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Among the Lowest of the Dead

There was a lot of discussion in the boodle this morning (see comments on previous item) about the death penalty. Yesterday Danny Rolling, the serial killer, was executed for the 1990 student slayings in Gainesville. In the end, he left it to his attorney to pass along an apology to the families. He chose to sing a hymn instead.

Back in 1991 I went to Gainesville to report on the aftermath of the murders. At that point the murders were officially unsolved, but Rolling had been named as a suspect. Many Gainesville residents told me they didn't think Rolling could have done it -- he wasn't smart enough. They were expecting a criminal mastermind. They were expecting Dracula.

There's a tendency to imagine these killers as being rather smarter and more gothic, shall we say, than they really are. A lot of this is media-driven, a Hollywood fantasy. We think of a serial killer, we think of Hannibal Lecter. Even Ted Bundy was romanticized (played on TV by Mark Harmon back when he was People's Sexiest Man Alive). Rolling was a two-bit loser, a bit of a bumbler. Homicide doesn't actually require any special genius. There's also a tendency in the media to underplay, or ignore completely -- for whatever reason -- the sexual sadism that almost invariably motivates these killers.

(Note: The headline on this item comes from a book about Death Row in Florida, written by my friend and colleague David von Drehle.)


Actual exchange of messages:

Achenbach: No one will remember me when I'm dead.

Weingarten: Now, now. That's not true. There will be a period of time between your death and funeral when people will remember you. People who have to speak at the funeral, for example.

By Joel Achenbach  |  October 26, 2006; 12:51 PM ET
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Next: No-Brainers


In an ideal world both taking a life and creating a life would be a lot more difficult. For example, doing neither should be possible while drunk.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 26, 2006 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Many many years ago, I worked in the "Correctional Law" practice at a university law school, which was specifically mandated to represent prisoners in the many provincial and federal penitentiaries and local jails in the town and surrounds. We had some of themost despicable and infamous people as clients, since the town is home to the highest security-level prisons in Canada.

While many of them were exceedingly fond of the spot light, and many more suffered from logorrhoea (and whatever it's written equivalent is), they were, almost to a person, just as Joel describes. Not particularly intelligent, inept physically and socially, and they lacked a sort of mental or emotional flexibility. I don't what that was, exactly, or how to express it more clearly. They just seemed to be in a groove, the way they thought and approached problems, and never adapted their thinking to changing circumstances.

And all those characteristics are what you would use, aren't they, if you were asked to design an individual who would both commit a crime (usually a stupid, avoidable one) and get caught for it.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I too do not agree with the death penalty, although for me it is not completely altruistic (sp?). I cannot think of anything worse than being locked up for life, to me death would be more acceptable, now if what they say about the after life is true I could be wrong.

Other reasons include, chance of a mistake being made, and the possibility that the person may somehow reform and go on to be a benefit to society in some sense. Sparks mentioned the case earlier of Tookie?, while I don't think anyone can atone for what was done at some point I think there is a point where their death will not help but hurt. Once again I will clearly state I tend to see things through Rose coloured glasses.

I have a tendancy to avoid most aspects of violence, I will not watch violent shows, movies, read books etc. While I can find aspects of Legal battles very interesting if they dwell on the violence to much I cannot. It is almost as if society seeks to desensitise violence by looking at the science, psychology or legal aspects of crime, or in some cases the glamour of crime. I have never understood the appeal of watching shows about the mafia.

But that is just me.

Posted by: dmd | October 26, 2006 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Please excuse my unseemly glee connected to this serious Kit, but... I get to point out a copy-editing error!

"The headline on this time..." -- 'time' should be 'item.'

Posted by: StorytellerTim | October 26, 2006 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Seemingly the only reason a politician should be against the death penalty, since it's all about efficiency and practicality:

It does not work!

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 26, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Charities and organizations such as the Innocence Project are so important nowadays because of all the errors in the criminal justice system. One thousand guilty deaths do not justify one innocent death. If you can't create a 100% accurate system for something so serious, then it should be dismantled and banned.

Posted by: Geist | October 26, 2006 2:33 PM | Report abuse

"Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is, the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe and has least support in the church-going United States. I attribute that to the fact that for the believing Christian, death is no big deal."
Tony "The Undertaker" Scalia

Posted by: Notme999 | October 26, 2006 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Tim wins the toaster oven.

Posted by: Achenbach | October 26, 2006 2:37 PM | Report abuse

SF "It does not work!" ?
Most if not all executions are successful i.e. somebody ends up dead.
Is it in King's Green Mile that the head prison guard (Tom Hanks in the movie) always report to the warden: "Another successful execution, the guy is dead" even though things may have gone quite wrong during the procedure.
The trend toward medical-like execution methods is disturbing too. Witnesses only see the customer fall under the anesthetics, death occurs during the condemned's sleep. Traditional methods do not hide the reality that somebody is dying. Quite a few of the last hangings done in Canada went wrong and it sure helped the governments of the time to first commute all the death sentences to life then abolish the DP completely later.

Posted by: Shrieking Denizen | October 26, 2006 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm with you on violence, dmd. I don't even like to read about it, much less watch it on TV or in the movies. I think it has to do with being a mother.

We had a serial killer here about 15 years ago. He was almost clever. He covered up one of the murders by putting a pot of soup on the stove and letting it overheat till it caught fire. It wasn't till he was caught and confessed that they exhumed her body and realized she'd been strangled, not killed by smoke inhalation. The fire investigators were seriously chagrined.

Can anybody think of a serial killer of men? I think what makes these so hard to solve is that they are often disconnected in time and area, and they are not due to anger or revenge, which are easy to figure out. Joel is right about sexual sadism.

Posted by: slyness | October 26, 2006 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Part of being human is to, well, not always be human.

Revenge, justice, eye for eye: All human, across cultures.

But human also to pause, take stock, and act deliberatly with a combination of compassion and justice.

I would say this even if we had perfect, air tight, Godlike data on YES HE DID THIS.

I understand that evil exits. Lock it up. "Perhaps I do mean 'it,' and not 'him' or 'her.')

Love this bumper sticker as it passes the fifth grade boy logic and morals test (now he is older):

Why do we kill people to show people that killing people is wrong.

Posted by: College Parkian | October 26, 2006 2:47 PM | Report abuse

SF: It does not work!

It works if the aim is revenge on the individual criminal. You are correct that it is not a deterrant to others (which is what I understood you to mean), but there are lots of other arguments made by proponents.

Slyness, I can think of several serial killers who targeted men; that doesn't mean that the creepy sexuality is absent.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Serial killer of men: Jeffrey Dahmer, who drugged, killed, and occasionally ate (IIRC) young men.

Dahmer was a few neurons short of a ganglion in the brains department. What happened to him? I seem to vaguely recall that he was declared incompetent to stand trial and is in permanent medical supervision somewhere. I may well be wrong about that.

Posted by: Tim | October 26, 2006 2:57 PM | Report abuse

//It works if the aim is revenge on the individual criminal.//

Even then, as many others have pointed out, it's actually likely to be easier on the culprit than life in prison.

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 26, 2006 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Whenever this topic comes up, I'm reminded of a passage in Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (don't have it handy, but here's the gist of it):

Gollum was a very evil, very bad creature. Killed lots of innocent people. Smelled bad. Ate lots of sushi.

Frodo (the ambiguously gay hobbit) says to Gandalf (the beer drinking, pot smoking wizard): "I wish Bilbo (another ambiguously gay hobbit) had killed Gollum when he had the chance."

To which Gandalf replied (something like this):

Many who live deserve to die, but some who die deserve to live. Can you give them life? Didn't think so.

In other words, unless you are an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent being, put that electric chair (or rope, needle, firing squad, etc.) away and sit on your hands. Lock up the bad guys forever. Just remember: if you kill them, you can't kick them where it hurts.

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 3:01 PM | Report abuse

slyness - do you mean a female serial killer? there are more than i thought:

i'm more familiar with aileen wuornos (i did a paper on her for an investigations class - her's is more a story about terrible abuse and abandonment that led to her rage)
maybe b/c i'm into forensics, i like seeing crime shows, etc - but i also LOVE horror movies... the scarier the better... tho' sometimes life can be scarier than any horror movie...

Posted by: mo | October 26, 2006 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Tim: Dahmer was beaten up by a fellow inmate and died in prison.

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 26, 2006 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Tim... Dahmer was killed in prison.

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I have discovered a new man food that is both quick and tasty:

Pizza rolls mixed with tater tots.

Simply poke a fork through one, then the other, then eat them as a pair.

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 3:04 PM | Report abuse

tim - dahmer was beaten to death in prison... must be a terrible crime if even criminals think it's bad!

Posted by: mo of 9 | October 26, 2006 3:04 PM | Report abuse

I don't buy the argument that a more "chritian" country (whatever that is) the more accepting it is of the death penalty. I think that there's something else going on here. I submit that folks are more accepting of the death penalty when control and execution is done by the local community. In a small enough community the victim of the original crime is probably known to you, there's an immediacy to the crime, a personal impact. You know the jurors, at least some of them, and you have some level of trust in their judgement. You participated in the punishment (hangings were public spectacles until fairly recently.) As these life-and-death decisions are taken away from the community and given to a (relatively more) remote, impersonal authority in the statehouse or federal courtroom, as the execution itself is made impersonal, folks (probably rightly) become more suspicious and less accepting of the death penalty. This transition (from local to national control of the death penalty) is still in process here. And I believe that's why there is more acceptance for the death penalty here than countries where that transition took place longer ago.

Before you start to bash me, I'm not trying to defend the death penalty here. Just trying to offer some thoughts on why it it is more accepted in this country vs. many of the other western democracies.

Posted by: Steve-2 | October 26, 2006 3:09 PM | Report abuse

D'OH! talk about a booo!!!!!!!

Posted by: mo | October 26, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Oh... I almost forgot the most important part of the Gollum/Frodo/Gandalf/Bilbo thing...

Gollum ends up playing a very important (though reluctant) role in saving the world after escaping from custody.

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

I loved the scene in Napolean Dynamite when he put the tater tots in his pocket for later, and then was forced to give some of them to the bigger stronger guy.

I'm not sure a pizza roll would have done as well in the, um, role.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I have always felt that if we are going to have capital punishment, then attendance at executions should be by lottery and be mandatory, based on voter registration, regardless of how you personally feel about the death penalty.

The jury should have to attend. It's relatively easy to confer death when we imagine comic-book justice -- swift, certain, unerring, and nobody with whom we can empathize really gets hurt. A nasty societal problem just ... goes away. We need to face the consequences of our actions. I don't doubt that juries will become more tentative about conferring death -- certainly individual jurors will be. Prior attendance at an execution therefore should not be a disqualification for serving on a capital-crime jury.

