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All my exes live in Texas…and by that, I mean, all 484 executions

Electric Chair at the Texas Prison Museum
Electric Chair at the Texas Prison Museum, taken by Katherine Sanger, January 9, 2012

No, I’m not taking it as lightly as the title might lead you to believe.  But Texas has completed execution number 484, Marvin Lee Wilson, on August 7 at 6:27 PM.  He is reputedly of “diminished mental capacity” with a measured IQ of 61.

A number of people are outraged, including John Steinbeck’s son, Thomas Steinbeck, who spoke out after Texas argued that Wilson should be executed and cited Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” character, Lennie Small, as an example of why those with intellectual disabilities should be executed.  Thomas Steinbeck said, “I am certain that if my father, John Steinbeck, were here, he would be deeply angry and ashamed to see his work used in this way.” He believed that it was wrong that “Texas would use a fictional character … as a benchmark to identify whether defendants with intellectual disability should live or die. I find the whole premise to be insulting, outrageous, ridiculous, and profoundly tragic.”

The ACLU, who I normally agree with, and a number of others have made statements that the problem is that those with intellectual disabilities are often easily led.  I agree.  However, this was not Wilson’s first crime.  According to the statement sheet at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website, Wilson’s first offense, aggravated robbery, was in 1981, and he was sentenced to 8 years.  He obviously got out early for some reason because he was sentenced to 20 years for robbery in 1987.  He was paroled in 1991, and in 1992, he was arrested for the abduction and shooting of a 21 year old that he got into a fight with.  He was, at the time, 34, and with an 11th grade education.  (To put that in perspective, the two previous executions were both 19 with a 10th grade education.)

So what is the point I’m making here?  Am I saying it was okay to execute him?

Yes.  And no.

Here’s the thing.  I have to worry about things like this.  My son is autistic, and he’s got a diminished mental capacity.  He’s been diagnosed as functionally MR.  Is he really?  Can’t say for sure.  But let’s take it further – could he be accused of a crime, whether falsely or not?  Yes.  Could he be sentenced to death and not understand it?  Seems that way.  Does that worry me?  Hell, yes.

But here’s the other thing.  Wilson seems to have understood the idea behind doing something bad and being punished.  He committed two previous crimes.  He made a final statement, stating that, “Ya’ll do understand that I came here a sinner and leaving a saint.”   He wasn’t an innocent.  He had the mental acuity to kidnap a man he got into a fight with and then execute him.  He didn’t accidentally kill him.  He didn’t slip up.  He committed two robberies that netted him 28 years total jail time, and when he was out, he made the decision to kidnap and murder another human being.

I do believe in the death penalty.  I don’t always believe in the criminal justice system.  I don’t have enough facts to make a decision here, but I do have enough facts to say that this is something that everyone needs to think about and consider.  What lines do we draw and where and why?

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Walking on Broken Glass…

ImageSo with all the joys of packing and trying to leave for vacation, I completely forgot to mention another joy – the joy of discovering that your almost new (not quite  3 months old!) washing machine – the first one that you’ve owned that wasn’t the cheapest one in the shop – bust a gut.  Well, not really a gut.  Most like a glass top.

Yes, apparently the glass top of the washing machine decided to implode.  I say that because when I heard it happen, I was in another room.  The washing machine wasn’t running – hadn’t been running for about six or seven hours – and there was no one in the room with it.  I was just sitting there, and suddenly there was a noise like someone had gone all Dexter on a roll of bubble wrap.  How odd, I thought.  But no cats came running, no dogs barked, and nothing else seemed out of the ordinary so I dismissed it as a weird noise and kept on with what I was doing (which was probably grading papers since that seems to be the majority of what I do with my life).

A few minutes later, I got up to do some packing for the trip since we were set to leave the next morning, and I walked through the laundry room to drop off something in the car.  And that’s when I actually saw it.

The glass lid of the washing machine had seemingly shattered.  It had spider-web cracks all over it, seemingly originating from nowhere yet somehow covering the entire surface.  How it happened..why it happened…no idea.

We touched it, and it seemed weak.  If any pressure had been put on it, I think it would have rained down the glass shards into the washer, definitely something we wanted to avoid.  And, of course, we were leaving on vacation the next morning.  So just like the fact that my car battery died earlier on in the week, I was semi-grateful it had happened.  It would have been worse had the lid shattered while we were gone.  A cat sitter would have shown up and potentially discovered a cat, stuck in the bottom of the washer, covered in blood or dead.  Scary thought for all of us.  At least this way, we knew about it. And we had access to the information for the warranty.

