Saturday, July 26, 2014

Guillotine, Anyone?

In a world that finds it so easy to kill -- planes shot out of the sky, refugee centers shelled, suicide bombers sending body parts flying everywhere -– our prison system is having a heck of a time executing its prisoners on death row.

The latest botched execution left Joseph Wood III gasping his last breaths for several hours while his lawyers scurried around looking for a judge to stop the whole unseemly mess.  They were too late and Wood finally died and Arizona joined a list of other states who can’t seem to cleanly kill their convicted murderers.

Well, dying can be hard.  The body fights to live.  And most normal human beings don’t relish or revel in the killing.  Unless they live in Texas and/or are Governor, Rick Perry.  Now, there’s a guy and a state that loves its executions, can’t wait to get the show on the road.  Not for Texas those annoying stays of execution, not even for DNA testing that could prove innocence.  Nosir, nosir, bring it on!

But a whole lot of other states have had serious enough questions about how the death penalty has been meted out.  A gander at the disparity between incarceration rates for whites and blacks on run-of-the-mill drug charges should give anyone pause; both races use drugs approximately the same, but blacks are convicted and incarcerated at a much higher rate.  Extrapolate that bias up to the ultimate punishment, toss in the growing number of innocent people who have been freed thanks to DNA , and it’s easy to see why many states are backing away.

And because dying’s hard, and messy and ugly, over the years we’ve tried to invent ways to make it “nice” so we could pretend to ourselves that we weren’t really “killing” someone, we were “putting them to sleep.”  Except now drug companies no longer want their nice clean deadly drugs used in the process (bad publicity), doctors won’t go anywhere near the execution chambers, so we’re left with states scrambling around putting together all sorts of odd drugs that they hope will get the job done.  And then getting all secretive about what they’re using until execution chambers are turning into Dr. Frankenstein labs with Monty Pythonesque Royal Executioners mixing up weird brews to try on the condemned – “More cowbell! More cowbell!”

Meanwhile we keep telling ourselves that the people the State’s killing on our behalf are Evil Incarnate, the Devil himself who must be erased from the face of the earth if civilization is to survive.  But in our heart of hearts, most of us know that’s hokum.  A close look at those executed shows only a small percent of truly dangerous, evil sociopaths.  The rest are sad human failures, too often victims themselves of abuse and neglect, failed people whose messy lives and bad decisions have caused enormous misery to others.

And that begs the question: Is this sorry S.O.B. worth killing?  Because that’s the other side of the equation that few want to consider: Killing is bad for the killer.  Normal humans cannot ever totally escape the harm done to themselves when they cross one of mankind’s oldest taboos.  While justification is there  – It was a matter of life and death, it was self defense, he was judged and convicted and deserved it, it was war and I was a soldier, I was a policeman and was just doing my job –  there always will be that small knife-pierce to the heart: I have done murder.  And that knowledge will be a part of your soul forever.

So, no, killing isn’t easy.  Which is why Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court, has proposed a quasi-Swiftian idea:  Bring back the firing squad or guillotine.  Stop making death look easy.  As Kozinski notes, “ . . . executions are, in fact, brutal, savage events, and nothing the state tries to do can mask that reality.  Nor should we.  If we as a society want to carry out executions, we should be willing to face the fact that the state is committing a horrendous brutality on our behalf.”

So here we sit, Justice, American style, unequal for all.  Commit the same crime and, depending on whether you’re black or white, rich or poor, which state you live in,  you could be executed,  or you could spend the rest of your life in prison.  You could die quickly or you could spend hours gasping for breath.  It’s pretty much a turkey shoot.

Which raises a final question:  Is our whole justice system “cruel and unusual?”  Then maybe that’s what we should be working on instead of searching for secret new lethal cocktails for our execution chambers.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Your whole life passes in front of your eyes before you die. 
This is called living. 

                                                          Author Terry Pratchett

Friday, July 18, 2014

You DON'T Want Black Beans With That

Uh-oh, our very own SLOTown Chipotle restaurant's hit the news.  Colin Rigley ran an excellent story in yesterday's New Times that's an eye-roller  (

According to Janeka Samuels, who was a manager at our very own Chipotle, her boss, Ben DeBilzan, the regional manager of Chipotle's Central Coast locations, made totally inappropriate racist remarks, among other actions that can best be described as  reeeeely, reeeeely BAD management practices. (Accusations by other workers of working without breaks, working off clock, failure to pay overtime, failure to provide breaks and meal periods, failure to pay wages in a timely manner, etc. etc. etc.) . 