I also don't doubt that some innocent citizens will be terribly traumatized by their unwilling participation in the execution, maybe permanently damaged. Hey, as a society, we think the death penalty is a grand idea. If we're troubled by its consequences, then maybe we'd better rethink our ideas about using death as a criminal punishment. The one thing that we should not be permitted to do is to hide from it and sanitize it.

A few people also will probably enjoy attendance at executions. Surely there must be some way to discover these people and legally quarantine them from society. These are the guys who should really worry you.

The WaPo had an interesting article some years ago. Apparently, the fellow who originally proposed lethal injection as a means of execution actually considered it to be barbaric and appalling and felt that it would clearly demonstrate the corruption of society by the death penalty. How could anyone imagine pressing a physician into service as an executioner? But, here we are.

Posted by: Tim | October 26, 2006 3:16 PM | Report abuse

i think that when considering the death penalty we should think about the nature of the human person, and the question posed by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables is quite interesting:

"Can human nature be so entirely transformed inside and out? Can man, created good by God, be made wicked by man? Can the soul be completely changed by its destiny, and turn evil when its fate is evil? Can the heart become distorted, contract deformities, and incurable infirmities under the pressure of disproportionate grief, like the spinal column under a low ceiling? Is there not in every human soul- was there not particularly in Jean Valjean's soul a primitive spark, a divine element, incorruptible in this world and immortal in the next, which can be developed by goodness, kindled, lit up, and made to radiate, and which evil can never entirely extinguish?"p.89-90

Posted by: penny lane | October 26, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

You may have something there. Criminal law is much more decentralized in the US. than in most western democracies. In Canada the Criminal Code is federal legislation administered at the provincial level. My impression is that criminal law is nationally administered in most of Europe.

Posted by: Boko999 | October 26, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

boko: //My impression is that criminal law is nationally administered in most of Europe.//

Perhaps. But how would you explain that some parts of the US were way ahead of some European countries in abolishing the death penalty.

Michigan did it in 1846, Wisconsin in 1858 and Maine in 1887. By contrast, [censored] abolished the death penalty in 1981, Italy in 1994, and Belgium only 10 years ago in 1996.

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 26, 2006 3:43 PM | Report abuse

There is an apocryphal tale that Edison preferred alternating current for electric chairs since that would make his DC power systems seem safer.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 26, 2006 3:44 PM | Report abuse

The argument has been made that the Death Penalty provides a sense of peace and closure to relatives and friends. Does it really? I realize this is a hard thing to quantify, but if someone were to kill one of my loved ones, I question how much long-term comfort seeing the killer killed would provide me.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 26, 2006 3:50 PM | Report abuse

SF, every generalization is false, including this one (I love that line).

Michigan, Wisconsin and Maine are kind of unusual, even by US standards. Events there cannot (usually) be extrapolated to the rest of the country. (Long winters indoors and all that snow affects the brain.)

And while you gave the dates that various countries abolished the death penelty, I'd be interested to know when the penalty was last applied in each (when was someone last executed). My generalization was more about society's acceptance of the death penalty. For that question, the date of last application seems more relevant than the legal detail of it's abolishment.

Posted by: Steve-2 | October 26, 2006 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Information on states w/o the death penalty-- more than you'd think.

Yet Wisconsin voted on reinstitating the death penalty:

As far as I am concerned, Texas and Florida are the worst offenders in the death penalty cases. Virginia ain't good either.

The problem is that uh, certain politicans hailing from those states seem to have a disproportionate influence on national party politics.

Anybody remembered how a certain 2000 presidential candidate was described for his indifference to giving pardons to people on death row? And now we wonder why we now have thousands of dead in Iraq?

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 4:03 PM | Report abuse

As a journalist I witnessed an execution a few years ago in Jarratt, Va. The criminal had taken an orphaned 18-year-old boy under his wing and became a father figure, then took out a $100,000 life insurance policy on him, then took him hunting and paid his buddy to shoot the boy with a shotgun. The co-conspirator later broke down and told police, years later, and they finally caught him. He also told police that the mastermind had reached into the boy's then-gaping chest and squeezed his heart to make sure he was dead.

In the death house, witnesses -- some jury members, attorneys, family members, corrections employees, reporters and one guy who felt it was his civic duty to sign up to watch (anyone can) -- sat on plastic chairs which sat on stadium-style risers. A glass wall separated us from a room with a steel gurney outfitted with the straps needed to hold the man down. About 15 corrections employees were in that room, too, milling around, with one constantly on a phone straight to the governor's office, in case there was a last minute decision to commute. The people adminstering the drugs stood behind a curtain; they didn't see the man being executed.

Then five prison guards burst in nearly carrying the man to be executed, who wasn't even moving, and looked wide-eyed and slack-jawed. They forced him down on the gurney and each quickly fixed one of the vital straps: two arms, two legs, one across the torso. A corrections employee put a mike in the man's face for his last words. There was a speaker in the witness room but we couldn't hear clearly. Then they injected him and started the IVs. He was trying to lift his head up and look. Then he started looking around the room wildly for a while, then he slowed down. His head rolled back and forth a little, his chest heaved a few times, while his face turned an awful shade of red and purple. Then his lips fluttered, like an adult would do to make a baby laugh, and he didn't really move again.

Everyone stood watching for a few minutes until enough time passed that they declared him dead. It lasted about nine minutes from the time witnesses were led in to our room until he was declared dead. We were led out from there straight to the parking lot, which was mostly empty but glaring in blue light. Driving out, past the razor-wire gates, a three or four people stood with candles holding a vigil.

It all seemed just pathetic. What an expense of energy and resources and people to kill this one man, who could have just sat in a cell for the rest of his life without tying up the courts for 12 years, during which time everyone would have forgotten about him and what he did. I think the basic premise is that if we are going to say that killing a defenseless person is wrong, we shouldn't kill defenseless people. Pretty simple logic, really.

Posted by: PL | October 26, 2006 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Can we have another kit on poets? Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The passing of Arthur:

That story which the bold Sir Bedivere,
First made and latest left of all the knights,
Told, when the man was no more than a voice
In the white winter of his age, to those
With whom he dwelt, new faces, other minds.

For on their march to westward, Bedivere,
Who slowly paced among the slumbering host,
Heard in his tent the moanings of the King:

"I found Him in the shining of the stars,
I marked Him in the flowering of His fields,
But in His ways with men I find Him not.
I waged His wars, and now I pass and die.
O me! for why is all around us here
As if some lesser god had made the world,
But had not force to shape it as he would,
Till the High God behold it from beyond,
And enter it, and make it beautiful?
Or else as if the world were wholly fair,
But that these eyes of men are dense and dim,
And have not power to see it as it is:
Perchance, because we see not to the close;--
For I, being simple, thought to work His will,
And have but stricken with the sword in vain;
And all whereon I leaned in wife and friend
Is traitor to my peace, and all my realm
Reels back into the beast, and is no more.
My God, thou hast forgotten me in my death:
Nay--God my Christ--I pass but shall not die."

Then, ere that last weird battle in the west,
There came on Arthur sleeping, Gawain killed
In Lancelot's war, the ghost of Gawain blown
Along a wandering wind, and past his ear
Went shrilling, "Hollow, hollow all delight!
Hail, King! tomorrow thou shalt pass away.
Farewell! there is an isle of rest for thee.
And I am blown along a wandering wind,
And hollow, hollow, hollow all delight."
And fainter onward, like wild birds that change
Their season in the night and wail their way
From cloud to cloud, down the long wind the dream
Shrilled; but in going mingled with dim cries
Far in the moonlit haze among the hills,
As of some lonely city sacked by night,
When all is lost, and wife and child with wail
Pass to new lords; and Arthur woke and called,
"Who spake? A dream. O light upon the wind,
Thine, Gawain, was the voice--are these dim cries
Thine? or doth all that haunts the waste and wild
Mourn, knowing it will go along with me?"
This heard the bold Sir Bedivere and spake:
"O me, my King, let pass whatever will,
Elves, and the harmless glamour of the field;
But in their stead thy name and glory cling
To all high places like a golden cloud
For ever: but as yet thou shalt not pass.
Light was Gawain in life, and light in death
Is Gawain, for the ghost is as the man;
And care not thou for dreams from him, but rise--
I hear the steps of Modred in the west,
And with him many of thy people, and knights
Once thine, whom thou hast loved, but grosser grown
Than heathen, spitting at their vows and thee.
Right well in heart they know thee for the King.
Arise, go forth and conquer as of old."

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Steve-2: you are right. Last execution in [censored] was in 1977, 1950 in Belgium and 1947 in Italy.

Wilbrod, I like this map of the US, with states proportional in size to their executions since 1976:

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 26, 2006 4:12 PM | Report abuse

One argument often offered by people in favor of the death penalty: it saves taxpayer's money.

Wrong! 10-20 years of guaranteed appeals make it a lot more expensive to execute someone.

Texas spends $1.5 million more for each execution vs. the cost of life in prison. For the extra cost of each state homicide, Texans could instead get:

- 25 additional law enforcement officers ($60,000 avg.) or

- 50 new, fully-equipped patrol cars or

- 500 more alcoholics and drug addicts in treatment.

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 26, 2006 4:20 PM | Report abuse

There's just a lot of kit titles in that passage right there. "The Harmless Glamour of the Field" for a baseball kit.

Not that the death penalty isn't an important subject to be against. It's poorly designed and racist in most states where it is routinely applied.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Like politicans care about that when it's their votes and jobs on the line?

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Outside of an invitation to discuss the Death Penalty, I think Joel's kit raises an interesting observation about how we view evil. There is something comforting in the notion that truly evil acts are done by perversely extraordinary people. By people who would stand out from the crowd. This is the same impulse that makes many refuse to believe that a President could be taken out by a loner with a rifle. The notion that great evil can be done by bland losers seems so unsatisfying.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 26, 2006 4:27 PM | Report abuse

If killing people took lots of brains, cunning and complete devotion to all things evil, then lions, wolves, hyenas, bears, snakes, heck, even sting-rays couldn't manage it so easily.

We go to war, and we expect well-brought up young men and women who lack jail records to go out there and kill people for America on orders. Then we expect them to go back to being the same people they used to be.

I think it is time for us to review the schizophrenic attitude we have about killing. Mind you, killing is bad for society.
It undermines justice. Just look at the Orestead to read about the evolution from revenge to a more impersonal concept of justice.

The answer is not to execute randomly and willfully, guilty and innocents alike, in the guise of justice.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 4:38 PM | Report abuse

If this guy had been tried, convicted and sentenced to life in 1992 or 1993 the relatives of his victims would have been spared a decade of uncertainy and anguish.

