‘Christian’ Simpletons And The Death Penalty

Is there anything more annoying than someone making emphatic assertions that are obviously wrong? 

CNN runs an essay by a guest columnist/reverend named R. Albert Mohler, supposedly to make a Christian case for the death penalty.  It all boils down to this: 

On the one hand, the Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder.

In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”

 

What utter bullshit.  In the first place, it isn’t even clear that the quoted passage is a command so much as an observation.  In the second place, although ‘shedding of blood’ generally refers to killing, taken literally that’s not necessarily the case:  shedding blood isn’t always fatal.  The passage may not be referring to murder or the death penalty at all.

But what really makes it a poor argument from my point of view – indeed not just a poor argument but an ignorant one – is that any honest and remotely competent opinion on what the Bible says about capital punishment would have to begin by discussing the very first murder; yet that Biblical account would seem to completely rule out the death penalty.  That is, after Cain murders his brother Abel, this is the exchange between Cain and God:

Now, therefore, cursed shalt thou be upon the earth, which hath opened her mouth and received the blood of thy brother at thy hand.  When thou shalt till it, it shall not yield to thee its fruit: a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be upon the earth.  And Cain said to the Lord: My iniquity is greater than that I may deserve pardon.  Behold thou dost cast me out this day from the face of the earth, and I shall be hidden from thy face, and I shall be a vagabond and a fugitive on the earth: every one, therefore, that findeth me, shall kill me.  And the Lord said to him: No, it shall not be so: but whosoever shall kill Cain, shall be punished sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, that whosoever found him should not kill him.

 

I mean, how does anyone claiming to be knowledgeable enough to tell other Christians what they should think about the death penalty, based on the Bible, ignore this part of the Bible? 

We talk about religious subjects sometimes around here at Lawyers on Strike.  We don’t pretend to be Bible scholars, but we don’t need to be to see this particular gaping intellectual hole. 

In other words, we might quote the Bible from time to time, but we don’t thump it at anyone.

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Moreland Commission – Continued

So just to drive the point home, one of the allegations of the New York Times article goes like this:

Word that the [Moreland Commission's] subpoena had been served quickly reached Mr. Cuomo’s most senior aide, Lawrence S. Schwartz. He called one of the commission’s three co-chairs, William J. Fitzpatrick, the district attorney in Syracuse.

“This is wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick, whose account was corroborated by three other people told about the call at the time. He said the firm worked for the governor, and issued a simple directive:

“Pull it back.”

The subpoena was swiftly withdrawn. The panel’s chief investigator explained why in an email to the two other co-chairs later that afternoon.

“They apparently produced ads for the governor,”

 

Nothing to see here, right?

Besides, the Commission Chair William Fitzpatrick, in his three page letter, had this very detailed response to this specific allegation:

 

“Fuck you.”

 

Okay, that wasn’t really what Fitzpatrick said.  What he really said was a far more egregious gesture of contempt, something to the risible effect that he always gave a lot of thought to issuing subpoenas because that’s “serious”; and the Commission reissued the subpoena a few weeks after it was retracted; and finally, the suggestion that the Commission was interfered with by such things as, oh, the Governor’s henchman aide Schwartz telling the Commission to “pull it [the subpoena] back” was – and I quote – “absurd”.

Of course, it’s not like that kind of thing happened except for that one time, though.  Right?

 

According to a subpoena that had been prepared, investigators wanted to examine the real estate board’s political donations, its materials related to a valuable tax break for new housing, and its communications with public officials, including phone calls with lawmakers…

Whereupon Mr. Cuomo’s office stepped in to shut it down.

Mr. Schwartz, the secretary to the governor, telephoned one of the commission’s three leaders in a fury, according to four people briefed on the call. There would be no subpoena to the real estate board, he said.

Ultimately, the commission merely sent the real estate board a letter asking it to provide information voluntarily, which it did.

 

Apparently the Governor’s office got advance notice of objectionable subpoenas because the Governor had a spy lackey close associate as one of the Commission’s co-chairs.  Her name is Regina Calcaterra.

Investigators began to suspect that Ms. Calcaterra was monitoring their activities and reporting back to the governor’s office:

  

Ms. Calcaterra repeatedly pressed Ms. Perry [another investigator with the Commission] not to serve the subpoena, emails show. Yet the commission backed Ms. Perry, and on Aug. 19, she wrote to the co-chairs that she would be sharing a subpoena with them “shortly.”

 

I don’t know what is more laughable – or depressing, depending on your mood:  the Commission itself, or Fitzpatrick’s & Cuomo’s when-you’re-caught-just-deny-deny-deny defense.  Ugh.

I mean, this shows the “Commission” was just a toxic mix of tawdry skullduggery and highly dishonest political posturing by the Governor’s office.  The Feds tried to criminalize such conduct through some statute or other regarding public officials’ failure to render “honest services”, but that was held unconstitutional.  And I don’t know if criminalizing is the right way to go, or even remotely effective.  Given day to day realities of the political system in the US I’d tend to say no.  In any event, I’ve made my suggestion and that has nothing to do with putting anyone in prison.

