Thursday, December 13, 2007

Miscellaneous pictures of me and Mitch











Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Thanksgiving pics, finally!

Here's the kitchen during the day-- cooking in progress...


The dining room that morning... the other guests will sit at another table in the entry hall..


The turkey was a natural, free-range locally-raised bird from Alexander Family Farm in Del Valle, TX. Honestly I couldn't tell the difference between it and any other bird (I brine all my birds of course.) However, I need to think about the pros and cons: a local bird has fewer petroleum miles, but it was more than triple the price. $3.25 a pound!


Here's the "kids' table" in the entry hall, after the majority of dinner is done.


Fred and Nathalie enjoy a good laugh.


After dinner everyone gathered in the kitchen for a dessert buffet.





Bill.


Jana and Aven.


Jack, Vinnie and Mitch.


After all the eating, a nap is a good thing...


Then, before Fred left, a little fashion show. (It's really Nathalie's coat)


Mitch was a champion at cleanup. The lovely crystal pitcher was a gift from my dear friend Kevin Williamson.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New baby in the family!

Art and Linda Matthews are like second parents to me, so their boys Craig and Brett are like brothers. Brett and his wife Heather had a beautiful baby boy the Monday before Thanksgiving... welcome Owen Patrick Matthews!!

Here's Brett getting the crib put together:


Here's the first baby of the house-- "Papu" (the ridiculously-expensive French Bulldog.)



And here's Heather with #2:


Proud papa with his big boy (over nine pounds!)


Aunt Linda, with Craig in the background. (see how BIG that baby is!!)



Uncle Art and the first grandchild-- somebody's gonna be spoiled...



Owen is the spit of his Uncle Craig--


Craig looks pretty comfortable holding a baby!



So that's my big news :) I'll have to get my Thanksgiving pics up soon. Promise!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Getting ready for Thanksgiving

It's been a long time since I've had time to blog, sorry. Lately I've been occupied with a variety of tasks and activities: salsa, gardening, choir, work, and now planning for the big Turkey Day feast.

Trying to make Thanksgiving a potluck has not been too successful. About half the people coming are bringing something (yay! shout out to Bill, Winonah, Kaan & Jana!) and the other half, well, I don't know what their plan is. I'm planning on making enough stuff that we'll have plenty to eat. Also had to change dinner time to accommodate the Cowboys kickoff.

Aside from that, been diligently digging a little almost every day in the garden. Planted almost all my Asiatic lilies last night; still have a handful of those plus a few handfuls of daffodils to get in the ground. Not to mention the buddleia, pink indigo, sweet olive, esperanza, lantanas, and so on... I think I need more bed space to fit in all these plants.

Today I'm pretty sore, because I began a strength/flexibility routine yesterday morning. I've been good about my cardio, but need to add muscle mass, so I found a routine you do at home without weights and MAN, my quads and hamstrings are cranky this morning!

Anyways... off to the mines :)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Scary!

Cheap Meat: An Accident Waiting to Happen

By Jo Robinson

The latest fiasco in the U.S. livestock industry is that thousands of hogs and chickens have been raised on feed contaminated with melamine, the same chemical that has sickened thousands of cats and dogs. According to the U.S.D.A., some meat from those hogs and chickens has already entered our food supply.

How did this happen? The story begins in China. Melamine is an inexpensive by-product of the coal industry. In a deceptive practice, some Chinese producers have been adding melamine to rice, wheat, and soy meal to make the products appear to contain more protein. (Melamine is not a protein and has no food value, but it is rich in nitrogen and mimics protein on standardized laboratory tests.) Melamine costs less than true sources of protein, so the manufacturer makes more money.

The story continues in the United States. In order to lower the cost of pet food production, U.S. companies have been importing cheap protein meal from China. The pet food manufacturers had no way of knowing that some of these products were spiked with melamine. The exact number of dead and sickened pets is unknown.

But how did melamine get fed to our pigs and chickens? A common cost-cutting practice in the livestock industry is to supplement animal feed with floor sweepings and other leftovers from pet food manufacturing plants. In recent months, however, some of the sweepings happened to be laced with melamine. In this serpentine fashion, a cost-cutting adulterant that was added to protein meal in China found its way into U.S. pet food, then U.S. livestock feed, and then the food on our dinner tables.

The F.D.A. and the U.S.D.A. do not foresee any health consequences from eating melamine-spiced pork and poultry. This may prove to be true. The family pets that died ate the melamine itself; we are eating chickens and pigs that ate the melamine, diluting its concentration.

We may have dodged the bullet this time, but as long as we continue to raise our livestock on a least-cost basis, our health is at risk. For example, many cost-cutting practices lower the nutritional value of our meat. Research shows that the nearly universal practice of fattening cattle on straw and grain instead of fresh pasture gives us beef that is higher in total fat and lower in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. The practice causes no immediate harm, but our health may suffer over the long term.

Some cost-cutting strategies are deadly. In the 1980s and 90s, feedlot managers tried to save money by feeding cattle scraps back to cattle. The tragic result was mad cow disease. Eating meat contaminated with trace amounts of melamine may cause little or no harm. Eating just one serving of beef from a mad cow can kill you.

Adding more governmental oversight is a stop-gap solution. We need a sea change in the way we raise our livestock. We need to raise the animals on their native diets or on quality ingredients that match their original diets as closely as possible. When we feed wholesome feed to our animals, we can serve wholesome food to our families. We are what our animals eat.

**************

Jo Robinson is the originator and primary researcher of www.eatwild.com, a science-based website that details the benefits of raising animals on pasture. She is also the author of Pasture Perfect, the Far-Reaching Benefits of Choosing Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products from Grass-fed Animals.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Certiorari granted in lethal injection case...

See my notes below....

Cert granted today in Baze v. Rees, 07-5439
(lower court opinion: 217 S.W.3d 207)

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

Although the Court has authorized civil actions challenging portions of a method of execution, it has not addressed the constitutionality of a method of execution or the legal standard for determining whether a method of execution violates the Eighth Amendment in over 100 years--leaving lower courts with no guidance on the law to apply to the many lethal injection challenges filed since the Court’s rulings allowing the claim in a civil action. Lower courts have been left to look to cursory language in the Court’s opinions dealing with the the death penalty on its face and prison conditions. As a result, the law applied by lower courts is a haphazard flux ranging from requiring “wanton infliction of pain,” “excessive pain,” “unnecessary pain,” “substantial risk”, “unnecessary risk,” “substantial risk of wanton and unnecessary pain,” and numerous other ways of describing when a method of execution is cruel and unusual.

Considering that at least half the death row inmates facing an imminent execution in the last two years have filed suit challenging the chemicals used in lethal injections, certiorari petitions and stay motions on the issue are arriving before the Court so often that this issue is one of the most common issues. Thus, it is important for the Court to determine the appropriate legal standard, particularly because the difference between the standards being used is the difference between prevailing and not.

This case presents the Court with the clearest opportunity to provide guidance to the lower courts on the applicable legal standard for method of execution cases. This case arrives at the Court without the constraints of an impending execution and with a fully developed record stemming from a 20-witness trial. The record contains undisputed evidence that any and all of the current lethal injection chemicals could be replaced with other chemicals that would pose less risk of pain while causing death than the tri-chemical cocktail currently used.

Although this automatically makes the risk of pain associated with the use of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride unnecessary, relief was denied on the basis that a “substantial risk of wanton and unnecessary pain” had not been established. This squarely places the issue of whether “unnecessary risk” is part of the cruel and unusual punishment equation and whether an “unnecessary risk” exists upon a showing that readily available alternatives are known.

The Kentucky Supreme Court’s decision gives rise to the following important questions:

I. Does the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibit means for carrying out a method of execution that create an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering as opposed to only a substantial risk of the wanton infliction of pain?

II. Do the means for carrying out an execution cause an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering in violation of the Eighth Amendment upon a showing that readily available alternatives that pose less risk of pain and suffering could be used?