SF- Wow, I didn't know those states abolished the DP so early. I note that they are northern states. I think the last execution in Canada was in the early '60s
A double header I believe.

Stephen Truscott, who was 14 when he was sentenced to death, is before the courts right now trying to have his conviction overturned. He spent decades in prison until released by a ministers warrant.
Canajun lawyer/boodlers could give a more accurate account. I would wager that it was Truscott's case that turned a lot of Canadians against the DP.

Posted by: Boko999 | October 26, 2006 4:44 PM | Report abuse

1960's not 1860's
The last execution in Canada:
Shortly after midnight on Dec. 11, 1962, two cop killers will face death by hanging. They will be Canada's last executions. Ronald Turpin, 29, is convicted of shooting a Toronto police constable. Arthur Lucas, 54, is convicted of murdering an FBI informant working in Canada. Fighting the fierce cold, a small group of vocal protesters has gathered outside Toronto's Don Jail. - CBC

Posted by: Boko999 | October 26, 2006 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if people don't downplay the sexual sadism angle because the existence of a sexual component in their own personalities implies a commonality with a killer, although clearly a tenuous one.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 26, 2006 4:54 PM | Report abuse

I think it's simply that who wants to feed the appetites of the other sexual sadists out there by playing the details of the victims' untimely deaths.

If I was family, I would NOT WANT TO HEAR THE DETAILS blared on the media in minute detail. Give their memory the dignity their deaths lacked.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 5:15 PM | Report abuse

DadWanneBe -- I was so very sorry to read about your losses. You, and the families each of your late friends leave behind, are very much in my thoughts and prayers.

I am caught up now with the boodle. Fell behind due to family obligations, houseguests, houseguest-related laundry, back injury sustained dealing with houseguest-related laundry (really -- eight loads of sheets and towels up and down three flights is no joke) dealing with broken washing machine which picked that moment of maximum inconvenience to decide 12 years of loyal service to me was enough -- etc.

Superfrenchie, your daughter is the second-cutest little girl in the world. Glad she had a happy birthday.

Will check back in once I am home and have a belly full of moo shu chicken before weighing in on the death penalty. HINT: I am your standard-issue "seamless garment" variety Catholic.

In the meantime, I'd welcome some (respectfully worded, please) arguments about why, if it is unconscionable that death penalty by lethal injection turned physicians into executioners, abortion is A-OK but the death penalty by lethal injection is an abomination even greater than the death penalty by other means.

Posted by: annie | October 26, 2006 5:25 PM | Report abuse

I've waffled over the course of my life about the death penalty. It comes and goes with the crime, I think. I don't think people like the fellow JA noted should live. At the same time, like many others, if a society says killing is wrong, then killing, all killing is wrong.

Annie that is a heck of a conundrum isn't it.

Posted by: dr | October 26, 2006 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Annie - I have never heard of anyone who claims that death by lethal injection is worse than any other. And the linkage to abortion seems like a rather convoluted way to assert a logical consistency. All that argument might do is convince these hypothetical opponents to injection that maybe it isn't so bad after all.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 26, 2006 5:54 PM | Report abuse

I always find it one of the ironies that as you say, "Pro-lifers" are often for the death penalty (hard-line catholics exempted, thankfully!).
The converse also seems true.

You can say perhaps abortion shouldn't be banned in all cases because there's more than one life at stake involved, and also, that our society talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk about taking care of the children that are born and unwanted, abused, disabled, neglected, and throw-away kids.

To die almost before you are even in being, or to be born into a life that almost certainly damns the soul and turns you to evil?

There's no easy argument for that. I have a friend who was a foster kid. His original family abused him, he was removed as a baby. As he said, "my first memory as a baby is of my sister hitting me in the face." He's much older than me, but he still struggles with depression. His one foster mother he bonded with and 'adopted' before he was forced to go into group homes after he turned 12 and pretty much was seriously lucky people saw his smarts behind his abysmal schooling and severe ADD and helped him go to college instead of jail. (He's not American, BTW... Canadian). When he talks about foster care, I listen. He's been struggling with depression on and off recently.
Yeah, he's not turned to evil. Maybe being deaf actually saved him from that. Too many other people he knows weren't.

There are millions of children dying from AIDS- a life sentence given to them before birth, caused by "pro life policies" banning dissemination of birth control information and condoms.

I just find people who talk about being pro-life (but pro-death penalty) hypocritical. Almost always they are very judgmental of others. True moral elevation lies in not respecting the right of other people's babies to be born, but respecting the rights of others that are clearly sinners like yourself, trying to do the best they can.

I support allowing abortion to remain legal, in part because I'm convinced these same people will go after birth control as well. I truly fear the evil caused by zealots intent on good and imposing their moral values on medicine.

That said, I am happy you are against both abortion and the death penalty, Annie. That's at least a consistent belief in the sancity of life.

Still as a Taoist I tend to believe every ideal, carried to extremes, has its flip side.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Realize, Annie, I am not criticizing the "seamless garment" argument. There is a lot to be said for that view. I just question your specific assertion that lots of people have this odd notion that death by injection is somehow especially abominable because doctors are involved. I just haven't heard it before. It seems kinda like one of those "some folks say" strawman arguments.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 26, 2006 6:06 PM | Report abuse

I also need to say that I know many disabled, born in apparently warm and loving families who routinely hear from their parents that they wished that they were not born or had died, so they wouldn't have to suffer so much in life.

It really does bother them to hear that, especially if they're leading happy, independent and productive lives at the moment. Can you imagine hearing that? Yet it's apparently a common feeling, to want to protect children from a hard life, even to that abnormal extent.

The children, however, only hear rejection.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 6:08 PM | Report abuse

As I said, I abhor capital punishment. I also fully support abortion on demand within 12 weeks of implantation. You will note that in the previous boodle none of my arguments against capital punishment were based on the sanctity of life.

As I see it, a lump of cells in a uterus is not a human being, it's just a lump of cells. It is only alive in the sense that the cells in the lump are multiplying.

The right of a woman to make decisions for herself far outweighs, for me, any remotely arguable right of cells to go on multiplying. After a fetus is viable, the issue becomes more complicated morally, but even then there are good reasons for therapeutic abortion.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 6:17 PM | Report abuse

RD... actually, the controversy about whether doctors should participate or assist in "death by injection" has been in the news recently.

Here's an example:,0,324491.story?coll=bal-local-headlines

Loomis is much better at researching and linking than me, but all I did was go to Google News and enter the keywords "doctor lethal injection hippocratic oath".

Basically, if you have sworn to use your medical knowledge and skills to "do no harm", how can you ethically inject a person with a lethal dose of chemicals?

As for the abortion argument that annie mentions, I suppose it all depends on when you believe a human life starts. I'm no fan of abortion, but I'll be damned if I'm going to tell a woman what she can or can't do with her body.

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 6:21 PM | Report abuse

*deep breath*

Killing is not always wrong -- see self-defense or defending a child/helpless person. Even unintentionally causing death in one of those situations is not sanctioned by society. Any of you can imagine a scenario where you will feel justified in ending another person's life.

Society, in self-defense, isolates those who have violated its precepts. Concepts such as "revenge" and "closure," or even "deterrence," are secondary to protecting society. There are certain violations, as many have noted, that call for absolute isolation from society. Some of the already-discussed options to acieve this include:

Ending the violator's life
Confining a violator in a small room until natural death (which may or may not occur at the same point in time as would be the case outside of the small room)
Confining a violator in a small room and providing the means to suicide

There's a commonality in all three; the violator dies apart from society, at the behest of society. The only variable is when.

Is any system of justice perfect? No. Could innocent people be killed? Yes. Have there been cases where modern science has proven wrongful convictions? Yes. Are those cases dwarfed by proper convictions? Yes. All of us must draw our own conclusions as to whether society must be perfect in order to defend itself.

Posted by: Scottynuke | October 26, 2006 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Annie, I know a lot of folks on both sides of the abortion argument, and very few of them think abortion is A-OK. Every abortion has a sad personal story behind it. The argument on that issue is: at what point in a pregnancy does the government (federal, state, local, whatever) have the right and obligation to step in to protect the life of the fetus? That gets to the more fundamental question of when life begins. If it's life, the government has a duty to protect it (indeed, we all do). If it isn't a life (if it's simply the potential for life) then the government has no place in the decision whether it continues or not. I'm not saying it's a good idea or OK to have an abortion at that point. I'm just saying I don't want the government involved.

In the case of the death penalty there is no similar argument. Everybody agrees that a life is being taken, the question in this case is: under what circumstances is the taking of a life permissible, and can it be justified?

Probably made that clear as mud...

Posted by: Steve-2 | October 26, 2006 6:29 PM | Report abuse

There is also the point that miscarriages are very common to start with.

If we hit up too hard on the concept that abortion is murder, we risk severely traumatizing women who want a baby but miscarry frequently with the concept they're somehow murderers along with the grief they feel and the self-blame they feel for maybe not doing thing right.

Loomis posted a nice article a while ago about miscarriage, and how a woman may not realize how common miscarriage is until she miscarries and relatives and friends come out and talk about THEIR miscarriages as well.

In a way, miscarriages are even more traumatic than they used to be, because women can test and determine they are pregnant at only a few days after conception-- exactly during the high-risk zone for miscarrying (conception to 3 months). Literally, you could find out you're pregnant one day and then miscarry the next.

Dr. Cecil Jacobson, the infamous baby doctor not only commited sperm donor fraud on a large scale, he also cruelly told women they were pregnant and then they had miscarried over and over again to make money off in vitro treatments.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Good point on miscarriage, Wilbrod.

This is why I get so darn angry at the debate currently going on in Canada about the Plan B pill and whether pharmacists should be able to exempt themselves from dispensing it on religious or moral grounds.

First, the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting. Therefore, the woman is not pregnant. Therefore it is not an abortion when the egg flushes out of the body.

Posted by: YOki | October 26, 2006 6:34 PM | Report abuse

This deals more with closure than the DP, I read a book that chronicled a series of people and how they forgave the people who had victimized them in life. This covered a wide range of things from sexual and physical abuse, to killing a loved one.

At the time I read it I had a hard time with it, failing to understand why these people would let the people who hurt them off the hook. In the end I realized they forgave the person(s) in order to help themselves, to free themselves from the anger and depression that held them back in life. By forgiving the other person they were able to move forward. Some had nothing to do with the person afterwards, some had relationships but with boundaries, others becaume quite involved.

It is a different perspective on closure and perhaps more closely linked to the families of the Amish lately in their statements.

I have always had a tough time with abortion, I am not that confortable with it, yet could not tell someone they weren't allowed to do it. It is something that has always existed, it is only recently that it is performed in as safe a manner as possible.

