persectuion. Keep in mind, however, forced sterilization or abortion is per se enough to show a well founded fear of persecution, even though forced sterilization is not repeatable.

So what gives? Some think that decisions like this one are a result of a male-dominated immigration judicial system:

Karen Musalo, the director of the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at Hastings College of the Law, said that reasoning was the product of a judicial system dominated by men.

“Are women’s rights human rights?” Professor Musalo asked. “Isn’t it a human right not to be forced into a marriage?”

Professor Musalo had a theory about why the board treated forced sterilization differently from genital cutting. Sterilization affects procreation and motherhood, which are valued by men. Genital cutting, by contrast, affects only women’s sexual pleasure and autonomy.

Makes sense to me. It also seems like a further extension of Bus Administration reproductive policy. The thinking goes like this: we must condemn forced sterilization and especially forced abortion because we think abortion is bad and that women should be able to have babies…in fact, they should be popping them out! But we don’t really care if women have to endure tremendous pain every time they have sex because of genital cutting or are forced to marry their first cousins, so long as they keep birthing those babies! Sex isn’t about pleasure for women” anyway.” With that as the context, developments like Ms. Traore’s case aren’t all that surprising.

Missing Bloggers

[ 9 ] November 5, 2007 |

I concur with Ezra’s list. Other strong candidates for me:

  • Billmon
  • Jeanne D’Arc of Body and Soul
  • Steve Gilliard (RIP)
  • A White Bear of Is There No Sin In It?
  • My first online editor, Sam Rosenfeld of TAPPED

Meanwhile, speaking of the Mighty Reason Man, I’ve seen a couple people mention his classic anti-wingnut immunization posts, which are indeed classics. Collectively, he has Glenn Reynolds down cold:

HERE’S AN INTERESTING POST by a guy named Steve from Des Moines. He highlights the direct connection between the modern Democratic Party and the National Socialist German Workers Party. Some incriminating stuff here. Of course, you wouldn’t know this if you only watched CNN…

posted at 05:43 PM by Glenn Reynolds

THE NEW YORK TIMES IS FULL OF SHIT because they quote unreliable sources and make things up.

posted at 05:17 PM by Glenn Reynolds


THE MEDIA’S WAR ON THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION continues unabated. Recent events have combined with the media’s anti-Bush agenda to paint a misleadingly dark picture of Iraq. If you received all your news from CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox News, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Army Times, The Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, USA Today, the Sacremento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, The Orlando Sentinel, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Lansing State Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle, UPI, Reuters, or the Associated Press, you would be under the impression that things are pretty bleak in Iraq.

Fortunately, Michael Ubaldi has several blog posts explaining how good it actually is over there. Just keep scrolling.


THANKS TO PRESIDENT BUSH’S TAX CUTS, I was finally able to buy new blinds for the upstairs. This has made the InstaWife a diehard Bush supporter. Who says the tax cuts were only for the well-off? Something tells me most Democrats won’t be celebrating the windfall.

posted at 04:36 PM by Glenn Reynolds

If only he will still around to do Powerline and Althouse. Speaking of which, isn’t it about time for Altmouse to make a comeback?

Yep, Can’t Wait for That!

[ 39 ] November 5, 2007 |

Ed Driscoll, whose erection seems to have endured for more than four hours:

As Jonah Goldberg has written recently, the Amazon page for his upcoming book has become one of the frontlines in the cold civil war: when it’s not being hacked, it’s subject to the worst sort of derogatory comments and innuendo. I’m about a third of the way through the galleys of Jonah’s book, which makes all of the shadowboxing of the Amazonians all the more astonishing: having not seen the actual contents of the book themselves, it’s fascinating how they’re driving themselves insane over merely a title, a subhead, and a book cover. It will be interesting to see how the dialogue changes once the book starts getting into the hands of readers, and its ideas start being discussed in the Blogosphere and beyond.

Just so as we’re all up to speed on this, here’s a refresher on Doughbob’s “argument,” which of course “has never been made in such detail or with such care”:

Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term “National socialism”). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities—where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.

I’d like to join Ed Driscoll in gleefully anticipating the day that pinata rolls off the presses and into the strike zone of — among other groups — historians of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. I know this has probably been pointed out, like, a bazillion times already, but it bears repeating.

