Monday, 17 April 2017

REVIEW: "The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution" by J. S. Liebman, S. Crowley, A. Markquart, L. Rosenberg, L. White, D. Zharkovsky

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution
by James S. Liebman, Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren White, Daniel Zharkovsky
Columbia University Press
Copyright July 2014
Paperback, 448 Pages

Exceptionally tragic and heart-wrenching. This book comprehensively documents an extremely maddening and painful case of injustice as facilitated by a flawed criminal justice system. This progressively disheartening narrative culminates in the botched and wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna.

This is a compelling book for readers from all walks of life, within or outside the American criminal justice system. Well-researched and easy-to-read, this book illustrates and expounds upon a very real and consequential problem in the criminal justice system. It is almost unimaginable that a reader could finish reading this book without experiencing an intense mix of anger, frustration and disappointment at the cruel injustice served to an innocent man. 

This book provides an excellent and rather thorough examination of mishandled elements in the case that in aggregate led to DeLuna’s wrongful conviction and execution. By skillfully bringing DeLuna to life within the pages of the book by highlighting his vulnerability, fears, flaws, thoughts, and innocence, as juxtaposed alongside the excruciating incompetence and apathy of supposed professionals who wield tremendous powers over DeLuna’s life and fate, this book furnishes one of the most disturbing and devastating exemplification of the ways justice can go wrong. 

The book aptly provides a comprehensive background to the case by providing a frightful and heart-thumping recount of the brutal killing of Wanda Lopez, and detailed the life histories and psychological profiles of both Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez. Whilst DeLuna should not be excused for his prior run-ins with the law, “jail stints,” “constant stealing, lying, and huffing paint,” it is certainly unjustifiable that he became the scapegoat for a murder Hernandez committed. Hernandez, a “dangerous” man of a violent demeanor with a violent criminal history, a “history of knife crimes,” an established criminal modus operandi, and a penchant to commit acts of domestic violence and abuse. 

It is especially infuriating to learn of the various aggravating parties involved in DeLuna’s capital murder case, especially the painful incompetence of both DeLuna’s defense counsel and the on-scene investigative team of Lopez’s killing. It is beyond exasperating to read of the ways DeLuna’s defense demonstrated glaring inexperience with their disastrous in-court performances, lack of preparation, and unwise decisions, and who in the latter sentencing stage of the trial literally resorted to a strategy of inaction and surrender—failure to engage in even minimal cross-examination of witnesses, and “didn’t call a single witness or put on any mitigating evidence”—which in aggregate effectively sealed DeLuna’s hapless fate. The ineptitude and faults of the crime investigator was also laid bare—her amateurish and slipshod investigative work, faulty judgements, laughable careless oversight, and even irresponsible claims of ignorance and lack of knowledge.

It is almost disgusting to learn of the extent the prosecution, in conjunction with law enforcement, were willing to go in order to convict and put to death a man to whom there is a dearth of implicating evidence. Highlighted was the familiar mantra “ends justify the means” to which the prosecution was alleged to follow. The book systematically documented efforts where the prosecution intentionally hid and conveniently ignored evidence not in service to its self-serving cause, and where it habitually allowed its short-sightedness and stubbornness to lead its efforts. 

The lack of professionalism on the part of law enforcement is also extremely regrettable—the false confidence and lack of fact-checking in the arrest of the suspect, the professionally-unsound decision to use the error-prone procedure of “show-up identification,” the reluctance to admit mistakes, and other missteps. With more findings related to the case that came to light, the more it makes the reader question the efficacy of the law enforcement and justice system. The fact that Hernandez was able to get away unscathed and publicly brag about the failure of the law to prosecute him for his cold-blooded murders despite the availability of evidence against him is an appalling testament to the state of the criminal justice system.