Posted by: dmd | October 26, 2006 6:36 PM | Report abuse

A doctor swears to do no harm so his/her participation in an execution breaks this oath.
I suppose it depends on whether you value a collection of cells over a breathing, autonomous person. Ask Micheal J. Fox.
Among protestants this question seems to divide upon how much weight you attach to the Old Testament vs. the New.

Posted by: Boko999 | October 26, 2006 6:37 PM | Report abuse

That variable is often so important to us that we fight for every extra second, Scottynuke.

Jurors in some states MUST vote for the death penalty to protect the society, because there is no life without parole as an alternative penalty. And let's face it, too many murderers are paroled.

The original custom of putting people in cells were so they could reflect on their sins and purify their souls-- like monks' cells. Many went insane from years of sensory deprivation instead, so they had to rethink that strategy slightly.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 6:38 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I am not being snarky. But I am curious on how you became an expert on everything and always have a contribution to make. I know a lot about a few things, and a little about a few more, and nothing at all about most. How do you do it?

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 6:41 PM | Report abuse

I notice that in all the discussion so far no one (sorry if I missed it) has mentioned the under lying causes of the problem. Are we an inheriantly (sp) violent society? Surely beyond prison time and DP there must be something we can do that might prevent the crime before, not after.

Not everyone will go to life of crime due to poverty, physical, sexual or mental abuse, or just plain evil mentality but surely there must be a way to stop some?

Posted by: dmd | October 26, 2006 6:48 PM | Report abuse

dmd... have you seen "Minority Report"?

They took crime "prevention" a bit far, but the concept of being able to predict a crime and then apprehend the suspect *before* the crime brings up some very interesting philosophical and ethical conundrums.

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Forwarding the phones and heading home to make stew in 3... 2... 1...

later :-)

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 6:59 PM | Report abuse

dmd, I agree, and think I alluded to that in my last post on the previous boodle.

I think perfect examples are the Toronto outbreak of shootings last year and the recent violence in Calgary; all originating within marginalized, undereducated, poor, identifiable communities. I truly believe that we can't stop all crime, but if young people (men) in those communities had hope and a way to make it in the world without resorting to drugs and the violence accompanies the trade would be less inclined to that life. And that would go some way to solving the crime problem. How to address the social problems? I think it will take all the resources and institutions we have working together, and will that happen? There would have to be the political will, and will that be forthcoming to support people with little money and less influence? Doubt it.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, I'm a gnome, didn't you hear? ;). I started by being interested in many things, hence learning many things.

I once had a great memory which drew comparsions to Lt. Commander Data when I was much younger.

Nowadays my memory has taken a lot of dents and bumps and too much information overload flares in the last decade, though.

I'd rather be Seven of Nine, but ah well, Mo is far better suited for the role ;).

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 7:03 PM | Report abuse

That said, there are many, many things that I have no interest or knowledge about, such as:
celebrities, fashions, detailed baseball statistics for the last 100 years, the 10,000 pieces of music that everybody else has memorized, and other mysteries such as the purpose of the T-bone formation in football, to name only a few examples.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 7:07 PM | Report abuse

dmd, I think violence is part of the human condition. I know I could be violent, certainly in defense of my children. I don't know if we can breed it out. For heavens sake, if humans were going to attain perfection, surely we would have done it by now!

Posted by: Slyness | October 26, 2006 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Yoki, I do agree, I think its easier for politicians to say I will get tough on crime, much better than admitting our society has some pretty awful facts to face. Lets face a politician saying I am going to erase poverty, abuse and lack of education would more than likely be called a bleeding heart liberal.

I once dated someone who worked with young offenders, some of their home life backgrounds were incredible and you would wonder how anyone had any chance of escaping to a normal life. I know many do but I think somewhere in there was a great role model.

Posted by: dmd | October 26, 2006 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Slyness, sorry didn't mean to suggest I thought we could eliminate crime, just perhaps lower it. I do believe there are people that given different opportunities may not commit violent or stupid acts.

Trust me I am not for perfection, it is a mantra in this house, in fact I get mad at the kids, I don't want them to strive for perfection but to do their best.

In self defense or defense of my children I am pretty sure I could be violent (Irish/German descent still pretty hot tempered). Then again self defense is a valid reason to hurt someone else - if proportional.

Posted by: dmd | October 26, 2006 7:20 PM | Report abuse

The hindus believe we are in the Yuga Kali (the black age) where everything falls into corruption and evil.

Although some assert it ended in 1700 CE.

Just wanted to throw an dissenting viewpoint that mankind always gets better ;).

Yes, Slyness, violence is necessary when all else fails. Human beings are very cooperative normally, much more so than many animals, and like most social animals do, we have devised many ways to avoid violence.

If anybody remembers the story about the elephants and how their societies are being destroyed by humankind, causing young bulls to run amok without the stablizing influence of older males, we can see social parallels to the roots of violence in our societies.

When people have nothing to lose, they generally don't see much reason not to be violent.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 7:21 PM | Report abuse

The purpose of execution is justice, punishment. We see, in the real world of law enforcement, a family of four gunned down on a Florida highway, a mother shielding toddlers. Yes, I bet the guy was a drug runner. Did his little kids deserve to see death coming from a worthless piece of crap doper? We saw a cop, veteran of the MidEast, father of four, dragged to death by a drunken frat boy last Wednesday. We see the three-year-old gunned down by a scumbag dope dealer with his Glock Fo-Tay who scurries away and brag to the homies about his turf battle. Yes, these effers deserve to die. And a harder death than a stick in the arm. Most death penalty cases are examples of pathetic vermin coldly executing victims, totally without cause. And you wimps want to hold their hand and sing "We are the World". Fry them. And add the child predators, rapists, and the molesters. To hell with them, as soon as possible. Grow some guts or bare your throat for the jihadist knife. Or the gangsta driveby bullet.

Posted by: Cop | October 26, 2006 7:23 PM | Report abuse

But Mr. Cop. Sir. What if you end up frying the wrong vermin? Mistakes do happen. What overhead of incorrect death is acceptable to you?

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 26, 2006 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Traffic stops are the most dangerous moment for policemen. I'm fond of this site:

And no amount of guts can stop a driveby bullet.

Sorry, only being involved with those people BEFORE they get into gangs can stop those bullets. Any real cop will know teen boys get into gangs because they just wanna belong and they don't have fathers.

Now, everybody has a choice, I'm not saying I buy into the mentality that being handed c** means you have the license to hand out c**to the world. But it is far, far better to make life easier by reducing the amount of c*** people get and giving them the empathy and mental tools to choose right.

I would give a lot to make your job easier and safer. I have actually done research to vote my best. I found this:'cop%20killers%20%20death%20penalty%20states'

This was researched by a fellow policeman. You will find it informative.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 7:46 PM | Report abuse

It sounds as if Mr. Cop is of the "kill them all and let God sort them out" camp.

I'm a little more insulated from the street violence these days, having given up tending bar in a neighborhood referred to in these parts as "Little Baghdad". That said, I'm not going to turn the cheek if someone threatens me or my family. Having said that, if you're going to go through the trouble of bringing a monster in alive, locking it up and throwing away the key is just as effective (and probably more cost effective) than trying to execute it.

Then there's the fact that if you find out later on that the monster you caught is not a monster after all, but someone who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time under the wrong circumstances... it's a lot easier to let the wrongly convicted go free than try to bring a corpse back to life.

Unless you're God, of course.

Are you God?

Didn't think so. So don't be so quick to think you can do Her job.

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 8:01 PM | Report abuse

martoon, I've been thinking and thinking about your stated wish to change your handle. I have some ideas! How about "rightthinker"? Not right politically (necessarily).

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps when the families of victims of serial killers seek vengenance through execution, their desire is borne of frustration -- of a need to do *something* in the face of the killer's lack of remorse -- rather than a belief that the death of the killer is the logical and best way of achieving closure. What these families *really* want is for the serial killer to show remorse -- that would bring far more satisfaction than would the killer's death. Unfortunately, serial killers aren't usually capable of showing remorse. They're sociopaths at best, psychopaths at worst. They're not "normal" caring human beings -- if they were, they probably wouldn't be serial killers. But it's hard for us to stop expecting them to behave normally, to have the same thoughts and emotions that we do. When they don't respond emotionally, when they don't show the remorse we expect, it is maddening to us, and capital punishment becomes a next-best option, a poor substitute for what is truly sought. It probably brings little or no satisfaction. But the victims' families probably won't fully realize just how poor a substitute it is until the person has been executed and they find that the feelings of loss persist.

Dead or alive, a sociopathic or psychopathic killer will never feel or show remorse.

I like what dmd said about forgiveness: "In the end I realized they forgave the person(s) in order to help themselves, to free themselves from the anger and depression that held them back in life. By forgiving the other person they were able to move forward."

Posted by: Dreamer | October 26, 2006 8:16 PM | Report abuse

martooni, re a new 'bout newtoon?

Posted by: ac in sj | October 26, 2006 8:20 PM | Report abuse

//a real cop will know teen boys get into gangs because they just wanna belong and don't have fathers.//

Careful, Wilbrod -- you are starting to stray from the reservation. Everyone knows that fathers don't matter because gender is a construct. All the bien pensant class tell us so, so it must be true. All boys need is "role models" so a drop-in uncle, or a male teacher (useful, like relying on a dodo bird), or a TV character can make up for the fact that the man who sired you is absent from your life. All girls need is an adult man who is not her father and yet has a dispassionate selfless interest in only her own good. Lots of them around, too (see "dodo bird.")

But the important point is this: Marriage DOESN'T MATTER!

Get back on the reservation, please. Before you are denied tenure.

Posted by: Jonathan Swift | October 26, 2006 8:20 PM | Report abuse

He's hurting bad just right now.

This might be what he was referring to, but this was not a drunken frat boy:

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 8:21 PM | Report abuse

No worries, I grew up in a 2-parent family and I'm not interested in an academic career, Jonathan Swift.

And I've always thought the extreme feminists deny basic biological truths in favor of a load of wishful thinking. I would dearly love to insist every womens' studies majors take at least 1-2 major biology courses including animal behavior.

I knew a girl who wrote a paper on testosterone and aggression, using the spotted hyena as an example for her womens' studies class-- embarrassed the teacher who apparently didn't know that female hyenas rule the clan in exchange for testosterone levels so extreme they look decidedly male.

That aside, a father can certainly be stepdad, adoptive dad, etc. But being a role model is NOT an drop-in "uncle" job.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Yoki... you're post had me laughing. Me? Right? I do "think" quite a bit more than I should (not that it's correct or logical or even worthwhile). But right? Me?

I'm *never* right, politically speaking or otherwise. I'm even trying to retrain myself to be left-handed.