III. Does the continued use of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide, and potassium chloride, individually or together, violate the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment because lethal injections can be carried out by using other chemicals that pose less risk of pain and suffering?

IV. When it is known that the effects of the chemicals could be reversed if the proper actions are taken, does substantive due process require a state to be prepared to maintain life in case a stay of execution is granted after the lethal injection chemicals are injected?


***** I'd like to note that at least in Texas, question #4 is a non sequitur-- we never START an execution while there's any pending litigation, so this situation would never come up. I find it hard to believe that it comes up anywhere, frankly.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More of my favorite salsera..

I'm silly for procrastinating today with all these deadlines, but I was distracted watching some more salsa clips, so I thought I'd share one more.

Again, Magna, with Eric Baez.

All settled in...

The housewarming pool party was last weekend and I think it went very well. Lots of friends, good sangria (if I do say so myself), and good weather. Some folks hung around for dinner, just burgers on the grill and some potato salad etc.

I was very happy with my first experience making ice cream from scratch-- turns out the ideal mechanism to convey the ice cream to the mouth is two cookies :) In this case, it was vanilla ice cream with reverse chocolate chip cookies (chocolate cookies, white chocolate chips). I will have to play around and experiment with that! I'm thinking gingersnaps, but made so they stay chewy, with caramel ice cream :) Or maybe sugar cookies and key lime pie ice cream...

Anyway, we had Nicole in from Houston for the weekend too, and that made it all the better. Now this weekend we'll be in Houston for a fantastic salsa event, with Eddie Torres in from NYC and Francisco Vasquez from LA.

Monday night we met with Father Larry to set a date for the wedding. I was actually giddy in the church office! He did give us a little hard time for living together before the wedding, but we explained it wasn't a "trial period" arrangement, and I think he knew better than to keep pushing. It's not feasible to have any other living arrangement anyway. And besides, I feel like I'm already married in my heart-- the marriage ceremony is for friends and family.

So thus begins the wedding planning! I've already decided on a dress, the hair, the caterer (I think.) We have a tasting coming up next week, and if it's good, we will go with her.

Anyway I have a pile of work to get to, so that's it for now :)

There's a new function on this blog, to add video, so here's a favorite of mine-- Magna and Ismael in a fun performance. Magna's husband Jareau (who filmed this) edited it to go back and forth between the practice video (daytime, casual clothes) and the performance (at night, matching outfits.) It's just one example of how fabulous Magna and Ismael are when they dance together-- though they're fabulous pretty much no matter who they dance with, they're doubly good together! Enjoy!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Labor Day weekend

How was yours? I took a short-notice trip to Long Island and Virginia, because my uncle had a gallbladder attack and needed emergency surgery. He and my aunt were visiting friends on Long Island, so I flew up there, hung out for a few days while he gathered his strength, and then helped them drive back down to the Eastern Shore of Virginia where they live. It was wonderful to see them again, but sad of course under the circumstances. Fortunately he is recovering very quickly, giving my aunt all kinds of heck and griping about his new low-fat diet. It's a good sign when he starts giving people a hard time :)

How sad about Luciano Pavarotti. Easily the most known tenor for my generation.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Uh, no...

On Tuesday, the European Union urged the governor of Texas to halt executions and introduce a moratorium on capital punishment in the United States' busiest death penalty state. The EU said Texas Gov. Rick Perry must ''exercise all powers vested in his office'' to halt the impending 400th execution since Texas resumed carrying out death sentences in 1982.

Governor Perry's office issued a reply, which I rather like regardless of how one might feel about the death penalty:

''The reason our forefathers fought a war 230 years ago was to throw off the yoke of a European monarch so that we may have the freedom of self-determination. Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens.''

Monday, August 20, 2007

life is good...

We're getting settled into the new place and I really like it. I will like it even better when the new carpet is installed (next week Mon-Tues) because that's why I can't fully unpack. (Easier to move china cabinets, dressers etc when they're empty!)

So this weekend is a nice little salsa event in Dallas featuring John & Liz from Salsamania in San Fran... we'll also get to see Mitch's brother and family, and his best friend Jeff, so that's all good.

Then Labor Day weekend we'll be unpacking and cleaning and repotting plants... then the next weekend (9/8) is our big housewarming pool party. Unlike most of my parties, this will be very low-key and low-cooking for me... just sangria, guacamole, chips, maybe a fruit salad, and soda pop. The rest is potluck and BYOB :)

The nicest thing about our new house (so far) is the wonderful outdoor entertainment opportunities. The deck is in the middle of a tree canopy plus we have a lot of houseplants, so we're enjoying our "tree house" frequently. Astonishingly there's no mosquitoes! We grill most of our dinners (the non-stick grill basket/wok thing is perfect for veggies) and eat most of our dinners al fresco. It's nice when you have friends with little ones, because the inevitable showers of food from their mouths just get washed away with a hose when it's all done. (sure, people don't clean their feet when they go in the house, so we find food in the carpet, but we'll figure out how to prevent that soon enough.)

Anyway, I sold some stuff on Ebay so I gotta bolt to get them to the post office in time. And I woke up too late to walk/swim this morning, so that's still on my to-do list.

Have a good one :)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A brush with mortality, and a view of immortality...

I AM NEVER MOVING AGAIN.

Just wanted to say that aloud-- it's been running through my head so frequently since July 15th. It makes me feel better, you know? (This is the brush-with-mortality part-- the part where I realize just how close I was to dying of exhaustion, or at least wishing I was dead so I could rest.)

a) The movers, two elementary school teachers and one of their alumni students about to be a senior in HS, were very cheap and very polite. However, they were not very efficient in terms of packing the 26' Uhaul, so they had to do two trips. Thus, our day began at 7am (they arrived at 9:30am) and we got to bed in the new place at 2am (the movers left at 11:30pm).

b) My honey-bunny is wonderfully astute about many things, but he didn't notice just how much stuff he'd been acquiring over the eight years since his last move. Thus, his moving/packing philosophy ("Oh, I'm not letting the movers do that, I'll just put a few things in the car and make a few trips") was not really up to the task.

c) We ended up renting another Uhaul truck (14') and hiring the movers *again* for Thursday of last week. And we filled that truck, with all the things honey-bun ended up deciding to let the movers move, plus all the enormous houseplants we both collect.

d) I took last week off to unpack. I lost some weight, let me tell you. I'm thrilled with the weight loss, thrilled with the new house, and hoping I can find a way to keep it up.

e) We still are not unpacked entirely-- new carpet installation and built-in bookshelves getting built in, sometime in August. So the housewarming BBQ and pool party will be in September.

So, I'm back at work, rested up and ready for this weekend (we'll play Chinese firedrill with the garage and get it sorted out and cleaned up.)

Now what's the view of immortality, you ask? A few posts ago I mentioned my high school friend Brian's suicide, and part of my recollection of Brian was that he witnessed me forgetting my date Kevin Artl's name. Of course, who Googles their name and finds my reference? Kevin Artl! So he's immortal, and we're back in touch, and my shame expands apparently infinitely :)

Anyway, work is good, the house is good, and life carries on. If it ever stops raining, maybe I'll get some swimming in.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Moving, taxes, going to the dentist...

... all things which *can* be put off, but apparently the longer you wait between "sessions" the worse it gets.

I know I'm blessed with a wonderful life and I'm lucky to be moving into a beautiful house. However, I have to say I'm a little tired of it all. Between the pest guy who didn't do anything (meaning I had to call the company back, get another guy out there, and still he didn't have the right stuff in his truck, so I have to go back a third time today...) and the painters (more on them below) and the carpet cleaner (whose cleaning solution left my velvet couch feeling crusty and sticky-- so he's coming back today to rinse it out with fresh water)... it's just been a lot of running around.

