aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Monday, March 17, 2008
Troy Anthony Davis: Stop the execution of an innocent man
I kept telling them that I didn’t know. It was dark, my windows were tinted, and I was scared. It all happened so fast. Even today, I know that I could not honestly identify with any certainty who shot the officer that night. [â€¦]
After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read. [...]
I nodded and repeated what they said, whether it was true or notâ€¦. I am not proud for lying at Troy’s trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that’s all I could do or else I would go to jail.
An email from Amnesty International:
Today’s stunning decision by the Georgia Supreme Court to let the death sentence stand in the Troy Anthony Davis case means that the state of Georgia might execute a man who well may be innocent.
With this decision, the Supreme Court is demonstrating a blatant disregard for justice and turning its back on the fundamental flaws that taint Mr. Davis’s case at every level.
Over 60,000 supporters signed petitions on Troy’s behalf, and letters of support continue to pour into his mailbox. “I want to thank all Amnesty supporters,” he said, “I want to thank everyone all over the world who have been praying for me, supporting me, writing letters and signing petitions on my behalf.” Troy needs your continued support today, now more than ever.
Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No murder weapon was found and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Since his conviction, seven out of nine original witnesses have either recanted or changed their testimony. Officer MacPhail’s life was cut tragically short, and his family and the people of Georgia also deserve true justice. However, this will not be accomplished by executing a man with such strong claims of innocence.
In light of today’s Supreme Court decision, we ask that you take action once again and call on the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles to commute Mr. Davis’ death sentence. Executing Troy Anthony Davis would be an irrevocable error that would haunt the conscience of the state of Georgia forever.
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA
Silda Spitzer & the perils of postfeminism
Ariel Levy, still* writing in New York Magazine:
Last Wednesday, Silda Wall Spitzer was caught in a trap she’d inadvertently set for herself. Like half of the best-educated and most-privileged women in this country who have babies, she relinquished her high-powered career to devote herself to supporting her spouse and caring for their three daughters. However traditional this idea of wifely duty, it was an open-eyed decision, mulled over endlessly and made on modern, postfeminist terms. Later, in 2005, she even sought Clinton’s advice on becoming the First Lady of New York: “I figured, here’s a woman who also met her husband at law school, who had been a lawyer with a firm, whose husband was a state attorney general,” Silda Spitzer said in 2006. “There really aren’t that many role models for this.” But Hillary Clinton never stopped pursuing her own professional agenda. The Clinton relationship has always mixed romance and ambition, and while the calculated nature of this bargain has at times made Hillary seem less than human, it’s also enabled her, at age 60, to be in the prime of her professional life. That’s a stage many more men reach than women.
During his 2006 campaign, Eliot Spitzer said of his wife, “The fact that she believed in me enough to put her very promising legal career on hold was a great source of inspiration.” While this move may well have helped him achieve his goals, it put Silda Spitzer in the nationally televised bind we witnessed last week. This is a Harvard-educated woman who was once a corporate lawyer who made more money than her husband and was proud of it. But since 1994, the year Silda opted out of the workforce to witness her husband’s first run for attorney general, all her formidable drive has had to be channeled into his career. Fourteen years later, retreat wasn’t possible. As the rest of the state called for his head, Silda told her husband to fight for power. It was a moment Hillary Clinton, no doubt, could have advised her about. But for Silda Spitzer, even more was at stake. And she will not have the consolation of her own career as she comes to terms with the man she gave it up for. In a way, it’s the saddest part of the story, and it exposes the risks women take when they make certain kinds of choices-things that, after Silda, they might not think are safe.
In other postfeminism news, we’ve got the spectacle of a former aide to disgraced NJ governor James E. McGreevey saying yesterday that he had three-way sexual trysts with the gov and his wife that kicked off at T.G.I. Fridays—“but it didn’t seem like he was gay”—denied by Dina and confirmed today by McGreevey.
I’m sorry, but spare me the postfeminism and give me some of that good old-fashioned feminism please!
* A couple weeks ago we learned that Levy’s moving to The New Yorker effective April 1.