Amidst such turmoil, DeLuna’s sentiments of acceptance, peace and forgiveness were thus even more admirable. Far from harboring hatred or resentment, he even “tried to find some justice in his situation and found it in the bad things he’d done,” by justifying his conviction and impending execution for a murder he did not commit as nonetheless absolving him from his past guilts and wrongdoings. Considering that DeLuna might even be possibly mentally retarded, his resilience and optimism as perfectly captured in his last words before his execution—“I want to say I hold no grudges. I hate no one. I love my family. Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don’t give up”—appear all the more astounding. 

This book might have seemed repetitive at times with regards to critical details and evidence neglected or botched in the case. Considering however the gravity of the case at hand, and the atrocious incompetence displayed by the various parties involved in the case, such repetition would almost seem mandatory in order to impress upon the insufferable injustice inflicted upon DeLuna, and to right an abominable wrong. 

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My Message to Dad

My Dad passed away from lymphoma at past midnight Sat Apr 8th Malaysian time [afternoon Fri Apr 7th Boston time]. He was 58. It was only around 2 years since he was diagnosed with lymphoma.

He was the most analytical person I've ever known. Insanely industrious and resilient, and extraordinarily patient with me. He did everything for me and never expected anything in return but just for me to be happy, to be the best I can ever be, and to be his daughter.

I owe all I have today to him.

My Message to Dad:

Hi Dad. I always naively thought that I could make it back to see you after I graduate from Berklee in May 2017. Early this year I told myself, this is my very last semester at Berklee, I would be able to make it back in time to see you in person. And then April 2017 came, and I thought to myself, only 2 months remaining and I will be able to return to Malaysia and see you before anything might happen. I had been too naive and optimistic.

I was thinking and reflecting, and realized that I could have seen you in the summer of 2016, I could have flown back home for the approximately 3-month summer vacation and would have been able to spend precious time with you. Dad, you and mom had constantly asked me questions like “When are you coming back to Malaysia?” ever since I began my studies in the US, both through phone and email. You and mom continued to persistently ask me through emails, “When are you coming back to Malaysia?” trusting that I would make the right decision that might possibly take into account your love for me, or that might actually signal that I heard and acknowledged the sentiments you and mom expressed about missing me tremendously. I was however insensitively unresponsive. I mostly never responded directly to these questions and always found ways to convince you that it could have been more worthwhile and constructive should I choose to remain here in the US for summer breaks considering new things I could potentially do, learn and experience in this new environment. I always prioritized myself, my own needs, wants and preferences over you and my family. With my persistent push-backs against your questions that lovingly implore me to make trips back to Malaysia just so you and mom could have a glimpse of and spend time with your beloved daughter, you and mom gradually stopped asking me questions of this nature.

I told you and mom that should I stay in the US for summer 2016, I could gain by getting many free books from American publishers, and I did. I spent the entire summer of 2016 continuously receiving free physical books, reading them within days and writing book reviews to accompany these readings. There is no doubt I learned alot, and dad, I distinctly remember you saying that these opportunities might not be present in Malaysia. I always held to the belief that since I’m already here in the US, and considering that this is the first time that I’ve stepped foot in this country, I ought to seize this opportunity as much as possible by being here and doing things here.

With this line of thought, I realized that what I’m left with today is a bunch of book reviews on my blogs, a meagre amount of extra money from selling these physical books to local bookstores which mostly paid only around USD3 for each book, and probably some new knowledge which value in my future is not known. The opportunity cost is that I lost the only and last chance to see you in person and tell you all the things I had planned to tell you only less than 2 months later when I would return home after graduating from Berklee. My decision to not return to Malaysia at all ever since you were diagnosed with cancer around 2 years ago basically meant I traded off the chance to show you I care with other things that might not have mattered much at the end of the day.

I was unbelievably thoughtless. Mom and KK told me that you stopped being able to speak from around Tuesday the week you passed away. How could I have never thought of calling up with Skype even before then to talk to you, or just to hear your voice? I still naively thought that I could make it back to Malaysia in time, and that you would be alright. I never would have known that your condition would deteriorate so much suddenly. I was so careless and inattentive that I never even thought of calling you or mom up in the months before your passing to talk to you. Considering I’ve been using your personal Skype account to dial up local US numbers, how incredible it is that I’ve never even considered video-skyping KK’s account so that I could talk to you.