The painting story: Majority of the house (interior) was painted with some kind of builder standard beige-- a cool, pinky beige to be exact. We wanted the entry repainted with the same color (lots of dings in the walls, and 2 stories, so hard for us to do) and then have the library (currently a faux painted red and gold) painted the beige too.

Owner of the painting company, a nice guy named Chuck, says "Oh yes, I know what color that is, it's Monarch Summertime, no problem."

Chief of our painting team, Richard, came out and said "No, that's not Summertime, we'll have to match it."

Mitch and Richard used a deck of paint chips, got the closest one, and the painters got started yesterday. I showed up in the afternoon, and it was just a hint lighter-- which meant that the entry looks almost white. That's fine, I don't care too much, the entry will have some furniture and art and whatever, so no biggie. But in the library, it felt cold and sterile and utterly UNcosy. So this morning I have to hustle over to the paint company and buy 3 gallons of something warmer.

Aside from that unfortunate, no-one's-fault kind of thing... they generally did a good job so far, though of course Mitch and I cruised around the house with a little yellow stickie pad in hand, noting places with touchup needs.

I decided to take today off, in part because I am pretty cool at work and in part because Mitch's kitchen could take all day. I did about 5 boxes' worth last night and another 2 this morning, and I'd say it's about 1/3-1/2 done. As I've said before, we have different packing styles. The living room looks like we mostly still live here-- the CDs and stereo are already packed, and so are the art tiles over the fireplace, but the TV/DVD are still hooked up, my honey's paperwork and receipts and bills etc are still covering the coffee table, and (ahem) my clean bluejeans are still draped over the back of the loveseat, next to a pile of his clean socks. (Never quite finished putting away laundry.)

Anyway, it's an adventure. But I just called the paint store and they open in 20 min, so I better get moving.

=)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wheeeew!

OK-- time to take a breather and report on the last few weeks' worth of stuff!  [Work stuff deleted to comply with office policy!]

Now I'm in the last stages of packing, and we move to the new house on Sunday the 15th! Hooray hooray!! Nothing like a little lost-keys drama to add spice to the weekend though. I misplaced my car keys for two days (thank goodness I could use Mitch's car.) Found them Saturday, phew. Now, if I could just lay my hands on the spare key (which is also conveniently missing..)

This weekend was LOVELY weather (nice and cool and breezy, about 80 degrees, a little rain Saturday morning and then sunny... I can't believe I'm in Austin!) I spent most of Saturday dealing with various professionals out at the new house-- two electricians to discuss the wiring for my new cooktop, a landscaper, a carpet measurer, and so on. This whole week is quite busy, house-wise, as well-- maids come tomorrow, carpet cleaner on Wed, painters on Thurs, hopefully new carpet for the upstairs gets laid Fri-Sat... I am so excited I can't wait. Then I'm taking off all next week to unpack and get organized. (What a vacation :\)

I might get to do two days of scuba diving in the Gulf at the end of the month, so that will be the carrot at the end of my stick.

Hope you're well....

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Iesha and Shaniqua go to the Rose of Tralee...

Long story and sorry I don't have time to post it now; when I get back from the hearing (beginning of July) I will edit this and fill in.

Here's my fabulous Iesha hairdo for the Irish banquet I attended in Dallas on June 9th with my girlfriend Evonne McG...




Thursday, June 14, 2007

Too crazy busy to post...

Between the hearing I'm prepping for (last week of June plus a few days in July) and finding a carpenter to do our built-in bookshelves at the new house when the sellers move out (June 30), it's been crazy around here. Mitch's parents left Sunday evening, we're interviewing for our investigator position here at work, and I'm getting into the serious workaholic mode necessary before all hearings. Sadly too, my friend and second-chair, Katherine, is not attending the hearing as planned due to a spike in her workload plus serious illness in her family. So it's me and Carole by ourselves. That's fine, Carole is quite smart, but this is also her second-ever hearing, so it will be fun juggling the witnesses amongst ourselves.

On top of it all I'm still dealing with sadness over my friend Brian's death, plus the inevitable irksomeness of having my whole life in boxes stacked in Mitch's house. I will be happy to move in, unpack for a week, and get organized.

Once I can do that much, I'll feel better.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sorry Bush is an Idiot...

News Flash-- Death Penalty Deters Crime

Studies Say Death Penalty Deters Crime

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 11, 2007

Anti-death penalty forces have gained momentum in the past few years, with a moratorium in Illinois, court disputes over lethal injection in more than a half-dozen states and progress toward outright abolishment in New Jersey.

The steady drumbeat of DNA exonerations -- pointing out flaws in the justice system -- has weighed against capital punishment. The moral opposition is loud, too, echoed in Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, where all but a few countries banned executions years ago.

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument -- whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

The reports have horrified death penalty opponents and several scientists, who vigorously question the data and its implications.

So far, the studies have had little impact on public policy. New Jersey's commission on the death penalty this year dismissed the body of knowledge on deterrence as ''inconclusive.''

But the ferocious argument in academic circles could eventually spread to a wider audience, as it has in the past.

''Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,'' said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. ''The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.''

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. ''The results are robust, they don't really go away,'' he said. ''I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) -- what am I going to do, hide them?''

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory -- if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

To explore the question, they look at executions and homicides, by year and by state or county, trying to tease out the impact of the death penalty on homicides by accounting for other factors, such as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, and more.

Among the conclusions:

-- Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).

-- The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston.

-- Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.

In 2005, there were 16,692 cases of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter nationally. There were 60 executions.

The studies' conclusions drew a philosophical response from a well-known liberal law professor, University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein. A critic of the death penalty, in 2005 he co-authored a paper titled ''Is capital punishment morally required?''

''If it's the case that executing murderers prevents the execution of innocents by murderers, then the moral evaluation is not simple,'' he told The Associated Press. ''Abolitionists or others, like me, who are skeptical about the death penalty haven't given adequate consideration to the possibility that innocent life is saved by the death penalty.''

Sunstein said that moral questions aside, the data needs more study.

Critics of the findings have been vociferous.

Some claim that the pro-deterrent studies made profound mistakes in their methodology, so their results are untrustworthy. Another critic argues that the studies wrongly count all homicides, rather than just those homicides where a conviction could bring the death penalty. And several argue that there are simply too few executions each year in the United States to make a judgment.

''We just don't have enough data to say anything,'' said Justin Wolfers, an economist at the Wharton School of Business who last year co-authored a sweeping critique of several studies, and said they were ''flimsy'' and appeared in ''second-tier journals.''

''This isn't left vs. right. This is a nerdy statistician saying it's too hard to tell,'' Wolfers said. ''Within the advocacy community and legal scholars who are not as statistically adept, they will tell you it's still an open question. Among the small number of economists at leading universities whose bread and butter is statistical analysis, the argument is finished.''

Several authors of the pro-deterrent reports said they welcome criticism in the interests of science, but said their work is being attacked by opponents of capital punishment for their findings, not their flaws.

''Instead of people sitting down and saying 'let's see what the data shows,' it's people sitting down and saying 'let's show this is wrong,''' said Paul Rubin, an economist and co-author of an Emory University study. ''Some scientists are out seeking the truth, and some of them have a position they would like to defend.''

The latest arguments replay a 1970s debate that had an impact far beyond academic circles.

Then, economist Isaac Ehrlich had also concluded that executions deterred future crimes. His 1975 report was the subject of mainstream news articles and public debate, and was cited in papers before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing for a reversal of the court's 1972 suspension of executions. (The court, in 1976, reinstated the death penalty.)

Ultimately, a panel was set up by the National Academy of Sciences which decided that Ehrlich's conclusions were flawed. But the new pro-deterrent studies haven't gotten that kind of scrutiny.

At least not yet. The academic debate, and the larger national argument about the death penalty itself -- with questions about racial and economic disparities in its implementation -- shows no signs of fading away.

