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May 8, 2006

'I Was Certain, but I Was Wrong — by Jennifer Thompson


It's one of the most powerful essays I've ever read.

It appeared on the Op-Ed page of the Sunday, June 18, 2000 New York Times.

Whenever someone seems really sure of themself, I think of this essay and say, "You can't be 100% certain."

Oftimes annoyance, irritation, and even outright hostility ensue.

Read the article (below) and see why I always have a shadow of doubt about even the most definite of my recollections and memories.

    'I Was Certain, but I Was Wrong'

    In 1984 I was a 22-year-old college student with a grade point average of 4.0, and I really wanted to do something with my life. One night someone broke into my apartment, put a knife to my throat and raped me.

    During my ordeal, some of my determination took an urgent new direction. I studied every single detail on the rapist's face. I looked at his hairline; I looked for scars, for tattoos, for anything that would help me identify him. When and if I survived the attack, I was going to make sure that he was put in prison and he was going to rot.

    When I went to the police department later that day, I worked on a composite sketch to the very best of my ability. I looked through hundreds of noses and eyes and eyebrows and hairlines and nostrils and lips. Several days later, looking at a series of police photos, I identified my attacker. I knew this was the man. I was completely confident. I was sure.

    I picked the same man in a lineup. Again, I was sure. I knew it. I had picked the right guy, and he was going to go to jail. If there was the possibility of a death sentence, I wanted him to die. I wanted to flip the switch.

    When the case went to trial in 1986, I stood up on the stand, put my hand on the Bible and swore to tell the truth. Based on my testimony, Ronald Junior Cotton was sentenced to prison for life. It was the happiest day of my life because I could begin to put it all behind me.

    In 1987, the case was retried because an appellate court had overturned Ronald Cotton's conviction. During a pretrial hearing, I learned that another man had supposedly claimed to be my attacker and was bragging about it in the same prison wing where Ronald Cotton was being held. This man, Bobby Poole, was brought into court, and I was asked, ''Ms. Thompson, have you ever seen this man?''

    I answered: ''I have never seen him in my life. I have no idea who he is.''

    Ronald Cotton was sentenced again to two life sentences. Ronald Cotton was never going to see light; he was never going to get out; he was never going to hurt another woman; he was never going to rape another woman.

    In 1995, 11 years after I had first identified Ronald Cotton, I was asked to provide a blood sample so that DNA tests could be run on evidence from the rape. I agreed because I knew that Ronald Cotton had raped me and DNA was only going to confirm that. The test would allow me to move on once and for all.

    I will never forget the day I learned about the DNA results. I was standing in my kitchen when the detective and the district attorney visited. They were good and decent people who were trying to do their jobs - as I had done mine, as anyone would try to do the right thing. They told me: ''Ronald Cotton didn't rape you. It was Bobby Poole.''

    The man I was so sure I had never seen in my life was the man who was inches from my throat, who raped me, who hurt me, who took my spirit away, who robbed me of my soul. And the man I had identified so emphatically on so many occasions was absolutely innocent.

    Ronald Cotton was released from prison after serving 11 years. Bobby Poole pleaded guilty to raping me.

    Ronald Cotton and I are the same age, so I knew what he had missed during those 11 years. My life had gone on. I had gotten married. I had graduated from college. I worked. I was a parent. Ronald Cotton hadn't gotten to do any of that.

    Mr. Cotton and I have now crossed the boundaries of both the terrible way we came together and our racial difference (he is black and I am white) and have become friends. Although he is now moving on with his own life, I live with constant anguish that my profound mistake cost him so dearly. I cannot begin to imagine what would have happened had my mistaken identification occurred in a capital case.

    Today there is a man in Texas named Gary Graham who is about to be executed because one witness is confident that Mr. Graham is the killer she saw from 30 to 40 feet away. This woman saw the murderer for only a fraction of the time that I saw the man who raped me. Several other witnesses contradict her, but the jury that convicted Mr. Graham never heard any of the conflicting testimony.

    If anything good can come out of what Ronald Cotton suffered because of my limitations as a human being, let it be an awareness of the fact that eyewitnesses can and do make mistakes. I have now had occasion to study this subject a bit, and I have come to realize that eyewitness error has been recognized as the leading cause of wrongful convictions. One witness is not enough, especially when her story is contradicted by other good people.

    Last week, I traveled to Houston to beg Gov. George W. Bush and his parole board not to execute Gary Graham based on this kind of evidence. I have never before spoken out on behalf of any inmate. I stood with a group of 11 men and women who had been convicted based on mistaken eyewitness testimony, only to be exonerated later by DNA or other evidence.

    With them, I urged the Texas officials to grant Gary Graham a new trial, so that the eyewitnesses who are so sure that he is innocent can at long last be heard.

    I know that there is an eyewitness who is absolutely positive she saw Gary Graham commit murder. But she cannot possibly be any more positive than I was about Ronald Cotton. What if she is dead wrong?


