Massachusetts

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42.3
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-71.8
Photo Credit: The Associated Press

On May 15, a federal jury in Massachusetts sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- one of the bombers in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing -- to death. The federal government has only executed 3 men since Massachusetts abolished capital punishment in 1984, making both the execution and the state of its trial fascinating. In Texas, however, capital punishment is so incorporated into the normative political and social fabric that it does not receive the scrutiny that would be given in the rest of the country. We hope Texans can use the shocking nature of the Tsarnaev case as an opportunity to re-examine our own state’s enactment of and culture surrounding capital punishment.

Texas has a proclivity for capital punishment. There have been 524 executions in Texas since 1984, the year Massachusetts abolished the death penalty. This year, Texas has already executed seven inmates, half of the national total. In the period between 1973-2013, Texas had the second highest percent of death sentences resulting in execution, rather than exoneration or dismissal, at 47 percent, which is 3.5 times higher than the national average of 13% over the same period.

Of course, the numbers keep adding up. On May 12, Texas carried out its last execution. The next will take place on June 3.

Though Texas’ huge volume of capital punishment is undoubtedly an ethical concern, the Texas court system presents a unique challenge to carrying out capital punishment justly. Scott Panetti, a schizophrenic man, was nearly executed on December 3 because the Texas appellate court denied appeals against his execution that demonstrated decades of documented mental illness. However, the federal appellate court spared his life with a stay of execution a mere 12 hours before because of the overwhelming evidence previously denied by the Texas courts. Although only one case, his illuminates the widespread institutional failures of the Texas courts that so often ruin people’s lives, or even end them.

However, as Texas recently ran out of lethal injection drugs as pharmaceutical industries refuse to allow their products to be used to execute people, the main action in the State Legislature appears to be proliferation, rather than reduction, of these ethical concerns.

Last year, experimental drugs from compounding pharmacies were used as replacements nationwide, resulting in numerous botched lethal injections. As a result of these well-documented botches, compounding pharmacies faced rebuke by pharmaceutical professional associations. This has forced the state to procure the pertinent drugs for executions, namely pentobarbital, by operating with an irresponsible lack of transparency. What does it say about capital punishment that preparations for it must be carried out in secret, for fear of professional sanctions?

Fittingly, a bill protecting and codifying this lack of transparency, despite multiple legal challenges against it, is the sole piece of legislation regarding capital punishment that passed this session. Senate Bill 1697, by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, moves to block disclosure of drug manufacturers’ information from public record through the Texas Public Information Act, thereby perpetuating the culture of opacity that characterizes capital punishment in Texas.   

Texans must engage with our political system, yet proposals like SB 1697 eliminate ethical means of doing that by minimizing opportunities to shed light on and reform the institution. Such behavior is a failure to the ethical responsibility expected of Texas lawmakers and courts. If an institution is too unpopular or unethical to stand out in the open, perhaps it should not stand at all.

Guihua Yu, a mechanical engineering assistant professor, stands in one of the two labs he works in daily with his students — specifically with hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains.

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

A mechanical engineering professor at the University was named to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s list of “35 Innovators Under 35.”

Guihua Yu was recognized last week on the list, which works to advance society through novel technological creations and applications, according to the list’s website. The list has also named notable innovators in the past, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

“This is not only a great honor for the [research] group members but also a valuable recognition for the engineering scientific works at UT-Austin,” said Borui Liu, a graduate student who works in Yu’s research group in the Materials Science and Engineering program.

The work done in Yu’s lab relates to hydrogels, which are networks of hydrophilic polymer chains that are highly absorbent and possess a degree of natural flexibility — much like human tissue. According to Yu, hydrogels have been used as a mechanism in drug delivery and as scaffolds for tissue engineering in the past, but the utility of these materials has been limited.

“Due to the intrinsic insulating properties, hydrogels are rarely useful for electronics and energy-related applications,” Yu said. 

The recognition from MIT was prompted after Yu’s research group created a hydrogel with a new nanostructure design that can transmit and store electricity.