I realize that this potentially started with me, when I decided to stop paying for the phone plan in the US that costs around USD50 a month. It thought it was a good idea since I barely used the number, and that most correspondence here in the US for me, school or otherwise, is through email anyway. Because of my feeble attempts to save money, we ended up communicating regularly through email rather than Skype calls, whether video or not. Our correspondence turned into faceless and voiceless email. To make things worse, I clearly remember that I mostly failed to answer the very last phone calls you ever made to me a few years ago when you and mom tried so hard to call me just for the simple pleasure of talking to and possibly see the face of your only daughter.  

You and mom made huge sacrifices to come to the US with me around 2.5 years ago to make sure that everything went smoothly for me. But I wasn’t appreciative. Back then I was less than vaguely aware of the financial implications of my Berklee education. I never realized how insanely lucky I was, and took everything for granted. It was only within the past 12 months or so that I realized that I am indeed very lucky. I discovered to my surprise that I had American classmates at Berklee who had to take out student loans even for their very first undergraduate degree, and of course, their families earned USD. In my case, you had to grapple with the abysmal MYR to USD exchange rate. But yet you funded my undergraduate education without a word of complaint, and even with high hopes for me. Even more astounding, you even recently agreed to fund a second undergraduate degree in law for me in the UK. I have been exceptionally lucky to have you as my Dad but I have unfortunately been too stingy with expressing my gratefulness and appreciation for all you have done and ever did for me.

I have been rather mean to you and mom when I was back in Malaysia, and especially so to you. When I came to the US, mental health professionals diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic depression. I started to get help right here in the US, and am surely getting much better because I haven’t been this happy for at least a decade or so, and I daresay even for my entire life. I considered this last Spring 2017 semester at Berklee to be a time where I can continue to improve from my condition. And I would have then be more than ready by the time I return home end of May this year to show you that I really appreciate you and mom for all both of you have selflessly done for me.

I do not want to seem like I’m blaming most or all of my bad behavior on my PTSD and depression, but after much reflection, I’ve come to realize and acknowledge that I was mostly a slave to my mental condition in the past. These conditions largely dictated my behavior, reactions and impulses, and only magnified my hostility toward you, when all this while all you really deserved was respect. I was absolutely looking forward to telling this to you in person less than 2 months later, and I really would have loved a chance to prove to you that I am indeed appreciative of you.

Several weeks before you passed away, I’ve noticed that you stopped replying my emails. It was mom and only her who responded to me since then. Somehow I didn’t take this as a warning sign. When I stopped seeing email replies from you, I suspected you might need more time to rest, and that you had to put more effort into recuperating from your chemo treatments. You did mention to me in an earlier email that you started to get dizzy really quickly just by looking at the computer screen for really short durations of 5 to 10 minutes or so. I just assumed that your condition only got slightly but harmlessly worse, and that mom decided to take over the email correspondence to ease your discomfort.

Even when we emailed, I mostly emailed you only when I needed help for something, needed your advice or something else. It was never to ask you personally for details about the condition of your lymphoma. The most I did was to end my emails to you and mom with brief comments like “hope you are okay and doing well.” I did not do my part to actually actively learn how you are doing, whether you are coping well with your cancer treatments, or even show my concern in return. From what I hear from KK, you suffered alot. I cannot imagine how horrible it must have been for you. For me, I would feel so horrible even with just fever and cold that I can’t imagine ever feeling worse. You were really brave with your lymphoma.