The problem now was how to keep exactly that from happening (the whole dead and/or bloody cat scenario, that is…).  I found the “Pop-Pop board” in the garage.  (For those not in the know, my grandfather, Pop-Pop, could build anything.  Years and years and years ago, he built this awesome big wooden board with rails along the sides.  My mother used it to do puzzles on.  My sister and I used it to build with small wooden blocks on top of it or played with our marbles – you couldn’t lose them because the rails kept them on it…and it was absolutely gorgeous, too – dark wood, lovely stain…)  We duct-taped the board over the top because it covered it well enough to keep it from putting pressure on the already cracked glass, and then we piled some empty cardboard boxes all askew on top, trying to keep the cats from jumping up, just in case.

So we’ve been gone for a few days now, and so far, no dead or injured cats, so that’s a hopeful sign.  And the local service company that will come out and check the warranty “issue” have already called to make the appointment for the day we get back.  If all goes well, we’ll have a working and safe washer in under two weeks.  If not, be looking for a blog that talks about the evils of LG…

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Back at the beach house

Storms roll in at the beach
Storms roll in at the beach (Dauphin Island, AL)

This year is rather different than last year.  Last year at this time, I was still searching for a full-time job, still enrolled in my doctoral program, and actually in the process of writing my comp exam.  Last year at this time, I was beyond stressed and unhappy. 

This year, not so much.

Yeah, I still have some work I’m doing.  I have two active classes right now, two more that will start on the 13th that I’m in the process of setting up, and a few little projects on the side.  And this year, I’m enrolled in an MFA program, so I’m reading and editing a zombie story.  So it’s not like I’m exactly not working, but it’s reduced working.  And this year, I’m not beyond stressed or unhappy.

In fact, this year, I’ve been napping.  I’ve been reading.  I’ve been writing.  I’ve been watching the storms roll in and listening to the thunder out over the water.  And I’ve been taking pictures and playing in the ocean and overall having a good time. 

So far, I haven’t gotten much done, but that’s okay.  This is a vacation, right?  And while I may not be able to totally get away from work, at least I’ve gotten away.

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The Digital Divide and the Panacea of the Masses

Family watching television, c. 1958 By Evert F. Baumgardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Family watching television, c. 1958 By Evert F. Baumgardner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2002, Dickard and Schneider reported that only 54% of Americans were online.  According to a recent CNN Money article,  52% of lowest income families (making $20,000 or less) don’t have a computer in their homes.  However, 62% of those in that low bracket own between two and four televisions (as of a 2009 survey).

What does that actually mean?  And why should we care?

CNN Money asks if it means that they aren’t poor.  But maybe they’re missing the point. 

It IS poverty to own a TV and not a computer.  Literacy does not refer to just reading skills.  Illiteracy, according to Ribriro (2006), is not just a lack of schooling but anyone who has a “limited mastery of reading and writing skills.”   In this day and age, reading and writing occurs online. 

It isn’t just reading and writing that gets accomplished online, though.  In order to make a difference, in order to start a movement, in order to get involved and be able to be empowered, one must be able to get online.  Grassroots organizations solicit members, get donations, and even sign petitions.  They make others aware of problems, get people involved, and get ideas for helping to overcome problems. 

How can someone nowadays find a job that will help them earn more than $20,000?  They have to look for it online.

How does someone get the training and skills they need for that job?  They have to look for it online.

Not owning a computer, and not knowing how to use one, is part of what keeps many of these people at that level.  It’s easy to buy a TV and know how to use one; it’s hard to buy a computer and know how to use one.

The last time I went shopping for a laptop, I walked in knowing what I wanted and how much I wanted to spend on it.  Even then, the salesman questioned me.  Why did I want that computer?  Did I know about this computer?  What was my budget?  If I hadn’t been sure of myself, I might have crumbled and caved, given in to his “I know more than you” attitude.  Would someone, earning less than $20,000 a year, who may already be unsure of him or herself, give in at that point and allow themselves to be bullied? 

Even if they don’t give in, even if they buy what they intended to buy, what about being able to afford everything that goes along with it?  Would that person be able to afford monthly connectivity charges to the Internet, ranging from $30 or more a month?  Would that person be able to buy the software that comes as a free sample and then runs out?  What would they do if the computer broke – or was broken when they got it home – and they couldn’t tell how to fix it?  And just how many computer shops (that aren’t pawn stores with questionable stock) are located in the middles of areas with median incomes of $20,000, anyway?

There are more questions than answers, but I think the important thing to take away here is the fact that we can’t judge that someone who has a TV or two instead of a computer is “not poor.”  If anything, they are far poorer than they know.