“We would like to witness our conductive hydrogels to be put into use in a variety of daily-life applications, such as lithium-ion battery and supercapacitor electrodes, biosensors and drug delivery devices,” Liu said.

This year’s edition of the list brought Yu’s research group and its work prominence in scientific literature, and a variety of large technology companies have been in contact about the future applications of conductive hydrogels. 

According to Yu, increased funding may come in light of the list’s recognition, as well as future research in the field of conductive hydrogels both at UT and elsewhere.

“Knowing the interesting applications we demonstrated will attract more researchers to push together and make more exciting discoveries,” Yu said.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Authorities say a campus police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has died from injuries in a shooting on the campus outside Boston.

Cambridge police and the Middlesex District Attorney's office says the officer was responding to a report of a disturbance when he was shot multiple times. He later died at a hospital. His name was not immediately released.

State police spokesman Dave Procopio says the shooting took place about 10:30 p.m. outside an MIT building.

Procopio says authorities are searching for a suspect or suspects. There are no other victims.

About 11,000 people attend the prestigious school. The campus website said police were sweeping the campus and urged people to stay indoors.

Photo Credit: Anik Bhattacharya | Daily Texan Staff

This article was corrected after its original posting. Forbes ranking came out in 2006.

Student life on any college campus can often consist of the occasional sip of alcohol. Recently, Austin was ranked by The Daily Beast as one of the top five drunkest cities in America.

Other cities ranked above Austin are: Charleston, S.C.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Norfolk, Va.; and Boston, Mass. The rankings are based on the average number of alcoholic drinks consumed by adults per month, percentage of population classified as binge drinkers and percentage of population classified as heavy drinkers.

Austin's place has not changed from a 2006 ranking by Forbes that also found it as the fifth drunkest city.

Other cities ranked above Austin on the list were Milwaukee, Wis.; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; Columbus, Mo; and Boston, Mass., respectively.  Cities were ranked on the basis of five categories: strictness of state laws, number of drinkers, number of heavy drinkers, number of binge drinkers and rate of alcoholism. 

Cities were ranked on the strictness of state laws based on the “Rating The States” report conducted and written by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The report considered factors such as whether the state has passed laws forbidding open containers in cars or laws regarding the regulation and sale of alcohol.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 1,129 DWI or alcohol related car crashes and injuries in 2011 in Austin.

Statistics regarding the number of drinkers in the various categories were taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey conducted in 2004. According to the survey, adults who reported having had at least one drink of alcohol within the past 30 days were considered drinkers and adults who reported having five or more drinks on one occasion were considered binge drinkers. The number of heavy drinkers was calculated based on the number of adult men who reported having had more than two drinks per day, and adult women having had more than one drink per day.

In determining the rate of alcoholism, Forbes looked at the number of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held in the area as a ratio of the drinking age population.

Anthropology sophomore Samuel Deleon said it has become socially acceptable to drink in college. It is easy to access alcohol, especially with such a large population, Deleon said.

“If you search liquor stores in Austin, 161 store listings will come up,” Deleon said. “So it is easy to find alcohol and easy for older students to access it for younger students.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 as: Sixth Street, fifth place 

Deb Hanley, left, and Frank McGuire dig about three feet of snow from around their car outside their home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston, Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013. The Boston area received about two feet of snow from a winter storm. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BOSTON — A howling storm across the Northeast left the New York-to-Boston corridor shrouded in 1 to 3 feet of snow Saturday, stranding motorists on highways overnight and piling up drifts so high that some homeowners couldn't get their doors open. More than 650,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity.

At least three deaths in the U.S. were blamed on the wind-whipped snowstorm, including that of a New York man killed when the tractor he was using to plow his driveway ran off the edge of the road.

More than 38 inches of snow fell in Milford, Conn., and an 82 mph gust was recorded in nearby Westport. Areas of southeastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire got at least 2 feet of snow, with more falling. Portland, Maine, received 29.3 inches, breaking the record set in 1979.

