Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Tinkering with the machinery...

The most recent book I've read is Becoming Justice Blackmun by Linda Greenhouse. As a preliminary matter, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to get a closer look at the workings of the Supreme Court (the branch of our government with the most gravitas). Becoming Justice Blackmun is an absolutely terrific book that peruses the voluminous notes of one of the most influential (and controversial) Justices in history. Thanks to his democratic and populist convictions, he has released detailed notes on essentially his entire life. Although there’s nothing terribly earth-shattering about the notes (he was quite eloquent in expressing his views even before his death), they’re extremely interesting as a reflection of some of the splits in the court, and as a roadmap to his own evolving jurisprudence.

Some would accuse a judge whose opinions had developed and changed over time of being an “activist judge” or other mean-spirited euphemisms, but I think those who do so are (maybe only subconsciously) merely striking out at their own fears - of change, of the real world (which is nothing like what they wished for themselves). I digress.

As I was saying, one aspect of his jurisprudence which I found to be highly agreeable to me is that of capital punishment. The Justice was personally against the death penalty, but did not find any inconsistency with the Constitution to authorize the states to impose it within the other constraints of the Constitution. However, after years of dealing with death penalty cases, he became convinced that the process of imposing capital punishment on criminal defendants was too imprecise and arbitrary to pass Constitutional muster. In a famous dissent of his, Justice Blackmun encapsulated this view and proclaimed that he "no longer [would] tinker with the machinery of death."

This brings me to what triggered this extensive rant -- in the Virginia courts, a man fights for his life by trying to prove that he's so intellectually stunted that he can't be put to death. CNN article; Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002). I do not argue with the essential rationale behind the Supreme Court decision, I suppose. However, a group of Virginians must decide whether or not a tragically stupid person will live or die based upon nothing more than vague instructions from the court system of the meaning of "retarded." The stark facts of the case show exactly how tortured our capital punishment system has become under three decades of "tinkering."

I do not believe that deterrence is increased in States with capital punishment - just look at the statistics - nor is community protection increased where life imprisonment is imposed. And the fact is that it's less expensive to keep someone locked away for life than it is to pay teams of lawyers to deal with the mandatory and elective appeals that come with our capital punishment system. The sole reason to impose capital punishment in America is simple: vengeance. Vengeance can serve a valuable purpose for the victims, but how many borderline cases must we arbitrarily decide before we ask ourselves what price we pay for our vengeance?

Monday, July 25, 2005

Current events

In short breaks I sometimes take to refocus on my work, I like to keep up with current events by browsing online news outlets. A couple of stories which caught my attention this morning were news of the discovery of a stone age "multi-use" tool, and of the discovery that cats may totally lack the ability to sense sweetness in their food.

I guess it should come as no surprise either that early humans from 28,000 years ago may have used sex aids or that the early example found was in what is now Germany. I mean, those Germans are pretty notorious. Another interesting thing is that the tool was also used to shape flints -- truly a multi-dimensional household item. One could imagine it being sold in a Stone Age Sharper Image or Home Depot next to the Swiss Army knives and home improvement items.

I don't have much to say about those poor cats except sucks for them.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Let's get this started

Here comes my hat into the ring of the whole blogger fad. It's as well that it's a metaphorical hat and a metaphorical ring as I look terrible in hats and don't particularly like circuses. I have been meaning to start blogging for some time now but, as usual, my entry into this latest fad is sorely belated.

I suppose it's just normal for me to be late to the party: Lazer Tag, Banana Republic animal-printed T-shirts, off-the-shoulder suspenders, Transformers . . . I'm sure there are more.

Anyway, I suppose what finally kicked off this "burst" of motivation to start blogging was a series of emails sent by my friends in which I realized that sheer laziness was a stupid reason not to begin given the mainstream status of blogging in general.

Here's my portion of that email:

I'm always tempted to start a blog of my own, but my life is so prosaic that i'm always concerned there's nothing to talk about. On those rare occasions i make an interesting observation, however, i always wish i could write about it. But then, i don't have a blog set up and i'm too lazy to do so.
For instance, today, on my way to my contract assignment, i walked under the third st. / i-80 bridge on the way from the train station. This underpass is not unusual to me, as i walk through it every day - twice every day even. But strangely, this morning it literally smelled like a hamster cage. I suppose some combination of prolific and unwashed vagrants and the nearby construction created that strange brew of wood chips, dirty hair, dander, dust and a dab of feces in the air. For some reason, when the hair, feces and dander belong to a small rodent, it's less nauseous. I suppose it has something to do with the old Carpenter's song, "Bless the beasts and the children / For in this world ... they have no choice ..."
As for custard, isn't the reason they call it custard because they put a whole bunch of egg yolks in it? I saw a program a while back about custard places in New Jersey and New York - but I suppose it might be a whole east coast thing. In any case, the Willow Glen ice cream place was really good - but considering it was technically San Jose, I had a major case of (ask [my friend]) "I see white people..." In my recollection, [my friend] and I were the only asian people, and of the large crowd (50+) there, there were maybe two or three other non-white patrons. Combined with the relatively high humidity, i was reminded of many places i've been, none of which were "home."

The custard reference was in response to my friend's blog' ("Miscellaneous and Useless Information") July 14th entry. There's nothing like a cool custard ice cream on a warm summer San Jose night.

Anyway, we'll see how long this goes on.