Steven Shavell, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School and co-editor-in-chief of the American Law and Economics Review, said in an e-mail exchange that his journal intends to publish several articles on the statistical studies on deterrence in an upcoming issue.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Brian's funeral.

I'll scan the first page of the memorial booklet from the funeral on Monday and post it then.

I had a 3 hour drive to Houston, so I left around half past ten yesterday morning. I thought about Brian, our relationship, his friends, and the awful possibility that there was something wrong all along that I'd never seen. I've never had anyone remotely close to me commit suicide before, and while it sounds trite, the guilt was pretty heavy. I suppose it's trite because in general it's the standard reaction. However, a small part of me kept mulling over my theories: one, that it wasn't Brian after all, it was a mugger who got hit by a train and was unidentifiable (but had Brian's papers etc in his pocket)... and that 2-3 months from now someone would get an email from Brian, with a photo of him standing on an iceberg somewhere. Typical stage-one grief-- denial. The other theory was that if it WAS Brian, it wasn't a suicide.

I checked at the Davilas' hotel when I arrived at 1:30 but most everyone had already gone to the church a few blocks away. The neighborhood around the church reminded me of River Forest-- stately homes of brick and stone, on arching green lawns with curving flowerbeds. When I arrived, there were small groups of people talking quietly in the antechamber of a peaceful and elegant church. Several posterboards (like what you used in school science fairs, with a center section and two wings) were displayed on tables, holding photographs of Brian from infancy on.

I signed the guestbook and entered the sanctuary-- it was a long oval with the entrance on a narrow end. In the center was a pointed oval made of communion railing with kneelers, and prominently inside was his casket covered in an embroidered cloth. The pews and chairs were circled all around this railing, with a pulpit/lectern at the other narrow end. Behind that were the ornate pipes of a very large organ. Also, on one of the long sides of the oval was the church's rose window, a modern stained glass in greens, blues, and pinks.

Brian's dad Fidel and mom Susan both came up to me with warm hugs even though they'd never met me before. Victor, Brian's cousin who lives in Austin, invited me to sit with him and the rest of the family, which I deeply appreciated. Victor and I had met the last time I ever saw Brian-- two years ago almost to the day, when his stepsis Jenn got married in Austin and Brian and Victor met me out for some salsa dancing.

I realized that Brian actually died on May 25. (I thought it was the 24th originally.) My father passed away eleven years ago on May 25, so it was already a sad day for me.

While waiting for things to begin, Victor and I discovered we shared the same two theories about Brian. With tears streaming from his eyes, Victor said there'd been a viewing at the wake the night before and it was definitely Brian. He said there was no doubt in his mind that it was him, so there went my first theory. In the background the organist was playing "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" which we both thought odd, since it's more traditionally heard at weddings.

The service began with the church bell tolling, once for every year of Brian's life. About 16 chimes into it, someone revved a motorcycle (not a rumbly Harley-- it was clearly a crotchrocket) and zipped down the street outside, and Victor and I shared a smile and said "That's Brian!" at the same time.

The Lutheran liturgy is understandably very similar to a Catholic Mass.. readings, psalms, and songs. As a group we recited the 23rd Psalm together, and another reading was I think the 121st, beginning with "From whence cometh my hope? I raiseth mine eyes to the hills." The pastor's homily was a little long and a little hard for me to hear, but it emphasized that nothing can impede the love of God, and it was God's will that we all be together again at some point. I can't recall what other songs we sang, but fortunately we did NOT sing Amazing Grace, because I would have bawled the whole way through.

The first person to speak about Brian personally was his father. I cannot imagine the agony of speaking at your son's funeral, yet he was so strong and didn't break down once. He began by wryly noting that this is the only time he'd be able to talk without Brian arguing back (and the hush that followed was almost suffocating in its completeness.) He mentioned that Brian bore the dual curse of being a perfectionist and a procrastinator, which got a little laugh from me and Victor. He told stories about how smart and clever Brian was-- including a high school class where Bri got a B without cracking a book. When his dad asked him how he did it, Brian said "They're weekly pop quizzes, all sentences the teacher reads aloud, which we have to mark true or false. I would watch the smartest person in the room-- if they started writing in the middle of the sentence I wrote 'false,' but if they waited until the sentence was completed before writing, I wrote 'true.'" That got a bigger laugh from the audience. He shared how Brian agonized over finding his true purpose in life and was troubled for many years that he couldn't discern his role. He mentioned that Brian had even taken medication to help with his sadness. He seemed so convinced that Brian committed suicide that I wondered if maybe it was true. He noted that Aristotle said we should be ruled by philosopher-kings age 35, because at that age you know everything you need to know-- and how sad it was that Brian had just turned 35 on May 13, becoming a philosopher-king too late. What I remember Fidel closing with was his sad rumination that everyone tried to love Brian as much as they could, but it just wasn't enough. That broke everyone and the sobs were pretty audible.

Another cousin, Ramon "Chito" spoke next. He read an email of Chuck's, sent to Bri's mom, and then said simply "I miss him already." Chuck's email recounted some little pieces of the past, and I remember "black on black Converse hi-tops, listening to the Beatles while playing SimCity, and him telling me the next time I was in Dallas I had to try a Shiner Bock with him." There was a lot more to Chuck's email, but I can't recall it all. It was very moving nonetheless.

I spoke third. I started with an epiphany I'd had while listening to the bell toll for him-- when Brian and I met, neither of us would ever have thought of 35 as young. I know I shared some of the stories from my first blog post. I also said that when I thought of Brian, I thought of someone quick and generous-- quick to speak and laugh, someone who nodded quickly to hurry you up, someone quick to hug you if you were down, who even flipped his pen quickly (which made lots of people laugh while they all lifted their hand and imitated the movement.)

He was also generous, I said, never stopping to count the cost to himself, only seeming to ask how much his actions could bring to someone else. And I hoped that people never forgot that, whatever had happened to him in Switzerland. (Later I thought, what the heck did that sound like? And what I meant was, whether Brian committed suicide or maybe had gotten himself in with some unsavory people, we should remember him as he lived and not as he died.)

[I have to admit, though, to having moved past the denial stage and into the anger stage-- I'm pissed at him! I want to shake him and say look-- just because you haven't found all the answers you seek didn't mean you just give up! But I know that's a simplistic answer, and I have no clue what misery or pain he was enduring. For all I know I would have done the same.]

Then his uncle stood up and recounted some adorable memories of Brian and the "gang of the Tres Bandidos" (the cousins he summered with in Texas, at Momo's, his grandmother's.) Because they were inside jokes for the most part, I only partly got it, but it was cute even from my ignorant perspective. Brian's nickname there was El Guero Gueron. I don't know exactly, but I do know a 'guero' is a white person, and my guess is something like "whitest of the white." LOL. If anyone knows please let me know!

Last, his mom spoke. She's an amazing public speaker-- very clear, poised, eloquent. She described how Brian called her last fall on her birthday as he usually does. They chatted for a while and then Brian asked if he could call her back in 20 minutes. 20 minutes later her doorbell rang, and it was Brian, come home to Oak Park for a surprise visit of 2 months. Brian helped her paint the outside of her house, and she said she learned so much about him and herself because they'd never worked together as adults on a project like that. She said that Brian was very clever at problem solving (typical engineer, he said) and that they spent lots of time talking and just appreciating each other. She said everything Brian did turned out right one way or another.

For example, when he was 10 or 12, he asked her for a ride to the library because he had a book report due the next day. Happy he would finally experience some natural consequences, she told him it had already closed at 6pm. OK, he replied, and went up to his room. He came down a while later, exclaiming that he found the book (which he'd checked out at the library 2 months previously and forgotten to return.) That got a big laugh. Then, of course, he read the book overnight, did the report, got an A, and returned the book at the library-- and it happened to be the "amnesty" week where no fines were assessed!