Roads in many places were impassable. Across much of New England, snowed-over cars looked like white blobs. Streets were mostly deserted save for snowplow crews and a few hardy souls walking dogs or venturing out to take pictures. In Boston's Financial District, the only sound was an army of snowblowers clearing sidewalks.

The digging-out went more smoothly in some places than in others.

A little more than 11 inches fell in New York, but the city "dodged a bullet" and was "in great shape," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, predicting streets would be cleared by the end of the day. The New York region's three major airports — LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark, N.J. — were up and running again by late morning after shutting down the evening before.

But hundreds of motorists abandoned their vehicles on New York's Long Island, which got 2½ feet of snow, and even snowplows were getting stuck. Emergency workers used snowmobiles to try to reach stranded motorists, some of whom spent the night in their cars.

Richard Ebbrecht, a chiropractor, left his office in Brooklyn at 3 p.m. on Friday and head for his home in Middle Island, N.Y., but got stuck six or seven times on the Long Island Expressway and other roads.

"There was a bunch of us Long Islanders. We were all helping each other, shoveling, pushing," he said. He finally gave up and settled in for the night in his car just two miles from his destination. At 8 a.m., when it was light out, he walked home.

"I could run my car and keep the heat on and listen to the radio a little bit," he said. "It was very icy under my car. That's why my car is still there."

Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut closed roads to all but essential traffic.

The Interstate 95 corridor from the New York metropolitan area to Boston, with a population of roughly 25 million, appeared to take the brunt of the storm. One of hardest-hit places was Connecticut, where even emergency responders found themselves stuck on highways all night. In Fairfield, police and firefighters could not come in to work, so the overnight shift stayed on.

Several state police cars were also stuck in deep snow in Maine, where stranded drivers were warned to expect long waits for tow trucks.

Nearly 22 inches of snow fell in Boston and more was expected, closing in on the 2003 record of 27.6 inches. The archdiocese in the heavily Roman Catholic city reminded parishioners that under church law, the requirement to attend Sunday Mass "does not apply when there is grave difficulty in fulfilling this obligation." Logan Airport was not expected to resume operations until late Saturday night.

Flooding fears along the Massachusetts coast led to the evacuation of two neighborhoods in Quincy, south of Boston, and of 20 to 30 people in oceanfront homes in Salisbury.

But around the New York metropolitan area, many victims of Superstorm Sandy were mercifully spared another round of flooding, property damage and power failures.

"I was very lucky and I never even lost power," said Susan Kelly of Bayville on Long Island. "We were dry as anything. My new roof was fantastic. Other than digging out, this storm was a nice storm." As for the shoveling, "I got two hours of exercise."

The Postal Service closed post offices and suspended mail delivery Saturday in New England.

"This is crazy. I mean it's just nuts," Eileen O'Brien said in blacked-out Sagamore Beach, Mass., as she cleared heavy snow from her deck for fear it might collapse.

As the pirate flag outside her door snapped and popped in gale-force winds Saturday, she said: "My thermostat keeps dropping. Right now it's 54 inside, and I don't have any wood. There's nothing I can do to keep warm except maybe start the grill and make some coffee."

In South Windsor, Conn., Bill Tsoronis used a snowblower to carve paths through huge snowdrifts in his neighborhood.

"I thought we might have 18 or 20 inches, but in some places it's up to my waist. It's more than I expected," he said. Still, he said the storm was not much more than a nuisance, since the neighborhood still had power, and he said he might gather with neighbors for cocktails later in the day.

His neighbor Mike Schroder said as he brushed snow off cars in his driveway that the storm lived up to the hype.

"This is finally one they got right," he said. He said the cleanup will take some time: 

During Tuesday night’s debate, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney discussed a wide range of topics, including immigration — an issue of particular importance to Texans, given our 1,200-mile border with Mexico. While the candidates mostly relied upon familiar, oversimplified talking points, an attentive viewer could grasp much more about their respective positions on immigration based on what they didn’t say rather than what they did.

