“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Value of LIfe

UN Votes Against Death Penalty

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday called for a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing executions, approving a resolution opposed by the U.S., China and Iran.

The vote in the 192-member world body was 104-54 with 29 abstentions. The resolution is not legally binding but carries moral weight and reflects the majority view of world opinion.

Two previous attempts to have the General Assembly adopt a moratorium on the death penalty — in 1994 and 1999 — failed.

Amnesty International, which campaigned for a resolution, said that since then, the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice has risen.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the resolution "a bold step by the international community."

"I am particularly encouraged by the support expressed for this initiative from many diverse regions of the world. This is further evidence of a trend towards ultimately abolishing the death penalty," he said.

The Vatican, a leading opponent of capital punishment, also welcomed the vote. "It shows that despite persistence of violence in the world, an awareness of of the value of life ... is growing in the human family," the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said on Vatican Radio. "This vote is interpreted as a sign of hope and a step forward on the road to peace."

"The value growing in the human family." With all due respect to Rev Lombardi, I thought the value of life was given in the Bible, Genesis 9:6.
"Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man. (New American Standard).

Apparently, the Catholic Church like some Protestant denominations no longer consider the Bible as the cornerstone of their faiths. For thousands of years, it's been clear to Jews and Christians that the value of life has been sacrosanct and the penalty for taking a life was death but in these post-modern years we have decided that we are too wise, too educated, too "scientific" so to speak. It's a brave new world and the "human family" is writing its new rules on the fly. As we say in the south, "Lord, help us."


  1. Glad to see we can stand shoulder to shoulder with Abracadbra and the Iranian Mullahs.

    Seems we do have core values in common.

    Good old Abraham, he knew the real deal. Religion does not explain the Chinese position, though.

  2. The Mishnah states:

    A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: a Sanhedrin that puts a man to death even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: Had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death (Mishnah, Makkot 1:10). wiki

    Israel has only put to death, judicially, one person--Eichmann.

    Some muslim law seems to leave it up to the victim's relatives to give the thumbs up or down. This makes some sense.

    A problem is all those grey areas. A Ted Bundy is one thing, the society doctor's wife, humiliated by his affair, a one time crazed killer, is another.

    Without the cross, Jesus wouldn't have been crucified. But should Saddam be peacefully fed all his natural days of his life in jail?

  3. Here's An Abraham Not Afraid of Going For the Gory This article, admittedly biased, mentions our old friend Mumia abu Jamal, also.

  4. ...that trend continues. Last July, Rwanda, a country that has suffered the ultimate crime of genocide and whose people's thirst for justice is far from quenched, decided to forgo the sanction of capital punishment. In so doing, Rwanda has given a powerful endorsement of the importance of pursuing justice while repudiating violence to attain it.

    Despite these developments, and despite the fact that a small group of countries -- China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States -- reportedly accounted for 91% of the executions in 2006, the death penalty is practiced in too many places. Regrettably, some nations that had effectively applied a moratorium on executions, such as Afghanistan, have recently resumed them --

    Sterling company, that's for sure.

  5. Israel is wrong on this issue, as it does not follow the Biblical precepts. The Talmud is an abomination, and is not a source of authority. The Tanah is the only authoritative source we should be referring to. As far as the Sanhedrin goes, it, as well as the Temple Complex should never have existed. That they no longer exist is good thing.

  6. Top 10 Discoveries of 2007 (Archaeology magazine)

    Scroll down the page. The links are posted twice because the first ones don't work.

  7. Nebo-Sarsekim Cuneiform Tablet

    Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
    by Laura Sexton

    Nebo-Sarsekim Tablet • The British Museum, UK

    Last June, Austrian Assyriologist Michael Jursa was doing what he has done since 1991, poring over the more than 100,000 undeciphered cuneiform tablets in the British Museum. But while analyzing records from the Babylonian city of Sippar, he made a startling discovery with Biblical implications. It came in the unlikely form of a tablet noting a one-and-a-half pound gold donation to a temple made by an official, or "chief eunuch," Nebo-Sarsekim.