Just ask Mrs. Martooni. She's *always* right (and since I believe peace starts at home, that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

Posted by: martooni | October 26, 2006 8:29 PM | Report abuse

It is a good book Dreamer, and while I think the victims hoped for remorse, it wasn't the requirement. It was sad many of the stories involved not just sexual/physical abuse by family members but hostility from family members for the victim mentioning the crime.

Posted by: dmd | October 26, 2006 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Cop, thank you for illustrating my point earlier, "the worst are full of passionate intensity."

I agree that "we" need to be brave and not "wimpy." It takes guts to stand up for what is right, especially when faced with people in power who think exactly like your expressed opinion here. "Kill or be killed" "Fight or give up"--those are not authentic choices. We have another choice. "Fear or love" is the way I would phrase it; which will decide our actions? I saw a film of Martin Luther King speaking on this subject and I only wish I could say it the way he did. The kind of love that changes the world is not a weak, emotional response. It is the power that created the universe, the power of life itself.

...abrupt change in tone here, don't get whiplash...

Rightthinker? I don't know, it's a little evocative of Monty Python: "I think all rightthinking people in this country are sick
and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up
in this country with being sick and tired" and so on. Well, on second thought, maybe that does fit after all. Think about it, 'tooni.

Just to complete the u-turn, here's a nice romantic poem:


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me, you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

--Christina Rossetti


Posted by: kbertocci | October 26, 2006 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Very funny, Jonathan Swift, by the way. Take the ordinary grasshopper (locust). It may live its life munching and never migrate. And then there are plagues of locusts.
Research shows the swarming behavior of locusts is caused by overcrowding, and the trigger is increased tactile stimulation of the hind legs. Several contacts per minute over 4 hours is is enough to make them change their color and other physical changes and become a flying plague of farmers everywhere.

Humans are much more complex than insects, but our biology may be more plugged into social cues than we think. Certainly elephants sound too much like us at times.

Research seems to indicate that in the absence of stable parental figures, both boys and girls "mature" more quickly, engaging in sexual behavior earlier, but also have higher incidence of depression and other risky behavior. I can see biological reasons for that.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 8:41 PM | Report abuse

Thank you Mr. Policeman for so clearly illustrating the need for the Bill of Rights and an independent judiciary.

Posted by: Boko999 | October 26, 2006 8:43 PM | Report abuse

martoon, I'm glad you laughed. As a fellow sufferer from addictions, I know how hard it can be to keep your sense of humour whilst under the dark clouds and on the straight path.

But you are right thinking. You love your family, and struggle every day to be right acting. Sounds pretty brave and honourable to me. I'm with Weingarten on this one. If you are inclined for any reason to be bad, but are good most of the time, that speaks to a spiritual struggle won (most of the time). When you fall, we can admire the effort if not the result.

So if not rightthinker, how about just Martoon? It removes the alc-reference, and even better reminds us of the immortal Bugs.

And of course, you are not a moron, nor a nincompoop, nor even gullible, but a wise man who knows the dark and so knows the way out of the woods of the self.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 8:45 PM | Report abuse

kbert, that was a great post.

And speaking of whiplash and changed tones, amid all this talk of the death penalty I still find myself chucking at Weingarten's "People who have to speak at the funeral, for example." Not "people who have the honor of speaking" or "people who get to opportunity to speak" but "people who *have to* speak." Ha!

Posted by: Dreamer | October 26, 2006 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Chuckling! I meant chuckling!!!

Posted by: Dreamer | October 26, 2006 9:28 PM | Report abuse

[What an egregious error on my part. SCC to the power of infinity.]

Posted by: Dreamer | October 26, 2006 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Hey Tom Fan,

Did you see the piece in Slate on Vegamite?

There is also a review of several books on Australia and an art exhibition in the National Gallery of Victoria in the November 16, 2006 issue of the New York Review of Books. I don't know how long it takes them to get articles on-line.

Posted by: pj | October 26, 2006 9:59 PM | Report abuse

And another . . .
"people who get THE opportunity to speak"
[hopefully it would be someone more coherent than me]

By the way, Yoki, I loved "a wise man who knows the dark and so knows the way out of the woods of the self." I've heard it said that we humans cannot know true perfection, or even pure love, and so we have to work at it from the other direction -- by removing the obstacles that prevent us from seeing it. To see the light, we must indeed know the dark.

Posted by: Dreamer | October 26, 2006 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks pj! No, I hadn't seen that. Interesting story.

And thanks for the heads up on the New York Review of Books. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Posted by: Tom fan | October 26, 2006 10:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm getting home late from a tertulia...

A tertulia is a social gathering with literary or artistic overtones, especially in Iberia or Latin America. The word is originally Spanish and has only moderate currency in English.

It is rather similar to a salon, but a typical tertulia in recent centuries has been a regularly scheduled event in a public place such as a bar, although some tertulias are held in more private spaces, such as someone's living room. Participants may share their recent creations (poetry, short stories, other writings, even artwork or songs). Usually (but not always) the participants in a regularly scheduled tertulia are, in some respects, likeminded, whether by having similar politics, similar literary tastes, etc.

...sponsored by our local writers' organization, Gemini Ink. There were four on the panel, including author John Phillip Santos and his distant female cousin who produces a small newspaper in Laredo. I can tell you that the buzz among the panelists (the other two were, a Scot, had a father who didn't want to be called Anglo) was about Bush signing today legislation that gives the green light to build 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Though not even built yet (I understand the legislation does not provide for funding), Santos said the good thing about walls like these is that they eventually come down...or fall down.

Posted by: Loomis | October 26, 2006 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Annie, I've been pondering your ethical question. I know my answer (it's pretty much the one you would expect) and I know my reasoning. However, I haven't been able to figure out a way to state it lucidly and concisely, so I'll hold it to myself for now.

Posted by: Tim | October 26, 2006 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Beautiful morale booster,Yoki. I was interested in one of your first comments:

"While many of them were exceedingly fond of the spot light, and many more suffered from logorrhoea (and whatever it's written equivalent is), they were, almost to a person, just as Joel describes. Not particularly intelligent, inept physically and socially, and they lacked a sort of mental or emotional flexibility. I don't what that was, exactly, or how to express it more clearly. They just seemed to be in a groove, the way they thought and approached problems, and never adapted their thinking to changing circumstances."

Low-level thinkers... superficial, impulsive thinkers? And you're talking about murderers and other violent criminals, right?

Any chance you can recall a specific conversation with a prisoner "thinking aloud" and give us a vague example?

I keep wondering if I may just know what you mean by that. I know a lot of people with ADD and limited education and they don't think deeply or react to pressure well.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 10:10 PM | Report abuse

dreamer wrote: Unfortunately, [serial killers] aren't usually capable of showing remorse. They're sociopaths at best, psychopaths at worst. They're not "normal" caring human beings -- if they were, they probably wouldn't be serial killers. But it's hard for us to stop expecting them to behave normally, to have the same thoughts and emotions that we do. When they don't respond emotionally, when they don't show the remorse we expect, it is maddening to us...

Dreamer, I think this is deeply insightful. We (how could we not?) expect most people to react to stressful situations much the way we do; with sorrow, kindness, remorse, guilt, whatever. When the fringely people don't, but are nonetheless demonstrably of us, though not like us, how are we to think of them and ourselves? What is normal? What is not?

And this is where I think the construct of "evil" comes from. If these humans look like people, but don't behave or react like people (like real menschen), how are we to think of them? In the middle ages and earlier, the only explanation was that they were possessed of evil spirits and were therefore evil themselves. In latter days, it has been explained as insanity or deprivation of nurture.

Still (and as I posted earlier in this Boodle), I have known many criminals who are victims, and some who are so far from normal as to be incomprehensible to me.

I'm interested in that dichotomy now. Simple labelling of wrong-doers does not serve either society or the subject. Can we arrive at complex examinations of each individual circumstance? cop believes not. I don't think we have the financial or human resources in the justice system, but I think it could be done. And then we would have no need of blanket sentences for crimes. The punishment would be tailored to fit the crime, and the criminal.

*Exits left, humming Gilbert and Sullivan.*

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Bars, Loomis? Don't you mean you have salons in saloons? ;).

When do we have our first Boodle Tertulia Hour of October, anyway?

Tim, such questions as Annie posed do challenge you to define the basis of what you make moral decisons based on. For some, religion and ideals are enough. For others, it's much murkier. What happened to Science Thursday, anyway?

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 10:20 PM | Report abuse

I would love for research to progress to the point that we know how what causes and how to treat disorders seriously affecting anger, emotion, obsessive-compulsions, and psychopathy, not guess at it.

We are making progress with fMRIs (functional MRIs) and someday we may be able to use them and other tools as courtroom evidence, not expert witnesses who examined the defendant for 15 minutes and decided the defendant is mentally incompetent.

We know now that major unipolar depression consists of a runaway fear circuit that never quite shuts down. Depression has some correlation with seizures and OCD, so it's interesting to see the physical basis is similar.

Studies show that teen boys/young men who adapt to a very violent environment by becoming violent themselves have lower rates of depression than average. It suggests they either lack a much fear or they have managed to block off fear by employing anger and aggression as a constant response instead. Take that away, who knows what happens to them mentally...

There are a lot of people out there who continually struggle with minor and major brain injuries. They can wire around it sometimes, sometimes they can't. The new wiring for a long time is not as good as the original one was, and they can fatigue and relapse. The same seems to be true for depression, since they have to resort to alternative ways to dampen down the fear.
Some research using electrical stimulation (not electroshock, milder and more targeted those days) has been promising for people with depression that doesn't respond to any other means.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 26, 2006 10:35 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I am talking, Wilbrod, of particularly violent and predatory criminals. I am not able to *transcribe* a conversation, as I am still covered by confidentiality. However, I will try to give you a composite drawn from various sources.

I am interviewing KG in medium security.

Me: KG, you have told us that you were in the vicinity of the crime scene that night, and we understand the victim was a friend of yours. When the police visited you at home the next morning, your clothing appeared to be bloody. You've told me you did not see any violent acts take place that night. Can you tell me where you were?

KG: I wasn't there. I can prove it. I was in jail that night.

Me: No KG, we've already checked. You were in jail the night before for robbery, but released on the day we're talking about. And you've told me you were there with TB when he died.

KG: No, I was in jail.

Me: No, you weren't.

KG: Then it must have been a case of mistaken identity!

Me: KG, the police know you, they called on you at home and you told them you were there, but not involved. Would you tell me about that?

KG: I wasn't there. You must be thinking about somebody else. Maybe my brother, RG. I wasn't there. Maybe my brother had blood on his clothes.


KG: I was in jail. When the police came to my house and talked to me, I wasn't there. I was in jail.