When asked, “Mr. Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?”  Romney took the president to task for not fulfilling a 2008 campaign promise to reform the immigration laws in this country.

“Now when the president ran for office, he said that he’d put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation — he’d file a bill in his first year that would reform our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration,” said Romney. “He didn’t do it. He had a Democrat House, a Democrat Senate, super-majority in both Houses. Why did he fail to even promote legislation that would have provided an answer for those that want to come legally and for those that are here illegally today? … A question I think the president will have a chance to answer right now.”

“Good, I look forward to it,” Obama said as he rose from his seat.

The honest answer to Romney’s question might have been that Obama was not willing to spend his political capital trying to pass immigration reform in this term, when health care took center stage. But the president didn’t give that answer.

Instead, Obama presented an oft-heard string of clichéd platitudes about how America is a nation of immigrants, before giving an unspecific overview of his immigration philosophy and referring to his support of the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented students and members of the military.

Obama accused Romney of calling for policies meant to encourage self-deportation, “making life so miserable on folks that they’ll leave,” and declaring the infamous Arizona immigration law a model for the nation during the Republican primaries.

Then, Romney, pressed by the debate moderator to address his support of self-deportation, deflected too.

“I did not say that the Arizona law was a model for the nation in that aspect,” he said. “I said that the E-Verify portion of the Arizona law, which is the portion of the law which says that employers could be able to determine whether someone is here illegally or not illegally, that that was a model for the nation.”

Romney went on to say that “self-deportation says let people make their own choice… And if they find that they can’t get the benefits here that they want and they can’t find the job they want, then they’ll make a decision to go to a place where they have better opportunities. But I’m not in favor of rounding up people and taking them out of this country.”

Romney’s description makes his stance sound very similar to the status quo, which is not what advocates of self-deportation intended when they first proposed it. Obama described Romney’s economic plan as “sketchy,” and the word applies equally well to the governor himself.

In Texas, immigration does not separate voters by one clean partisan line. Both former President George W. Bush and current Texas governor Rick Perry support more lenient immigration policies. During the Republican primaries, Perry, despite opposition from others on stage and booing from the audience, confidently justified his support of a Texas law that allows undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities: “Texas had a decision to make: Are we going to kick these young people to the curb and pay for their existence in our state through social programs or some other type of government dollars — up to and including incarceration?” Perry said.

At the time, Romney responded by sending reporters a document about Perry’s immigration record titled, “Rick Perry brings his liberal illegal immigration policies to New Hampshire,” and he told an audience in that state that if the U.S. government wants to stem the tide of illegal immigration, it should “build a fence, have enough people to patrol it and turn off the magnets that draw people here illegally, like giving them in-state tuition.”

The Romney behind that position was clearly not the same man who accused Obama of not doing enough to help immigrants Tuesday night.

After watching Romney and Obama hem and haw about immigration, circumventing the subject at every opportunity, Texans of both parties should remind the two candidates that down here, we try to talk a little straighter about an issue that has no easy answers.

This photo released Friday, Sept. 7, 2012 by Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, and the Emily Dickinson Museum, in Amherst, Mass., shows a copy of a circa 1860 daguerreotype purported to show a 30-year-old Emily Dickinson, left, with her friend Kate Scott Turner.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MHERST, Mass. — Scholars at Amherst College in Massachusetts believe a collector may have what would be just the second known photo of Emily Dickinson. The college says the collector, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought the photo in 1995 in Springfield. He brought it to the college’s archive and special collections staff in 2007, and they’ve been researching it since.

The daguerreotype, dated around 1859, appears to show Dickinson sitting next to a friend, Kate Scott Turner. There’s strong evidence it’s Dickinson, including comparisons of high-resolution digital images of the newer photo with the known image, from 1847, said Mike Kelly, head of the archive and special collections department at Amherst College.