    "At first I was just pleased to have found a reference to the title 'chief eunuch,' as these officials are mentioned very rarely in the sources," says Jursa. "Then it suddenly came to me that this text was very close chronologically to an episode narrated in Jeremiah 39 in which Nebo-Sarsekim is mentioned, and that I might actually have found the very man. So then I got quite excited and instantly went and checked (and double-checked) the exact spelling of the name in the Hebrew Bible and saw that it matched what I had found in the Babylonian text!"

    The tablet is dated 595 B.C., the ninth year of Nebuchadnezzar II's reign. The Book of Jeremiah relates that after Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem in 587 B.C., he committed the prophet Jeremiah to Nebo-Sarsekim's care.

    "It is so incredibly rare to find people appearing in the Bible, who are not kings, mentioned elsewhere," says Jursa. "Something like this tablet, where we see a person mentioned in the Bible making an everyday payment to the temple in Babylon and quoting the exact date, is quite extraordinary."

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  9. The Lord did not put the first murderer to death, but made him a marked man. He is reported to have founded cities. A wanderer, he is still sighted once in a while, a little like Elvis-------------

    Though variations on these traditions were strong in medieval times, with several claims of sightings being reported, they have generally gone out of favour. Nevertheless, the Wandering Cain theme appeared in Mormon folklore (but not scripture). The last known claim of a sighting appears to have been in the United States in the year 1868, when he was reported to have visited a Mormon named O'Grady (see Desert News, September 23, 1868). Prior to this in 1836, another early Mormon - David W. Patten - claimed to have encountered a very tall, hairy, dark-skinned man in Tennessee who said that he was Cain. Patten claimed that Cain had earnestly sought death but was denied it, and that his mission was to destroy the souls of men. Patten's story is quoted in Spencer W. Kimball's The Miracle of Forgiveness.

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  11. "Am I my brother's keeper?"

    Is God? God failed to protect Abel. God failed to dispense proper justice for Cain. God should not be involved in man's court of law.

  12. The oldest known copy of the biblical narration is from the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QGenb = 4Q242, mid 1st century), inspected using infra-red photography and published by Jim R Davila as part of his doctoral dissertation in 1988.[7][8] Cain and Abel appear in a number of other texts,[9] and the story is the subject of various interpretations.[10] Abel, the first murder victim, is sometimes seen as the first martyr;[11] while Cain, the first murderer, is sometimes seen as a progenitor of evil.[12] Modern scholars suggest the pericope may have been based on a Sumerian story representing the conflict between nomadic shepherds and settled farmers. wiki

    Farmers and nomads, an old theme.

  13. It's odd though. The story seems right in that it's generally the older sib wants to bump off the younger, yet it's the pastoralists generally attacking the more settled farms and cities, farms and cities making great targets, as Joshua and his group knew. And here you have the farmer attacking the nomad.

    Maybe it's the Bush Doctrine--pre-emption.

  14. There exists a moral and intellectual paradox in your argument that goes to the heart of Christianity. It is rather simple. If all morality and law has basis in the Old Testament, then Christ serves no purpose. The absolutists need only find one sentence in one book and you have a situation that hardly differs from the mullahs.

    Christianity is either a reforming evolving faith, based on the teachings of Christ, or it is heresy. It cannot be both.

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  16. You also step boldly into the world of irrationality, and once you do that you are no longer a proponent of what it is to be an American by definition. You are an American by law but the Constitution was written by men of the enlightenment. Do you disagree?

    The concept comes up every time a Supreme Court judge is nominated. The concept is Natural law.

