Ethics Dunce (Again): Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen

No danger of an innocent being unjustly executed here...

No danger of an innocent being unjustly executed here, Richard…Now what?

Most Ethics Dunces named on Ethics Alarms are being chided for one, possibly anomalous, instance of ethics cluelessness, but not Richard Cohen. He is a lifetime, career-long ethics dunce. It is noteworthy when he writes something that doesn’t reek of ethics confusion.

Today he is blogging about the death penalty. There are coherent, powerful arguments that have been and can be made against the death penalty, but Cohen doesn’t bother with any of them, which, as a reflex old-school liberal, he should at least know by heart. No, he attacks the decision of Eric Holder to approve his Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s request to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber as “political cowardice using one invalid argument after another, and by the way, curse you, Richard Cohen, for forcing me to defend Attorney General Holder.

Here are Cohen’s “arguments”:

  • The death penalty is a horrible crime on par with Tsarnaev and his brother intentionally killing and maiming innocent spectators of the Boston Marathon. Such an absurd statement carries a high burden of proof, which Cohen doesn’t even attempt to meet.
  • “[The death penalty] is the sine qua non of lack of thought, a medieval tick of the political right, a murder in the name of murder that does absolutely no good, unless it is to validate the killers’ belief in killing.” Ironically, Cohen’s post is the sine qua non of lack of thought. Since the death penalty has been around continuously since well before Medieval times, calling it a medieval tick is about as fair and accurate as calling religion, warfare, and property laws  medieval tics. Of course it does good: the fact that a vicious anti-social murderer is permanently removed from society and no longer uses up resources, space and oxygen that can be better employed in the furtherance of humanity is an absolute good, and that those contemplating similarly heinous acts are on notice that the same fate awaits them is also good.
  • Killing him is not going to change anything. Yes!  A paid and award-winning columnist actually wrote this!  Locking Tsarnaev up won’t change anything either; indeed, punishment virtually never undoes the crime leading to it, which, in Cohen’s fevered brain, argues against any punishment whatsoever. Except that he chooses only to apply this non-reasoning to the death penalty, because, well, you tell me.
  • The death penalty “is on its way out in much of the world and even the United States.” This is the “Everybody doesn’t do it” variation on the “Everybody does it” rationalization. Don’t make me list all the stupid, unethical policies that much of the world pursues that the U.S. does not. The argument Cohen is making would have precluded the United States ever coming into existence.
  • “We don’t even know anymore how to execute someone — witness the prolonged and allegedly agonizing death of Dennis McGuire, who recently took over 20 minutes to die.” Really despicable, Richard: you know damn well that this fiasco was the direct result of relentless litigation from anti-death penalty zealots who have exploited the sympathies of foolish judges to create the myth that an execution has to be impossibly humane. there are plenty of quick, easy, painless ways to execute a monster. Your pals have just been too successful in blocking them.

And that’s it! That’s Cohen’s entire brief against the death penalty. This slop is even unfair to death penalty opponents—it makes their argument look far lamer than it is. Is Cohen capable of making an intellectually valid case against the death penalty? If so, he was obligated to do so, and didn’t come close.

Then, for his grand finale, Cohen attacks Holder for not placing his personal opposition against the death penalty above his duty to execute the laws he is sworn to uphold. “How he’s reconciled his personal views with his public policies I cannot know — and, I bet, neither can he,” Cohen writes. This is naive and incompetent, the blather of an opinion columnist who has never had a real job. A public servant in law enforcement does not have to reconcile his personal views with his public policies, because his duty is to follow and enforce the law, whether he personally agrees with the law or not. That is true of police officers, judges, prosecutors and Attorney Generals, and if Holder could not do what Richard Cohen is criticizing him for doing, he would be even less qualified for his job than I think he is.

The death penalty is too important an issue to be discussed in such an inept, ignorant and unintelligent manner. Cohen’s post is unethical, unprofessional, and a disgrace.

____________________________

Source and Graphic: Washington Post

107 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce (Again): Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen

    • Yeah … but look at how much it costs to get them there. Personally I think it’s wrong (unethical) to have the death penalty, but apart from that is the financial incentive to keep them on death row and to pay for all the court wranglings etc.

      • Oh, I certainly have no faith that the system always gets it right, but honestly a lot of the time (most of the time) they probably do.

        I don’t consider the cost to be a relevant argument, because frankly the death penalty serves as a deterrent (“I could be killed if I do this” is a hell of a motivator).

        Though for me, Jail does the trick. If all you got was a year for offing someone?

        Well, I’m not saying I’d do it, but I would certainly have a lot to think about. 😉

        • “No faith the system always gets it right” is the main thing that the non-religious part of my opposition hinges on. MOST of the time the system gets it right, and there’s even individual cases that I can look at and say “that guy, right there, I have no problem with him being executed.” The problem is that in any system where it’s allowed there are going to be borderline cases, and in any set of borderline cases some will be got wrong, and now the state has committed murder in the name of “the people.”

          • Then your issue isn’t with the Death Penalty.

            Your issue is with the standard necessary to sentence the death penalty.

            In which case, I’d think you’d be more consistent with justice if you advocated FOR the death penalty, but ONLY in cases where proof Beyond All Doubt (not the current Beyond Reasonable Doubt) can be made.

            That’s my position.

            • I see what you’re saying but still disagree, because I still don’t trust that standard. Even assuming no malfeasance by prosecutors or police at all (which is an unreasonable assumption) there will still be a chance for cases that SEEM to be proved beyond all doubt due to coincidence or error. Consider the cases that have been overturned since the advent of DNA testing, I’m sure many of those were considered beyond doubt at the time.