Kelly said perhaps the best evidence is an ophthalmological report that compared similarities in the eyes and facial features of the women in the photos.

“I believe strongly that these are the same people,” concluded the doctor who wrote the report. That could shift some perceptions about the Amherst native, Kelly said. For instance, a book in the 1950s was the first to propose Dickinson had a lesbian relationship with Turner, Kelly said.

“This is photographic evidence of their friendship, whatever the nature of that friendship was,” he said. It also offers a strikingly different image from the existing photo of Dickinson as a frail, teen girl, which was taken before she began writing poetry. The newer image was taken when she was roughly 30.

President Barack Obama speaks at Florida Atlantic University on Tuesday in Boca Raton, Fla. (Courtesy of the Associated Press))

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — President Barack Obama said Tuesday the choice facing voters this November will be as stark as in the milestone 1964 contest between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater — one that ended up with one of the biggest Democratic landslides in history.

The president made his comments during a fundraising blitz in Florida, and right before his general election foe was essentially decided. Republican Rick Santorum dropped out of the presidential contest, making it clear that Obama would face off against Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

Obama used a daylong trip to Florida to call again for Congress to raise taxes on millionaires, a populist pitch on an issue that he hopes will help define the differences with nominee-to-be Romney.

“This election will probably have the biggest contrast that we’ve seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election, maybe before that,” Obama told donors at the first of three campaign events in this battleground state. The events were expected to raise at least $1.7 million.

In his 1964 race against Goldwater, Johnson carried 44 of 50 states and won 61 percent of the popular vote, the largest share of any candidate since 1820.

Running on a record that included the Great Society, Johnson portrayed Goldwater as a dangerous extremist. He was aided by Goldwater’s GOP convention speech, in which the candidate proclaimed, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”

Republicans said Obama’s tax proposal was aimed at dividing Americans along class lines and gave him an excuse to raise more money for his re-election campaign.

In a reception at a gated community in Palm Beach Gardens, Obama said Democrats would ensure the rich pay their fair share, while focusing on investments in education, science and research and caring for the most vulnerable.

By contrast, he said, Republicans would dismantle education and clean energy programs so they can give still more tax breaks to the rich. Obama did not mention Romney by name, but the economic fairness message was the theme of his day and aimed squarely at the wealthy former Massachusetts governor.

Obama later outlined his support for the so-called Buffett rule at a speech at Florida Atlantic University, arguing that wealthy investors should not pay taxes at a lower rate than middle-class wage earners.

The push for the Buffett rule comes ahead of a Senate vote next week and as millions of Americans prepare to file their income tax returns. The plan has little chance of passing Congress, but Senate Democrats say the issue underscores the need for economic fairness.

Pope Benedict XVI waves from the popemobile wearing a Mexican sombrero as he arrives to give a Mass in Bicentennial Park near Silao, Mexico, Sunday March 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

SILAO, Mexico — Pope Benedict XVI urged Mexicans to wield their faith against evils such as drug violence before hundreds of thousands of worshippers on Sunday, saying they would find hope if they purify their hearts.

Benedict delivered the message during an open-air Mass in the shadow of the Christ the King monument, one of the most important symbols of Mexican Christianity, which recalls the 1920s Roman Catholic uprising against the anti-clerical laws that forbade public worship services.

The pope flew over the monument in a Mexican military Superpuma helicopter en route to the Mass at Bicentennial Park, where he rode in the popemobile through an enthusiastic crowd that was expected to reach 350,000.

Often seen as austere and reserved, Benedict charmed the cheering crowd by donning a broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero that he wore on his way to the altar.

Before the ceremony, the vast field was filled with noise, as people took pictures and passed around food. But as the Mass started, all fell silent, some dropping to their knees in the dirt.

In his homily, Benedict encouraged Mexicans to purify their hearts to confront the sufferings, difficulties and evils of daily life. On Saturday he urged the young to be messengers of peace in a country that has witnessed the deaths of more than 47,000 people in a drug war that has escalated during a government offensive against cartels.

