Today's Papers

Life After Death

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times both lead with yesterday’s death penalty double-header. First, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush suspended all executions in his state, citing a botched lethal injection procedure from earlier in the week. A few hours later, a federal judge in California ordered state officials to revisit how such injections are administered, citing a “pervasive lack of professionalism in the implementation.” The New York Times stuffs the injections and instead leads with an update on strategy in Iraq, where the White House is considering placing at least another 20,000 troops. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide news box with escalating clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

In Florida: After it took “34 minutes and a second injection” to kill a death row inmate on Wednesday, Gov. Bush ordered a medical inquiry into the incident, which eventually found that the first needle had passed through the prisoner’s veins and deposited the poison in his arm tissue, causing a visible amount of pain and requiring the second dose. When this information was released, Bush halted the executions and appointed a commission to review injection procedures in the state. But Florida doesn’t seem to be have much luck with capital punishment: It apparently switched to lethal injection in 2000 “after flames shot from an inmate’s head during his execution by electric chair.”

In California: Acting in response to a lawsuit charging that inmates feel excessive pain when lethally injected, a federal judge held four days of hearings and found the state’s system unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. (The crux of the issue was whether or not the first of three drugs administered renders a prisoner sufficiently unconscious to receive the second two, which cause paralysis and cardiac arrest. The judge said it did not.) The NYT, which says the ruling “probably represents the fullest and most careful consideration” of this issue, points out the national implications: 36 other states use some variation of the same three-drug cocktail.

(The stories are also worth reading up against an article from yesterday’s paper, which noted that the number of death sentences has declined 60 percent since 1999.)

The White House is asking military planners and budget analysts to provide options for a troop increase, which the Times says “indicates that the major ‘surge’ in troop strength is gaining ground as a part of the White House strategy review.” But the article, which is chock-full of background quotes, never really tells us what the surge would look like: It could be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 troops. The LA Times, meanwhile, files a piece on Iraq’s schools, which used to be touted as “a success story in a land short on successes.” Now, teachers “tell of students kidnapped on their way to school, mortar rounds landing near or on campuses and educators shot in front of children.”

If you’ve been on the lookout for a good piece on the curious intersection of salt, intelligence, and Kazakhstan, then the NY Times has just what you’re looking for. Iodine deficiency is “the leading preventable cause of mental retardation” and even moderate deficiency “lowers intelligence by 10 to 15 I.Q. points.” But, after a massive public campaign, Kazakhstan has escaped this fate: In 1999, “only 29 percent of its households were using iodized salt”; now, 94 percent are.

According to the Times, putting iodine in salt “may be the simplest and most cost-effective health measure in the world.” Contrast that with the subject of another NYT front-pager: the overproduction of flu vaccines in the United States. Because production is at an all-time high this year, “millions of doses might go unused.” But, “somewhat perversely,” says the Times, “because of distribution delays earlier in the season, this year’s abundant supply has not meant that everyone who wanted a flu shot has received one.”

The Washington Post off-leads with a long look at “extraordinary rendition,” which refers to the United States’ habit of abducting suspected terrorists and shipping them for interrogation to countries with lax torture policies. The practice stoked intense public anger in Europe, but, the Post reports, the Europeans were often in on the fun: The CIA “took part in the seizure of at least 10 European citizens or legal immigrants,” and in at least five of those cases “European intelligence agencies provided direct assistance.”

But detainees that end up in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may have picked a bad time to arrive: “After two years in which the military sought to manage terrorism suspects at Guantanamo with incentives for good behavior,” says the Times, “steady improvements in their living conditions and even dialogue with prison leaders, the authorities here have clamped down decisively in recent months.” Following a riot, several hunger strikes, and three suicides, military officials concluded that “earlier efforts to ease restrictions on the detainees had gone too far.”

One group that doesn’t have enough restrictions, says the Washington Post, is professional football players: At least 35 National Football League pros have been arrested this year “on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to felony burglary.” The piece is short on exact figures—since no one “keeps annual statistics on arrests of professional athletes,” there is “no way to determine whether there has been an increase for NFL players”—but it has some wonderful specifics: Drug Enforcement Administration officials recently learned that San Diego Chargers players “were sending large sums of money to China” in an effort to get “knockoff athletic shoes that could be passed off and sold as name-brand merchandise in this country.”

Everyone notes that Judith Regan, the “firebrand” editor behind the abortive O.J. Simpson memoir, is now just plain fired.

And everyone mentions Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s farewell speech, in which he claimed that “weakness” or “the perception of weakness on our part can be provocative.” Robert Gates takes over on Monday.

Finally, everyone includes an update on Sen. Tim Johnson, who is in critical but stable condition after suffering a brain hemorrhage on Wednesday.

And if you thought the drinking was out of control …

The Wall Street Journal has a hard-hitting report on a new development in higher education: Quidditch. Many of the Harry Potter game’s signature elements—such as flying around on a broom and the use of fantastic magical powers—are difficult to reproduce in reality. Still, through some combination of imagination and pluck, students at Middlebury and Marlboro colleges make do.

But the collegiate creativity doesn’t end there: Students at the University of Texas at Arlington have “become famous for their love of oozeball, or volleyball played in a mud pit, as well as their annual drag races involving beds on wheels.” And at Amherst College, “a dozen students recently tried competitive ‘boffing,’ a form of fencing that grew out of fantasy games that involve fake swordplay.”