Better Zebras Please

[ 72 ] November 4, 2007 |

Surprising as it is to say that I’m happy that the Patriots scored the touchdown to make it 20-17, if the Colts are going to thwart their unbeaten season it would be nice if they did it fair and square, not with the help of beyond-farcical pass interference penalties. Has anyone checked to see if the officiating crew for today’s game has recently been in touch with Tim Donaghy’s bookie? That’s the charitable interpretation; if nobody’s taking money I wouldn’t hire the ref(s) who made the PI calls on Hobbs and Moss to work an intramural flag football game. Not that it would really determine the outcome per se, but in a game of this importance, are minimally competent refs too much to ask?

… I remian ambivalent about this outcome, but one has to concede that making Gregg Easterbrook cry is a major plus.

Project Valour IT

[ 16 ] November 4, 2007 |

Given that I’ve called for the end of the Air Force, I think it’s only fair that LGM join the Air Force Valour IT Project team. The goal of Project Valour IT is to raise money for the purchase of voice-activated laptops for disabled veterans. It seems to me that this is unassailably a good cause; donate if you have a chance.

Sunday Deposed Monarch Blogging: Nguyen Dynasty

[ 0 ] November 4, 2007 |

In 1777 a peasant rebellion resulted in the massacre of the family of Nguyen Phuc Anh, son of feudal nobility in what is now southern Vietnam. The fifteen year old escaped, and returned to his home after the peasant army left to move north. Nguyen Phuc Anh gathered his troops and found important supporters, including a major admiral, and managed eventually to defeat the Tay Son forces in a war that lasted almost twenty years. Nguyen Phuc Anh asked for and received support from France, which helped him unify Vietnam in 1802. He took the name Gia Long and declared himself Emperor of Vietnam at Hue. Gia Long’s twenty-year reign saw much modernization, often with the assistance of the French, but also involved retrenchment and consolidation by conservative elements in Vietnamese society.

French influence steadily grew through the 19th century, and by 1874 France achieved full territorial control of Indochina (Vietnam plus Laos and Cambodia). This control was not without some difficulty; Vietnam has a strong tradition of resistance to foreign invaders, and in many quarters the French were understood to be the successors of the Chinese. Nevertheless, the Vietnamese elite became increasingly attached to French culture and the French colonial system. The Nguyen family suffered various regicides, depositions, and early exiles, and in general lost considerable popular support. By the 20th century, the monarch was seen as little more than a French puppet.

Bao Dai became King of Annam upon the death of his father in 1926. His stay in Vietnam was brief, as he almost immediately returned to France to resume his education. Bao Dai made a habit of periodically visiting his kingdom, and was in Vietnam when the Japanese assumed control of French Indochina in 1941. By 1945, however, the utility of the Vichy authorities had come to its end, and the Japanese coerced the Bao Dai into declaring independence for Vietnam, with himself as Emperor. His empire only lasted a few months, however, as the Communist forces of Ho Chi Minh successfully encouraged the Emperor to abdicate in August 1945. Bao Dai remained briefly in Vietnam before leaving for China and Hong Kong. The French persuaded him to return and occupy the position of head of state in 1949, but he soon proved a threat to Ngo Dinh Diem, and left again for France in 1950. In 1955, Diem officially turned Vietnam into a republic.

Bao Dai displayed little more interest in Vietnam after his exile than he had during his brief reign. Apart from a few statements in 1972 about reconciliation and some contacts with the Vietnamese exile community in the United States, he did not participate in Vietnamese politics. He lived most of the rest of his life in France. In 1997 Bao Dai died and was succeeded by his brother Bao Long, who apart from ten years distinguished service in the French Foreign Legion had a very similar career. Bao Long died in July of this year, and was succeeded by his brother Bao Thang, who has lived most of his sixty-four years in France.

Prospects for a return to the throne are exceedingly unlikely. The dynasty does not appear to be particularly popular even among opponents of the current Vietnamese regime. One major exile group supports restoration of a constitutional monarchy, but its connections with the royal family are sketchy, and its activities were disavowed by Bao Long.

Trivia: The last reigning monarch of what dynasty sold his Kingdom to the British in return for a large pension?

The Good and the Ugly

[ 8 ] November 4, 2007 |

Feingold announces his opposition to Mukasey. Good, even if moot.

I hadn’t intended to write about the sellout by Feinstein and Schumer; it was too depressingly predictable. And, as my essay laying out the case against Mukasey acknowledged, it was as much about symbolism as anything; a good AG is not really an option (although in this case the symbolism is important.) But then Feinstein decided to defend her decision in op-ed form. And, as Elton sums it up:

I’m OK with using any amount of pain to extract information from suspects, as long as we don’t call it torture.

