A family struggles to understand why Georgia prisoner Troy Davis is scheduled to be executed, even though the case against him has fallen apart
Flickr/The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
"How does it work?" my eight-year-old asked last Saturday morning . "Will he just stand there and have to -- let them kill him?"
She was asking me about Troy Davis, a man on Georgia's death row who is slated to be executed on September 21.
There's been much talk about Davis in our house, so the night before, I'd tried to explain: Found guilty of killing a police officer, Davis was sentenced to death in 1991, but in the meantime, the case against him has fallen apart.
Seven out of the nine people who said it was him have "recanted" or changed their testimony, I told my daughter and her older brother, explaining what that meant. "What about the other two?" my son asked.
Death row inmate Troy Davis / Reuters
Well, I don't know about one of them, I said, but the other -- Sylvester "Redd" Coles, the first person to accuse Davis -- might have actually been the shooter. Since Davis's conviction, several people have testified that he lied about Davis to protect himself. And boasted about getting away with it.
To make things worse, I said, they don't have any physical evidence against Davis either, nothing you can see or touch. What little physical evidence the State of Georgia once had it has since withdrawn -- new forensics technologies have revealed grievous error, and the assumptions of the past were shown to be wrong.
I explained a little about the appeals process, but also that once you're found guilty of something, it's very hard to get that changed. Try as I might, I couldn't reasonably explain to my children why the judge who heard new testimony at a 2010 hearing rejected that testimony -- I don't understand, I said, why he felt the witnesses must have been trustworthy in 1991, but that they no longer were 19 years later.
Especially, I said, because most of them said they'd been pressured by the police to blame Davis.
I turned to my 12-year-old boy, and explained that one witness was 16 years old at the time. Darrell "D.D." Collins now says he was alone in a room with five police officers -- no parent, no lawyer, just the police who were anxious and angry and looking for a suspect -- and they just kept yelling at him to say that it was Troy, threatening that he would go to jail if he didn't. So he finally did.
Imagine if that were you, I said to my boy. Imagine how frightened you would be.
There's one chance left, I said: Clemency. The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles might decide that the case against Davis is simply too weak to support a death penalty, and they will commute his sentence.
We were at dinner at the time, so the conversation continued and meandered. Their dad explained why we oppose the death penalty generally ("me too," said the 8-year-old, "we shouldn't kill anybody"). Both kids said that they wished they could do something to help.
I admit I teared up at this point. I explained that this can't be their job right now, that fighting the death penalty has to be on the grownups. And that no matter how hard we try, we won't be able to get the world fixed by the time they grow up -- they'll be able to continue the work. That in the meantime, the fact of them in my life gives me the kind of joy and rest I need to be able to be available to people who need help.
Dinner ended and bedtime came. We read Harry Potter, snuggles were given and received. The night passed.
The next morning, the first words out of my daughter's mouth, sitting up in her bed, were about Troy Davis.
"You know how we were talking about Troy last night? How does that work?"
"I'm sorry," I had to say, "how does what work?"
"Well, how do they kill him? Will he just stand there and have to -- let them kill him?"
There are moments in parenting when not telling the whole truth is very important. I did not say "They will wheel Troy into a tiled room. They will strap him to a gurney. They will inject him with a series of drugs that will kill him in stages, despite the fact that there is real evidence that these drugs do not always work as smoothly as we are told. Despite the fact that he may suffer as he dies, they will strap him down, and people will watch, and they will inject him, and Troy Davis will die, even though he is almost certainly innocent."
Instead, I swallowed hard and thought about our cat, the one we put to sleep a couple years back, the one whose last living memory was of being in my arms. I said "Oh no, honey, they'll give him drugs like we gave Chauncey. The first one will make him sleep, and the next one will stop his heart. Do you remember how Chauncey died, quietly in my arms?"
I lied. I could not tell my daughter the truth. She's in third grade, and if she didn't have the mother she has, she wouldn't even be thinking about such awful things. I let her believe that it will be peaceful for Davis, that it will be like being held in someone's arms and falling asleep.
"But I still wish I could help," she said.
I thought hard, and suggested she write him a letter. She liked that idea: "If they were about to kill me and an 8-year-old girl wrote to me to tell me she believed me, that would help me feel better."
The day, then the weekend, passed and I thought -- I suppose I hoped -- that she'd forgotten. It's like I don't know my own daughter, though, because she is nothing if not a dog with a bone.
"Oh!" she suddenly said this morning. "I still have to write to Troy! And I better do it soon, because it has to be before the 21st."
And if the clemency bid fails, and Troy Davis is executed next week, I will tell her (and I will pray that it is so) that her message and all the other messages and all the well wishes of all the tens-of-thousands of people who have supported him these many long years were in his heart as authorities gave him those drugs -- that as his life ended, Troy Davis at the very least knew he was being held by tens-of-thousands of loving hands.
The 49ers quarterback won’t stand for the national anthem anymore.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem before games as a protest against recent high-profile incidents of police brutality and racial injustice have been met with criticism and protests, but is an important step for a league where professional athletes rarely speak out on such issues.
Kaepernick was noticed sitting down during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” in a preseason game Friday. When asked by a reporter about his actions, he said:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
What looks at first glance like an opening up of possibilities is actually an attack on the human imagination.
You might not like what I’m about to say about the multiverse. But don’t worry; you’ve already had your revenge. If there are an infinite number of parallel universes, there will be any number of terrible dictatorships, places where life has become very difficult for people who like to string words together. Somewhere out there, there’s a society in which every desperate little essay like this one comes with a tiny, unremarkable button: push it, and the author will be immediately electrocuted to death.