She went on to say that Brian was not satisfied with making lots of money or the other typical goals-- that he wanted a real purpose for his life and was frustrated that he hadn't found it, that he was upset by the prospect of never getting married. I can't remember exactly her words, but she finished with an emphatic declaration that essentially Brian had died in God's good graces and would be reunited with us at the end.

The service concluded after Communion was shared, and everyone made sure to invite me to join them for a reception back at the hotel. I was so wrung out, I felt it might be a good idea to relax a little before trying to drive back to Austin, and I was happy to accept.

At first people were a little wrung out themselves, I think, but once conversations got going, people cheered up a bit. It was like an Irish wake-- some booze, some food, and lots of good memories being shared. Brian's sister Erica was so gracious and kind to me, making sure I joined the "kids' table" of all the cousins and including me in everything. I spent a good 15 minutes talking to his mom, and it about broke my heart. She's just so easy to talk to, so open and direct.

She did tell me a few things that put to rest my second theory -- Brian wrote her a note on the last page of his passport, for one, and also, there were witnesses. She and Erica went to Switzerland to bring him home, and they were able to speak with the police about the case. Ever the engineer, Brian coolly and calculatedly waited to put himself on the tracks until it was obviously too late to stop the train. Interestingly, she said no computer, clothing or other effects were in his hotel room-- and all he had on him was his passport and plane ticket, a small amount of money, and his Ipod. (The battery has run down but they're charging it to listen to whatever may be there. There were no earbuds attached so it is unlikely he was listening to it or distracted by it at the moment.)

She'd spoken with Brian on the phone just thirty minutes before he killed himself, and did not get the impression he was going to do anything other than get on the plane and come home. She said she believed he was going to come home, but just got to a point "where he realized he couldn't make that last leg home."

What can you say to that? Just being in the presence of someone going through that tragedy with such compliant resilience is heartening-- but baffling at the same time. Where do they get so much courage?

I stayed at the reception about an hour, enjoying peoples' reminiscing, but when I started getting a migraine I knew it was time to go. I get migraines when I'm stressed, and since it was catching up to me I wanted to sit in the car quietly, close my eyes, and take an imitrex. Brian's stepmom Trudi was so sweet, they kept insisting they come take me to dinner in Austin some evening, and I promised quite a few people that I would copy 3 CDs Brian gave me years ago.

I got in the car, popped a pill, chilled out for a few minutes until I felt it take effect, and then drove back to Austin.

My friend Adriana appeared in several of the photos at the church-- standing next to Brian before proms or other dances, both of them looking so sweet, wide-eyed, innocent. Most of the other pictures of the adult Brian look either mischievous or irreverent-- he loved to stick out his tongue for the camera, especially after he got it pierced. He was playful and fun-loving, and that is how I best remember him.

I will miss him very much.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bring back the death penalty, prisoners plead...

Italy inmates seek death penalty
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Hundreds of prisoners serving life sentences in Italy have called on President Giorgio Napolitano to bring back the death penalty. Their request was published as a letter in the daily newspaper La Republica. Italy has almost 1,300 prisoners serving life terms, of whom 200 have served more than 20 years.

Italy has been at the forefront of the fight against capital punishment and recently lobbied the UN Security Council to table a moratorium on it. But at home some of the country's longest serving prisoners want the death penalty re-introduced.

'Light into shadows'

The letter they sent to President Napolitano came from a convicted mobster, Carmelo Musumeci, a 52-year-old who has been in prison for 17 years. It was co-signed by 310 of his fellow lifers. Musumeci said he was tired of dying a little bit every day. We want to die just once, he said, and "we are asking for our life sentence to be changed to a death sentence".

It was a candid letter written by a man who, from within his cell, has tried hard to change his life. He has passed his high school exams and now has a degree in law. But his sentence, he says, has transformed the light into shadows. He told the president his future was the same as his past, killing the present and removing every hope.

'Need for change'

Italy abolished the death penalty after World War II. Under current laws, prisoners serving life can obtain the right to brief periods of release after 10 years and conditional release after 26 years of good conduct. The Communist Refoundation party's senator, Maria Luisa Boccia, has proposed draft legislation to abolish the life sentence and replace it with a maximum sentence of 30 years. The president has spoken many times about the need to change the sentencing regime. But in his response to the letter, he said it was now for parliament and the government to deal with the prisoners' request.

Original at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6707865.stm

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Wake and funeral information for Brian...

From Brian's dad:

The Wake will be Friday, June 1 from 6-8 PM at:
Settegast-Kopf Funeral Home
3320 Kirby Dr
Houston, TX 77098
(713) 526-2411

The Funeral Service will take place on Saturday, June 2 at 2 PM at:
Christ the King Lutheran Church
www.ctkelc.org
2353 Rice Blvd
Houston, TX 77005
(713) 523-2864x1021

In lieu of flowers you may donate to the Boys & Girls Club in McAllen Texas. Brian loved to spend his summers in McAllen at his Grandparents ("Momo & Papa's") home. Please include Brian's name, your Name, Address, Telephone Number, Signature and Date along with contribution to: Boys & Girls Club of McAllen Capital Campaign P.O. Box 577 McAllen, TX 78505

Thanks to everyone who has expressed there condolences and keep Brian and his family in their prayers. Also, please free to forward this message to anyone else who may want to know.

With love and gratitude,

Fidel & Trudi

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brian is gone.

I just learned that my high school friend Brian committed suicide while overseas.

Brian and I weren't close in high school, he dated a friend (Adriana) and was friends with friends of mine (Joe, Brian, Ben) but we didn't specifically associate with each other back then. There was one incredibly embarassing incident I'll never forget, though-- I had just started dating a guy from another high school, it was probably my first date with him, and we went to the community college's Pink Floyd laser show. I saw Brian and Adriana coming out of the earlier showing as we were entering, so I began the introductions, and completely forgot my date's name. Of course now I'll never forget it (Kevin Artl, I'm sure you're not reading this, but just in case, you have achieved immortality.) You know, I don't even remember if Brian really remembered that incident.

Keep in mind I went to high school in a Chicago suburb, and imagine my surprise when I ran into him in Austin years later-- I was taking a free swing dance lesson at the Carousel Lounge, I think with Drew Lippolt of all people, and Brian was visiting his dad who lived near Plano, about 3 hours away.

Brian and I sort of stayed in touch on an occasional basis-- he joined me and a gang of friends from law school for some tubing down the Guadalupe River one summer, he was my date at a friend's wedding, and we even dabbled in a romantic relationship at one point after law school. Brian was definitely a "jet setter" in my eyes. He dropped out of Berkeley where he studied computer science to join the team at Yahoo, waaaay long ago before their big success. He cashed out his stock options at a good time, because he bought a Boxster S, tooled around the country for a while, then zoomed off to Ibiza, Spain where he lived like a rock star for months and months. My understanding was he enjoyed some of the finest music and clubbing lifestyle as only a young, affluent, incredibly smart young guy can.

Brian came back to the States one summer, I guess it was summer of 2001 or maybe 2002, and joined me for an incredibly nice trip on the scenic highway in Virginia's Blue Mountains. He drove his Boxster all the way there from Texas to meet me-- he went to my aunt and uncle's 50th anniversary party one weekend, then we cruised around in the state and national parks on Skyline Drive for a few days before he headed back south and I went to my cousin Brett's wedding. That's the kind of generous thing Brian would do-- drive thousands of miles, on $800/set tires that only last like 20-30k miles to begin with, in a car that costs about $200 for an oil change and gets horrible gas mileage, to meet a friend who has a week to kill so she can drive his precious baby. That's Brian in a nutshell-- fun-loving, impulsive, generous, kind, extravagant.

He was also witty and dry-- SUCH a dry sense of humor-- and so darn smart. He was quick in every way. Quick speaking, quick to laugh, quick to poke fun, quick to make decisions. Brian never scrimped on compliments and was as quick to point out something lovely as most people are in criticizing.

