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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

A capital idea

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, February 13, 2017 07:45 am

Ready, aim, fire! Or, as Gary Gilmore said, "Let's do it."

Liberals pushed us away from hangings and firing squads to the electric chair, which they then said was cruel, to gas chambers, which they then said was cruel, to lethal injections, which they then said was cruel and whose chemicals are no longer sold.

Mississippi wants to bring back firing squads.

Good.Actually Mississippi is also considering bringing back the gas chamber and electric chair in addition to the firing squad. The reason is the aforementioned lack of lethal injection chemicals, which have become unavailable because the companies that make them object to their use to kill people. Indiana faces (or at least soon will) the same dilemma. Current state law specifies lethal injection and only lethal injection as the authorized method of execution. I haven't heard of any plans to introduce legislation yet, but sooner or later the state will have to find different chemicals or a different method of execution.

And no matter what is chosen, there will be objections that it amounts to the constitutionally prohibited "cruel and unusual" punishment.

Our obsession with carrying out the death penalty humanely is fascinating. It began way back with the use of the guillotine, which was actually seen as more humane that previous methods of execution:

Today the machine invented for the purpose of decapitating criminals sentenced to death will be put to work for the first time. Relative to the methods of execution practiced heretofore, this machine has several advantages. It is less repugnant: no man's hands will be tainted with the blood of his fellow being, and the worst of the ordeal for the condemned man will be his own fear of death, a fear more painful to him than the stroke which deprives him of life.

There is a very important point there — "the worst of the ordeal for the condemned man will be his own fear of death." We're hung up on trying to make the last few minutes (or even seconds) of the condemned's life as pain-free as possible, when it is the anticipation that is truly cruel and tortuous. If we really wanted the most humane method of execution, we'd tell the condemned that there had been a terrible mistake and he was going to be freed. Then, just as that sank in, someone would sneak up behind him and shoot him in the head.

And if we wanted the death penalty to truly be a deterrent (which it is not now, except for the person being executed), we would also change the method of execution. If we went back to public hangings, capital punishment would be on people's minds much more. Would-be killers might actually think about it before they pulled the trigger. There also should be more executions, so we should cut out most of the appeal process we now have in place.

But we've probably become too civilized for that. We have the will to support the death penalty but not the stomach to think about what that actually means. Bill Buckley once said something to the effect of: If we just rounded up all the marijuana users and shot every tenth one, we would cease to have a marijuana problem. But as a nation, we would not accept a punishment that severe for a crime that trivial.

I've always been ambivalent about the death penalty itself, so discussions about the method of execution have always seemed pointless to me. I'm reluctant to completely renounce it, because there as some crimes so despicable and evil that no lesser punishment seems fitting. That's the approach of Indiana, where just plain old murder won't get you executed. There also must be one or more of 17 "aggravating circumstances," like killing a police officer or a child or hiring out a murder. But that means that there are so few executions that the death penalty can't be even remotely regarded as a deterrent. We're just making a moral statement, and that seems like a pretty weak foundation for such giving the state such awesome power.

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The recent election has probably doubled everyone's inclination to confirmation bias. We rush every day to those news and information sources on our side of the debate, and only those sources. The following from The Onion is from last year, but it's still very relevant today: 

MENLO PARK, CA—Assuring users that the company’s entire team of engineers was working hard to make sure a glitch like this never happens again, Facebook executives confirmed during a press conference Tuesday that a horrible accident last night involving the website’s algorithm had resulted in thousands of users being exposed to new concepts. "Unfortunately, late Monday evening, a major failure in our news feed program allowed a significant number of users to come into contact with concepts unfamiliar to them," said CEO Mark Zuckerberg, appearing contrite as he emphasized to reporters that the issue had been resolved and that it was now safe to visit the social media site again without fear of encountering any opinions, notions, or perspectives not aligning with one’s existing worldview. "To those who were forced to read a headline they did not agree with when they visited Facebook yesterday, we are deeply sorry. It’s an inexcusable failing on our part if your viewpoints were not reinforced by what you saw onscreen. I want all Facebook users to know that you’ll never again encounter any ideas on our site that are in any way novel or ideologically challenging to you—that’s my personal promise." Zuckerberg then concluded the press conference by thanking users for their support, assuring them that a news article confirming their own individual political and personal biases would be directed to their news feeds with more information on Facebook’s policy.

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