Sushi, Without the Extras

How do you think he got the ideas for the Prince? From his cat, of course.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Presence of mind

Today marked the end of a rape trial back home, which is something of a momentous occasion. The perpetrator apparently forced his way into the victim's home, raped her brutally, and then forced her into the car with him. He proceeded to drive around town, making several stops at key sites around the city and raping her again at each stop. Fortunately, the young lady kept her wits about her, persuaded him to stop at a Taco Bell to get her something to eat, and jumped out of the vehicle while he ordered something from the drive through. The trial lasted four and a half days, and she was on the stand for five and a half hours. The rapist was convicted on five counts.

The worst part of it all is that I know this person. I can put a name, a face, and a person to the name of the victim. Obviously, that's the worst part for me. For her, she'll have to deal with this for the rest of her life.

The state in which she lives still holds to the death penalty and in fact sparked some of the most significant litigation as to whether the state should be allowed to take a citizen's life to date. Under the factors listed by the Supreme Court permitting the implementation is a violent crime committed as part of a kidnapping. So, do I think this man should die?

That's a tough question. On the one hand, the asking whether the state should be allowed to extinguish the life of a citizen is a valid one. Does the death penalty serve as an effective deterrent to violent crime? There's evidence on both sides of the question, meaning that at best, the answers are inconclusive. Does it save the state money? Not really. Inmates spend ages on death row until the appeals process is exhausted, and the sheer cost of the bifurcated trial is staggering. Does the state have the moral authority to execute a citizen--it certainly will not return this young lady's pre-rape mentality? I don't know. I'm not a moral philosopher, but what I do know is that I know the victim this time. I know her parents and sibling. It's somehow harder to find my way through this one, but the worst part about it is that ultimately, I'm not seeking justice for her. I'm seeking revenge for myself against this man who has introduced darkness into the periphery of my safe little life with my two cats and small living space.

Is that the real reason that the United States has maintained the death penalty for all of these years and is part of an ever-dwindling minority of nations that continues to terminate the lives of those it considers most heinous? Are we seeking some sort of vengeance for the mere fact that an individual crossed the line and broke the basic trust that keeps society functioning? If we think about the American democratic system as being divinely ordained, it certainly stands to reason. As was demonstrated in Salem, Massachusetts, the pilgrims clearly had little moral difficulty in sentencing their own to death because they had gone against God's order. If we consider American Democracy as being God's order and the laws by which it functions as being divine laws, execution of these criminals makes a certain amount of sense.

That's the rhetoric that appears in our foreign policy, but part of me wonders if such ideas apply to our domestic concerns. I don't believe so, but I wonder why the distinction exists. If we're part of the New Jerusalem in the one context...should we not be so in the other?

I should so sleep now.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Catblogging-->hump day

The Coug--establishing dominance.
Titan spread out on Guerry, the plush tiger rug.

So, Farley, in honor of your new kitties, here are mine.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Why am I completely unable to post anything shorter than a page? And since when did I cease to be an articulate and interesting person?

Feh, have you ever had a week that you knew was going to go bad--even by Tuesday? This was my week. I could feel it coming from Monday, and as yet, little has happened to change that. I should perhaps focus on channeling my inner zen master.

Meditate on the water, Machiavelli's Cat. Meditate on the water.

A shilling for Schelling

I recently found myself stumped by a book, not because I didn't seek to read the thing but rather because I couldn't wrap my mind around the premise. As it turns out, I was working far too hard at it.

Schelling's Arms and Influence is a wonderful 1966 argument for the proper uses of violence as part of the diplomatic process. While I do agree that violence has its place--at some points, being able to back up one's threats with actual violence is key. Furthermore, as Schelling points out, your adversary must know that you're willing to go to the wall. In fact, he contends that the threat of an automatic response is, at times, that which keeps other countries from doing some things that you, as a state, don't want them to do.

There are a few problems with that argument. Right off the bat, it's very statist. That sort of balance can only exist where both actors are states that can be addressed directly. The USSR didn't overtly attack the U.S. because it knew the U.S. would return the volley, exacting costs the USSR wasn't ready to pay. The reverse is also true--the threat of Soviet nuclear retaliation kept the Americans on their best overt behavior. However, what happens with a non-state actor, as in the case of Al-Quaeda? This is not an easily located organization. Yes, we can track each cell as we learn about it and respond, but it isn't going to coerce the separate members to cease their crusade against the U.S. In essence, we can't strike a definitive enough blow or even use violence to "make the war unendurable" for them because all that violence would accomplish would be creating new members for the organization.

The United States can and did strike at Afghanistan, soundly defeating the Taliban, because that government supported the terrorist organization. However, Al Quaeda didn't cease its attacks--later claiming responsibility for at least the London subway bombing...I don't know about Madrid...Essentially, we're fighting on two different levels. The terrorists can reach into the very hearts of both the U.S. and its allies to use violence. The suicide bombers are trying to use that force coercively, though to what end is a bit hard to pin down. In that aspect, this war would be recognizable to Schelling, because it's violence as a kind of diplomacy.

However, this is asymmetric warfare. An automatic response from the U.S. is not dreaded. It's invited because such a response creates more rage among the peoples in the Middle East which in turn creates more recruits. Furthermore, directing that automatic response is even more difficult because the target is a series of independent cells.

Finally, the U.S. cannot make this war unendurable for Al Quaeda members because their cultural values do not center on this life. For the common terrorist foot soldier, his or her reward is in the next life, so there is no question of being able to sacrifice not only those around him or her but also his or her own life in order to achieve that goal. Schelling assumes a level cultural playing field where symbolic violence carries the same meaning for both parties and the cost/benefit analysis of violence remains the same across the board. That's just not the case here.