Brian was a good salsa dancer. He accompanied me to a friend's wedding and took me out salsa dancing afterwards, long before I'd really gotten into salsa the way I have now. And I think the last time I actually saw him, he was just about finished with his degree at Berkeley (yes, he did return to finish it) and was in Austin briefly on his way to somewhere else-- maybe this is a year ago... he came by the salsa club and hung out for a while, danced with me a bit, and then was gone. I remember him smelling very strongly of cigarrette smoke and being surprised because I didn't think he smoked. The last time I heard from him, he was planning a trip to Costa Rica with a friend from school.

Then I think in February, he fell off the face of the earth, not communicating with anyone, friends or family. We (his high school friends and his parents) ran around like nuts for a while, everyone trying to locate him... his website was still active, but was it just automatic bill pay? A family member in law enforcement got his credit card records and learned from them that he was using his credit card in Basel, Switzerland. Phew, he was alive and not at the bottom of the jungle somewhere. At that point I figured Brian was just being an international man of mystery again, so I sent a final email saying he should stop playboying around long enough to send his parents an email or postcard-- I think I may have even called him a jackass, but with a smiley face-- and I assumed that was it.

Now I hear that Brian talked with his dad last week and said he was coming home-- but then last Friday, the State Department called his dad and said Brian committed suicide on Thursday May 24. I got the email over the weekend and I'm trying to get more information for friends. I plan on driving to Houston for the funeral on Saturday.

I can't believe this happened. I had no idea Brian was ever anywhere near suicide. I need more information to even start to process this-- until I get more data, it's just empty words that convey no meaning.

I'll miss him, though.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Death Penalty Upheld for Child Rape

Death Penalty for Child Rape: copied from the Volokh Conspiracy site, http://www.volokh.com/posts/1179944391.shtml:

Yesterday the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the death penalty for rape of a child under 12. In Coker v. Georgia (1977), the Supreme Court held that the death penalty for rape was unconstitutional. Many commentators had interpreted the reasoning of Coker as precluding the death penalty for anything short of murder and possibly some national security offenses (treason, espionage, and the like). But Coker spoke expressly and repeatedly of rape of an adult, so the question of the death penalty for rape of a child remains open.

Yesterday's decision follows the lead of a 1996 Louisiana Supreme Court case (State v. Wilson), but Wilson decided the question in the context of a pretrial motion, and the U.S. Supreme Court understandably -- given its general preference not to review decisions before a final judgment -- refused to hear the case. The new case, State v. Kennedy, upholds a death sentence, so I suspect the Supreme Court will agree to consider the issue.

The Louisiana opinion is long and detailed, and I can't do it justice with a capsule summary; but here's a particularly interesting passage that tries to apply the U.S. Supreme Court's death penalty methodology that was developed in the recent cases having to do with the death penalty for juveniles and the mentally retarded (one paragraph break added):

Overall, it appears that approximately 30% of capital jurisdictions (15 of 38, including federal) authorize some form of non-homicide capital punishment, a showing strong enough to suggest that there may be no consensus one way or the other on whether death is an appropriate punishment for any crime which does not result in the death of the victim. However, when the direction of change is considered, clearly the direction is towards the imposition of capital punishment for non-homicide crimes. As stated earlier, the number of jurisdictions allowing the death penalty for non-homicide crimes more than doubled between 1993 and 1997.

Most important to our analysis is the fact that four states have enacted laws which capitalize child rape since Wilson, evidencing movement in the direction that this Court thought possible back in 1996 when Wilson was decided. Looked at another way, even after the Supreme Court decided in Coker that the death penalty for rape of an adult woman was unconstitutional, five states nevertheless have capitalized child rape since then, a number which the Supreme Court held in Roper was sufficient to indicate a new consensus regarding society’s standards of decency towards the juvenile death penalty.

In fact, the trend is more compelling than in Roper, given the Roper Court’s reliance on five states abolishing the death penalty for juveniles after Stanford held that the death penalty for juveniles was constitutional. Here, we have five states enacting the death penalty for child rape in spite of Coker, which held that the death penalty for rape of an adult was unconstitutional. Furthermore, it is likely that the ambiguity over whether Coker applies to all rape or just adult rape has left other states unsure of whether the death penalty for child rape is constitutional. These states may just be taking a “wait and see” attitude until the Supreme Court rules on the precise issue. Thus, the fact that only five states capitalize child rape should not pose an obstacle to the Court’s consideration of the issue, given the direction of change, i.e, an increase of five since Coker....

[Moreover,] it can be said for child rapists as a class of offenders that, unlike the young or mentally retarded, they share no common characteristic tending to mitigate the moral culpability of their crimes. Contrary to the mentally retarded and juvenile offenders, execution of child rapists will serve the goals of deterrence and retribution just as well as execution of first-degree murderers would. Our state legislature, and this Court, have determined this category of aggravated rapist to be among those deserving of the death penalty, and, short of a first-degree murderer, we can think of no other non-homicide crime more deserving.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sorry!

There's just no time for blogging these days. At work I am swamped between a case set for hearing at the end of June (tons of work right there), another with a big answer due May 29, two other answers due June 20, an execution June 20 (which means other things to work on before then) and all kinds of little things that keep popping up in the middle and distracting me.

At home, Mitch and I are usually exhausted by the time we come home from work, but he's working on getting the yard into shape so we can rent his house; with all my stuff in the house, it's a constant feeling of disarray and disorganization. I need to clean up the closet and bathroom because I'm getting a little out of control with the earrings all over the counter, clothing piled on top of the dresser, random mess under the bathroom cabinet, etc. I'm working until 7 most days and in bed by 9 so it's been hectic.

His parents are coming for a few weeks' visit May 23 so we need to clean up for them. We have plans for the next few weekends with friends and other events, but a friend of Mitch's in Corpus is terminally ill, so Mitch and some other folks are probably going down there sooner rather than later.

It's just been crazy lately.

On the plus side, my friend Ellen's new baby is doing well-- Aviva is her name and she's just precious. Ellen's good too, but I need to start seeing her more often esp. once all the parents go back home. My other friend Erica hits 37 weeks tomorrow and she can't wait to get the baby out. And my "brother's" wife Heather is preggers too-- I think probably about 3-4 months now. Brett's not really my brother but he's as close as you can be without being blood, so I feel impending aunt-hood :)

I have to admit, I am looking forward more and more to getting married next spring and starting to work on a contribution to the next generation that isn't light, air or water pollution. At least not directly :)

G

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ends of all sorts.

The first and closest-to-home end... last weekend there was a big storm in Bastrop. It tore up some old trees by the roots, I've been told, and badly damaged the 100+ yr old crepe myrtle tree in "my" front yard. Yes, yes, I know it's not MY front yard any more. But, you know what I mean. Very sad! I hope this weekend we'll

Then Monday was the closing on our house, and that went almost as smoothly. A few documents had some names wrong, but it was taken care of quickly by the title company and lender people, so now Mitch and I own a new house! :) That's really more a beginning, but it's also happily the end to stress on that account for a while.

The sellers are leasing it back for a while, so at this point we don't know exactly when we'll move in except that it is likely to be in early July.

Mitch's cousin Steven and his family are moving to Austin from Indianapolis because he got a new job here, so we're touring them around this weekend, checking out neighborhoods and catching a concert at the Backyard on Sunday night.

That's the "end" of my report of ends :)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Phew!

One down, one to go. Tuesday the movers came and did a great job-- my furniture and numerous boxes completely stuffed the 24' truck from top to bottom. It was drizzling all day but the guys shrinkwrapped all my furniture so it was very well protected. I ordered pizza for them, but they didn't stop to eat. It still took 10 hours, but the price was very reasonable ($869) compared to other quotes. I gave them both good tips so I think we all ended up happy. I was tickled pink to not have to lug all that heavy stuff around. Plus they were better prepared than I ever would have been with the blankets, shrink wrap, dollies etc.

