Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Good Grief, Indeed

I'm in for it this time: I let myself get talked into making this column about the death penalty and Ridgway's sentence deal. Look out, everybody, we're in for a laugh riot now!

This situation came about because our beloved "editor" Adam "Designated Cat-Herder" Holdorf wrote an Op Ed piece last issue (Nov. 13) on the same subject entitled "Beyond Retribution." That article contained elements which various of us other "editors" on the "Editorial Committee" thought was, well, let's just say we thought Adam was experimenting with unusual pesto recipes when he wrote it, if you get my drift.

Now we all know that anybody who reads Adventures in Poetry for fact-based analyses of deep contemporary issues would eat cardboard for the vitamins. We hate facts here the most. We hate detailed analyses the second most.

Growing up I had many traumatic experiences involving facts and analyses. I was repeatedly forced to compare and contrast things. It was torture. This one may have scarred me for life: "Compare and contrast the maple producing industry of the Northeastern United States to the production of papyrus in Egypt circa 1000 BC, indicating the social effect either has had. Be as specific as possible and incorporate at least one pie chart."

Because of that psychological scarring I now constantly make fun of facts and analyses. A day isn't complete unless I have found a fact to mercilessly tease and poke for my sick amusement. While I avoid targeting innocent people who might get in the way, I sometimes will inadvertently slip and tease a human who just happens to be standing next to an intelligent critique. I deeply regret these incidents. I want to especially apologize for the "pus-filled wonk" comment some time ago. It was horribly, horribly, wrong.

So I am naturally very reluctant to comment on Adam's Op Ed. But I must. Adam's piece was an intelligent critique if I ever saw one. It had a lot of good parts to it. Therefore, I need to pick at it. It is my twisted purpose in life, thanks to my twisted nurturing.

One of the very good parts of it is the part where Adam says that capital punishment is in no way a deterrent to murder. As strong as that statement looks, it isn't strong enough. There is strong evidence that capital punishment actually increases murder and other kinds of violent crime. There are other factors affecting the murder rate, such as economic and social and cultural conditions, that can mask these increases, but really the evidence is getting so massive that continued denial of it is beginning to look seriously stupid.

I mean if you're standing on railroad tracks and you hear a whistle blowing, you get off the tracks. You don't stand there and insist that it might not be a train.

It's a matter of survival. The evidence strongly supports the view that a brutalization effect is at work that is stronger than any deterrent effect. So to persist in supporting capital punishment is ASKING for more murders.

Yet it is now being suggested that this deal with Ridgway to trade his death penalty for confessions provides a new justification for the death penalty. In Adam Holdorf's words, "It indicates that, however cruel and arbitrary the death penalty may be, its existence functions as a tool to coax confession."

No! We can't be mandating the death penalty as a tool to engineer good grief management outcomes. "Coax confession?" The word is "extract" and we don't need to go there. We don't do torture. This is morally equivalent and subject to the same uncertainties. Torture does not guarantee truth.

What we need is to take the step to humanize society by doing away with the death penalty once and for all.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Pigs Deny Sucking

My favorite line from all the movies put together: "It's not my fault!" – as said by both Han Solo and Lando Calrissian in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back.

I've always dreamed of an opportunity to say that, dramatically, while a wookie moans behind me. Other things I've wished I could say, dramatically, with or without a wookie on hand, are, "I sense a disturbance in The Force," and, "You still have much to learn, my young apprentice." I don't think I'll ever get the chance to pull those off convincingly, but surely I should be able to manage "It's not my fault!" at least if I drop the requirement of a wookie accompaniment.

What started me thinking about this recently was the announcement by Prince Charles' royal personal secretary that His Royalness didn't do it, "it" being unspecified.

Why didn't I ever think of that? All this time since Empire Strikes Back I could have been shouting "It's not my fault!" at random intervals without ever indicating what it was that wasn't my fault.

I'm going to do it right now: It's not my fault! And I'm not telling you what it is I didn't do. All I'll tell you is that someone may have said I was witnessed in a compromising incident, which is all England will let you know about Charles. By the way I don't know what Charles and that other man were compromising about, although I think it had something to do with the placement of their genitalia, and I scarcely see how you can call that a "compromise", but I guess to some people it's all about the art of negotiation. Anyway, I didn't do it either.

I also never said I wanted to come back in my next life as a feminine hygiene product. But I would like to come back as a rich prince of a constitutional monarchy.

Speaking of not doing anything, in the very same paper where I learned that Prince Charles didn't do it I read that the City of Tacoma didn't do it either. When it rains it pours, and when it doesn't rain all the water everywhere gets sucked up into space by giant planet-sucking pigs, right? That's what I've noticed.

The City of Tacoma has been sued for not protecting Crystal Brame from her husband and Tacoma's police chief David Brame, who had threatened her and physically abused her. You may recall that last April David Brame eventually murdered Crystal after Tacoma apparently did precisely nothing to protect Crystal, even though she specifically asked for help from Tacoma officials.

What Tacoma says now is, "It's not our fault!" Furthermore they say that if it were their fault it would also be other people's fault too, so there. For example the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote about the Brames' divorce one day before the murder-suicide. This proves that the P-I knew that David Brame was a threat to Crystal Brame, and yet the P-I did not do anything to protect her.

I mean, think of that! The P-I had almost all the same facts that Tacoma did (all except for maybe some that Tacoma was hiding, but hey, that's another issue), and yet the P-I didn't take David Brame's gun away from him, did they? No! And the P-I didn't suspend him as police chief either! So why isn't the P-I being sued, huh? That's what Tacoma wants to know.

Other entities whose fault it could be as much as Tacoma's include Pierce County and Gig Harbor, because the Brames lived there and they didn't take David's gun away from him, and an on-line publisher who didn't do all the same stuff the P-I didn't do.

I have a confession to make. I read the article the P-I printed the day before the murder. And I also did not suspend David Brame or disarm him.

So what do Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Tacoma, Prince Charles, Gig Harbor, the P-I, and I have in common? We didn't do it, it's not our fault.