Misc: February 2007 Archives


February 10, 2007

If you want to have an opinion about capital punishment in this country you need to read this NYT article about the sorry state of the procedures used for administering lethal injections:
Over the course of Doerhoff's testimony, Anders uncovered many significant details similar to those uncovered in other states. For instance, Doerhoff testified that executions in Missouri have taken place in the dark, an execution team working by flashlight, and that the execution team routinely consists of "nonmedical people." For most, the day of the execution is "the first time probably in their life they have picked up a syringe . . . so it's a little stressful for them to be doing this." Doerhoff stated that he determined if an inmate being executed had been adequately anesthetized by observing the condemned's face through a window, which others noted was obscured by partly opened blinds. He also told the court that he reduced by half the five grams of anesthetic he had been using after the pharmaceutical company supplying it started packaging it in smaller bottles, which made it tricky to get the five grams in a single syringe. When Anders asked if he used calculations to determine the quantities of drugs to administer, he replied, "Heavens, no."

Later Anders asked, "Is any part of the execution procedure written down?"

"I've never seen it."

"There's no guide that you follow as you're doing it?"

"Absolutely not."

As background, the procedure involves three drugs:

  • Sodium pentothol to sedate the prisoner.
  • Pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) to paralyze him.
  • Potassium chloride to stop his heart.

These are all delivered through an IV. Unfortunately, if you screw up the IV, you might not get some or all of the meds. So, for instance you might be paralyzed but not sedated, which is no doubt terrifying and then quite painful when the KCl is injected. Now, you may be of the opinion that it's a good thing for those who are being executed to be in pain and terrified (I'm not) but surely that should be done intentionally, not just because we don't have competent procedures. However, in practice the procedures seem to be almost entirely ad hoc. Here's Chapman, who designed the Texas procedure:

It never occurred to me when we set this up that we'd have complete idiots administering the drugs.
The rest of the article is equally disturbing.

February 7, 2007

For reasons that have never been entirely clear to me, the DMV seems to be fairly inefficient about sending me registration renewals for my motorcycle but extremely efficient about sending the Franchise Tax Board Vehicle Registration Collections my name so they can threaten me. As far as I can tell, they have the right address (I get the threatening letters) and they are perfectly good at sending me renewals for my car, but not the motorcycle. Anyway, I recently received one such letter threatening to suck the money out of my bank account and/or garnish my wages if I didn't pay up. You can't pay this over the phone via credit card and if you mail in a check it takes 4-6 weeks to process, by which time they've probably garnished your wages—you have to go to the DMV to pay up.

The good news is that once you get to the DMV they're amazingly efficient. The queue is short—less than 10 minutes—and they have a take-a-number system that lets you sit rather than standing in line. And once I got up there the clerk discovered that the original renewal notice had been returned in the mail and didn't charge me the late penalty. Start to finish time was less than 15 minutes. Too bad they couldn't have done the first part a bit faster.