But yet, mom, KK, DeiDei, Ah Ma and Gong Gong were there with you when you were going through this tremendously challenging and difficult times, and probably even the scariest time of your life. DeiDei told me that he returned to Malaysia around March 11 this year, which means he still spent around a month with you before you passed away. KK took care of you the entire 2 years ever since you were diagnosed with lymphoma. Mom is definitely always by your side, and she cares so much for you. I was your only immediate family member, your daughter, who failed to be by your side when you were going through the toughest part of your life. And yet I am one of those who benefited the most from all you ever did or ever worked hard for in your life.

You always worked hard and gave your best even when you noted that conditions at work were less than pleasant for you. You even continued to work at your cargo freight company after you were diagnosed with lymphoma. Additionally, even though finances were tight and you frankly revealed to me that your company wasn’t doing very well, you continued to be the most unbelievably supportive dad you can ever be, and even agreed to support my pursuit of a law degree after I graduate from Berklee. You always wanted me to be the best I can ever be, and you would be so proud if I were to become a lawyer. You agreed to fund my pursuit of yet another academic degree despite you and mom having previously mentioned several times that my Berklee undergraduate degree in the US would be the very last degree you would sponsor me for; total expenses for my Berklee education is undoubtedly exorbitant, further amplified by the MYR to USD exchange rate that mercilessly and astronomically shrunk all your hard earned money.

Studying at Berklee have indeed helped me mature alot, and I realize that I am incredibly lucky, Other children in this world could never have been as lucky as I am to be the beneficiary of the unbelievable hardwork and care of a loving Dad. You very supportively financially sponsored my scarily expensive education in the United States, continued to support me in silent but concrete ways and did not disown me even after I’ve consistently shown to be unreasonably mean to you, and worst of all, unappreciative of all you have done for me.

In my emails to you and mom, I often mentioned that I managed to cut down food expenses remarkably. When I first came to the US, I didn’t know how to cook and never did. You were okay with me dining out almost daily even though it is incredibly expensive to do so and certainly not economical, nor would it have been a mindful use of your money that you have so judiciously worked your entire life to earn. All you cared about was that I had enough money for food, necessities and other expenses, that I ate well and stayed healthy, and took good care of myself. I finally stopped dining out totally in the last 1.5 years, and I managed to shrink my food expenses down to around USD3 per day, I was only starting to grasp the real value of money, and I thought it was a big deal on my part. I was so proud of it, and constantly mentioned this in emails to you and mom as if it was a huge achievement. I thought I was doing “so much” to help you.

Regretfully, I didn’t do what seemed to be most important and that probably would have meant the world to both you and me: to tell you directly that I care for you and that I am thankful for all you did for me. I continued to take everything you did and were doing for me for granted, as if I was entitled to this privileged treatment for the sole reason that I am your daughter. That had always been the way though, I did spend the majority of my life thinking that you are obligated to do all the things you did for me because you are my dad. I was selfish, ungrateful and entitled, and only did the minimum ever since you were diagnosed with lymphoma. All I ever did was to add a brief, almost careless, and cold line at the end of emails saying “I hope you are okay.” Maybe I refused to confront the reality that you had lymphoma, or I thought that if I didn’t ask or learn much about your cancer, it might not turn out to be something even remotely life-threatening or even potentially life-robbing.

When I looked back at our emails where you wrote to me things like “see you home soon” after we made arrangements that I would be returning to Malaysia end of May this year, I honestly can’t believe I actually missed you by around 2 months. I’m heart-broken. At this point I had been in the US for slightly more than 2.5 years and I’m graduating so very soon. My very last semester at Berklee is coming to an end. But I still didn’t manage to make it home in time.

In one of our emails, I remember telling you that one of my best friends in Singapore, Madeleine wanted to start a company with me. You’d seen her before when she joined us for a wedding event involving someone close to Auntie Gwen. And then I mentioned that I wanted to find out all about how you started your cargo freight company, and all other details related to finances, your business decisions, and more. I distinctly remember that you replied that you would share all these with me when I return home June this year. I was looking forward to that. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t actually have the chance to have you share those details with me face to face. When you said see me soon, I really believed that I could make it home in time and you would still be here, and everything would be like how it was last time, that I would be home and that you would be around.

