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July 24th, 2002:

Who’s your buddy?

The House of Representatives voted 420-1 to expel James “There’s a dead opossum on my head!” Traficant from its esteemed body for being a lying, cheating scuzzball who had the temerity to get caught.

Normally, when I see a vote of something-to-one in the House, I assume that Ron Paul, the eccentric libertarian from Texas, is the one nay vote. Not this time. Wanna guess who Jimmy the T’s lone remaining friend is?

Only Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., who was defeated in a primary for re-election after he was romantically linked with Chandra Levy, a government intern who was murdered, voted against Traficant’s expulsion.

Hard to imagine a better expression of the concept “Your political career is over” than that.

The death penalty

Two recent items have gotten me thinking about the death penalty. This article in The American Prospect talks about recent shifts in opinion on the death penalty. I find that sort of thing to be more wishful thinking than anything else, and I’m never sure how much I sympathize with it. I’ve gone up and down on the death penalty. I remember once as a teenager trying to convince my Dad that the death penalty was just and good. How exactly I came to be to the right of my Catholic, Republican father remains a mystery to me. I think I’ve been making up for it ever since.

Despite my relentless surge to the left on many issues, I remain basically in favor of the death penalty. I just feel that it’s the only possible response to certain crimes and certain criminals. Back in the day when Mario Cuomo was governor of New York and the death penalty was not on the books, a prisoner serving a life sentence killed a guard. As it happened, this was a rare loophole in the New York penal code – a lifer who committed murder was the one type of New Yorker who was eligible for the state-sponsored big dirt nap. Cuomo categorically ruled out the possibility of executing this killer, in keeping with his principles. I always thought Cuomo gave him a free pass. How else can you punish someone who’s never going to breathe outside air again? It made no sense to me, then or now.

As with many things, of course, familiarity can breed contempt, and there’s no place more familiar with the death penalty than Texas. There are many capital cases in Texas that make one question one’s commitment to the idea of governmental killing. One such case, profiled in the July Texas Monthly is that of Darlie Routier (subscription required), a housewife from Rowlett who was convicted on the bloody stabbing murder of her two young sons. Darlie has claimed her innocence all along, saying that the boys were killed by an intruder, who also stabbed her. There’s a pretty good case that she may be right. At the very least, there’s room for a fair bit of doubt.

The evidence presented at trial painted a circumstantial picture of Darlie’s guilt. Her story varied. Her stab wounds were described as “superficial” by one doctor. When police arrived, she seemed more concerned with her own injuries than the boys’. There was evidence that her blood had been wiped from the sink, as if she’d cleaned up after cutting herself, and evidence that the basement screen which was the alleged means of entry for the iintruder had been cut by a knife from the Routiers’ kitchen. Possibly the most damning piece of evidence was a videotape of Darlie, on what would have been her son Devin’s birthday, wishing him a Happy Birthday and spraying Silly String on the tombstone.

But the evidence wasn’t clear. Despite reports of financial difficulties, the boys had minimal life insurance policies – $10,000 each, which didn’t leave much after the funerals. (Husband Darin was insured for $800,000.) One of Darin’s socks, which contained only a few drops of the boys’ blood, was found on the street several houses away. The timeline made it virtually impossible that Darlie could have dropped it there before the cops arrived. One of the boys was still barely alive when paramedics arrived, so instead of making sure they were both dead before calling 911, he could have survived to finger her. Finally, unlike Andrea Yates or Susan Smith, Darlie had no history of depression, incest, abuse, or adultery.

In any event, Darlie was convicted and now sits on death row. Since her conviction, some truly bizarre things have happened. The court reporter in her case was fired after a staggering 33,000 errors were discovered in the case transcript. Most amazingly, her husband has admitted that his financial troubles at the time of the murders were such that he had hatched a plan to hire a burglar to break into the house, steal a bunch of stuff, then sell it back after the insurance company paid out. This has led to some speculation that the killings were a hit on Darlie gone wrong, as she was insured for $200,000.

Her appeal is underway, and I daresay we’ll be faced with another case where questions of punishment will be overshadowed by questions of guilt or innocence. There’s a lot of people out there who think Darlie got screwed – do a Google search on “Darlie Routier” and see for yourself. This web page has registered over eight million hits. Someone out there believes her.

I do still believe that the death penalty is a viable option. I just believe we need to be very careful about how and when we apply it. I’m far from convinced that Darlie Routier deserves it.

Style points

Jim Henley apparently didn’t much care for the light gray color of my text, and proffered the hope that I’d change from this default MT color to something else. Well, I did a little research on cascading style sheets, which led me to this useful guide, and now my text should (I hope) be a nice dark black. Whaddya say, Jim? Better?

(I must admit, I didn’t realize how not-dark the text was until Jim’s comment made me change it. I like it better this way. Thanks, Jim!)


Today was Take Our Children To Work Day here at the office. Last year’s event was so well-received that over 250 kids signed up to come in today at three different locations. I was roped into volunteering to work for TOCTWD last year, and I had a sufficiently good time that I signed up again this year. Naturally, since I was now an experienced hand at this, I was made a group leader. Ah, the fruits of success.

TOCTWD is divided into group activities in the morning and free time with regular tours of the building (which means the server room and the help desk in our case) in the afternoon. I was assigned to oversee a group of eight- to ten-year-olds. We had some “learning exercises” disguised as games for them. First, we played the Telephone Game as a demonstration of communication skills. The first time through, the kids had to pass along the story they were told without asking any questions or repeat recitations. As you might imagine, the end result bore no resemblance to the starting point. When we allowed them to ask questions and do repeats, they did much better.

The second game was a beach ball relay, in which two people must carry a beach ball across the room, around a chair, and back, then pass it off to the next pair in line, all without using their hands. This went over very well, and the kids really got into it. We wound up doing it twice, and again you could see a difference, as the kids had figured out the best way to keep the ball pinned between each other as they moved.

Unfortunately, the beach ball relay game took less time than we had budgeted for, so us three volunteers had about 30 minutes to fill and 19 fidgety kids to keep entertained. There were a few minor skirmishes and a fair amount of yelling and running about, but overall they were pretty well behaved.

Last year I’d worked with the 11 to 13 year old group. Both groups were fun, and I’m not sure if I’d have a preference for next year. I just know I’ll volunteer again.