              • That’s fine, Luke, but there will still be cases, and this is one, where there is no reasonable doubt no matter how you cut it. Sihan Sirhan shot RFK in front of dozens, and they wrestled him to the floor on the spot. Jack Ruby shot Oswald on television. The chances of either being wrongly execeuted were zilch, and they both should have been. I don’t care how stringent the standard is—fine, make the death penalty apply when only magic or mass hypnosis could explain getting the wrong man. Maybe someone dressed up as Booth killed Lincoln in front of a packed Ford’s theater. But when you know, and the crime is bad enough, there is no reason not to execute.

                • Which speaks to what I said two above- ther’s no way to write the standard that doesn’t allow for borderline cases. Besides, that’s still assuming that there’s no misconduct either, which may be the ideal- but I don’t like the government killing in my name based on the assumption.

                  That’s only part of my opposition, but the other parts I can’t expect to change your mind, nor should you expect to change mine- I don’t think there’s any such thing as a crime that justifies execution, but I also understand why people disagree with that.

                  • Sure there is.

                    No convicted murderer will be executed without the presence of all of the following factors:
                    1. Unequivocal DNA evidence linking the killer to the crime.
                    2. Multiple credible eye-witnesses
                    3. Sufficient non-DNA forensic evidence that would allow a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt even if no DNA evidence were available.
                    4. The existence of a murder weapon traceable to the defendant,OR a filmed and verified recording of the event in which the individual can be conclusively identified as the killer.
                    5. Evidence of cruelty and depraved disregard for human life
                    6. The absence of any credible indication of remorse for the crime.

                    That would get Sirhan, and a few others. That would be enough for me.

  1. I don’t read Richard Cohen or E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post because they don’t give me anything to think about, only things to be furious about. Knee-jerk liberalism, sycophantic support of Obama — neither with real analysis, exploration of ideas, or facts to back up opinion. Jack, just stop. You’ll end up stroking out.

    As luck would have it, I estimate that about 250 people read the Post these days, and they deserve every reader they’ve lost.

  2. I’m anti-death-penalty and his reasons have made that vein in my forehead start doing the angry throbby thing again. The icing on the poo-cake is his outrage that someone would DARE to follow the law rather than making changes by fiat to suit his own ends… now who’s done that lately…

  3. One thing I have to disagree with is that this is an “everyone does it” rationalisation.
    As far as I can see it, the everyone does it rationalisation when someone says, “Yeah, it’s sort of unethical … but not THAT unethical because everyone does it”. (i.e. there is some implicit admittance of ethical misconduct.)

    In contrast th argument here (if it were better written and more polite) is that “I think the death penalty is unethical, a lot of other thoughtful well developed countries have decided it is unethical too, so perhaps you should consider you’re wrong.” Which is totally different from an “everybody does it” rationalisation.

    If you accept that ethics change over time, they are not a stagnant, constant set of rules or guidlines set down when humanity first emerged, then you have to accept an argument of “Other people are changing their ideas about this conduct, and so should we”.

    • Except his objective wasn’t to cause reconsideration because everyone else has reconsidered. His objective was “because everyone else gave it up, we should also”. If he wasn’t using “everybody does it” then he would have actually used the reasons that he considers it wrong. Instead he’s revealed he considers it wrong because everybody else has as well. It’s lazy and its rationalization.

      It’s also closely related to the other dumb Leftist spin reason “you’re on the wrong side of history”.

      • It’s certainly lazy, but it’s not a rationalization is my take.

        And it’s certainly not the “Everyone does it” type of rationalization as that phrase is used in most other instances in this blog(as far as I can tell).

        • As my previous comment indicated, I don’t see your distinction at all. Are you saying “Everybody who is civilized and thoughtful does it” is different in kind from “Everybody does it”? In the sense that it grafts the “One True Scotsman” Fallacy” onto the Golden Rationalization, perhaps…but that just makes it worse.

      • ” because everyone else has reconsidered.”

        “You’re being awfully generous to the majority of the population (of just about anywhere”. I know very few people who have thought about (let alone reconsidered) the death penalty anyware.

        Those words are a classic example of either confirmation bias or using words to dismiss an argument by weight of numbers..

    • In the absence of anything else persuasive, “I think the death penalty is unethical, a lot of other thoughtful well developed countries have decided it is unethical too, so perhaps you should consider you’re wrong” is indistinguishable from “Everybody does it, so it must be the right thing to do.” A majority does not magically transform wrong into right. A lot of other thoughtful well developed countries decided to look the other way while Hitler was exterminating Jews. Sometimes the majority is right and sometimes it is wrong and sometimes it carries the day because its the majority, but the fact of majority is ethically neutral.

      • But at what point do we say, “No one else is exterminating Jews … so it must be unethical?”

        Ethics is for the most part about how we interact with other humans. Therefore at some point and on some level, what other people do IS the foundation of ethics.

        You said the other day that politeness is ethics. Well, politeness is all about an agreed social contract. Politeness here in the US is a very different beast from Japan. In order to be polite (and ethical?) you have to conform to social norms.
        In Japan, in general that is probably not too hard. In Saudi Arabia, the treatment of women (not allowing them to drive etc), would probably twitch your own internal instincts. In that case it is an ethical dilemma. Are you polite to your hosts or do you protest against the treatment of women (informed by your own culture).

        To me the fact that there IS a dilemma says to me that other people do matter.
        Frankly I suspect this attitude (wrt death penalty) is more about isolationism than actual ethics.

        • But at what point do we say, “No one else is exterminating Jews … so it must be unethical?”

          Never. It is simply not a rational reason to conclude that.

          “No one else has a republican democacy as its form of government, ergo such a form of government must be unethical.”

          At some point a culture that unanimously agrees that exterminating Jews is ethical can accurately say that its culture has declared genocide ethical. That still doesn’t make genocide ethical. That’s why absolutism, for all its flaws, must always be part of the ethics-determination process.