    US law is based is the concept that morality is objectively grounded in the nature of human beings and that morality ...."can be discovered by the use of reason alone. Thomas Aquinas did indeed believe that this morality, once discovered, would agree with that propounded by the Catholic Church, but quite a few proponents of natural law have thought otherwise, and they include John Locke, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and John Stuart Mill. Natural law was the foundation of the Enlightenment, which was the foundation of the United States, because it effectively countered the position of the European Protestant churches of the time. Those churches claimed that all morality came from God by revelation, and that it was God who divinely ordained the leadership of states."...

    That is a a slippery slope. I do not want my laws coming from the head of some Bible inspired theologian, because I cannot check out what is in his head. Jim Jones convinced seven hundred plus that he was inspired to have them all die with him.

    I will be comfortable in relying on the teachings and collective wisdom of rationally argued and defended positions of learned earthly men, than ending thought with one sentence from an ancient text.

    I am agnostic on the death penalty. if society and the law wants it and it is applied on a fair and consistent basis, so be it. Others, based on their beliefs argue that all life is precious.

    On a previous post I lauded a sixteen year old unwed girl for keeping her baby when many if not most of her peers would not and would elect to take a legal abortion. If others take a position and win the argument that all life is special and that is there collected decision, so be that.

    Absolutism, particularism, and rationality can make for obnoxious bed partners, and we are all in the same bed.

  17. US law is based is the concept that morality is objectively grounded in the nature of human beings and that morality ...."can be discovered by the use of reason alone.

    The nature of human beings...but what is that nature? The Sumarians, when they got fascinated by the majestic slow dance of the heavens, thought it was our nature to imitate this dance, and conform society to it, each person taking his or her place in a structured society, with the moon or sun king or queen at the top, layered down through those below, and when the priests calculated that 'time was up' the court would play the game out to the end, eacting in the flesh the denoument, burying themselves, one and all, to make way for the next round of the dance. It seemed rational enough to them, divinely rational, whereas to us it seems insane. Human sacrific seemed sane to some of the early agriculturists, having noticed that a 'dying' seed brings forth life, a circulation of divine energy, to keep the cosmos in being, conceived as an honor even, to be selected. And to the hunters the idea of human/animal ancestors seemed obvious enough, the clan system being based on it. If one accepts a premise or two, everything in Mein Kampf follows logically enough, as Churchill noted. With our long childhood, and(at least relative) lack of instincts, looking back at the past it becomes difficult to say what human nature really is, other than the possibility of an imitation of some sort. Now we are saying the individual has value in himself, which seems like a good starting point, but it wasn't always that way, the individual counting for not much in some of the old ways, and even today. A man goes to the mountain top, and is told the individual has value, that was a revelation, not reason, at that point, on which reason can then work. And even then, in the monotheisms, you still got to be part of the chosen folk, or the church, or the umma, to be fully human. Human nature is a slippery thing to catch, as for me I think we're on the right track, in the west. Sane secular laws, rationally arrived at, given that the individual has value in himself, as best we can.

  18. When I think of the death penalty and cruel and unusual punishment I always think of my wife's point of view--she's ok with the death penalty, but thinks the condemned ought to select the method, as long as it isn't too costly:)

  19. "That is a a slippery slope. I do not want my laws coming from the head of some Bible inspired theologian, because I cannot check out what is in his head."

    Laws will "come from the head" of someone.

    I am only observing that the traditional Judaeo-Christian principles and values are being set aside by a "modern, more sophisticated" system which I believe will prove untenable. I cite the EU constitution as an example.

  20. I'm one that thinks the death penalty is a deterent, though I can't prove it and don't know what the studies say. Putting aside crimes of passion, it seems to me that if you know you're going to get fried over it, most people would be less likely to do it. And why wouldn't deterence be a legitimate factor in considering the death penalty?

  21. bob:
    when do you sleep?

    I too believe it's a deterrent but regardless, we know that it is a detergent.