This essay appeared in bookofjoe on March 18, 2005.

I think it's worth a fresh look every year or so — don't you?

May 8, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Cheap Chromatherapy — Episode 2: Everyone into the pool


Episode 1 back on April 3 went viral.

Now comes a contender proposing to do for your swimming pool what the earlier version did for your tub.

From websites:

    AquaGlow™ Underwater Light Show

    Create a kaleidoscope of color with five selectable flashing patterns.

    Watertight and floating on the surface, this "disco ball" Light Show projects variable dancing light patterns and colors onto the sides and bottom of the pool.

    Five colorful LEDs inside project their light through the clear magnifying cover.


    Since it's floating the light patterns are always moving as well.

    Light has an On/Off switch with automatic auto-off after 60 minutes .

    Can be tethered to the side of the pool.

    Powered by 3 AA batteries (not included).


I see no reason not to use this puppy in your tub instead of in a swimming pool.

That's some industrial-strength chromatherapy, tell you what....



May 8, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GahooYoogle — 'Search Google & Yahoo at the same time'



I wonder how long this site will be up before one or the other or both companies send out their teams of lawyerbots to ask for a cease-and-desist order.

Because it would appear to me that this mashup search engine doesn't offer alongside its results the ads that are pouring billions of dollars into the bank accounts of Google and Yahoo.

From GahooYoogle:

    Why use GahooYoogle?

    Try the easiest search yet.

    Save your time, get more results in less time.

    Your search wil be faster and more reliable.


That may be but having the results crammed into two side-by-side columns that, at least on my 15" PowerBook, require sideways scrolling does not offer a superior user experience.

May 8, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tilt-A-Fan Tilting Fan Stand


From the website:

    Tilting Fan Stand

    Tilt-A-Fan Stand helps target and maximize airflow from any box fan.

    Sturdy, super-tough nylon brace attaches instantly to a standard household fan and holds it in a tilted position to direct refreshing cool air to areas it ordinarily wouldn't reach.

    It's an ideal way to increase the range of a non-oscillating fan indoors, outdoors, all around the house!

    12" x 15".



$6.98 (fan not included).

May 8, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Eat my shorts' — Soy underpants are here


Eric Wilson wrote about them (above) in the April 27 New York Times.

The story follows.

    Boxers or Briefs?

    Many men will recognize their underwear as the most environmentally friendly piece of clothing they own, given their proclivity, as Jerry Seinfeld once noted, to wear it until it disintegrates.

    But men must ask themselves if their underwear is doing enough to save the world.

    This is where the ecofriendly trend gets really intimate.

    A new collection of briefs and T-shirts made from soybean fabric will be offered in the United States this fall by 2(x)ist.

    Briefs start at $19.50.

    Of course, designers have already made use of a variety of alternative fabrics made from bamboo, corn and hemp, and Spiegel sold a soy fiber dress through its catalogs last year.

    But soy underwear is a whole other can of beans.

    "The whole world seems to be going soy," said Jason Scarlatti, the design director for 2(x)ist.

    "Look at soy milk and soy lattes. We wanted to be on the pulse on what's going on."

    The attributes of the soy fabric, as claimed by the company, do sound marvelous: it is said to absorb 99.7 percent of ultraviolet rays, to be resistant to E .coli bacteria and to be packed with amino acids that complement those of humans.

    But sunblocking underwear is of questionable import to the broader public, except perhaps for Madonna.

    "I'm unclear [as to] what the advantage is," said Roy Cantrell, a vice president of Cotton Incorporated, an industry group.

    The cotton fibers used to make fabric, Mr. Cantrell said, come directly from the plant, whereas soy fibers are chemically manufactured.

    On the other hand, soy cultivation does not require the hazardous pesticides used in conventional cotton farming.

    Most appealingly, the 2(x)ist soy underwear is slinkily soft and nicely styled.

    One caveat, Mr. Scarlatti noted, is that in its natural state the fabric is a less than alluring shade of ivory.

    "It didn't look good as underwear," he said.

    "So we went with a lighter shade of heather gray, blue and black."

    And no, they are not edible.


Was it as long ago as December, 2004 that soy clothing arrived?

May 8, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Throwback School Lunch Tray


Just like the good old days in the cafeteria line.

From the website:

    Designed for institutional use

    Remember those dreaded school lunches like beans and wieners on Tuesdays, chipped beef on Wednesdays and "mystery meat" on Thursdays ("Pizza Friday" couldn’t come soon enough) served on a lunch tray?

    Well, this is the same tray that has been time-tested and has stood up to daily abuse by millions of students across the country.

    These trays are so tough that they are used in many penitentiaries throughout the land.

    And, if that’s not enough, these trays pass daily "clean plate" inspections by some of the meanest, coldest-hearted people on the planet — military drill instructors.