Many prisoners were of course ADD, but the ones I'm thinking of were more likely brain injured, not just differently wired as ADD or ADHD-diagnosed people are. As you can see in the KG interview, there are repetitive patterns of speech and that is often the case with brain injuries. After I wrote that first post today, I began to think with hindsight. I now think many of the people I reference were (probably) FAS or FAS+. And suffered from non-attachment and likely had minimal education. I have a sort of sorrow for them.

That said, one of our correctional law clients was a genuinely sick and famous serial killer, and I could not go to see him. There was no point where my humanity could meet whatever he was. So I declined.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 10:47 PM | Report abuse

hehehehehe. While I was writing my long post and reflecting on brain injuries, Wilbrod was posting about brain injuries.

Perhaps I'm not a man, pr'aps I am a gnomic figure (of the garden variety).

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, I think we also need to look at seratonin uptake. We know that people who take more risks that average (skydivers, rock climbers, jet pilots, even, dare I say, race car drivers -- sorry, bc) have very low levels of both adrenalin and serotonin when at rest. Only by taking risks can they boost those levels to near normal. So anything that would make the rest of us shake in terror merely makes them feel normal. And once the blood/brain chemical levels return to normal for them, they are chemically depressed. It accounts for both heroic risk taking, and also the depression and lack of impulse control that characterizes social outsiders.

Note how cleverly I spelled "seratonin" two ways in one post, since I don't know how it should be spelled.

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 11:00 PM | Report abuse

A couple of years ago we had two murders here in our nice little town. Two college girls. The guy killed the first one "by accident" and then it was pretty easy to kill the second one.

I never thought much about CP until I read an article in our local paper. The writer described the apartment of the second victim, who had come over to the coast to escape the heat of the central valley, and said something like "she arranged some sea shells on a windowsill."

From then on, whenever I read about that crime, my mental image of those shells was always with me.

I wanted that killer killed. I was HAPPY when he got the death penalty.

Posted by: nellie | October 26, 2006 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, the rest of us call that a "party."

Posted by: Yoki | October 26, 2006 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Annie: I'm also uncomfortable with abortion, so I certainly understand where you're coming from. At least for any fetus that would be beyond the "lump of cells" stage. Let's say a month or two at the most. (Morning-after pill is great!)

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 26, 2006 11:03 PM | Report abuse

For them what's interested in some of the stuff that goes into the making of extremely violent offenders (although not the genuinely psychopathic), I'd HIGHLY recommend Lonnie Athens' books:
"The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals" (1992)
"Violent Criminal Acts and Actors Revisited" (1997)

And/or Richard Rhodes' (yes, THAT Richard Rhodes! "The Making of the Atomic Bomb"; "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb"; "John James Audubon: The Making of an American"; many others) profile of him and his work:
Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist (1999)

Posted by: Bob S. | October 26, 2006 11:31 PM | Report abuse

Didn't someone mention Alferd Packer earlier? In a tangentially related note, R. Rhodes also wrote "The Ungodly: A Novel of the Donner Party" in 1973. : )

Posted by: Bob S. | October 26, 2006 11:36 PM | Report abuse

someone you should be required to eat them to.....

no sport killing.

Posted by: I think if you're going to kill | October 26, 2006 11:42 PM | Report abuse

for happy endings in predictability...

Pleasant ville musings, simplistic determinations of insight into predictable fishings....

he visited the pool, tied on a number five wooly bugger and started fishing....

he knew there was a big one in there somewhere....

shallow water lapped at his knees........trout kilgore ized onomotopeia...

shake me.


Posted by: small clowns with big shoes, looking | October 26, 2006 11:47 PM | Report abuse

larger, more life filled than it...

was moving through the water...

reaching for his gom-jabber he waited to affix it to the offending orifice.

Posted by: the nose lifted, realizing something | October 26, 2006 11:52 PM | Report abuse

In this lecture I would like to present a deeper understanding of evil, which will be extremely helpful for all my friends who are deeply involved in the processes of self-finding.

Evil is, or results from, numbness and a confusion about the execution of control. Why is evil numbness? When you think of the defense mechanisms operating in the human psyche, the connection between numbness and evil becomes quite clear. Children who feel hurt, rejected, and helplessly exposed to pain and deprivation often find that numbing their feelings is their only protection against suffering. This is often a useful and quite realistic protective device.

Likewise, when children are confused because they perceive contradiction and conflict around them, equally contradictory emotions arise in their own psyche. Children cannot cope with either. Numbness is also a protection against their own contradictory responses, impulses, and reactions. Under such circumstances it might even be a salvation. But when such numbness has become second nature and is maintained long after the painful circumstances have changed and when the person is no longer a helpless child, this, in the smallest measure, is the beginning of evil. This is how evil is born.

Numbness and insensitivity toward one's own pain, in turn, means equal numbness and insensitivity toward others. When examining one's reactions closely, one might often observe that the first spontaneous reaction to others is a feeling for and with them, a compassion or empathy, a participation of the soul. But the second reaction restricts this emotional flow. Something clicks inside and seems to say no, which means that a protective layer of unfeelingness has formed. In that moment one stands separate -- apparently safe, but separate. Later this separateness may be overcompensated for by false sentimentality, dramatization, and insincere, exaggerated sympathy. But these are only substitutes for the numbness. The numbness, instituted for oneself, inevitably spreads to others, just as every attitude toward the self is bound to expand toward others.

We might differentiate between three stages of numbness. First, numbness toward the self, a protective mechanism. Second is the numbness toward others. In this stage, it is a passive attitude of indifference that enables one to watch others suffer without feeling discomfort oneself. Much of the world's evil is caused by this state of soul. Because it is less crass, in the long run it is more harmful, for active cruelty induces quicker counter-reactions. Passive indifference, however, born out of numbing the feelings, can go unnoticed because it can so easily be camouflaged. It permits the person to follow the most selfish impulses without open detection. Indifference may not be as actively evil as cruelty acted out, but it is just as harmful in the long run.

The third stage of numbness is actively inflicted cruelty. This stage arises from fear of others, who seem to expect such acts, or from an inability to cope with pent-up rages, or from a subtle process of strengthening the protective device of numbness. At first, this may appear incomprehensible. But when you think about it deeply, you will find that people may occasionally, almost consciously, find themselves on the brink of a decision: "Either I allow my feelings to reach out in empathy with the other, or, in order to deflect this strong influx of warm feelings, I have to behave in the exact opposite way." The next moment such reasoning is gone, the conscious decision forgotten, and what remains is a compelling force toward cruel acts.

In these instances, all harm, all destructiveness, all evil results from denying the spontaneous real self and substituting secondary reactions that, in one way or another, are always connected with fear.

The borderline between passive numbness and active cruelty is often very thin and precarious, very much dependent upon apparently outer circumstances. If people understand these processes not only intellectually but within themselves, they are adequately equipped to cope with the world's cruelty, which so often gives rise to despair, doubt, and confusion.

Active cruelty numbs the person who perpetrates it to an even greater extent; it not only prohibits the influx of spontaneous positive feelings but also wards off fear and guilt. The act of inflicting pain on others simultaneously kills off one's own ability to feel. Hence, it is a stronger device to attain numbness.

a small gift to assuage your placebos, permit me this one small subtrefuge, awaken.


Posted by: hello simple people... | October 27, 2006 12:03 AM | Report abuse

Ted Bundy remains one of the most chilling serial murderers that I know of, probably because he was an attractive, clever person. And because his first murders took place around Seattle - he took some victims from a state park that I have been to many times. He would wear a cast, on his foot, I believe, and ask a young woman for help, then clonk her on the head, etc. So I'm definitely not an admirer of his in any way - have never seen the movie with Mark Harmon (I am an admirer of Mark Harmon). The book by Ann Rule was enough for me (and it's been many years since I read it). His story is weirdly fascinating, though - but as I said before, I'm just as glad he's not around to taunt victims or worm his way of prison.

The Green River Killer, who worked at a truck factory that I drive by every day, is more of the low-functioning type that Yoki is referring to. But he got away with murders for years - then finally admitted to some to avoid the death penalty - and expressed some remorse. Very, very sad.

Hope Joel leaves us with a lighter Kit to go into the weekend. Or we'll just have to make our own.

Posted by: mostlylurking | October 27, 2006 12:03 AM | Report abuse

SCC - worm his way *out* of

Posted by: mostlylurking | October 27, 2006 12:06 AM | Report abuse

people are simply an indigenous population sitting on top of some scarce resource...

well, there's certainly some evil going on there isn't there.......

and the president is obviously numb right?

Posted by: if the Iraqi | October 27, 2006 12:08 AM | Report abuse

numbness, but there is certainlly a sense of seperation or numbness in the possessed...

see "The Fallen," Denzel Washington.

Posted by: ps. possession is different than | October 27, 2006 12:17 AM | Report abuse

Nice article about turtles by Adrian Higgins:

Posted by: mostlylurking | October 27, 2006 1:01 AM | Report abuse

hello simple... Aaaah, you've almost got it right, keep working on it! (Hint, focus on the fear!)

By the way, I really, really think that you'd like Lonnie Athens' views on habitualization to brutality.

Posted by: Bob S. | October 27, 2006 1:02 AM | Report abuse

Lecturer to the Simple People, I think you've nailed it. (Doesn't have quite the same ring to it as Lecturer to the Stars, does it?)

"The numbness, instituted for oneself, inevitably spreads to others, just as every attitude toward the self is bound to expand toward others."

Indeed. Or, as the saying goes, When you squeeze an orange, what comes out is orange juice, because that's what's inside.

Posted by: Dreamer | October 27, 2006 1:10 AM | Report abuse

Dreamer - hello simple has it exactly right for one of the more common manifestations of evil, but there are others.

Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad, for example, were both exquisitely aware of the reactions they were creating. Numbness of the soul is no part of their motivations.

They both share the fear of existential worthlessness that is always present when people act exceptionally badly. Of course, many of us share that very same fear every day. But most of us have better coping mechanisms & better social support systems.

Posted by: Bob S. | October 27, 2006 1:17 AM | Report abuse

To (terribly) paraphrase Kris Kristofferson:

Freedom to act evil's just another way to say
I've got nothing left to lose.

Posted by: Bob S. | October 27, 2006 1:23 AM | Report abuse

This new learning of your's intrigues me Sir Hellosimplepeople, explain to me again how an overuse of humour may be indicative of terminal numbness.

Posted by: King Arthur999 | October 27, 2006 2:11 AM | Report abuse

Oh, gosh, I doubt that it's new learning. Like many tools, very useful. But, beware the "to a man with only a hammer, all problems look like nails" situation.

