Opinion L.A.
Observations and provocations from The Times' Opinion Staff
Let's look at the death penalty with statistics instead of emotion

The horror show on Arizona’s death row this week has deservedly raised yet another national debate over the death penalty, particularly lethal injections by states scrambling for fresh killing agents as they find it harder to procure tried-and-true execution drugs. During this debate, it’s useful to look at the scope of the death penalty these days (and yes, I’m a firm opponent of the practice for reasons I’ve made clear in earlier posts). According to a database maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center, there have been 26 executions since Jan. 1. Ten of those have involved the sedative midazolam as the first injection in two- and three-drug protocols. Three executions have been botched; each involved procedures using midazolam. The details matter. In Ohio, Dennis McGuire was seen writhing and gasping as his execution took place, after a doctor warned that the planned dosage of midazolam would not be sufficient to render McGuire unconscious to the point where he would not...

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The movie theater is no place to take a chimp

After animal trainers escorted two young chimps to the opening night showing of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” at a Myrtle Beach, S.C., multiplex theater, the publicity stunt was roundly condemned by officials of animal welfare organizations and primate sanctuaries.  As well it should have been. Was it cute and clever? Sure. A videographer captured every moment of the apes’ night out, two weeks ago, as 2-year-old Vali and Sugriva clambered up the stairs to the theater, clutching their trainers’ hands, turning over cash, themselves, to the theater employee, handing the ticket stubs to the ticket-taker, and slurping giant soft drinks through straws. (Of course they can do all that; chimps are the best tool users next to man.) The chimps are owned by the founder of Myrtle Beach Safari, a very hands-on conservation and wildlife park. (Without commenting specifically on this place,  the current philosophy among respected zoos and sanctuaries toward wild animals is to leave them be,...

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How not to start your congressional career

Note to the rookie (and, naturally, tea party) member of Congress: The name does not define the person, let alone the nationality. Foreign Policy reports that U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson (R-Fla.), who recently joined Congress after a special election, mistook two senior U.S. government officials testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday to be doing so on behalf of India. The officials were Nisha Biswal, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, and Arun Kumar, assistant secretary of commerce for global markets. Both were introduced by the chair of the Asia and Pacific subcommittee as U.S. officials, but Clawson apparently didn't hear. And he apparently didn't read the list of witnesses for the day's hearing either. "I'm familiar with your country; I love your country," Clawson told Biswal and Kumar. "... Anything I can do to make the relationship with India better, I'm willing and enthusiastic about doing so." Unfortunately, he kept talking. "Just...

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One cheer for the new cellphone unlocking bill

In just a few weeks last year, more than 100,000 outraged consumers signed an online petition urging Washington to reverse a new prohibition and let people circumvent the high-tech locks that tie their cellphones to a single mobile phone network. It took lawmakers considerably longer to comply, despite widespread bipartisan support. And the measure they approved Friday lifts the ban only temporarily, and only for some owners. The slow pace and limited relief reflects the outsized role copyright issues play in the tech world, particularly when consumers' ownership interests are at stake. On Friday the House approved by voice vote a Senate bill (S 517) to roll back a ruling by the Librarian of Copyrights that outlawed cellphone unlocking. That ruling, issued in October 2012, made it a crime for people who buy smartphones from mobile companies to unlock them for use on a different mobile network -- for example, when they travel to another country and want to use a foreign phone company's...

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I don't understand today's feminists -- because they can't write

I’m not a feminist -- that’s an understatement -- but I sometimes get nostalgic for feminists. Not today’s feminists, though, but the feminists of yore -- of what’s called “the Second Wave,” the radical women’s movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. It’s not that I agreed with what those Second Wave feminists advocated: It mostly consisted of throwing away your makeup, ditching your husband, and going to live in an all-women, macrobiotic-diet “collective.” It was because those old gals could write. Their ideas might have been repellent, but they expressed them in bell-clear, eloquent English that any professional writer would envy. I started thinking about them when I came across this recently written sentence -- yes, it’s a single sentence -- by New Republic senior editor Rebecca Traister: “I wish that every woman whose actions and worth are parsed and restricted, congratulated and condemned in this country might just once get to wheel around -- on the committee that doesn’t believe...

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Christians are being persecuted, and the U.S. should support them

It’s an exaggeration to say that a worldwide war is being waged against Christians. But Christians in Africa and the Middle East are subject to shocking persecution -- real persecution, not the imaginary persecution some American Christians see in the legalization of same-sex marriage or the requirement that employee health plans contain coverage for contraception This week Pope Francis received Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who was sentenced to death by a Sudan court in May for illegally abandoning the Muslim faith. (Ibrahim insists that she was never a Muslim and was raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother.) Meanwhile, there has been another exodus of Christians  from the Iraqi city of Mosul...