      • Yes, trusting the majority is not the path to good ethics.

        But what about emulation of good examples and avoidance of bad examples? A country deciding whether to abolish slavery (e.g. 1962 Saudi Arabia) would be right to notice that virtuous nations had already abolished slavery and that evil ungodly tyrannies still had gulags.

        Analysis would be better, of course, and our exemplars do let us down all the time. Even Sweden has done inhumane things. But it’s a useful argument, incomplete but useful, to say “If Sweden and North Korea have opposite policies, I’d rather take Sweden’s approach”.

        Reconnecting that line of thought to the blog post, I think you still win. Since analysis is better, Cohen should have used it.

  4. You left out one category in your list of folks whose job is to enforce the laws as written: presidents. It would be interesting to see Mr. Cohen’s thoughts on the President’s amend-as-you-go approach to the ACA or refusal to enforce DOMA, et al. while the challenges remained unresolved. It would be still more interesting to look back at whatever columns he may have written about GWB’s approach to law enforcement during his tenure, where I guarantee there were multiple references to the Constitution et al. and how GWB wasn’t adhering to it or this law or that law.

    However, now that a Muslim whose guilt is all but 100% established is going to lead to a legal execution, suddenly it’s perfectly ok for the AG to follow his conscience, his heart, or whatever other than the law he needs to follow, as long as it leads him away from that result. The naked opinion is glaring, I can’t even say partisanship because more than a few Democrats have no problem with this monster being put to death.

    This is a classic case where good morals make for bad ethics, although I don’t know if you’ve actually said that in so many words. Yes, it sounds moral to say one more killing won’t negate the other three, that justice should always have room for mercy, and so on, but in this case it’s just bad policy that will enable this highest wrongdoer to live out all the days God gives him at taxpayer expense. This actually dovetails quite nicely with your thorough demolition of pacifism as good morals but bad ethics, resulting in easy embrace of facile positions that sound good, but would have terrible results if followed.

  5. I wish everyone would quit using the “cute” picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. It causes some people to experience an “awwww but he’s so cute” moment. How could we even think about executing him? it would be like executing a puppy. It should be unethical to be both cute and evil.
    Of course, I’m speaking sarcastically, but the phenomenon exists.

  6. Jack, you are calling somebody an ethics dunce for having an opinion? At the end of the day, everyone has a gut feeling on how they feel about this issue. Not surprisingly, the death penalty also comes up in the same conversation as abortion. I’ve rarely seen people change their minds on these issues through debate — they feel one way or the other, and then bolster their position with those facts that support it. Even if they acknowledge those facts on the other side, they don’t override their initial, emotional call on their positions. I can respect other opinions on these issues even if I disagree – so should you.

    • The guy’s not a dunce for having an opinion, however ill-considered it may be, he’s a dunce for publishing a crappy, ill-supported, knee-jerk liberal column on his opinion that ends up being nothing BUT opinion.

    • I’m with Steve-O, I know Jack disagrees with my opinion on this and I with his, but we’ve neither of us called the other a dunce. The columnist’s points, however, are execrable wishy-washy political garbage. “The death penalty is for right wingers!” Bah. “Executing him is on par with his crimes!” Nope. If he is found guilty of killing three people then killing him back is only a third as bad (not even accounting for the injuries), even if you assume the death penalty is on par with cold blooded murder.

    • No, that’s not what I did. I correctly labelled him a dunce for using unethical arguments and ratioanlizations to support the opinion. Did you just skim the post? I wrote: “There are coherent, powerful arguments that have been and can be made against the death penalty, but Cohen doesn’t bother with any of them, which, as a reflex old-school liberal, he should at least know by heart. No, he attacks the decision of Eric Holder to approve his Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s request to seek the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber as “political cowardice using one invalid argument after another…”

      How can I be clearer? As an opinion columnist, he has an obligation to use competent logic and actual facts and reasoning, not garbage like “it won’t change anything” unless he takes the time to explain why he doesn’t use that argument to oppose all punishments for past acts.

      • He should be a big fan of the “punishment” meted out to the murderous babysitter, then, 5 years and $45 in penalties because it’s not like a harsher punishment would bring the dead child back and make the parents happy.

      • Cohen is using the same rationalizations against the death penalty I used as a freshman in college… and I was SLAMMED by the professor. I got an F…but Cohen still has a job. That is a hard one for me.

        • Cohen is using the same rationalizations against the death penalty I used as a freshman in colleg
          ***********
          A lot of the anti-DP people are indoctrinated, literally brainwashed with the same tired old drivel*…very few can support any rational / intelligent thought on the matter.
          Believe me, I had to defend myself against them for ten years in Ireland.
          I’ve heard it all and then some.

          * “But North Korea, Saudia Arabia and Iran do it !”

          • In regards to “evil countries” do it, so it must be wrong:

            Let’s be clear, opposition to the Death Penalty is NOT a left-wing position automatically. Opposition to the Death Penalty where it can be justified through Due Process in a republican democracy that places burden of proof on the state/prosecution IS a left-wing position.

            But automatically opposed to the death penalty is not. Because you can find many left-wing / collectivist / centralist nations (you listed 3) that whole-heartedly use the death penalty… the only problem there is, they are often used against people who have different ideas or dissenting opinions. That’s when you perk the ears of the hyper-left & and hyper-collectivists on possible usefulness of the death-penalty

            • Indeed, they do, Tex. But those collectivist nations also use the death penalty as a political weapon. We haven’t quite come to that point in this country. If and when we do, I think we know that the party line about the death penalty will undergo a drastic transformation.

      • There are “coherent, powerful” arguments on both sides of the issue — I don’t think he (or any other journalist) has an obligation to repeat them each and every time. This is an opinion piece, not a brief.