Fortunately I remembered the attic... found a few things I would have been sad to lose including some photos, scrapbooks, notes, and so on.

Closing was this morning at 8:15. I went to the house early, swept and mopped and vacuumed, and generally tried to give the best karma I could to the new owners. They had already signed their half of the paperwork, so I didn't get to meet them, but the closing for me was smooth as silk. I was out of there before 9am and in my office by 9:35.

I'm pooped, though, and I think it's emotional more than physical. I'm on my way home now, to meet Mitch and go for a hike in the greenbelt behind his house. Then we'll broil a steak, move some boxes around, and watch a moooooo-vie. (You wouldn't believe how crowded his guest room, dining room, and garage are now... just as if someone had crammed 2000 sf worth of stuff in there..!)

One of these days I'll put up the photos of the azaleas at their finest.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sorry for the lack of updates!

Here's the latest: this past weekend was my last in Bastrop. Everything is packed and ready for the movers, who arrive tomorrow morning at 8:30. I still need to doublecheck the garage attic space, but I think we're all set. Once they're done loading the truck, they will go to Austin and Mitch will supervise them putting stuff in his house and garage. Meanwhile, I will clean the house and go to the title company to turn in my keys and all the instruction manuals, warranties etc for the house, and sign my name OVER AND OVER AND OVER. Sadly the title company has me with my full middle name too. My right hand will be a quivering mess when I'm done, I'm sure. I'm taking tomorrow and Wednesday off... and I'll spend Wednesday sorting and organizing and recovering.

It wasn't as sad as I expected. I stood in the backyard and breathed in very deeply-- the scents of the grass, honeysuckle, the jasmine, and the roses were lovely, and the sound of the fountain was peaceful and charming. At the same time, I was happy to never have to clean out the algae in the fountain again. I am happy to never have to dig out millions of trumpetvine sprouts again. And I am happy to not worry about crazy bills because the house is uninsulated.

I do worry that the Collinses (the buyers) will not water the ivy plants hanging on the front porch... or that they will be careless and scare away the wren who has built a nest and laid an egg in the hanging pot... or that they won't put up a hummingbird feeder. (I saw two blackthroated hummers, one in the backyard in the salvia, and one on the side in the azaleas.) I made a long list of all the things they should know-- but they won't even be at the closing. I hope they love the house, if not the way I do, at least as well as I do.

I took a walk Saturday night-- checked out the downtown main street, had a glass of wine with my friends Curtis and Anita, and looked at the house Julia Roberts is living in while filming her next movie, Fireflies in the Garden. Yes, Julia and her kids are here in Bastrop :) So that was cool. I wandered down by the Collinses' home on Pecan and looked at the tents being set up for their Sunday gala for the Art Guild. I prayed that they would take as much care with my little baby (their "guest house") as they obviously do with the big brick mansion. And I thanked God and all the stars that my house went to some really rich people who love historic homes.

Mitch came out Sunday morning and we enjoyed breakfast at Maxine's. We'd just missed Julia Roberts and her kids, which was kind of fun, thinking about a big movie star just enjoying small town life the way we do. (Mitch and I will be going to Maxine's again, no fear.) Mitch helped me load up his car with lots of stuff, a cooler from the freezer, boxes etc. Then he scooted home to clean out the garage.

David and his kids came over Sunday afternoon and very kindly helped me take two truck-loads over to the Ladies of Charity, then he took some things for himself. The kitchen table is darling, but a little country and a little small for the new breakfast room, whereas David has a tiny little kitchen that needs it. It was nice to interact with him for more than 30 seconds-- fortunately we are still very friendly. His kids have gotten big, but it's weird-- in one moment they look the same as when I first met them 5 years ago, and the next, they look shockingly mature and teenager-ish. Anyway it was nice to see them and have a little more closure.

I have meetings and committments all week but the weekend looks nice and relaxing. I am honestly looking forward to a weekend with just ONE house to worry about.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Climate change.

Testimony from scientists in front of a House investigative panel revealed that the Bush Administration has been "cooking the books" that may result in "cooking the planet." The Administration has been altering data and pressuring scientists in regards to global warming, asking some to delete references to climate change in official government reports in order to downplay the impact and the need to move toward serious reductions in atmospheric pollution.

They are now squaring off against the most comprehensive report done to date on climate change, the IPCC report put out by the United Nations (don't forget, our UN reps contributed to the report - chaired by a NASA scientist - one who also testified about pressure to skew data domestically!).

It's shameful, and what is worse is that if the IPCC is correct, it may be the face of things to come. What happens when sea level rise threatens Manhattan, or erases the Florida keys and part of the peninsula, or any of our coastal cities that would be affected by a sea level rise. When hurricanes continue to grow in intensity and frequency, what will happen? When the Great Plains becomes a dust bowl as the aquifers run dry and drought continues, who will respond? How long will the new victims wait? How many will die then?

These are serious questions that we have yet to grapple with. Even if we do something today about warming, it will take decades to stop the damage we have already done. Some argue it is too late, and that thought should scare you. Even if you won't live to see the planet die, you are leaving your children one hell of a present. We're talking about these changes happening in OUR LIFETIMES and definitely in our CHILDRENS' lifetimes.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Bluebonnets!

This little cutie is my friend Ellen's daughter enjoying the Texas spring tradition of chillin' in the bluebonnets.



I will be posting some photos of the azaleas and gardens at my house in Bastrop soon, not that it will be my house for long, ha-ha.

DNA solves old murder case

DNA used to solve 1988 Houston murder case

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Houston police have solved a nearly 20-year-old murder case involving an 82-year-old Houston woman, but the man identified as her killer is already on death row.

Travis D. Green, 38, who has been an inmate at the Polunsky Unit of the Texas prison system since 2001, was identified through DNA as the perpetrator in the sexual assault and strangulation of Margaret McGinnis in 1988.

Green is on death row after a conviction in the 1999 sexual assault and murder of a 19-year-old woman.

Because he is on death row, no additional charges will be filed against Green, Houston police said.

On July 13, 1988, McGinnis was found on the floor of her bedroom in her west Houston home at 1805 Crocker.

The attacker had entered the residence through the bedroom window and barricaded the door from the inside.

At the time of the crime, there were neither witnesses nor leads in the case.

In August 2006, HPD Cold Case Squad investigators reopened the case. A review of McGinnis' autopsy led them to find a DNA profile in October. Investigators entered the profile into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) where a match was located.

In February, the match profile was identified as Green.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

up down and side-to-side...

That's how I feel like I'm doing-- too many deadlines, too many decisions, and on top of it, I'm still fighting this cold. I wish for just a little less multi-tasking please!

*sigh*

Friday, March 30, 2007

Torture.

As in, it's torture to have your baby inspected. What I believed at first to be a "small" foundation problem seems to have morphed into thousands of dollars of repairs. I think it's a combination of a few things: I didn't fix everything about the foundation that could be fixed when I bought the house (just what really needed to be done); old houses are like people, they gradually deteriorate over time; when you don't have a home inspection done regularly you are unaware of those changes; I haven't been under the house in quite some time (I think getting the dead possum out traumatized me); each foundation repair estimate bid on doing a slightly different set of things to the foundation.

What does all that mean? Well, their estimate came in at a figure I first thought was high. The more I learned, the more I realized it was probably a figure I would be happy to pay to get the house into better shape. Fortunately, they did not insist on me fixing it before I sold it, and were willing to accept a reduced purchase price.

That was hard to swallow for me at first, because I paid $8k less than what they're paying me for the house, but I've easily put in $40k-50k over the 3 years I've lived there. Between roof, paint, minor repairs, foundation work, landscaping, irrigation systems, and so on, it all adds up. But then I looked at it this way-- the asking price was fair for the house in the condition I believed it to be in. The end price is fair for the house in the condition it really is in. I can't ask for more than that-- but I did get the peace of mind from selling my baby to a family with the means to give her whatever she needs, and they'll never have to decide between fixing the car and fixing the house, for example. That is the best kind of owner I can imagine for a historic home. I just want to make sure that I did everything I could to preserve that glorious house, and since on a state employee's salary it's not really feasible for me, at least I have seen her into good hands.