Maybe your hate is more visceral—you already know I’ll die some day, but you want to see it happen; you need to see me groveling. You can if you want. Fly upwards from the plane of our solar system, keep on going, through the endless huddles of galaxies, never forgetting your purpose, until space and time run out altogether. Eventually you’ll find yourself in another universe, on a damp patch of grass and broken concrete, unwatched by whatever local gang or galactic empire rules the city rising in foggy shapes beyond the marshes. There, you’ll see a creature strangely similar to yourself, beating me to death with whatever bits of scrap are lying around.
As pay TV slowly declines, cable news faces a demographic cliff. And nobody has further to fall than the merchant of right-wing outrage.
Updated at 12:05 p.m.
October 7, 2016, will be the 20th birthday of the Fox News Channel, and at the moment, the network is experiencing the soap-operatic highs and lows typical of any teenager on television. In many ways, the summer of 2016 may go down in Fox News history as the company’s nadir. Its founder and leader Roger Ailes has been dishonorably dispatched, the remaining executives are dealing with a flurry of sexual harassment lawsuits, and one of its most public faces, Sean Hannity, has ignominiously remodeled himself as a gutless Trump whisperer.
And yet Fox News’ fortunes are ascendant, at least in the most quantifiable sense. The network’s annual profit in 2015 soared by about 20 percent. For the first time ever, Fox News has been the most-watched cable network among both primetime and daytime viewers for several months, with a larger audience than its nominal rivals, CNN and MSNBC, combined. Led by “The O'Reilly Factor,” Fox News doesn’t just have the best-rated news show on cable television; according to The Wrap, it has the 13 best-rated news shows on cable television.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
Why did the company trend a false article about Megyn Kelly?
Oh, Facebook. Just when the company seems to have avoided the responsibility of being a news organization (and all the attendant controversy), it finds itself back in the editorial muck.
Last week, Facebook made a surprise overhaul of its “Trending Stories” feature, the sidebar that highlights some of the most popular news stories on Facebook. Where the company had previously provided a short, human-written summary of the news at hand, it now only described the story in a one or two-word phrase: “#Toyko2020: Japanese Prime Minister Appears in Surprise Performance During Rio Ceremony,” became just “#Tokyo2020.”
Facebook’s decision to simplify the feature seemed like an attempt to wriggle out of editorial responsibility: What had been a messy human-led process would now become an algorithm-guided one. The company also laid off the 26 employees who had run the feature—19 curators and seven copyeditors—with little warning on Friday, according to Quartz.
What to do if you’re a Hillary fan seated next to a Trump supporter at a wedding
When America is finally great again, they’ll make the latte with soy milk like you asked.
All those political cracks, not to mention earnest proclamations, mean that for the next 10 weeks, many casual interactions run the risk of erupting into full-blown partisan warfare. It’s more of a danger for those with family members or close friends who support opposing candidates and views. But on Facebook, hot-button scuffles can break out between almost anyone. (I recently witnessed a college friend who lives in Europe arguing about gun rights with a random guy from my high school in Texas, whom I myself have spoken with only a few times in person.)
One reason Americans find the other side’s views so inflammatory is that increasingly, they view their political party as more of a tribe than a checkbox. “People start seeing themselves or their political views as the main representation of their values, and what is right and wrong,” said Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.
In the primaries, he avoided policy debates by promising to build a wall—but the general election is forcing him into specifics.
The biggest political story of the last week has been Donald Trump’s flip-flop on deporting undocumented immigrants. This Sunday on CNN, Mike Pence filibustered his way through the subject for almost seven minutes before Jake Tapper finally declared, “You did not address the issue” and moved on. Chris Christie on ABC and Kellyanne Conway on CBS were no more coherent. The Daily Beast summed up the morning with the headline, “Immigration Flip-Flop Leaves Trump Campaign Flailing on Sunday Shows.”
But focusing on Trump’s “flip-flop” misses the point. Trump’s real problem isn’t that he’s changed his position on immigration. It’s that he’s trying to formulate one at all.
What the commentary of the last few days has generally overlooked is that while immigration was key to Trump’s success in the Republican primary, Trump never actually offered an immigration policy. To the contrary, his success rested in large measure on his ability to avoid one. Trump’s strategy on immigration, as on other key issues, was to cut through the Gordian knot of public policy with aggressive, quick fix solutions. Terrorism? Ban Muslims. ISIS? Bomb the hell out of them and take their oil. Loss of manufacturing jobs? Slap massive tariffs on companies that outsource American jobs.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Economics hasn’t been able to explain irrational choices. Can neuroscience?
Humans often make bad decisions. If you like Snickers more than Milky Way, it seems obvious which candy bar you’d pick, given a choice of the two. Traditional economic models follow this logical intuition, suggesting that people assign a value to each choice—say, Snickers: 10, Milky Way: 5—and select the top scorer. But our decision-making system is subject to glitches.
In one recent experiment, Paul Glimcher, a neuroscientist at New York University, and collaborators asked people to choose among a variety of candy bars, including their favorite—say, a Snickers. If offered a Snickers, a Milky Way and an Almond Joy, participants would always choose the Snickers. But if they were offered 20 candy bars, including a Snickers, the choice became less clear. They would sometimes pick something other than the Snickers, even though it was still their favorite. When Glimcher would remove all the choices except the Snickers and the selected candy, participants would wonder why they hadn’t chosen their favorite.
Hillary Clinton has her problems, but Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency.
On one hand, there’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who oversaw “grossly inadequate” security at a diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, the site of a deadly September 11, 2012, terrorist attack.