        • If you are going to write about why the Death Penalty is wrong, you have an obligation to give those good arguments. Giving bullshit excuses and then expecting your readership to go find those arguments is lazy and unprofessional (but this is Cohen, so we probably shouldn’t be shocked).

        • What??? He still has an obligation not to rely on horrible, ignorant, unethical arguments, like saying that Holder’s duty as AG is to his conscience rather than the law! How can you write such nonsense? He’s a professional opinion journalist who people look to for enlightenment, and you seriously are arguing that as long as he ends up with the “right” conclusion, it doesn’t matter that he uses bad reasoning, rationalizations,bias and sloppy thinking as long as somewhere, someplace, there are better arguments???? If he, or any other journalist, isn’t prepared to put in the effort and can’t write a valid argument about a complex issue, then he has an obligation to let someone articulate and intelligent do it instead. There are several ancient mega-ethics topics I don’t venture into here because it would take too much research, time, thought and words to do a good job at it.

          The fact that the only arguments he used were classic idiotic ones (Honestly…”It doesn’t change anything”???) strongly suggests that he hasn’t thought about the issue with the honesty and care he –indeed everyone—is obligated to do, but especially someone paid by a newspaper to issue opinions professionally. All he’s doing is making people stupid, spreading stupidity, and you are—seriously?—saying its Ok to say stupid things if there’s a good argument for your ultimate conclusion that you don’t bother to mention? What kind of plan is that to reach intelligent policy?

          But wait…maybe you have a valid defense of Cohen’s knee jerk gibberish, but are just using a terrible argument and upside-down logic to defend unprofessional and incompetent professional opinion journalism because, hey, this a blog comment not a brief. So I guess it’s responsible after all! Never mind…

          • I think you’ve missed my principal point here Jack. You stated that “[h]e’s a professional opinion journalist who people look to for enlightenment.” I disagree with that premise outright. There are certain issues — like the death penalty or abortion — that NO ONE looks to another human being for “enlightenment.” You either agree or disagree with the author’s point of view — his reasoning is mere window dressing. I’m certainly not defending him. I also have a low opinion of Holder — for what it’s worth. But opinions are not news and should not be held up to the same standards of fact checking and ethics denouncements.

            • I disagree with that premise outright. There are certain issues — like the death penalty or abortion — that NO ONE looks to another human being for “enlightenment.”

              I couldn’t disagree with statement more. Those topics are not immune from reason or open minds. Indeed, people change their minds about them all the time. If one has no good reasons for views on such topics, then it’s dishonest to tell your readers you have rational justifications—and then fail to produce them.

              • As a young attorney, I was riding the train to NYC with a senior counsel with my firm for a client meeting. He saw that I was reading the opinion section of the Washington Post. I’ll never forget what he said, “Beth, why are you reading an OPINION section of a newspaper? You’re smarter than that.”

                That statement stuck with me over the years, and while I often read the opinion sections of major newspapers, I rarely give them much credence.

                But I see your side of this too.

                • That’s intellectual laziness and the excuse of a person whose conclusions are reached via emotion, not reason. At some point people gain their view on a certain topic, prior to that, they DID NOT have a view on that topic. Something convinced them of the rightness of the opinion they now hold, which means something presented them with premises and a path to their conclusion.

                  Your brushing off of the duty to give reasons for your conclusions must only be based off the notion that Everyone’s opinions are accidentally and emotionally arrived at, and therefore will never change.

                  That’s laziness. The senior counselor gave you awful advice, likely indicative of his own closed or emotion-driven mind.

                  • I disagree — it’s more the grown-up equivalent of “if everybody jumped off a bridge….”

                    We arrive at our conclusions through a lifetime of experiences. I suspect that there is nothing that I could write — even if I were the best writer in the world — that could change your mind on abortion, gun control, the death penalty, etc. And that’s okay. You are a smart person — I can acknowledge that even if we disagree on major policy issues.

                    • You’d be wrong.

                      Present something with *sound* premises and show me *unassailable* logic, then present the conclusions that derive and my mind will be changed.

                      Ask Sarge983. He changed my opinion on the Death Penalty from my previous stance.

                      Ask Jack. He changed my opinion on water boarding as torture.

                      The reason you won’t change my opinion on abortion, is I’ve run down practically every chase the pro-abortion crowd takes me down, and it only ends at one system of values: the aborter’s comfort and convenience outweighs the abortee’s life.

                      Sorry that doesn’t fly.

  7. […] and that those contemplating similarly heinous acts are on notice that the same fate awaits them is also good.

    Unfortunately that ceases to be a deterrent when those contemplating similar acts are convinced that death at the hands of the infidels is a one-way ticket to Jannah.

  8. There are humane ways of killing people, but that whole lethal injection process was never one of them, even with the “right” drugs, because everything up until then is far from humane anyway. It’s arguable that the brief pain of long drop hanging, together with the much faster and largely unanticipated cell-to-drop process of erstwhile British procedure, makes that whole process less traumatic (this does not apply to the ritual in Singapore). Japanese procedure doesn’t even announce the execution date, which may be worse for some or better for others.

    Anyway, even if the hanging technique itself is inhumane, it would be quite possible to combine its run up with tipping the prisoner on a tilting board to go head first into a chamber holding a fast acting anaesthetic such as ethyl chloride (a shallow pool of it would evaporate fast from body heat) in which he or she would asphyxiate once unconscious, especially if it is modified to act on contact by adding dimethyl sulphoxide (it’s already a contact local anaesthetic). Taken together, it is quite possible to improve things far more than the lethal injection process.

    • If it comes down to that, may I point out the the quickest possible way to deal death with reasonably available resources is a pistol shot to the back of the head. Naturally, that could never be done here, as it would recall the SS extermination squads in eastern Europe. For much the same reasons, the guillotine is also out!

