Saturday, 17 November 2007

Capital Punishment

Here is a New York Times story about the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Let me say up front that I would support capital punishment even if it had no deterrent effect. I’m a retributivist. The following paragraph from the story staggers me:

“I personally am opposed to the death penalty,” said H. Naci Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University and an author of a study finding that each execution saves five lives. “But my research shows that there is a deterrent effect.”

Mocan is saying, very clearly, that he values the life of one convicted murderer more than he values the lives of five innocent people. Please don’t say that the convicted murderer is known and the victims are unknown. Why should that matter? Is your life worth less when others don’t know your identity? Think of it this way: The life you save by executing a murderer may be your own.


A former student sent a link to this. The graduate students discussed in the story should grapple with the classic arguments for the existence of God instead of parodying religion. Then again, it takes brains to grapple with the classic arguments for the existence of God.

John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 22

In the course of instruction which I have partially retraced, the point most superficially apparent is the great effort to give, during the years of childhood an amount of knowledge in what are considered the higher branches of education, which is seldom acquired (if acquired at all) until the age of manhood. The result of the experiment shows the ease with which this may be done, and places in a strong light the wretched waste of so many precious years as are spent in acquiring the modicum of Latin and Greek commonly taught to schoolboys; a waste, which has led so many educational reformers to entertain the ill-judged proposal of discarding these languages altogether from general education. If I had been by nature extremely quick of apprehension, or had possessed a very accurate and retentive memory, or were of a remarkably active and energetic character, the trial would not be conclusive; but in all these natural gifts I am rather below than above par; what I could do, could assuredly be done by any boy or girl of average capacity and healthy physical constitution: and if I have accomplished anything, I owe it, among other fortunate circumstances, to the fact that through the early training bestowed on me by my father, I started, I may fairly say, with an advantage of a quarter of a century over my contemporaries.

Note from KBJ: This is a stunning paragraph. Does Mill sincerely believe that he was “below par” in quickness of apprehension, accuracy and retentiveness of memory, and energeticness of character? I don’t think anyone reading his Autobiography would come to that conclusion. Note the final sentence of the paragraph. Mill is saying that, intellectually speaking, he was on a par with a 39-year-old when he was 14.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

As a waif 22-year-old Columbia graduate student who will finish her second Ivy League master’s degree next May, I am disappointed that my worst fears are confirmed: men go for curvy bimbos.

But I’d rather die a lonely spinster in a house full of felines than stoke an insecure man’s fragile ego for the rest of his petty life. After all, I’m not that dumb.

Deena Guzder
New York, Nov. 14, 2007

Note from KBJ: I take it that neither of the letter writer’s master’s degrees is in biology.

A Year Ago