The markets-know-best model is a fairy tale
Predictably Irrational was reviewed in the NYTimes’ Book Review this weekend:
For years, the ideology of free markets bestrode the world, bending politics as well as economics to its core assumption: market forces produce the best solution to any problem. But these days, even Bill Gates says capitalism’s work is “unsatisfactory” for one-third of humanity, and not even Hillary Clinton supports Bill Clinton’s 1990s trade pacts.
Another sign that times are changing is “Predictably Irrational,” a book that both exemplifies and explains this shift in the cultural winds. Here, Dan Ariely, an economist at M.I.T., tells us that “life with fewer market norms and more social norms would be more satisfying, creative, fulfilling and fun.” By the way, the conference where he had this insight wasn’t sponsored by the Federal Reserve, where he is a researcher. It came to him at Burning Man, the annual anarchist conclave where clothes are optional and money is banned. Ariely calls it “the most accepting, social and caring place I had ever been.”
Obviously, this sly and lucid book is not about your grandfather’s dismal science. Ariely’s trade is behavioral economics, which is the study, by experiments, of what people actually do when they buy, sell, change jobs, marry and make other real-life decisions.
To see how arousal alters sexual attitudes, for example, Ariely and his colleagues asked young men to answer a questionnaire - then asked them to answer it again, only this time while indulging in Internet pornography on a laptop wrapped in Saran Wrap. (In that state, their answers to questions about sexual tastes,, violence and condom use were far less respectable.) To study the power of suggestion, Ariely’s team zapped volunteers with a little painful electricity, then offered fake pain pills costing either 10 cents or $2.50 (all reduced the pain, but the more expensive ones had a far greater effect). To see how social situations affect honesty, they created tests that made it easy to cheat, then looked at what happened if they reminded people right before the test of a moral rule. (It turned out that being reminded of any moral code - the Ten Commandments, the non-existent “M.I.T. honor system” - caused cheating to plummet.)
These sorts of rigorous but goofy-sounding experiments lend themselves to a genial, gee-whiz style, with which Ariely moves comfortably from the lab to broad social questions to his own life (why did he buy that Audi instead of a sensible minivan?). He is good-tempered company - if he mentions you in this book, you are going to be called “brilliant,” “fantastic” or “delightful” - and crystal clear about all he describes. But “Predictably Irrational” is a far more revolutionary book than its unthreatening manner lets on. It’s a concise summary of why today’s social science increasingly treats the markets-know-best model as a fairy tale. [READ ON]
GA Supreme Court denies new trial for Troy Anthony Davis
“We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict in this case,” Justice Harold Melton wrote for the majority. He was joined by Justices George Carley, Harris Hines and Hugh Thompson.
“We conclude that Davis has failed to show that these alleged recantations support his extraordinary motion for new trial,” the ruling said.
Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, joined by Justices Carol Hunstein and Robert Benham, said she would have granted Davis a new hearing to allow a judge to weigh the new evidence.
“In this case, nearly every witness who identified Davis as the shooter at trail has now disclaimed his or her ability to do so reliably,” Sears wrote.
“Perhaps these witnesses’ testimony would prove incredible if a hearing were held,” Sears said. “Perhaps the majority is correct that the allged eyewitnesses’ testimony will actually show Davis’ guilt rather than his innocence.”
But the collective effect of all of the new testimony, if it were to be found credible by a judge, Sears wrote, “would show the probability that a new jury would find reasonable doubt of Davis’ guilt or at least sufficient residual doubt to decline to impose the death penalty.”
In a telephone interview, Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, said she was stunned and disappointed by the court’s opinion.
“The claim that evidence in Davis’ favor was not sufficient to reopen his case is simply stunning,” said Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA. “In turning a blind eye to the realities of the case, the legal system has shrugged off the very notion of justice at every level, from Savannah to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Board of Pardons must recognize that a blind adherence to technicalities cannot trump a concerted search for the truth, especially when a human being’s life is at stake. [...]
Amnesty International maintains that the case has been tainted from the start, with a questionable police investigation, a lack of funding to ensure adequate defense, and an increasingly restrictive appeals process, which has thwarted attempts to present new evidence in the case. In the wake of the state Supreme Court decision, the human rights organization is once again calling for the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles to commute the death sentence for Davis due to the troubling facts of the conviction.
Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. Davis was convicted solely on the basis of witness testimony, and seven of the nine non-police witnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony. No murder weapon was found and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Several cited police coercion, and others fear of one of the remaining two witnesses, whom they allege actually committed the crime.