This does not, of course, indicate that the entrenched corruption of the political class is not a serious problem; indeed I wish we could overcome this vague belief that unless the government is prosecuting someone the wrongdoing, if it exists at all, must be trivial.

Our ‘leaders’ do not so much lead us as reflect us.  We tolerate in them the kind of wrongdoing we tolerate in ourselves.  Thus we like a little bit of ruthlessness in our politicians, it seems.  Unless we’re on the receiving end personally.

We’ll improve the character of our political class when we improve our own.  Until that happens, “Moreland Commissions” are worse than a waste of time; they are a farce.

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Justice

It doesn’t seem to be a law of nature, but it is.

Justice is a hard virtue.  Unlike, say, prudence, which is softer. 

Justice requires that the good be rewarded and that every wrong be paid for. 

Assume for purposes of discussion that there is a God, in the traditional western sense.  Then also in the traditional western sense God must be not only just, but perfectly just.  Every wrong paid for down to the penny, in other words.

Scary thought, isn’t it?

But we’re not God, and we’re not perfect.  So consider this:  for us in the fallen world, mercy comes at the expense of justice, and vice versa.  We like mercy (for ourselves when we have wronged) and justice (for ourselves when we have been wronged).  We’re not God – again – in more ways than one.  Assuming there is such a thing.*

Someone was talking to me the other day about those who do not do their duty, but rather prefer comfort and ease.  Is that a problem?  If justice is a law of nature it certainly is, because if someone has it too easy then someone else must have it too hard, to the extent things are working at all.

I often point out that as much as I and other complain about this and that injustice and whatnot, it’s astonishing how much still goes right in our daily lives:   air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, relative safety for most of us.

With the exception of the first, we should – in justice, that is – regularly stop to consider that these things do not happen by themselves.  People – in most cases not us – perform tasks and work and make sacrifices so that these benefits come about.  And then we should be grateful for and to those people.  And then, if it seems that those people are not receiving their fair share and credit for the good they bring about for the benefit of others we should work ourselves to change that.

That’s an important job, too.  Don’t you think?

It’s not socialism to work for justice, unless you forget that justice is a virtue that exists only because individuals practice it.  The collective will be just only to the extent the individuals comprising it are likewise just.  This is a hard truth, like justice itself.  There are no shortcuts, there are no magical formulas, and anyone trying to sell you on something like that is a charlatan.  Or a socialist.

Of course, all that aside if there’s no such thing as justice I’m just talking nonsense.  But since just about everyone who has read this post knows exactly what I am talking about then it is not me talking nonsense, but rather those who say that there is no such thing as justice.

Which is not to say that we always know the just thing to do.  We’re not God, after all.  Assuming there is such a thing.

——————————————————————-

*  This is a disclaimer we intend to use around here at Lawyers on Strike whenever the subject of God comes up, similar in function to the “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” meme from the Seinfeld days.

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Lunacy

Somehow, a new law has sailed through the legislature having as its only objective to increase the number of people sent to prison for relatively minor offenses.  To make felonies out of misdemeanors, in other words.

But maybe there’s a method to the madness. 

The “prison industrial complex” idea has always struck me as outrageous, in that it seems that it should be a fanciful rant dressed up as an argument; but at the same time disturbing, because it fits reality far better than I would like to think it possibly could:

As the prison population grows, a rising rate of incarceration feeds small and large businesses such as providers of furniture, transportation, food, clothes and medical services, construction and communication firms. Prison activists who buttress the notion of a prison industrial complex have argued that these parties have a great interest in the expansion of the prison system since their development and prosperity directly depends on the number of inmates. They liken the prison industrial complex to any industry that needs more and more raw materials, prisoners being the material.

 

The new “law” is counter to the explicit national trend – that is, on the surface we appear to be looking for ways to reduce prison populations, which every reasonable person believes have gotten out of hand – but consistent with an entrenched group of interests that frequently find favor with political institutions because of superior organization and tightly focused goals.

This so-called law is Exhibit “A” in the prison-industrial complex scenario, then.  A healthy press would be all over this, finding out who was lobbying for it and who the interested parties are.  But never mind.  We have the press we have, 1st amendment or no.

Ugh.

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Moreland Commission And The Individual Conscience

I was raised Catholic and one thing I have never understood is the antipathy so many seem to have to the practice of confession.  We’re all sinners, right?  So what do we do about that?

One frequent accusation has to do with the “hypocrisy” of it all:  you confess your sins, receive “absolution” and go right out and commit sins all over again.  Rinse and repeat.  What a bunch of hypocrites Catholics are.