Posted by: Bob S. | October 27, 2006 2:32 AM | Report abuse

//They both share the fear of existential worthlessness that is always present when people act exceptionally badly//

There may be a causality problem here. how can the feeling of worthlessness from acting badly precede the bad act?

Posted by: Boko999 | October 27, 2006 2:53 AM | Report abuse

OK I see it what you mean.

Posted by: Boko999 | October 27, 2006 3:07 AM | Report abuse

Nope, wrong direction. Feeling of worthlessness almost always present, THEN acting badly.

Pay attention: Fear is the issue here!

Posted by: Bob S. | October 27, 2006 3:08 AM | Report abuse

Good morning,friends. Wow, what a terribly sad topic. I read a lot of the comments, some do hit the nail on the head. As to the death penalty, I'm of the mind that some crimes are so horrendous, they beg for the death penalty, yet I don't think any killing is right.

I believe the act that tested me on the death penalty was the the Susan Smith killings. The woman that stood on the bank of a lake and looked at her children in the car as the car submerged into the lake. Originally she said a black man had taken her children. Every white male with a horse or mechanical device descended on the small town she lived in going to the homes of African-Americans in that town.

Then we find out she lied. She killed her children. She did not receive the death penalty. The next month or two, the same state that Susan Smith killed her children in, a mentally retarded young black man was killed by the state. Even the victim's mother begged the state not to kill him, but they did.

There is too much bias in the system. We know this. And because this is done by humans, the potential for error is common.

There is evil in the world, a lot of it. It looks like us, and it is us. The only answer I know of is God through Christ. The rest of the stuff just does not work. And I am not a perfectionist. I am so wrong at times, so don't know what to do, but I pray, and call on Him that wrote the questions. And I believe He knows the answers. I trust Him with everything, even my life, and I love Him so, and knows from His word that He loves me too. He calls me His Beloved. He loved me first, and loves us all. Jesus.

Slyness, please don't go. And Mudge could we have a boodle without you? I don't think so. Someone in the last kit mentioned the fact that the relationships formed in one medium may not turn out so good when met in another medium. That may very well be true, but I believe I would like everyone of you here, no matter where I met you. Each of you bring a special gift to the boodle, and I respect that gift and enjoy it.

I am up early, it took awhile to read the comments, and it is a subject that interests me. I don't have the answers. I suspect the folks that work in that area can provide the best answers, and be our guide as to what we need to do. Of course, I strongly suggest a lot of prayer beforehand.

Today is Friday, the end of the week. I hope your weekend is full with a lots of plans, and good times. Today is my rest day, but I will not rest, I'm going to help a little girl with some math. Have a good weekend my friends, and always remember that God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Slyness, the serial killer you were talking about killed a young woman that came from a small town near me.

Annie, personally I don't believe in abortion. It's a subject that releases a lot of hostility and anger. I think we have answers now that can negate that issue. I've never believed that a group of men, and old men at that, had any right to tell me what to do with my body.

And someone said that the people that are against abortions are people that love the death penalty, and that is true. These folks will not put bread in children's mouths, but they will gladly kill them. I don't believe that is right either.

Posted by: Cassandra S | October 27, 2006 4:00 AM | Report abuse

The death penalty is the sure cure for recidivism.

Posted by: Stick | October 27, 2006 5:44 AM | Report abuse

Stick: //The death penalty is the sure cure for recidivism.//

As a matter of fact, it would also work for prevention.

And Wilbrod, even religious people don't get their morals from religion. Or they would go around stoning adulterers.

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 27, 2006 6:14 AM | Report abuse

Annie, i personally feel that except for cases where one's life is in immediate danger from another, the willful termination of human life is unacceptable in all its forms. i take comfort in my belief that a culture that adopts a faith in which human life is respected, protected and cherished to its fullest extent will eventually dominate this earth. Isn't that what everybody wants?

Posted by: Pat | October 27, 2006 6:15 AM | Report abuse

GOOD MORNING, TEAM -- I am up early too, but I don't like to walk or go to the dog park until the sun is out, which is later and later this time of year, so here I am.

re the ethical question I posed yesterday evening (why is physician-conducted capital punishment such an abomination if physician-conducted abortion is not?) was based on an earlier post by someone else decrying this betrayal (in the case of the execution) of the Hippocratic oath. I can't remember who posted it, or when, or even in which boodle. (I had fallen several boodles behind, and even catching up had required great diligence and dedication, never mind going back over the same ground with a magnifying glass, like Sherlock Holmes.)

The responses were interesting if predictible.

1) THE CLUMP OF CELLS ARGUMENT: Ignores the rather obvious fact that we are *all* clumps of cells. The person sitting at this keyboard typing this is "a clump of cells" and so are all of you. The quantity and configuration of these "clumps of cells," not to mention their waistlines, change over the course of life, obviously. And unlike blastocysts or zygotes, we boodlers have consciousness. We can feel pain. These are not insignificant distinctions. But make it about the pain, and then tell me why capital punishment can't be permissible if we make it pain-free. Or talk about the primacy of consciousness, and tell me why killing the severely retarded or brain-injured can't be permissible.

The Terri Schiavo case, to me, was the perfect example of the terrifying hole into which our society has fallen. All the debate about whether her husband did or did not have her best interests at heart. All the questions about whether she was, or was not, in a persistent vegetative state -- to me, missed the point. The question is not: Was this woman in a persistent vegetative state? The question was: What does a decent society owe to someone in a persistent vegetative state? If this got asked at all, it quickly degenerated into a discussion about "extraordinary medical measures" -- which I would actually find persuasive, except that I don't define feeding people who can't feed themselves as an "extraordinary medical measure."

2) THE "NO ONE CAN TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO WITH MY BODY" ARGUMENT: I am not without sympathy for this one. But answer two questions: a) What, then, is the instinctive recoil you probably feel about third-trimester surgical abortion vs. the morning-after pill all about? (The other life is still inside, and dependent upon, the woman's body in the third trimester as well as the first, so if your argument is going to rest upon the "clump of cells" argument, please see #1 above). b) If no one can tell anyone what to do with his own body, shall we repeal all the drug laws? You could make the classic libertarian argument that everyone is a free agent, and society has no business to punish actions, only consequences. But anyone mounting that argument must promise me to abandon forever the following phrase: "root causes."

3) THE "I, TOO, AM UNCOMFORTABLE WITH ABORTION, BUT" ARGUMENT: So *why* are you "uncomfortable" with it? Try to give the question more than a quick consultation of your own imagination.

4) THE BALANCING ACT ARGUMENT: This one sums up as "if you care more, I suppose, about a clump of cells than a living, autonomous person." (See "Clump of Cells #1 above, with its subtext re primacy of consciousness.) Well, duh. If it really comes down to a life-of-the-woman scenario, the woman is the patient and she must be the sole focus. How often does that happen? What are we talking about, when we are talking about abortion, as it is actually practiced in this country? A wholesale saving of the lives of women who might otherwise die in childbirth? If so, good on us.

For that matter, what are we talking about in the stem-cell debate (to the extent that it's a debate at all -- I pay a great deal of attention to the litter-strewn bombed-out remains of what's left of the public square, and all I see is celebrities insulting "cowboys".) Stem-cell research is presented as the classic dorm-room hypothetical test case of the "clump of cells" argument.

It is admittedly difficult to pinpoint the most revolting moment in John Edwards's public career. But his assertion that embryonic stem cell research would allow Christopher Reeve to get OUT of that wheelchair and WALK again must surely come close.

I make no pretense of being a scientist, or even a particularly well educated laywoman in biology. But I am told by people who are scientists, and who are agnostic on the question of whether the end justifies the means, that embryonic stem cell lines are no more useful than umblical cord lines, or adult lines, and are in some cases actually less useful.

Weigh in, pointy heads.

5) THE "THEY'RE ALL A BUNCH OF HYPOCRITES" ARGUMENT: This one seems to sum up as, all the people who are against abortion don't care about kids once they're born, and they're strongly in favor of the death penalty, as long as it's black criminals who get killed. Well. Not having been gifted with the ability to look into my fellow humans' hearts, I cannot weigh in as to what they care about or how they feel. All I can do is cite my beloved Christopher Hitchens (who, ironically, would no doubt hate me given his inflexible and indiscriminate hostility towards religion):

Q. You have said in the past "I think what everyone ought to do at the basic minimum is admit that there are contradictions in their position." Do you think there are any contradictions in your current position? And if so, how do you defend them?

A (Hitch): Well, no position can be without contradiction. The only way to evaluate somebody is how they handle contradiction. That's what the dialectical method means.

Well, this has already gotten way too long, and now the sky has lightened and it's walk time. My own position re. both questions, abortion and death penalty (my own position inasumch as public policy prescriptions, that is) are fraught with contradictions, which I hold more easily some days than others.

A bientot.

Posted by: annie | October 27, 2006 6:23 AM | Report abuse

Annie: //THE CLUMP OF CELLS ARGUMENT: Ignores the rather obvious fact that we are *all* clumps of cells.//

You are right. I should have added "before it has a functionning nervous system, allowing it to feel pain."

PS: Re stem cell: Did you know that Bush, who is so fond of talking about sanctity of life, presided over one death penalty every nine days when he was governor?

Posted by: superfrenchie | October 27, 2006 6:34 AM | Report abuse

I believe the death penalty can be a useful tool for procecutors to use to leverage confessions and other info
but it should be used very rarely.

I also think that people such as Rollins
would be worthy of pychological probing.
I mean, what kind of disconnect from society does someone have to enable them
to do such things.

Posted by: tim burr | October 27, 2006 6:35 AM | Report abuse

Morning, Cassandra, I'm still here! You're up early again, I see.

I have known one evil person in the course of my life. He was my supervisor at one point, and dealing with him and the chaos he created was difficult, to put it mildly. He wasn't violent but a liar and a greedy, self-centered, selfish jerk. Yes, I think fear was definitely a problem for him. He would do anything to cover up his inadequacies, and in doing so he alienated everyone whose help he needed to be successful.

He was forced out of the organization, although with a nice retirement, and went to work managing an apartment complex. This complex is in a flood plain; in the course of repairing flood damages he misappropriated federal funds and was convicted of fraud. We weren't surprised about that, but we were rather chagrined that he didn't pull active time.

Posted by: slyness | October 27, 2006 6:37 AM | Report abuse

Sky report, sorry for the abrupt change but it has been a while since I saw a nice sunrise. There are thin white clouds on the southeast horizon today that at this moment part painted organge and soft purple/blue. There are still many leaves on the treas in various shades of yellow, organge, rust, red. It is a beautiful sight - much better than I have described it. ANDI IT ISN'T RAINING!