I also recalled that I’ve previously blocked you on social media platforms such as Google Plus and Facebook. At that time I just felt like you and mom were stalking my online profiles. Now I only feel deep regret that I’ve been so thoughtless to brush you off even in the online sphere. You have been insanely patient with me my entire life. You face extraordinary pressure from work and other aspects of life, but my adversarial behavior at home and during the 6 years in Singapore only made things much harder for you, never easier.

The very last time I saw you in person was when you and mom made the trip to the US with me when my semester at Berklee was about to start. You and mom were not obligated to chaperone me, your grown daughter, to the States for my undergraduate degree, but both of you chose to do it anyway. It was so important to both of you that everything got sorted out for me so that it could be as easy a transition as possible for me to study in the US.

You and mom literally did everything for me, including bringing me around to several restaurants near Berklee to familiarize me with the locations that I could choose to dine at during the school semester, showing me how to use a washing machine, and even getting basic things such as a table lamp and a trash can for me. Basically above and beyond what any parents might have done for a grown child above age 18. And guess what, I was actually about to turn 21 that year. All you and mom cared about was that things were made as easy as possible for me and that any and all outstanding issues to be resolved on my behalf so that I can direct all my attention and focus toward my studies without unnecessary distractions or worries. But back then all I cared about was that both of you left Boston. I felt uncomfortable and was still mad at how you used to raise your voice and shout at me. I thought you were an aggressive person and I was afraid of you, and this dominant thought and emotion I have of you and toward you blinded me to the genuine love and care you showed me through your actions.

What would I have given to actually have the ability to know that this first week of April would be the last week you were alive. If I had known back then in January when you were still corresponding with me and able to reply my emails with alot of advice that it was going to be approximately the last 3 months of your life, I could have done much more rather than just be a passive observer to your struggles with cancer. I mostly did not ask you directly for details about your condition and potential suffering. I only told you details pertaining to my studies right here in the US. I never took the extra step to find out more about your condition, I only shared with you details regarding the things I was studying and doing. You patiently listened to me and responded to me according to my needs and to what I was asking or telling you.

Even after I found out that you passed away, I had to ask to find out how old you were. KK said 58. I didn’t even know your age. This almost encapsulates the degree of concern I’ve showed you the entire time you were fighting the hardest battle of your life. You did everything you could for me to the best of your abilities since I was born and for the entire 23+ years of my life. But in these 2 years when you were courageously fighting for your life, I did nothing for you, except to email you and ask you for checks to pay for my school fees and rent.

I had the impression that countless people battle cancer for years, some even for decades maybe, and there are always uplifting stories of cancer survivors who beat the odds. I really never expected that your lymphoma would take your life just 2 years from when you were diagnosed with it. Yet again, I wouldn’t have known better because I have been overseas this entire time throughout your battle with lymphoma. When you were trying your best to bravely battle your cancer and at the same time remain responsible for my financial and emotional wellbeing here in the US, I was only single-mindedly concerned with studying more just so I could get smarter, and maybe possibly smarter than other Americans. All I thought about throughout my time here in the US was myself, my insecurities, my fears and my dreams, but never much about you. I only thought of you when I needed you for something, and only considered vaguely the possible suffering and pain you might be going through because of your lymphoma.

KK told me that our family got you a wheelchair last Tuesday, around the time you suddenly stopped being able to talk. He said you had continued to use the walking stick for as long as you could. But KK also said that there wasn’t much of a chance for you to use the wheelchair, because apparently mom, Deidei and himself were very surprised at how quickly your condition deteriorated from that day onward up till you passed away in less than a week. They said they really could not have expected it.

I really wished I could know how much pain and suffering you were going through the last 2 years, and especially the week after you lost your ability to talk. Were you scared? You had mom, KK and DeiDei by your side that last week of your life, but did you think that you could actually pull through until I returned from the US in slightly less than 2 months’ time? Or that you knew you would hardly be able to make it for another 2 months? What did you want to say to me face to face?

