Friday, April 15, 2005

Oh beautiful/ for spacious land

This is just a quick one, because I'm revising for my start-of-term exam (except I'm clearly not, because I'm posting here).

A couple of months ago, America banned executions on juveniles. I believe they should continue - not because I favour the death penalty (I certainly don't) but because I think they stopped them for the wrong reason. Let us leave aside all the reasons why the death penalty is inherently wrong (such as impossibility of avoiding error in conviction): that is not my argument today.

The decision as reported was based on the concept that juveniles are less responsible than adults therefore should not be treated as adults and executed in otherwise capital cases. In the first place, there is nothing about turning eighteen which suddenly opens one's mind up to the ideas of guilt, wrong and blame. Why should someone aged seventeen and eleven months live when someone eighteen and one day would die? Given that there is no fixed age for 'maturity' (or whatever you want to call the assumption of reasonable faculties), why not consider things on a case-by-case basis? Isn't a compos mentis eleven year old guiltier than a learning disabled nineteen year old?

That is just one reason why this decision is flawed. The other, most important one, I believe, is that America has not disavowed belief in the death penalty altogether: in 38 states, it is still seen as a justifiable punishment. State-sanctioned, judicially-approved murder is one of the most heinous things known to this planet and is more in place in tyrannies than in civilisation. At least in America the death penalty is not applied as randomly or wickedly as in Iraq under Saddam, but both still have it.

Instead of declaring the death penalty wrong, it has merely been postponed until you are eighteen. On a philosophical level, while you continue to approve its use elsewhere, you may as well continue to sentence children to the death penalty. This ban is patronising to children, giving them special exemption from something which ought not to exist anyway. How does this set a good example? Children can get away with things adults can't because they are seen as less than adults even though they may well not be.

We face this situation not because America has come to its senses and realised if anything is cruel and unusual punishment, it is the retributive taking of a life in following the Biblical tit-for-tat doctrine. (My views on religion influencing the world are not hard to discern.) We are here because they think children need special treatment - children who may be as deserving (in this scenario) of capital punishment as adults.

The ban may save some lives, which can only be a good thing, but it has been enforced for the wrong reason, and thus any moral value it might have is destroyed.

Who should I vote for?

According to a nifty website (, I should vote Lib Dem, and definitely not Tory, which is pretty much what I suspected. But at the risk of seeming to take a website's advice, I'm actually going to vote UKIP. Kidding.

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for?

Your expected outcome:

Liberal Democrat

Your actual outcome:

     Labour 14
Conservative -43     
     Liberal Democrat 56
UK Independence Party -17     
     Green 17

You should vote: Liberal Democrat

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For

Friday, April 01, 2005

Don't ask me how I feel

I haven't entirely discovered how I feel about the death of Pope John Paul II, but I think I'm approaching an understanding.

Yes, death brings grief and loss, and I am sure that the billion-plus Catholics around the world will keenly feel his death. But am I upset that he is dying? No - I think he is finally facing the fate he has inflicted on so many others, except with the top consultants in Rome at his bedside and with priests reading him Scripture. His life should not be mourned as the passing of a great humanitarian, rather the death of one who brought death to others.

We cannot consider the model of piety a man who has again and again banned the use of condoms for Catholics, causing countless unwanted pregnancies (of course, abortion is forbidden too) and hastening the spread of Aids. It is no surprise that there are now 42 million people (and growing horrifically) in Sub-Saharan Africa who have Aids, since to many of them (via their churches, heeding the Pope) condoms are forbidden. I would not argue that the Pope is entirely responsible for Aids - that would be facile and incorrect, since there is much evidence that cultural consideration also frown on condom use - but he has not helped; he has, in fact, made things much worse. The legacy of no other pope can be blamed: Aids was discovered in his papacy, and has spread in his papacy. If the Pope had taken a view which would help humanity rather than one which accorded with dogma and antediluvian doctrine, the problem might be less serious, less widespread.

When the news announcer said that "the Pope's closest aides were by his bed," finally I felt that his legacy had come home to him. Unfortunately, the Pope will be shielded from the mortal consequences of his actions by his mortality. You can feel sorry for the Pope and his death, but don't be blind to his actions, which have hurt so many.