Posted by: dmd | October 27, 2006 6:45 AM | Report abuse

I view abortion as the moral equivalent of mutual assured destruction through nuclear weaponry. Both work, but I can't help but think that there are better ways to deal with the underlying problems.

Posted by: RD Padouk | October 27, 2006 7:10 AM | Report abuse

Annie, I admire your thoughtful arguments on capital punishment and abortion.

Sensory report: snow falling very softly though it is not particularly cold out; no light of dawn yet. The low heavy clouds reflect the glare of the city and the new snow glitters under the street lights.

The odour of hot strong coffee is wonderful. The odour of Collie-released methane not so much! Note to self: Broc does not like the snow and must be encouraged to stay outside long enough to effect relieve.

I can hear #2 in the shower, the rumble of the washing machine and the snoring of a Bernese Mountain Dog. My feet are tucked under the soft fur and heavy body of another Bernese who is snuggled beneath my desk.

All is well.

Posted by: Yoki | October 27, 2006 7:50 AM | Report abuse

SCC: relief

Posted by: Yoki | October 27, 2006 7:50 AM | Report abuse

annie writes:
I make no pretense of being a scientist, or even a particularly well educated laywoman in biology. But I am told by people who are scientists, and who are agnostic on the question of whether the end justifies the means, that embryonic stem cell lines are no more useful than umblical cord lines, or adult lines, and are in some cases actually less useful.

Weigh in, pointy heads.

annie, here's a local scientist weighing in on the issue of embryonic stem cells. Mary Pat and I had lunch once talking about her com[pany's work on an oral smallpox vaccine. Here are several grafs from the interview Q&A:

THE HOT SEAT: MARY PAT MOYER, CEO OF INCELL; Where does stem cell research go from here?

Publication Date : July 23, 2006

What is an embryonic stem cell and what is the great attraction surrounding them?
An embryonic stem cell is a cell that is in its very earliest stages of embryonic growth. So you have a sperm and an egg that come together and they become a fertilized egg. Then that starts to divide and that forms the early embryonic stages. At that time, there are multiple cells that can become all cell types. (In embryonic stem cell research) the cell can then turn into all different types of tissues of the body.

But of course in mammals, you never can get a whole being unless you put those cells into a prepared uterus. And if you don't, it cannot become a whole human being -- ever. We do not have technology like in science fiction movies to put it into a vat of cell food and grow it into a whole human being. Therefore the argument that you have a whole human being when you have cells dividing in a dish is just not the truth. When they're cells in a dish, they're not a whole human being. They just aren't. ...

You said "ongoing" -- had there been some previous work?

(Pause.) Yeah -- and that's true for a lot of people. There had been previous work before the hammer came down. It was not federally funded. As far as what's going on in San Antonio, most people are working with more of the adult stem cells. There will be embryonic stem cell work done in primates out at the (Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research). So a lot of the work in that arena in the non-human primates will be a potential prelude to using human embryonic stem cells.

In 1997, the health science center here announced it was constructing a stem cell bank of neural stem cells -- is that what you're talking about that had been the previous work?


Did that ever get off the ground?

I don't think so. And I think it was for similar reasons that we're talking about here. I think that it became a problem. The interesting thing is we've done some work in neural stem cell and neural transplantation of stem cells in animal models and things like that using human cells to stimulate the animal's spinal cord.

Using embryonic stem cells?

(Pause.) Yes, in the past. We're not doing it now. And it worked beautifully to restimulate growth of the spinal cord and repair the injury. Those are such important needs. Just look at the needs we have from our troops who are coming home and they don't have any limbs or when they have (shrapnel) in their heads. There may be the most important use for embryonic stem cells.

You know, when I'm out giving talks about embryonic stem cells ... I'll (point out) that when you're dead, certain things survive you. I'll say to all the men in the audience, "Your prostate will outlive you. So ... if I have your prostate cells back in my lab in a dish -- and they're in that dish and you've already had extreme unction and your spirit has moved on to the other world -- is that you?"

You see someone who believes that their whole being is in that dish, they get so confused because what you've done is you've questioned what their idea of being a whole human is. This is the problem. We need to put the uterus back into the discussion because ... that is very relevant to what you can and can't do. Otherwise they're just cells in a dish.

Posted by: Loomis | October 27, 2006 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Ooooooh, Mommy Blog's taking on the topic of staying civil! And here's a unintentionally spot-on summation of how some people over there blog...

"I agree that attacking a person instead of their views is the best way to go."

I mean, I HOPE that poster meant the opposite, but you never know...


Posted by: Scottynuke | October 27, 2006 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Let's see what's on the menu today:

The Death Penalty and Abortion

Hmmmm, I don't think those topics will be controversial enough. How about WaPo's profile of a noted Atheist:

Speaking of atheists, George Will basically said George Washington was about as agnostic as you could be in 18th century America and still get elected. Just in time for the grand opening of the new Mount Vernon visitors' center.

Charles Krauthammer is running the Draft Obama campaign out of the goodness of his conservative heart. Be careful whose advise you take, Barack.

Obligatory nerdish commentary: Chuckie K, despite being a med school grad and all, completely muffed his metaphor about potential and kinetic energy. Somebody should have stayed awake during Physics class. We have some rocket scientists around here that can straighten him out.

My work here is done. I have some crowded theaters that need some impromptu emergency preparedness drills run. I'll be back in about eight hours to survey the carnage.

Posted by: yellojkt | October 27, 2006 8:20 AM | Report abuse

NEW KIT!! :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | October 27, 2006 8:26 AM | Report abuse

I've lived my entire life in Michigan and Florida --- the first has never executed (although there was one federal execution during territorial times), the second has regularly shocked, fried and poisoned its convicted killers on a regular schedule. In the grand scale of things, I can't say that life in Florida is any safer or less violent than Michigan (Miami is just as vicious as Detroit). Floridans don't seem to mind paying for the higher cost of executions (vs. life without parole)-- there's certainly no strong movement to abolish the death penalty. (We just had a ballot referendum to change from Old Sparky to the needle, just in case scorching the condemned would be declared "cruel and unusual".) If deterrence isn't the reason for accepting the higher cost of the death penalty, the only reason for keeping it is bloodlust. So why not make the punishments truly fit the crime: Danny Rolling should have been slowly hacked to death. Its a shame he couldn't be killed five times.

Posted by: twobits | October 27, 2006 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I thought all evening about the dilemma posed by annie. I'm confilicted. I don't think its right overall, there are a lot of ways to prevent conception in the first place, but I can also see a lot of instances where I would support an individuals decision to do it.

Sigh, there are no clear answers, just a whole lot of shades of grey. Maybe that is how we know a healthy society. Fewer absolutes, and more shades of grey.

Posted by: dr | October 27, 2006 8:56 AM | Report abuse

I thought I posted this over an hour ago, excuse me if somehow it shows up and this becomes a dupe. Figures that the first time in a week that I can do a sky report the weather is perfectly clear, bright and blue. Not much I can do to elaborate. There is a coating of frost on my car and the remaining leaves are in a dying frenzy of colors.

I have only been able to skim the boodle so forgive me if I repeat what others here have said about the death penalty. I want to be against it because I believe it stands for vengeance rather than serving as a deterrent to others. Those people who most truly "deserve" to be put to death seem generally to be unrepentant, perhaps evil, and the methods used to kill them are far too "humane" to satisfy our darker desire to see them scream and squirm and plead for mercy. It's obvious that the DP isn't used consistently and many innocent people have died. There are also plenty of murderers who are paroled after serving time. If we could be sure that everyone who was convicted of first degree murder would be jailed for the rest of their lives, shouldn't this be enough?

If someone killed one of my loved ones, I'm sure my immediate thought would be pure vengeance, but such a negative emotion would only poison me, not the object of that emotion. (I have experience this process as the result of a far less serious offense against one of my daughters and believe me, it wasn't easy, but I felt much better when I was able to let go of the hatred I was feeling.) We, as a civilized society, need to rise above the desire for an eye for an eye and take a look at how the Amish approach this issue. "Hate the sin, love the sinner" is a more moral, spiritually uplifting approach and our country could certainly benefit from it. Maybe we'd even stop invading countries just to settle old affronts to our fathers!

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | October 27, 2006 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Dr, I do agree that abortion shouldn't be a birth control measure. However, the unfortunate truth is that, too often when abortion is outlawed, sexual education about birth control and general birth control availability is also suppressed.

People seem to think that babies should be a punishment for sex. And I don't think any living human being should have to carry the feeling that they are somehow a punishment for sin of their parents.

I just think if you really, really value children, you don't tell people they MUST have kids whether they like them or not.

Posted by: Wilbrod | October 27, 2006 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
keep the poison flowing
hell is where you're going,
Danny Harold Rolling
has died!

Posted by: heh | October 27, 2006 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I believe it was a Catholic edict that said that until the 6th month the fetus couldn't be considered human.

there's actually a lot of debate about ensoulment. most people put the ensoulment at around the time of quickening, which coincides with the Catholic edict...

however during the 80's to 90's it seemed like a lot of well off kids were getting abortions a lot, that that was a form of birth control.

however, when I was living in the Washington DC area, I told my teenage step daughters that no one got pregnant "by accident."

I told them how long sperm lived, that the rythym method didn't work, or withdrawal...and told them they could get pregnant without penetration.

I told them that everyone liked to get rubbed and that had nothing to do with being in love, if they didn't talk to you, afterwards then it wasn't friendship, and friendship was more important than sex. Because you could always have sex, but friends were hard to come by and sometimes required work.

They didn't get pregnant, and got married in their early thirties....

And they didn't use abortion as "birth control," like most of their Virginia friends...........


Posted by: actually, | October 27, 2006 11:33 PM | Report abuse

people that commit atrocious actions are not necessarily evil.

you don't have to be deeply evil to be deeply dysfunctional.

I'm really more concerned with clinical evil, like as a _malfunction_.

I work with people that have childhood issues related to trauma. What passes for knowledge in Western Psychology is really rather crude in the level of understanding of conciousness.

Cognition is multilevular. Perception is colored by the lens of personal experience. IF you have stains in any of the levels, they skew the perspective experience. I remove the stains. I work with the cognitive process, not belief least not mine. I remove other peoples.

That's the point, that's what being empty refers to.


Posted by: Dear Bob S. | October 27, 2006 11:41 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in Gainesville. I was 13 when Rolling killed Sonia Larson, Manual Taboda, Tracy Paules, Christina Powell and Christa Hoyt. I still remember every detail of that week.

It was one of the defining events of my youth. It is amazing to me that it is now over, and it is also amazing to me that his execution makes me feel like it is all over.

I am absolutely against the death penalty, but I don't feel that way about Rolling. I know it is hypocritical, but I don't care that he was killed.

Posted by: kate | October 30, 2006 9:16 AM | Report abuse

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