“At this time when so many families are separated or forced to emigrate, when so many are suffering due to poverty, corruption, domestic violence, drug trafficking, the crisis of values and increased crime, we come to Mary in search of consolation, strength and hope,” Benedict said. “She is the mother of the true God, who invites us to stay with faith and charity beneath her mantle, so as to overcome in this way all evil and to establish a more just and fraternal society.”

The reference to Mary is particularly important for Mexicans, who revere the Virgin of Guadalupe as their patron saint. His reference to immigration resonated in Guanajuato, which is one of the top three Mexican states that sends migrant workers north.

“People leave for the good of their families,” said Jose Porfirio Garcia Martinez, 56, an indigenous farmworker who came to the mass with 35 others from Puebla. “For us it’s difficult, not seeing them for 10 years, communicating by phone and by Internet.”

Benedict had wanted to come to Guanajuato because it was one of the parts of Mexico that Pope John Paul II had never visited during his five trips as pope. In addition, Benedict wanted to see and bless the Christ the King statue.

With its outstretched arms, the 72-foot (22-meter) bronze monument of Christ “expresses an identity of the Mexican people that contains a whole history in relation to the testimony of faith and those who fought for religious freedom at the time,” said Monsignor Victor Rene Rodriguez, secretary general of the Mexican bishops conference.

After nightfall Sunday, the pope will remotely inaugurate its new lighting system.

Guanajuato state was the site of some of the key battles of the Cristero War, so-called because its protagonists said they were fighting for Christ the King. Historians say about 90,000 people died before peace was restored. The region remains Mexico’s most conservatively Catholic.

With roads closed, pilgrims walked for miles to the Mass with plastic lawn chairs, water and backpacks. Old women walked with canes. Some Mass-goers wrapped themselves in blankets or beach towel-sized Vatican flags, trekking past vendors selling sun hats, flags, potato chips and bottles of juice.

Hundreds of young priests in white and black cassocks, waiting to pass through the metal detectors, shouted “Christ Lives!” and “Long Live Christ the King!” — the battle cry of the Cristeros.

Many Mexicans said they were surprised by the warmth of Benedict, whose image is more reserved and academic than his popular predecessor, John Paul II, who was dubbed “Mexico’s pope.”

By Sunday morning, that seemed to have changed completely.

“Some young people rejected the pope, saying he has an angry face. But now they see him like a grandfather,” said Cristian Roberto Cerda Reynoso, 17, a seminarian from Leon. “I see the youth filled with excitement and enthusiasm.”

While the pope drew a rapturous response from the faithful, his second day in Mexico was not without criticism, particularly concerning the church’s treatment of children and sexual abuse.

Victims of Marcial Maciel, the founder of the influential conservative Legionaries of Christ religious order, launched a book Saturday containing documents from the Vatican archives showing that Holy See officials knew for decades that Maciel was a drug addict who sexually abused his seminarians.

The 84-year-old pope, who will be going to Cuba on Monday, did not directly address the scandal during his limited remarks Saturday. But Lombardi said his words about the need to protect children from violence referred also to the need to protect them from priestly sexual violence. 

METHUEN, Mass. — School officials in a Massachusetts town are apologizing for sending home a lunch menu that listed KKK Chicken Tenders as an option.

About 6,500 students in four Methuen (muh-THOO’-in) schools went home with new menus Tuesday, a day after the original one mistakenly listed chicken seemingly in the style of the Ku Klux Klan.

Superintendent Judith Scannell tells The Eagle-Tribune the menu was supposed to list KK Chicken Tenders, with the KK standing for a creatively spelled “Krispy, Krunchy,” but an employee mistakenly hit the “K’’ key one too many times.

Scannell apologized if anyone was offended. The food service director got one complaint.

A student pointed out to WCVB-TV that it there would’ve been no issue if officials just spelled the words correctly, with the letter C.

Published on Thursday, March 1, 2012: 2012 as: Massachusetts schools apologize for racist mistake