The whole thing is remarkable. Her implication that Mukasey didn’t dodge the key questions…I mean, you want to vote for him for pragmatic reasons, alright, but at least try not to insult our intelligence. And worse, she doesn’t seem to understand the contents of statutes she voted for. California really needs to do better.

Slouching Toward Equality

[ 4 ] November 4, 2007 |

For once, there’s good news from the War on (some classes of people and some) drugs. On Friday, the new crack sentencing guidelines went into effect. The new guidelines will supposedly reduce the average sentence for crack possession from 10 years 1 month to 8 years 10 months. It’s something. But we’re merely slouching toward equality in sentencing, since there remains a huge disparity between sentences for crack and those for powder cocaine. But this is certainly a step. The Bush Department of Justice unsurprisingly opposed the change.

The real (and next) question is whether these new guidelines will be applied retroactively — that is, whether people who are currently incarcerated will get to appeal their sentences based on these new guidelines. The Criminal Law Committee of the American Judicial Conference has announced its support for retroactivity, despite the fact that it would surely flood the courts with appeals to harsh crack sentences. Harlan Protass writing in the LA Times says that the concern about clogging the courts is overblown:

Finally, retroactive application would place no extraordinary burden on the courts. The primary fact necessary to recalculate prison time — the amount of crack involved — already would have been determined in connection with offenders’ original cases. Thus, while the courts likely would be flooded with requests for changed sentences, they wouldn’t have to hold new hearings. Most motions could be dealt with on paper. Experience with other recent changes to federal sentencing laws has shown that the system is capable of revisiting many thousands of cases when justice so requires.

What’s more, it’s exceedingly rare, as Protass notes, to be presented with an opportunity to so neatly and completely reverse a real injustice. Making the new guidelines retroactive would reduce the sentences of over 20,000 current inmates.

So the change is small for sure. But it’s something. And if made retroactive, the new guidelines would become more than just a baby step.

The Peaks Of Wingnuttery

[ 13 ] November 4, 2007 |

A worthy compilation of nominees. I would have to vote for Althouse, but really, they’re all winners! (On the other hand, the standards of podcast wingnuttery established by her claim that NARAL’s house blogger was invited to a meetup by Hillary Clinton’s campaign as part of a conspiracy to get Bill Clinton laid will prove to be invulnerable, and of course the vlogging thing speaks for itself.) Actually, I think that her post about the upsides of policemen summarily executing people for running while wearing a ski jacket would be an equally strong candidate.

With other such worthy candidates as Dean Esmay’s HIV denialism and Powerline’s repeated claims that no memo with a typo and GOP wingnut talking points could be authentic GOP talking points memo (whoops); I would have to nominate J*sh Tr*vino’s thoughtful discussion of liberals’ “bottomless opposition to parents” for serious consideration.

Notes from College Football

[ 8 ] November 4, 2007 |

As the Ducks continue to struggle…

…Jonathan Stewart rules. Consider this a Duck-Sun Devil open thread.

… Ducks no longer struggling. Dixon has 4 passing TDs.

… There is no God. There is no God. There is no God. There is no God.

… Okay; there may well be no God. But it doesn’t appear that an injury to Dennis Dixon is direct evidence of the lack of a deity. Hopefully, that is; at least it looks like he’s okay.


…Ahem. That is, hooray, go Ducks!

…Interesting things that I learned today; former Oregon QB Tony Graziani is related to Rodolfo Graziani, Marshal of Italy and commander of the early disastrous Italian offensives into Egypt in 1940 and 1941. Tony Graziani is currently the QB for the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League…

Score one for NRO

[ 9 ] November 3, 2007 |

Mark Hemingway apparently doesn’t use a spell-checker, but nonetheless — credit where credit is due:

In fact, as I’ve theorized for some time now, Dowd’s aimlessness has become so pronounced that it seems as though her florid sentences could be arranged at random, with little discernable difference to her usual columns. The opening of the New York Times archives has finally given me the opportunity to test this hypothesis.

I spent an afternoon reading Dowd’s columns from the past year, and have produced the world’s first op-ed column mash-up, or MoDo Mad-Libs. Each of the following Maureen Dowd sentences is taken out of context and reassembled into a new whole. The result is somewhat incoherent, disjointed, unintentionally funny, badly lacking context, and an entirely unfair assessment — in other words, it is exactly like a Maureen Dowd column.

‘Tis true. Then again, doesn’t Victor Davis Hanson write for these people?

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