Hypocrisy may be the tribute vice pays to virtue, but applying the concept here at all is just an intellectually pedestrian category error, misunderstanding things completely.  Every time you make a confession you must promise to “sin no more” and yet you know that’s not going to happen, and indeed that reality is formally acknowledged because you’re also required to keep going to confession.  This isn’t so much hypocrisy as it is inconsistency.  Or maybe incoherence.

But is it?  Is it really?

Metaphysics 101:  to exist is to be in the process of becoming.  Plain language:  you’re never quite there, always on the way, at best.  But then if you don’t have a destination in mind you’re not even on the way, because you don’t know where you’re going.  Talk about incoherent.

So, you’ve got to have a destination to be on your way in the first place, and you have to accept that as long as you exist you’ll never reach your destination.  The practice of confession captures this – well – perfectly.

The examination of conscience is, moreover, a fascinating exercise.  There are mortal sins.  Venial sins.  Seven deadly sins.  And while we’re on the subject of sin lists, let’s not forget the sins against the Holy Spirit, which are unforgivable, and of particular relevance to this discussion, the fact that two of these unforgivable sins are:  a) presuming salvation; and b) despairing of salvation.   (For bonus points:  why are those two sins “particularly relevant” to this discussion?  Answer in the comments section to receive your just reward in the form of fulsome praise from your hosts here at Lawyers on Strike.)

And those are just some of your own sins.  There are also nine ways of being an accessory to someone else’s sin.  That’s right:  vicarious liability is rare in the law, but in Catholicism it’s a daily companion.

Now, why do I bring this up in connection with the Moreland Commission fiasco?  Well, consider the nine ways you can fall into someone else’s sin:

I. By counsel
II. By command
III. By consent
IV. By provocation
V. By praise or flattery
VI. By concealment
VII. By partaking
VIII. By silence
IX. By defense of the ill done

Now, forget confession for a minute.  Just focus on the nine ways and the examination of conscience entailed by that.  Isn’t it obvious that a political class that regularly examined their consciences with respect to the nine ways would have a hard time degenerating into the cesspool of political corruption that is Albany, New York?

So here’s the problem.  The political class in Albany doesn’t know anything about the nine ways – probably never even heard of them – and neither does did the Moreland Commission.

Don’t get me wrong:  like the poor, political corruption will always be with us.  But the regular examination of conscience, and particularly an examination inspired by the nine ways, would hold it in check. 

The United States Attorney, Preet Bharara, doesn’t stand a chance by comparison.  He’ll find a couple of people to prosecute.  And he’ll have a tough time winning convictions, not because there aren’t a lot of guilty people, but because that’s just the way it is.

Maybe the juries are right.  Prosecuting and convicting doesn’t do much good.  Something deeper is involved.  Much deeper. 

A lot of people have talked about changing the culture of corruption in Albany.  As suggestions go, I submit you could do worse than encouraging examination of consciences and confession.  In any case, it’s the only suggestion we at Lawyers on Strike have.

You’re welcome.

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Reaching For Amanda Knox

As in, a stretch.  A real reach.

The Telegraph in the UK reports that Amanda Knox was sexually involved with a cocaine dealer who knew someone else who stabbed yet someone else.

Got that?

This somehow bears upon Amanda Knox’s guilt, because….nope.  This doesn’t bear on anything relevant to Amanda Knox’s guilt, even if every word of it is true.  There are probably only a few people on the planet that can’t be linked to some kind of criminal act that way; that is, by extension several times removed. 

It’s a silly effort at a smear that shouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone.  And it’s a sign of desperation. 

By someone.

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Moreland Commission

There’s a pretty major flap going on, considering it’s an election year, over a temporary “independent” commission appointed by Governor Cuomo, supposedly to “root out” corruption in the State’s capital.  The commission was headed up by Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.  The commission was disbanded – some say “abruptly”, others say because it was “mission accomplished” – a month or so ago.

Last week the New York Times published a very detailed piece more or less chronicling gross interference with the independent (not) commission by the governor’s men.  This prompted a ringing defense of the commission and its independence (not) by Chairman Fitzpatrick in the form of a three page letter dated July 28th, which you can find here.

First, I encourage you to read Fitzpatrick’s letter.  Whatever its merits otherwise, it is typical DA bluster, long on rhetoric, short on specifics, and completely devoid of anything resembling reasoning.  It’s a screed from someone who seems to think that all he need do to dispose of accusations of corruption is to call them “absurd”.  Not one fact chronicled in the New York Times piece is even specifically denied, let alone refuted.

There’s a lot to say about all this, but not now.  In the meantime, it’s worth noting that some people whose opinions I respect believe this whole flap is orchestrated by the Clinton camp to damage Cuomo, a political rival for the 2016 presidential nomination.  And that may well be.  Multiple levels of perfidy and skullduggery are standard procedure in the political cesspool known as New York State.

But we’ll comment later on some larger aspects of all this, endeavoring to wed the macro to the micro, one of our favorite tasks over here at Lawyers on Strike.  We sometimes do a good job of that, and we sometimes don’t, but we do make the effort.

To be continued.

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