The upshot is that Ms. Samuels was fired and has now filed two lawsuits, one of them a class action suit. No surprise there.  But here's where the eye-rolling comes in.  There's this: "Chipotle Denver-based attorney Charles Cavanaugh entered a general denial in response to the claims in Samuels' lawsuit.  Among the company's defenses, Cavanaugh wrote that Samuels failed to exhaust Chipotle's internal complaint-resoution procedures and failed to exhaust applicable administrative remedies.  He didn't respond to a call for comment."

". . . failed to exhaust . . ."

Eye roll time.  Really, Chipotle?  In this day and age? Has "corporate" STILL not learned that  it's not the complaints/accusations themselves that get you in the end, but the silence and stonewalling and ignoring of the complaints that will end up costing your company a bundle.  And finding yourself on the sharp pointed end of a lawsuit is the worst, most costly way of finding out you've got a management problem.

And in this case, Chipotle's now got The Shredder on  the warpath, calling for a boycott and reprinting manager Ben DeBilzan's blog postings that, at best, could be called highly questionable, at worst, comments that surely will come to haunt him in a court of law.  A blog, need I point out, that should have been monitored by "corporate" as a matter of general prudent policy since DiBilzan was Chipotle's Central Coast's regional  representative and his public persona should have been of ongoing interest to the company.

But, no.  Chipotle thought they could wait until "complaint resolution procedures" were "exhausted."  Bad move.

So now it's lawsuit city, bad publicity city, eye-rolling city and the only thing Chipotle will "exhaust" is its bank account paying to clean up this mess.  As Colin Rigley notes in closing his excellent piece, "With an openly gay CEO, adoration from financial investors who compare Chipotle to Apple's level of perfectionism, and a reputation for environmental stewardship, [Janeka] Samuels said her experiences at the San Luis Obispo Chipotle locations seemed to contradict the company's public image.

'That's why I'm so surprised, and so shocked," she said.  'That's why it hurt me so much.'" 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Uh-Oh, Audrey II

I think the folly is now entering a new phase.  A pumpkin is escaping from under the fence.  Run away!  Run away!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pain Time

Watching the Israel/Palestine shoot-out start up again, I just want to put my head down on a table with a sad sigh and keep it there forever.  Because there was no justice in Germany, there will be no peace in Palestine.  Because there is no justice in Palestine, there will be no peace in Israel.  And until both sides are willing to sit down and eat a very large bowl of bitterness, injustice and irreparable sorrow  together, there will be no peace for anyone.

And because the Palestine authorities (Hamas, or whoever the hell claims to speak for The Palestine People from year to year) don't seem to have been able to figure out that you don't mess with Israel.  You mess with Israel and Israel will punish you; measured, calculated, carefully calibrated, escalated  punishment  that will go on and on and on until Israel decides you've had enough (or you run out of ammunition.)  It's wash-rinse-repeat, year in, year out.  And the dead remain dead and the suffering continues and the arc of justice remains stubbornly unbent amidst the fury and death and bitterness, with no way out.

I don't know how Ruanda managed to bend their self-inflicted arc of injustice and horror. It seems unimaginable how human beings could even begin to return to a normal life, to say good morning, How do you do, to a neighbor or co-worker who . . . . slaughtered your family with a panga, a murderer who is, nonetheless walking around free, life back to normal.  How is that possible?  No justice there, yet there is "peace" in Ruanda.

South Africa, too.  A kind of rough, uneasy peace that "Truth and Reconciliation" somehow managed to carve out of State-imposed injustice.  For both countries, the bitter dish of confession must have worked some kind of magic. Confession, repentance, absolution, reparation. 

Would that work with the Israel/Palestine Gordian Knot?  I don't know. But I don't think the present situation is sustainable.  Ultimately, Israel itself is not sustainable as a democracy in a part of the world awash with boiling religious sectarianism, and a growing demographic of non-Jews within its borders.

Which is why I end up laying my head down on the table with a sigh, wishing to keep it there forever.