      • The squishy thinking of which drives me crazy. The futile search for a humane way of killing a worthless and destructive human being that is both effective and yet was never used by a regime that we have bad associations with! What idiocy! There’s no nice way to kill someone, nor should we care, when the object is punishment. Put the guy’s head under a pile driver…Put them in a reinforced steel box with some plastique. Who cares? It makes no sense for capital punishment to be managed by people who object to executions.

        • But some people aren’t coming from where you are coming from. It makes sense to address their concerns in their own terms, particularly since you don’t care if it actually is humane (right?).

          • “Humane” as in quick? Sure. Including making the time between sentencing and execution as short as possible. The infliction of pain isn’t part of the punishment. But the ick factor should be ignored absolutely.

            • “Humane” is usually read as involving no pain and no psychological trauma from anticipation (there’s a song about that, in which the condemned man’s lines have a changing refrain doing a count down, starting from “twenty four hours to go”). Being quick has nothing to do with pain, apart from its duration, and only relates to anticipation when what is being timed is the speed of the whole process, not the speed of the technique itself.

              As for “ick” factor, curiously enough that may have influenced the Singapore hanging process; that includes giving the condemned a lavatory break and a hot bath immediately before – which, however, stretches out a ritual during which traumatic anticipation builds. Of course, that may relate to making disposing of the body less “icky” for the hangman and his team, rather than for public relations.

            • What about the impact on the people who carry out the sentence? I think we should spare the executioners from having to sponge brains off the wall.

                • That’s the Idi Amin method. He arranged for batches of victims to be sent to the top of a waterfall, where a strong prisoner under the supervision of armed guards had the job of hitting each victim over the head with a mallet and pushing in each in turn to be disposed of by the stream, until his strength failed, at which point he was replaced by the next available strong prisoner and took the next place in the queue.

                  As you see, that combined both your suggestions. You may wish to consider the implications of your modest proposal in the light of its history.

                  • I think it sounds like we have proof that the system works…

                    No, but I mean like guy X gets his head ventilated by a large caliber bullet, and guy Y (who is set to share the same fate in two months) comes in afterwards with a large force-flex trash bag, a hose, and galoshes.

                    • You mean, the way the gas chambers and crematoria were worked by other concentration camp prisoners who were still capable of work for a while? Yes, we do indeed have proof that the system works. But that wasn’t the issue to which I wanted to direct people’s attention when I suggested they consider it in the light of its history.

                    • “You mean, the way the gas chambers and crematoria were worked by other concentration camp prisoners who were still capable of work for a while? Yes, we do indeed have proof that the system works.”

                      If gas chambers are the method of capital punishment a community chooses, then so be it. The issue with the Nazis is who they chose to apply capital punishment too (which to be quite clear, they weren’t actually applying ‘capital punishment’ for a crime, but simple ethnic cleansing…which for all intents and purposes is a distinction without a difference). They made their selection based not on any due process or legal system that ensured the fair treatment of all. That’s what made the system heinous, the consignment of people to be killed based solely on ethnicity, cultural trait, or political belief.

                      “But that wasn’t the issue to which I wanted to direct people’s attention when I suggested they consider it in the light of its history.”

                      That’s just Ick Factor. Ew, the Nazis did it, it must be wrong. No, if it’s wrong for other *logical* reasons, cite those reasons. “because the Nazi’s did it” is fallacious.

                    • Scott Jacobs, that’s not the point. I wanted to direct people’s attention to the parallels so they could decide for themselves whether those were wrong and whether the same issues applied in doing similar things now.

                      Texagg04, see above. This wasn’t about providing the logical arguments just here, but about getting people to open their minds to those if they could only see that general arguments in support also applied in those parallels and precedents. But the main point there wasn’t to show how capital punishment worked out but to let people see that forcing prisoners to support it in practical ways through forced labour was also part of the wider pattern of dehumanising – which is a separate thing to be concerned about.

                    • Scott Jacobs, that’s not the point. I wanted to direct people’s attention to the parallels so they could decide for themselves whether those were wrong and whether the same issues applied in doing similar things now.

                      No, your point was to tie them to the Nazis, and by doing so make them invalid.

                      Gas chambers, in fact, were a method of execution for quite a while in the US.

                      The methods, in and of themselves, are neither ethical or unethical. They are merely methods – it is how they are employed that makes the difference.

                      By your logic, the use of tanks by the Nazis should invalidate their use, as it should for the use of aircraft, or encryption.

                      This would, of course, be a stupid thing to suggest, but you do just that.

                    • Scott Jacobs wrote “No, your point was to tie them to the Nazis, and by doing so make them invalid… This would, of course, be a stupid thing to suggest, but you do just that”.

                      No, I do no such thing. Rather, I do just what I told you I did (read my account of that again, above).

                      I never, not nowise, not nohow, tied them to the Nazis. Rather, you drew that faulty and inappropriate inference – despite there being a sound way to read it, which you knew at least by the time I explicitly told it to you, and despite you yourself knowing that tying things to the Nazis would “be a stupid thing to suggest” (hey, they weren’t even my first example, Idi Amin was). You shouldn’t pick out a stupid reading and make out that I must have meant it, not when there is a sound reading available.

                      Before you are tempted to retort that both examples, Idi Amin and the Nazis, are bad guys and that I am again trying for guilt by assocaiation, no. I am again pointing at parallels and precedents, but unfortunately these bad things don’t have good guy parallels and precedents, not by coincidence. They will inevitably involve bad guys, but if you simply connect up the people rather than the activities, that is you drawing an inference and not my point – which you will still be missing.

                    • Here’s your initial response to Scott:

                      “That’s the Idi Amin method. He arranged for batches of victims to be sent to the top of a waterfall, where a strong prisoner under the supervision of armed guards had the job of hitting each victim over the head with a mallet and pushing in each in turn to be disposed of by the stream, until his strength failed, at which point he was replaced by the next available strong prisoner and took the next place in the queue.