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Stop cheapening the gay-marriage debate with talk of the financial up sides

Just about every time a state debates same-sex marriage, a report emerges giving a multimillion-dollar figure to how much the state’s economy would be boosted by all those weddings. Gay-marriage supporters then tout the studies as another good reason to support recognition of such unions. Most recently, this happened in Texas. UCLA’s Williams Institute reports that gay marriage would bring close to $182 million in wedding business to the state over the first three years.  And Equality Texas, one of the organizations fighting for marriage rights, took the bait. "Allowing gay couples to marry here would give an economic boost to caterers, florists, event venues, and others who make a living through wedding planning," Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said according to the Dallas Observer. But these kinds of figures are actually a very bad argument for same-sex marriage rights. Economic benefits and costs are not relevant to discussions of civil rights and cheapen the...

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What is feminist Beyonce doing on the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trailer?

What is Beyonce, feminist icon, doing on the movie trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a story that has been criticized as wildly sexist? In recent years, we’ve come to respect Beyonce for empowering women with her music, for speaking up about why women should hold onto their independence, and for aligning herself with such campaigns as Sherly Sandberg’s #BanBossy initiative. Just this week, Beyonce posted a photo of herself as Rosie the Riveter. There’s even a college course that looks at Beyonce’s impact. So isn’t it odd that Beyonce would align herself with “Fifty Shades of Grey”? Certainly the two have something is common: They don’t shy away from the topic of sex. But there’s a difference in their narratives. Beyonce is “sex positive”; she empowers women.“Fifty Shades of Grey” glamorizes violence against women and trumpets the idea that women are happiest when a man is in charge. As some have opined: “It’s true that the physical pain [that main character] Anastasia endures in the...

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Don't blame American kids for this low science ranking

People complain all the time about how badly American kids do in all those international rankings of science and math knowledge. Usually, the students score somewhere around average or a little below, not a great place for a pre-eminent nation. We’re routinely outdone by the likes of China, South Korea and Finland. Maybe we have only ourselves to blame. A new survey by the British market research firm Ipsos MORI finds Americans lagging pretty badly in their understanding of environmental science. In fact, in some respects, we’re at the bottom among the 20 nations where a total of about 16,000 people were surveyed. Take the belief that human activity is an important factor in climate change, a firmly established scientific tenet. True, more than half of Americans say that’s true. But at 54%, we rank at the bottom of the heap, a full 10 percentage points below the second-lowest. And first? China, where more than 90% understand the truth about climate change. Similarly, more than 90% of...

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Marco Rubio needs a vocab lesson on same-sex marriage and intolerance

It’s so easy — and popular — to claim to be a victim these days. The latest victims, as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would have you believe, are people who try to stop same-sex couples from being able to marry. As he put it in a speech Wednesday at Catholic University of America in Washington, supporters of same-sex marriage are intolerantly picking on those who are trying to stop the wave of recognition for gay rights. According to the Associated Press: "There is a growing intolerance on this issue," Rubio said of those who back same-sex marriages. "This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy." The real problem, in my book, is using the loaded word “intolerance” to mean “people who won’t back off when I try to keep them from having rights.” There’s a big difference between fighting someone’s intolerant viewpoints and practicing actual intolerance toward them. Have Rubio and others who fight tooth and nail to keep another couple from marrying — a marriage that would in no...

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Women! Stop saying 'sorry' when you've done nothing wrong!

I don’t know why it’s taking a shampoo commercial to take women to task on this, but I’m glad it does. This Pantene video called "Why are women always apologizing?" throws up scenario after scenario of women saying “sorry” when they’ve done nothing to apologize for. It’s a before-and-after premise — not unlike a beauty makeover, but this is a forthrightness makeover. In scene after scene, one woman after another apologizes for … nothing. For asking a question at a meeting, for having her elbow on the armrest of her own chair. Then the video shows the same women being properly unapologetic. I don’t think anyone’s counting but I suspect “sorry” is among the most common word in women’s vocabulary. We say “sorry” even when it’s the other guy’s fault — often it is guys — as if we’re doing something wrong by, oh, talking in a meeting/not having correct change/taking some time to order a meal/sitting/standing/breathing. Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen has done a lot of work...

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Federal judges aren't robots or partisan hacks

Over the last few months I’ve been engaged in a friendly argument with some other journalists about what I see as a worrying trend: the tendency of reporters (and others) to treat federal judges as if they were partisan politicians. This takes the form of reflexively identifying a judge in a newsworthy case by prominently mentioning which president appointed him. This has been true of stories about the wave of judicial decisions striking down bans on same-sex marriage. It also was the case Tuesday when two federal appeals courts reached conflicting rulings about a key regulation in the Obama administration’s enforcement of the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2 to 1 that the Internal Revenue Service acted illegally in approving subsidies for people who obtained their health insurance through a federal exchange. Strictly construing language in the Affordable Care Act, the majority said that subsidies were available only to...

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