    Five compartments plus a utensil trough keep food separated.

    Ideal for tailgate parties, picnics, outdoor gatherings or when the gang takes nourishment during TV sporting events.

    Unlike flimsy paper plates that never seem to hold enough, the large 9-7/8" x 14-3/4" tray holds lots more than a regular plate.

    Saves hungry guests from multiple trips around the buffet table.

    Lightweight so you can easily carry it with one hand.

    Provides a sturdy surface from which you can eat.

    Easily stackable.

    Polypropylene trays resist breaking or scratching and are microwave- and dishwasher-safe.

    Designed for rugged everyday institutional use.


In red or blue.


May 8, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Robert Brownjohn, Design Legend


Brownjohn (below)


died in 1970 at age 44 and though he left behind a relatively small body of work, its influence continues to reverberate and powerfully affect the look of things in the 21st century.

Emily King, in an article that appeared in the September 18, 2005 New York Times magazine men's fashion supplement "T," explained why that is.

Her essay follows.

    Graphic Material

    Squeezed into a gold leather bikini, her skin painted the same shimmering hue, the statuesque starlet Margaret Nolan (41-23-37) stood still while scenes from the just-finished James Bond movie ''Goldfinger'' were projected onto her curves.

    The shoot was long and meticulous, the brainchild of the graphic designer Robert Brownjohn [below, with Ms. Nolan].


    A golf ball was made to disappear between her gilded breasts; the license plates from Bond's Aston Martin DB5 were another playful gag.

    And to think that the Bauhaus had come to this.

    Unlikely as it may seem, using a live, three-dimensional screen recalled the projected-light experiments at the Bauhaus in the 1920's, something Brownjohn learned at the Institute of Design in Chicago (formerly the New Bauhaus).

    He first played with the idea in the credits for ''From Russia With Love'' (1963).

    But in 1964, in a three-minute title sequence accompanied by Shirley Bassey's theme, his solid-gold images became the most sensational of all Bond openers.

    Although he died at 44 and left a relatively small portfolio, he has acquired cult status for his remarkable ideas.

    Some of his work -- a poster that uses a woman's nipples to help spell ''obsession''; the multilayered cover of the Rolling Stones album ''Let It Bleed'';


    and stationery that brazenly announces, ''Robert Brownjohn designed this letterhead for Michael Cooper'' -- is in a retrospective I have curated at the Design Museum in London (opening Oct. 15) and is also included in my monograph ''Sex and Typography'' [$28.35 at Amazon].

    Brownjohn's preference for the unembellished word and image lends his work a timeless quality, a paradoxical attribute for someone who was such a man of his age.

    Born in Newark, the son of an English bus driver, he excelled academically at the Institute of Design in Chicago, while exploring the city's seamier side.

    After moving to New York in 1950, he spent several years financing his lifestyle of jazz clubs and heroin with freelance work, forming lifelong friendships with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Stan Getz.

    He was prompted to settle down only when he met his wife-to-be, Donna Walters, and teamed up with Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar to form the pioneering design team Brownjohn, Chermayeff & Geismar.

    A few years his junior, Chermayeff recalls Brownjohn as being ''really hip, although now it is old-fashioned to call someone hip -- you might say 'cool,' or 'fast,' or 'street smart.'''

    The B.C.G. studio was renowned for its industrious but informal atmosphere and for the expletives and brilliance that sprung forth in equal measure from Brownjohn's smoke-filled quarters.

    Things went swimmingly until Brownjohn's drug habit caught up with him.

    In 1960, the original partnership disbanded (Chermayeff & Geismar remains a successful design firm), and Brownjohn moved to London, where he worked in advertising while being treated for heroin addiction.

    Brownjohn's move could not have been better timed.

    Not-yet-swinging London was waiting for someone just like him.

    His colleague and friend Alan Fletcher, who designed the fall London show, believes he transformed the profession by making it glamorous.

    ''None of us had any money, nor did he, but he behaved like he did,'' Fletcher recalls.

    ''He acted as if design were show business.''

    In London, Brownjohn hooked up with two younger partners, the producer David Cammell and the director Hugh Hudson, to make films, but once again his team was wrenched apart by his drug-induced vicissitudes.

    Tales of his falling asleep at client meetings or flinging food across fashionable restaurants are legion.

    Among his last designs was a poster for the 1969 New York Peace Campaign, consisting of the letters ''PE,'' an ace of spades (the death card) and a question mark.


    When his body succumbed to decades of abuse, on Aug. 1, 1970, the design world was deprived of one of its few significant personalities, a man whose superlative grasp of modern design was matched only by his raging appetite for modern life.

May 8, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Zip-Up Cable Sleeve


"Enclose all those ugly and dangerous electrical wires into this 20-inch zippered fabric sleeve and your work area becomes neater and safer."

Holds up to 20 wires and cables.


In gray or black.


May 8, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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