                      As you see, that combined both your suggestions. You may wish to consider the implications of your modest proposal in the light of its history.”

                      NO WHERE in there do you discuss the “wrongness” of the process of having the Next-In-Lines clean up the mess of First-In-Lines. You do not discuss how the trauma is inhumane, you do not discuss how the anticipation increases suffering needlessly. Lacking those explanations, you then were unable then to make the argument that the suffering is indeed needless, and not a part of the fair measure of punishment.

                      You turn right around and do the same with the gas chamber and crematoria response.

                      Lacking ANY ARGUMENT against his assertion that ties the processes to excessive cruelty or excessive suffering, we are left (and logically so) with assuming you were creating arguments based solely on “Idi Amin did it” and “so did the Nazis”, therefore it’s wrong. Which are fallacious arguments.

                      You mentioned on a spur thread that increasing the duration of the whole process is inhumane, but not this one which Scott initiated as a proposal to Fred’s objection of needless suffering for the actual Executioners themselves. But even in that thread you didn’t address the notion that the prisoners helping out was inhumane.

                      Sorry, your protest is empty, because you left out every premise you needed to back up your protest, and were thus left with being misinterpreted based on the ONLY things you said.

                    • Texagg04, I’d like to tell you “Watson, you know my methods”, but clearly you don’t.

                      Briefly, I wasn’t trying to hit people over the heads with brute fact, since I’ve learned that people around here often tune that out. So I was telling them things like “think it through for yourself, after looking at the history of it to get your background”. I thought that more people could bypass their own denial, that way.

                      Now to address your specific misinterpretations.

                      NO WHERE in there do you discuss the “wrongness” of the process of having the Next-In-Lines clean up the mess of First-In-Lines. You do not discuss how the trauma is inhumane, you do not discuss how the anticipation increases suffering needlessly.

                      Absolutely correct. But as I just told you, I didn’t want to argue that, I wanted people to go and see it for themselves.

                      Lacking those explanations, you then were unable then to make the argument that the suffering is indeed needless, and not a part of the fair measure of punishment.

                      I was perfectly able, since I could have introduce further and better particulars, but that’s not what I was doing.

                      Lacking ANY ARGUMENT against his assertion that ties the processes to excessive cruelty or excessive suffering, we are left (and logically so) with assuming you were creating arguments based solely on “Idi Amin did it” and “so did the Nazis”, therefore it’s wrong. Which are fallacious arguments.

                      And there you are making the exact same mistakes as Scott Jacobs did earlier:-

                      – You don’t do as you were asked, which is to draw your own morals from the actual historical precedents,

                      – You do make up an argument that I could have made, even though you know I didn’t make one, and you attribute it to me.

                      – Of all the possible arguments, you pick one you know is fallacious (Scott Jacobs called it stupid), and you make out that I made a fallacious argument in the same breath as saying I never made an argument.

                      That leads us to your summating error:-

                      Sorry, your protest is empty, because you left out every premise you needed to back up your protest, and were thus left with being misinterpreted based on the ONLY things you said.

                      Now you are blaming me on the grounds that I knew you would misinterpret everything, based on making things up to hold against me when I didn’t oblige you by doing stupid stuff myself?

                      But that was precisely my own personal motive for never giving you arguments you could misunderstand (based on people’s track records), but only showing you where to look and asking you to go and see. After that, I was going to take people further by one method or another, but that stage has never happened yet. That’s where the word “educate” comes from, a “leading out”.

                      But I can’t be blamed for “being misinterpreted based on the ONLY things you said”, when it is actually my being blamed for stuff people made up in the absence of my contradicting it. You might just as well claim it’s my fault if you call me a flat earther, since I’ve never argued anything else. But do I really have to spell out that I don’t believe stupid things, on the off chance that you will decide that I couldn’t possibly ever mean the sensible alternative? If I did that, I’d drown in detail. Look how much it has taken just to pull you up – if I have actually succeeded in that.

                    • So, not only are you a smug asshole, you’re also an idiot.

                      Thanks for letting us know.

                      You’ve spun spiderwebs of rationalizations to cover for your illogical argument, under the guise of pretentious arrogance. What a piece of work.

                      You screwed up, own up to it. No one will take you seriously if you can’t stick to logical dialectic, and when you don’t, pretend like your supposed “academic aloofness” is somehow for other people’s edification.

                      Really, how do you take yourself seriously?

                    • I take myself seriously because I know what I am talking about.

                      I take you seriously because you have potential, and because of the damage you could do with such damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t stuff.

                      I get called smug and tuned out when I try coherent argument, and nobody notices that they are just reinforcing their biasses and refusing thought – the very thing JM’s latest post brings out. People also don’t notice that building up bias against me personally is building up an ad hominem argument.

                      Then I try to work around that by leading the horse to water, even knowing that he might not drink, and get called an idiot for not trying the technique of treating people as rational, the one that only got me called smug and that people refused to look into.

                      Well, I’m going to keep giving people like you the benefit of the doubt and trying different ways of showing you things that you don’t know that are also true and significant, out of self defence if nothing else because people like that are a menace all round on the principle of “a little learning is a dangerous thing”. Look it up (and no, that’s not snide, it’s telling you that there’s something there worth taking time and trouble over, at some time when you have the chance to do it justice).