*sigh* I will miss that house!

But I am looking forward to the new one, which had a very positive pool inspection yesterday. Every time Mitch and I go there we like the house more. It does lack a little bit of the old-fashioned charm, the window seats, wood floors, and tall ceilings with transoms particularly, but I am willing to exchange those for being in town, close to Mitch's work, and having the nice deck. It's a great house for entertaining and I'm looking forward to throwing a good pool party as the housewarming.

So that's the update-- good, bad, up, down, stress, and relief. Now Mitch spends the weekend in Dallas, returning a friend's waverunner so I can use the garage space in between moves, while I spend the weekend in Bastrop packing like a madwoman.

g

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Other stuff

In fact there is life outside the house-hunt!

Last weekend we were in Houston for a great free concert-- incredible Latin Jazz and salsa pianist Larry Harlow played with the Houston youth group "Caliente" and it was a wonderful performance. Great weather too! We stayed with our friend Jerome in his new and fabulous townhouse. Sunday morning Mitch and I had dim sum with my friend Dr. K and his wife and two sons (and one son's girlfriend)... yum!

But the weekend before we were in Houston also, for the Texas Salsa Congress. Here's just two pics...

Me, Mitch, and one of his salsa students from Austin, Meredith.



And here's our pal from Dallas, Jessica, dancing with someone I don't know...



I wish I had more pictures (of course these were pinched from Adriana!) but I was too busy dancing :)

Today we go to the inspection on the new house; yesterday was the inspection on mine. Turned up a small foundation problem, but they're getting bids on the cost to fix it and we extended the option period to Thursday to accomodate. Cross your fingers!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Under Contract!

So, my house (the Victorian) is being inspected today, the last day of their option period, and closing is set for April 18. Whoohoo! I was going to lease back for a while, to make the packing process less stressful, but they want me to pay MORE than my mortgage payment (which means also MUCH MORE than the rental value!) so I decided to skip next weekend's salsa event in Dallas and just pack. I'm going to make every effort to move out on April 17, and spend the 18th cleaning before the closing. Ugh, the next couple of weeks are just going to be crazy! I have a deadline this Friday, and a HUGE deadline on the 16th, and every spare minute not working will be spent packing.

Then there's our NEW house! It's under contract, hooray. Inspection is tomorrow afternoon; closing is set for April 30. Unfortunately they want to lease back until June 30th. So-- I'm moving all my stuff TWICE! and having to store it in the meantime! But the sellers of the new place are putting up money towards our closing costs to accomodate us, which is nice. I like to look at these negotiations with an eye for making everyone feel like they won and got what they want/need. If they need time, we give it, if we can. And though I hate, HATE living in an environment of boxes, stacks, clutter and excess furniture, I will put up with it.

The new house is wonderful. It needs hardly anything. The only must do's are put up solar electric panels on the roof, replace the electric cooktop with an induction model, and pull off the peeling wallpaper in the master bathroom. The cooktop thing isn't just a snooty cook's preference, it's also a safety issue. I never knew this until recently but induction cooktops don't get hot-- they just heat up the pan-- so if you put your hand on it by accident you won't get burned. That they are also supposed to be much better than even cooking with gas is a side benefit I'm happy to reap!

Aside from those 3, there are some preferences: replace the beige family room carpet with tile, replace the tile in the master bathroom, put in a double oven instead of a single, repaint the formal living room (soon to be my library) because it's way too red.

Anyway I need to work. That's the update!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Thank goodness we found one we both like...

Just last night, Jim took Mitch and me out to see some houses, and thank goodness one was great for both of us. We'd become a little frustrated because an earlier house Mitch liked wasn't great for me, and one I liked wasn't great for Mitch, so I was worried. So we put an offer on it last night and we're hoping to get an answer by this evening. Cross your fingers folks!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Full price offer for my house!

Sorry I have been lax in posting. We had a young couple very interested in the house-- the wife came out to see it 3 times-- and they were considering making an offer, but last Friday the 16th my realtor had a realtors' open house and luncheon, and one of the attendees loved the house. Loved it so much she advised her Houston clients to make an offer sight-unseen. It was going to be a less-than-asking offer, but because we had this young couple on the line, the Houston folks ended up making a full price, CASH offer yesterday!

I got to meet their agent and learn a little more about them. They're the Collinses, and the husband is CEO of nineteen companies. They already own two historic properties in Bastrop, including the fabulous brick mansion known as the Judge Page estate right up the street from my house. They want my house for their weekend guests. Apparently they have more money than God and will have a whole team of caretakers, gardeners, etc. So my primary worry (that my house wouldn't be well cared for and preserved) was put to rest. I wish it was going to someone who would love it all the time-- but I'm not going to be that picky. I signed the offer and assuming all goes well in the next 7 days (the option period) I will be closing on April 18th.

So, today after work Mitch and I are looking at houses with Jim, our agent. My work deadlines are sheer insanity for the next few months-- but hopefully between moving, packing, new house, and everything else I'll still be alive in August, which is when it looks like Mitch and his parents will be going to the Philippines. If I'm still breathing, I'll be going with them!

So that's it for today. I still have eighty million pictures to post-- the ice storm from January, Christmas and New Years, and all the final photos of my baby.

Monday, March 05, 2007

So busy, can't find time to post!

That summarizes it... I'm watching a case for my boss while he is out of town and it's been hopping as far as pleadings filed and responses required. Spent the weekend very enjoyably-- Saturday was the last touchup day for the house, and Sunday we spent some time in Zilker Park at the Kite Festival. Way cool. We also looked at two FSBO houses in Mitch's neighborhood which ironically were both the exact same floorplan. They were okay, but not wow- and we have heard some not-good things about the public school in this district. So now we're hesitating until we learn more about the schools.

I'm going out to Bastrop this afternoon to take photos. Should have a bunch up tomorrow; the house should be on MLS tomorrow too. I'll post the MLS number if you want to look; the virtual tour photographer will be there today taking all the pictures, and you should be able to see the tour by the end of the week.

Cross your fingers! :)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

some interior changes too...

I thought my house was arranged as perfectly as it could be, but I was wrong. You can always improve! We made a few changes and it looks even better I think.

Here, we moved the antique Thai teak screen from the living room, where it made the chair stick out a little too far into the traffic lane, into the guest room. We also moved the bed to come out diagonally instead of being straight on with the front windows. We also left the rug in here, where we'd moved it before the Christmas party.


I rearranged the front entry as well... putting my two small chairs closer to the door so people can sit to take off their shoes, and moving the hall tree a little further inside.

Here's the living room, without the screen. We put the empire sideboard in the guest room along one wall to make room for the Christmas tree; once the tree was out, we just moved a rosewood cabinet in its place. The lamps got joggled around, we added a print from the library over the chair, and the hanging Asian paper lantern went to Mitch's (too modern for this old girl.) Instead of the previous floral rug, we're using a seagrass mat.

I also lowered the botanical prints over the sofa, moved them closer together, and put a little sansiveiria in a glossy black pot on the coffee table.


I need to take more photos of the back bedroom too. This weekend will be wholly occupied with getting this house ready-- Mitch is doing touch up exterior painting (assuming I get all the paint colors we need Saturday morning) while I'm taking a few boxes out of the house and doing a deep clean.

Just got back from Mass-- thanks to my paralegal Erica, I now know of a darling little chapel only 2 blocks from my office! Used to be we had to walk blocks and blocks to the Cathedral downtown. Turns out the Diocese has a tiny little chapel (I think it seats 12? maybe 15?) at their office around the corner. It looks like the perfect place for a small, intimate wedding... [busily writes notes in notebook.]