“With this decision, the Supreme Court is ignoring the fundamental flaws that underlie the death penalty in Georgia and in Troy Davis’s case,” said Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director of AIUSA. “As a result, we will continue to advocate for a re-examination of his sentence and of Georgia’s use of capital punishment. Officer MacPhail’s life was cut tragically short, and his family and the people of Georgia deserve justice. This will not be accomplished by executing a man with a strong case of innocence.”
More on the case at TroyAnthonyDavis.org.
The politics of attendance in the GA legislature
Well today Blogs for Democracy’s Mel helpfully follows-up with a letter Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield sent to her constituents:
If you woke up Monday, March 10, morning and saw the front page of the local newspaper (as I did), with my photo among ten state representatives who were described as missing the most votes in the Georgia House of Representatives, you would have been treated to about half of the real story.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to fill you in on the details that the newspaper story failed to mention.
Vote Tally Misleading. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s method of tallying voters is misleading because it failed to count the actual number of total votes missed, choosing instead to count only “unexcused absences.” Given that excused absences are automatically given upon the request of a legislator without any explanation, there is no meaningful distinction between excused and non-excused absences. The reality is that I missed a couple of mornings at the Legislature this session to take my children to the doctor during the cold and flu season. I made the technical mistake of not calling in for an excused absence. Had I done so, I would not have been included in the AJC’s ranking.
Vote Tally Reality.
It is also not particularly meaningful to have a quantitative voting ranking without a qualitative examination of what was actually being voted on. Of my 53 missed votes, almost 70% (36) of the measures passed unanimously, including twelve local calendar votes, two motions to adjourn and two privileged resolutions honoring special Georgians.
Read on. She makes some remarkably good points.
I started out wanting to chew out the AJC reporters for not making the excused/non-excused distinction clearer. But those reporters, Ben Smith and John Perry, apparently went to our good government watchdogs and this is what they got:
A leading advocate for open and responsible government said he found the statistics troubling.
“A fundamental responsibility of being in the General Assembly is to be there, casting votes,” said Bill Bozarth, executive director Common Cause Georgia. “If not for every vote, at least a large majority of the time.”
Excused absences were not included in the totals, although some lawmakers had high numbers of excused absences from voting. Lawmakers don’t have to state the reason why they’ll be absent.
“Ordinarily they tell us,” said Robbie Rivers, clerk of the Georgia House. “We don’t question why â€”- we just take their word for it.”
A fundamental responsibility of being the director of Common Cause Georgia is to provide something more than wrote fodder for a boiler-plate story that obfuscates more than informs.
A letter from Mark Twain to Helen Keller on St. Patrick’s Day 1903
When, at the age of 12, Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism, Michael Anagnos of the Perkins Institution in Boston convened a nine-member jury that acquitted her of the charge by a single vote. His. He later turned on her calling her “a living lie.” Keller would remain defensive about plagiarism ever after.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1903, Mark Twain wrote Helen a consoling letter that is quoted by Siva Vaidhyanathan in Copyrights and Copywrongs. I quote it again this St. Patrick’s Day, intending to make it my own small tradition:
I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they’ll say, “there they come--sit down in front.” I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Roger’s last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not at all well--you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever.
I am charmed with your book--enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world--you and your other half together--Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make complete and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen--they are all there.
Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul--let us go farther and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances in plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them any where except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.
When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten thousand men--but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his but there were others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone, or any other important thing--and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite--that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.
Then why don’t we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen--to the extent of fifty words--except in the case of a child; its memory tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the natural language can have graving room there and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person’s memory tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man’s mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own.
No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and how imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes’s poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my “Innocents Abroad” with. Ten years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass--no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your “Plagiarism Court,” and so when I said, “I know now where I stole it, but who did you steal it from,” he said, “I don’t remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had!”
To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole histories, their whole lives, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn’t know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they’ve caught filching a chop! Oh, dam--
But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.
Every lovingly your friend (sic)
Mark Twain had complex and contradictory views on creativity and copyright. For much more here’s the Mark Twain and the History of Literary Copyright chapter from Siva’s Copyrights and Copywrongs (pdf).