A wandering post in which I recommend the TV show “Bones” and bring up the death penalty *UPDATED*

I’ve mentioned before that I pretty much sat out the first decade of the 21st century when it came to pop culture, which is how I entirely missed Ricky Martin.  Having young children simply left me uninterested in things other than diapers, soccer carpools, etc.  Now those same children are bringing me back into pop culture.  Not only am I doing a better job of tracking current trends, I’m also learning about past pop culture trends I might have missed.

One of these trends, which is both current and past, is the show Bones.  My daughter discovered it on streaming video last summer while she was trapped in a Greek hospital following an appendix operation.  The show follows the exploits of shiny, pretty forensic anthropologists and FBI people as they solve gruesome crimes.  With rare exceptions, each show begins with the discovery of a gruesome, maggot-infested corpse, and then shows the scientists/anthropologists use incredibly high-tech equipment, plus their encyclopedic minds, to discern the truth about the corpse’s life and death.  It’s a surprisingly enjoyable show, made more so, for me, by the fact that it’s very nice to look at David Boreanz, the lead male actor.  (In my dotage, I seem to have turned into the “cougar” equivalent of a chicken hawk.  “Chicken hawk” as you may recall, is the derogatory term given to armchair warriors who advocate a hawk-like military stance, secure that they’ll never actually have to be in the line of fire.  But I digress, quite wildly . . . .)

Aside from being fairly entertaining on its own terms, I find the show fascinating because of the messages:  The lead FBI agent is a former special forces sniper, and the show doesn’t think less of him for that fact.  He’s also religious, and the show doesn’t think less of him for that fact either.  In “The Man In The Wall,” a dead man’s father convinces the FBI agent (correctly, as it turns out) that the dead man was not involved in drugs and crime because “I taught him to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  It’s peculiar to see a show that, instead of sneering at this viewpoint, apparently approves of it.

The lead forensic anthropologist, the eponymous “Bones,” is a genius who is totally invested in scientific truth, but is often at a loss to understand ordinary human interactions.  Because of her almost child-like intellectual honest, she speaks the truth in a way many of us would find admirable (and irritating).  Bones doesn’t believe in God, because there is, in her mind, no proof that God exists, but she believes in morality.  In “A Man On Death Row,” she firmly advocates the death penalty, provided one is sure that the killer did indeed kill.  Under those circumstances, Bones says, there are definitely people who deserve to die because (although she doesn’t articulate this as clearly) through their callous disdain for human life, they have forfeited the right to that life themselves.  This episode, incidentally, is worth watching in its entirety, because I’m pretty sure that the episode’s writers and producers also believe in the death penalty.

And speaking of the death penalty, Dennis Prager believes in it too.  I find his proposal a bit silly (sorry, Dennis), but I do think that both he and Bones are on to the core point about why the death penalty, provided that it is hedged about with due process, and rigorous moral and intellectual honesty, is the right thing for a functioning society that, counter-intuitively as far as death penalty opponents are concerned, values human life.

UPDATE:  This post, about the silliness of applying the Occupy movement to prisons, seems apropos.

Florida citizens do the right thing

The confessed crime — kidnapping a 9 year old girl, raping her, then burying her alive in garbage bags so she slowly smothered to death. They recommended punishment, thank God — death:

A jury decided Wednesday that a convicted sex offender should get the death penalty for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was buried alive in trash bags just yards from her home.

The jury, on a 10-2 vote, brushed aside pleas for mercy and a life sentence from defense lawyers based on claims that John Evander Couey, 48, is mentally retarded and suffers from chronic mental illness. Jurors deliberated for about one hour.

Now let’s hope that the judge takes this recommendation very, very seriously when final sentencing rolls around.

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Once again, there’s a false equivalency going on

I'm no huge fan of the death penalty.  I think the risks of convicting the wrong man are pretty darn high.  There's also no doubt that, at certain times and in certain places, African-American men have disproportionately borne the risk of getting the death penalty.  It's also a very expensive proposition, because those convicted aren't simply marched behind a building and shot.  Instead, they spend years and years and years running various appeals from court to court, while they're housed in special, costly units, at the public's expense.  It's these years and years, though, that I want to talk about, because they're very important when we consider the American death penalty.

Anna Quindlen, writing at Newsweak, points out again that America is in company with Saudi Arabia, China and Iran when it comes to the death penalty:

Hardly any other civilized place does this [the death penalty] anymore. In the past three decades, the number of nations that have abolished the death penalty has risen from 16 to 86. Last year four countries accounted for nearly all executions worldwide: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

As my Irish grandmother used to say, you're known by the company you keep.

Underlying Quindlen's conclusion is the assumption that the death penalty in America is identical to that in the other countries.  The fact is, however, that it is not.  The United States has a little thing foreign to those countries:  Due Process.  This means, for example, that young Iranian girls are not dragged before hostile village elders, given no counsel, and hanged for acts "incompatible with chastity."  And unlike reports from China, I haven't heard any stories of prisoners being taken off unexpectedly and killed so that their organs can be harvested.  We're also not stoning to death women who were raped, a not uncommon practice in Saudi Arabia and other Sharia controlled countries. 

Instead, for the most part, we reserve the death penalty for people such as Tookie Williams and Richard Alan Davis — men who have murderous histories, and who have been given opportunity after opportunity, through both our judicial and political systems, to avoid the death penalty.  

To pretend that there is no difference between the two systems is to fall into the moral equivalency trap that bedevils all arguments from the Left.  James Taranto explaineds this peculiar equivalency quite elegantly by examining the hackneyed "cycle of violence" phrase that shows up on the Left every time Al Qaeda blames the U.S. for another of its barbaric acts:

This rhetoric about "cycles" appears to reflect a theory of moral equivalence, but in fact it is something else. After all, if the two sides were morally equivalent, one could apply this reasoning in reverse–excusing, for example, the alleged massacre at Haditha on the ground that it was "provoked" by a bombing that killed a U.S. serviceman–and hey, violence begets violence.

But America's critics never make this argument, and its defenders seldom do. That is because it is understood that America knows better. If it is true that U.S. Marines murdered civilians in cold blood at Haditha, the other side's brutality does not excuse it. Only the enemy's evil acts are thought to be explained away by ours.

Implicit in the "cycle" theory, then, is the premise that the enemy is innocent–not in the sense of having done nothing wrong, but in the sense of not knowing any better. The enemy lacks the knowledge of good and evil–or, to put it in theological terms, he is free of original sin.

America ought to hold itself to a high moral standard, of course, but blaming the other side's depraved acts on our own (real and imagined) moral imperfections is a dangerous form of vanity.

Quindlen is perfectly entitled to challenge the American death penalty.  As I noted, I have a few problems with it myself.  However, if she's going to do so, let her doing it honestly, by taking the American death penalty on its own terms.  To try to lump America in with China, Iran and Saudi Araba is disingenuous demagoguery.  That Quindlen is playing little rhetorical games is made evident by the fact that, after setting up this false equivalency, she then shoves into the back end of her column some of the more substantive challenges to America's death penalty.  These arguments deserve consideration and it's a shoddy tactic to bolster them with cheap and irrelevant accusations.