                      So far, I have only ever got through to you personally, Texagg04, on one occasion when I just happened to be telling someone else something he didn’t know, that the failure of Austerian economic policies does not mean that Keynesian ones must be right and that governments should charge in with those before looking into details. By chance, you already knew that and approved, with a back handed compliment. But did it ever occur to you that I do know what I’m talking about, that it only looks like I disagree with others since I leave well enough alone when they’re right, that I shut up and listen on the occasions when I myself am learning, and that – just possibly – there might be something worth your while looking into if you disagree strongly with me without actually knowing my position, when I was tactically reserving my position in a futile attempt to keep your antipathy to me from interfering with your chance to see for yourself what was there to be seen for yourself, that I had learned from? No. You went straight back to assuming that I was wrong whenever I told you something you didn’t already know, never even thinking about the coincidence that I sometimes got it right just when you knew a lot about the subject.

                      That’s not smug; smug is thinking you know better regardless of what’s out there, maybe even keeping it to yourself, it’s not thinking that it’s worth showing others what you’ve found. And being an idiot is being too self involved and irrational to be able to think things through, it’s not trying various methods in turn to see which if any can reach other people.

                      I’ve tried the leading the horse to water trick on you, now. All that’s left is defensive, letting you have enough rope to let others see that you are impervious to new stuff in areas where you have preconceived ideas. That might reduce your scope for damage, at any rate until you change of your own accord.

                    • Doubling down now pretty much demonstrates everything I’ve pointed out about your style, especially considering your opening two paragraphs which drip with arrogance. Tell me, do people actually give you credence after you finish glorifying yourself?

                      “I get called smug and tuned out when I try coherent argument, and nobody notices that they are just reinforcing their biasses and refusing thought – the very thing JM’s latest post brings out. People also don’t notice that building up bias against me personally is building up an ad hominem argument.”

                      I literally showed you, word for word, how you did NOT give a coherent argument. Do you need to see it again? I invited you to actually engage in establishing premises, using logic and dialectic, and demonstrate conclusions… the very processes we use for thought — the very thing Jack’s post brings out, and you’ve failed to do. That demonstrated as well, your final sentence there is a non sequitur. Try again.

                      “Then I try to work around that by leading the horse to water, even knowing that he might not drink, and get called an idiot for not trying the technique of treating people as rational, the one that only got me called smug and that people refused to look into.”

                      You didn’t try anything. It was showed how you made some commentary, with no context, no demonstration and no conclusion. Then you have gotten defensive, and obtusely so, when called on it. And then continue with your high horse rhetoric.

                      “Well, I’m going to keep giving people like you the benefit of the doubt…”

                      I don’t need benefit of the doubt you ass. You however, need the benefit of being able to demonstrate your assertions and actually rectify your methodology when shown its utter impotence in the forum.

                      “So far, I have only ever got through to you personally, Texagg04, on one occasion when I just happened to be telling someone else something he didn’t know, that the failure of Austerian economic policies does not mean that Keynesian ones must be right and that governments should charge in with those before looking into details.”

                      No, you didn’t ‘get to me personally’, you demonstrated, logically, a false dichotomy. That’s excellent and was worthy of noting. You should attempt demonstrations more often. You might have more people pay attention.

                      “But did it ever occur to you that I do know what I’m talking about”

                      Nope, because you don’t bother going through the pains of dialectic and discourse. You just assume some unknown laurels to us upon which you rest are good enough. They aren’t.

                      “that it only looks like I disagree with others since I leave well enough alone when they’re right, that I shut up and listen on the occasions when I myself am learning”

                      Irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I expect this of anyone, but it neither adds to nor takes away from your unwillingness to discuss responsibly.

                      ” that – just possibly – there might be something worth your while looking into if you disagree strongly with me without actually knowing my position,”

                      How should we know your position? Since apparently it consists of vague, unfounded, undemonstrated, and unconcluded remarks? I suppose we must use Occam’s razor and take your words at face value and use context clues to make reasonable assumptions, but wait:

                      “when I was tactically reserving my position in a futile attempt to keep your antipathy to me from interfering with your chance to see for yourself what was there to be seen for yourself, that I had learned from?”

                      We can’t even do that without you declaring martyrdom at the hands of people who have been given nothing to go on to determine what point you are trying to make.

                      “No. You went straight back to assuming that I was wrong”

                      A logical assumption, when you refuse to discuss your assertions.

                      “whenever I told you something you didn’t already know, never even thinking about the coincidence that I sometimes got it right just when you knew a lot about the subject.”

                      Except there’s know way of even knowing if this happened, given your refusal to go into depth, give premises, explanation, and conclusions. So given the dearth of your argument, we are left to draw our own conclusions for you, only to have you act incredulous and somehow slighted because according to you we ought to somehow assume, PM Lawrence has spoken some vague comment, he must be right.

                      Utter nonsense.

                      Learn to discuss, or stick to your “stay silent on the sidelines” strategy and save us a lot of effort.

                      One more empty comment by you or a double down on rhetorical irresponsibility, or spin in defense of your self-made martyrdom and I’ll pretty well disregard any comment you make in the future.

              • Why? A job’s a job. Soldiers, morgue workers, exterminators, HAZMAT workers, bomb unit workers, vice squad, criminal defense attorneys…it’s no more horrible and arguably less than plenty of jobs. Scott would do it. Many people would want to do it.

          • Nobody has ever explained to me why we should be humane. For God’s sake, God condemns people to eternal torment in Hell!

      • No, it’s not the quickest way, considering the process as a whole, it’s just the quickest killing technique (but only fractionally faster than guillotining or long drop hanging). It was shown in a fact-based film about the “Rostov Ripper” (though it wasn’t actually what they did to him); it still involves an armed executioner entering the cell, with colleagues on hand to immobilise the prisoner if necessary.

        The British technique also involved that, but (according to a hangman’s memoirs I read), only as yet another visit to the prisoner by the hangman and his team, starting in precisely the same routine way as the others, with a hand shake by the hangman. That gave the hangman the opportunity to assess the prisoner’s bone structure during the earlier visits, from the dimensions of his or her wrist, which all went into calibrating the drop. On the final visit, the hand shake was used to apply a pinioning hold, after which the prisoner was taken directly to the gallows chamber through a door hidden as a false back wall to a cupboard; he or she had previously been allowed to see it storing cleaning equipment, so as not to realise how short the passage was.