  22. Perhaps the UN is correct in showing mercy to convicted murderers, regardless of how heinous their crime and the lack of mercy that they showed to their victims. If they value the life of the convicted murderer, will they extend the same respect to the life of the unborn child? Not likely.

    Conservatives point out that one of the many problems with the CEDAW Committee, besides its propensity to redefine the treaty in any way they see fit, is that it is largely a committee of NGOs. Half of the CEDAW Committee members are direct employees of such radical NGOs as International Women’s Rights Watch, the Latin America and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights, the International Council of Women and the Global Fund for Women. So, what happens is that sovereign states must appear every few years to get the approval of NGOs. To date the committee has pressured nearly 60 countries to liberalize their abortion laws.

    The General Assembly is expected to take action on the resolution in the upcoming weeks.

    I'm not arguing that all abortion should be outlawed. Exceptions for a threat to the life of the mother, rape and incest should apply. But the fetus aborted because it is an inconvenience should receive at least the same level of consideration as the convicted murderer. Betcha the UN will never take that position.

  23. How can we be sure it's a detergent, Whit?

  24. Official Behind Open-Door-For-Saudis To Resign

    It was in visa policy where she continued the path blazed by her predecessor, Mary Ryan, who had made it easier than ever in countries around the world for foreigners to receive visas — often in contravention of the law.

    Though visa policy receives little congressional scrutiny, it is a critical component of border security. All 19 of the September 11 terrorists came here on valid temporary visas — despite the fact that at least 15 of the terrorists did not qualify for one under the law.

    The terrorists didn't acquire visas through skill or fraud; they simply took advantage of a system rigged to approve almost every Saudi national who wished to come to the United States — a practice that plainly violated the law.

    Congress years ago required that all applicants be presumed ineligible until they prove their own eligibility — an intentionally high bar to clear. It was intended to discourage illegal immigration from people who overstay their visas by requiring that applicants show ties to their home country, meaning reasons to return home. But those qualifications also serve to screen out the people most likely to be terrorist operatives: young, single, unattached males.
    This provision, however, was turned on its head by Ryan, then by Harty.

    Despite being a controversial nominee, Harty was confirmed in 2002 after she pledged to the Senate that she would protect Americans from future terrorists by vigorously enforcing the laws relating to visas. She didn’t.

    Rather than tighten visa procedures, Harty oversaw a relaxing of the rules in countries such as Egypt and Pakistan. Even in the country that produced 15 of the September 11 terrorists — Saudi Arabia — approval rates for visa applicants remained stunningly high.

    With Harty poised to retire by the end of February, the White House needs to avoid the mistake it made five years ago. Without conducting a meaningful search to fill one of the top border security positions in the entire U.S. government, the White House simply accepted the State Department's recommendation of Harty to replace the fired Mary Ryan.

    Had President Bush's advisers conducted even a cursory review, they would have learned that Harty was a protégé and clone of Ryan, who almost certainly would not undo the very policies the September 11 terrorists exploited to enter the United States.

    If the White House follows the same trajectory this time in naming a Harty loyalist to head consular affairs, then Saudi nationals trying to get into the U.S. can continue to expect the royal treatment. The only way to strengthen border security, in short, is to hire from outside, either a security-minded member of the Foreign Service or a genuine political appointee.

  25. Did anyone ever answer my quiz about which two presidential candidates had 5 maternal grandmothers?

  26. Bobal: I'm one that thinks the death penalty is a deterent, though I can't prove it and don't know what the studies say. Putting aside crimes of passion, it seems to me that if you know you're going to get fried over it, most people would be less likely to do it. And why wouldn't deterence be a legitimate factor in considering the death penalty?

    Bobal, Ted Bundy deliberately went to Florida to extend his spree of murders because Florida had a death penalty with teeth. And here in Washington, the only guy who was hung in recent decades was someone who waived his appeals and got his lawyer to fight any appeals on his behalf. So we're only executing the suicidal ones.

  27. Tes,

    You'll always have the exception to the rule.