Dad, are you reading this?

Monday, 3 April 2017

BLOG TOUR: "Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients." by Jeremy N. Smith

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. 
by Jeremy N. Smith
Harper Wave
Copyright March 2017
Paperback, 368 Pages

Absolutely engrossing, profoundly inspirational and a highly enjoyable book. One is left marveling at the revolutionary, formidable and ambitious Global Burden of Disease study, its extraordinary success, and its ingenious mastermind, Chris Murray. On a personal and significantly transformative level, one is heartwarmingly inspired by this beautifully written narrative of a man who utterly and selflessly dedicates himself to such a meaningful enterprise in service of humanity. 

An effortlessly readable and masterfully written book that transforms a potentially distant and dry subject matter—global health, and related research and policy making—into one strongly and even strangely compelling and relevant to the general reader. The very human narrative of resilience and perseverance in face of difficult setbacks in the book is also relatable to the everyman. This book doubles as a rather effective and engaging educational tool with its plentiful eye-opening trends, statistics and information pertaining to the global health landscape. 

Aspiring trailblazers of diverse backgrounds and disciplines might find the book especially irresistible. Budding intellectuals and academics will also feel right at home reading the book; the very essence of the narrative is about a fiercely vigorous intellectual and his highly competent team, and their cerebral undertakings and navigation within a commanding analytical world.

The book engagingly charts Murray’s journey to founding and leading the Global Burden of Disease study and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The reader is informed and often reminded of the unprecedented scale of the Global Burden of Disease study—its ambitious endeavor to amass and analyze “all available details about the health of every person on Earth” and document “every disease, every country, every age group.” Murray was said to pursue seemingly “impossible” projects, and the original Global Burden of Disease study was even conditionally analogized to “the first map of the world.”

The reader could potentially find himself or herself in awe of distinctly ingenious concepts and tools devised in the Global Burden of Disease study—the innovative concept of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and its summation formula; the “infinitely customizable” online dynamic data visualization tool, GBD Compare; and the “early burden of disease disability severity weighting” on a 0-to-1 scale, clearly illustrated in a bordered section listing corresponding “sample conditions” to differing ranges of “severity weights.” Yet again, the reader is invited to intellectually ponder the comparison of DALYs—in its capacity to be formulated “by cause,” “per capita by region, age group, or sex”—as “the health equivalent of gross domestic product.”

It is also particularly fascinating to learn of surprising revelations related to inner workings of the likes of the World Health Organization (WHO), supposed recognized authorities in the global health landscape in areas such as health measurement and evaluation. The contrast established between the seemingly more rigorous processes and more superior workings of IHME’s Global Burden of Disease study against the bureaucracy of WHO, its lack of central oversight, its publication of work with potential subjection to political influence and lacking in peer review is certainly mind-blowing. 

The subsuming of galvanizing life lessons in the narrative makes it all the more enriching and compelling to the individual reader. One of Murray’s personal mottos is “Do good work that matters.” I really appreciate the author’s professional decision in opting to highlight the wellspring of Murray’s innate drive and obsession for relentless improvement, painstaking accuracy and accumulation of inexhaustible knowledge, in addition to his prolific embrace of competition. Far from being self-serving, Murray was said to be “compelled by a sense of the relative insignificance of one individual’s personal life measured against the urgent needs of the rest of humanity.” To him, it was none other than “the men, women, and children served by health programs who mattered” most. 

In the face of the initial success and expansion of IHME into a “juggernaut,” Murray preciously retained his judiciously pragmatic perspective, and professionally evaluated the necessity of competition—“Competition is a safety on being wrong”—and even conceded the possibility of mistakes being perpetuated should there remain “just one monolithic source.” In a flawless conclusion to the book, Murray expressed his heartfelt desire for his young daughter to “understand that there’s a bigger world out there.” And this might just be the single most important takeaway for the reader.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.