        Likewise, the guillotine process only had a short, sharp technique, while its whole process was slow. The film “The Battle of Algiers” showed the end stage of it, with the prisoner being manhandled into a courtyard in sight of the other prisoners’ cells, where he was thrown into position using a tilting board of the afore-mentioned sort, a frame was locked around his neck, and the blade was released.

        Taken all in all, the British process is quickest, from the first hint to the end. But mere speed isn’t the sole test of being humane, which is why I pointed out that there are known alternatives that are more humane.

          • Um… as he wasn’t British, they really had to comb the law books to find a technicality to bring him within the jurisdiction necessary for charges of treason to be applicable. The one they found was that he had once travelled under a false British passport (I think it wasn’t a fake but had been obtained fraudulently), which implied he had sought and availed himself of the protection of the British Crown. That would actually have been a sound argument if the facts it required had obtained, but I think they don’t because it wasn’t a valid British passport and wasn’t used to obtain a benefit from the British Crown but to deceive foreigners, and he would certainly have been denied the protection of the British Crown had he ever asked for that (say, by asking the foreigners to check that his passport entitled him to the consideration he was bluffing them to get).

            • Are you sure about that, P.M.? I can’t quite recall his real name, but I was sure that he was a British subject with a British name. There were a few members of Sir Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists who couldn’t go along with their leader’s disbanding their party when the war broke out. Unity Mitford shot herself and, I thought, “Haw Haw” went to Germany then to offer his services as a “radio host”.

              • It’s murky…

                From memory, he was born William Joyce, Irish in the days when that was still part of the U.K. Unusually for someone with his family connections and the part of Ireland he came from, he became a loyalist during the independence struggles, then migrated to Britain where he became involved with the Mosleyites. Somewhere along the line he became fed up with Britain for not going far enough, and left there too. During all that he gave up British citizenship, though whether he took the Irish flag of convenience to which he was entitled or some other (the way de Valera had avoided being shot by claiming U.S. nationality), or became stateless, I do not know. Just to complicate matters further, just like Australians and New Zealanders until the late 1940s, Irish nationals travelled on British issued passports until final, formal separation in the late 1940s, even when they were acknowledged neutrals during the hostilities (which may be why my grandfather was briefly arrested by the Gestapo in Paris when they thought he was British, upon which he stood on his dignity in aggrieved silence rather than pointing out their error, until my grandmother pounded on the door of the Gestapo HQ with her umbrella and demanded that he be released – which he was, though they promptly threw her in as she was only London Irish).

                Retournons a nos moutons. It is quite possible that the false British passport Joyce used was one he thought was a surrogate Irish passport of this sort, and that everybody had supposed it was until it became convenient to treat it as a British one in just precisely the respects that the Irish were repudiating.

  9. Where I criticize Cohen is for alleging political cowardice as a motive without showing reason for the allegation.

    If there were a stated policy of never seeking the death penalty that had been overridden to pacify public outcry, then that would have been “political cowardice”.

  10. The death penalty is a horrible crime on par with Tsarnaev and his brother intentionally killing and maiming innocent spectators of the Boston Marathon.

    By definition, the death penalty is not a crime.

    Epic fail.

    Killing him is not going to change anything.

    So why object to killing him?

    The death penalty “is on its way out in much of the world and even the United States.” This is the “Everybody doesn’t do it” variation on the “Everybody does it” rationalization. Don’t make me list all the stupid, unethical policies that much of the world pursues that the U.S. does not. The argument Cohen is making would have precluded the United States ever coming into existence.

    More sovereign nations ban same-sex “marriage” in their constitutions than sovereign nations recognizing such. Are we to decide our policy on same-sex “marriage” merely on that basis?

    We don’t even know anymore how to execute someone — witness the prolonged and allegedly agonizing death of Dennis McGuire, who recently took over 20 minutes to die.” Really despicable, Richard: you know damn well that this fiasco was the direct result of relentless litigation from anti-death penalty zealots who have exploited the sympathies of foolish judges to create the myth that an execution has to be impossibly humane. there are plenty of quick, easy, painless ways to execute a monster. Your pals have just been too successful in blocking them.

    What was the legal basis of blocking such methods of executions?

  11. I propose a robot that shoots people in the head with a large-caliber pistol.

    It’s more consistently quick and painless than lethal injection, creates no pangs of guilt in the executioner, and creates jobs cleaning brains off the chamber.

    Speaking more seriously… I don’t personally approve of the death penalty, because I’m uncomfortable with the margin of error. But if you’re going to do something, do it right.

  12. “not placing his personal opposition against the death penalty above his duty to execute the laws he is sworn to uphold”

    Unless that duty _requires_ him to seek the death penalty, he has legal discretion and may consult his conscience when he exercises it. If a death penalty opponent can’t be Attorney General, the Senate should not confirm the appointment of death penalty opponents.

    If, hypothetically, a public servant seeks the death penalty against his or her better judgment due to public pressure, then that would be wrong.

    • Where his job provides discretion, then he is certainly free to apply it. But he may not unilaterally refuse to enforce the law as written and passed, and he may (I would say should) always, honorably, decide to endorse the law as passed and its intent, even though he personally disagrees with it. Thus candidates for governors in states with the death penalty often have to pledge that their personal objection to capitol punishment won’t keep them from executing the will of the people as expressed by the legislature.

      I think Holder and Obama had a legal and ethical duty to defend DOMA, for example. Obama believes the President doesn’t have to obey or execute laws he doesn’t like. So did Nixon. They were both wrong.

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