Former Utne Editor in Chief David Schimke on conflict, compassion, partisanship, and peace
Friday, December 02, 2011 4:39 PM
According to journalist Anna Clark, last week’s decision by Governor John Kitzhaber to put a moratorium on executions in Oregon “is the latest step in the accelerating movement to abolish capital punishment in the U.S. through state-by-state moratorium’s and voter initiatives.”
Blogging for TheAmerican Prospect, Clark goes on to report that nationwide “the actual number of executions has dropped by nearly a third since the 1990s, which may reflect increasing public ambivalence. Publicity around exonerated inmates is also raising uncertainty even among those who otherwise support capital punishment.” Clark also notes that overall support for the death penalty has dropped 19 percent in the last 17 years.”
This analysis, along with recent headlines about the death sentence a Phoenix jury dealt convicted serial killer Mark Goudeau, got me wondering whether or not this might be one of those rare, fleeting times that the headlines conspire to get the issue of capital punishment off the back page to the forefront of America’s collective conscience. It also sent me back to an arts storybeing passed around the office last summer.
In a piece published by The American Conservative in September, author John Rodden encourages readers to revisit “A Hanging,” a moving, first-person story about the public execution of an unidentified Indian man in Burma. Published in 1931, the 2,000 word essay proved to be literary breakthrough for a 28-year-old author named Eric Blair—who, two years later, would adopt the pen name George Orwell.
“The success of ‘A Hanging’ turns on the fact that its narrative gradually and ingeniously shifts: its final paragraphs generate a perspective that ultimately induces us to consider ourselves the guilty parties—as executioners bereft of any moral high ground—rather than the condemned man,” writes Rodden. “We need to reread Eric Blair’s ‘A Hanging’ for political and moral reasons. We need to be reminded that the guilty are not necessarily—or only—those who are convicted of crimes. Let us pause and consider Orwell’s ending when we presume to sit in judgment and take another’s life.”
Source: The American Conservative
Image byAvia Venefica, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, October 13, 2011 11:55 AM
The highly publicized, highly contentious, state-sanctioned execution of Troy Davis on September 21, 2011, reinvigorated America’s longstanding conversation about the death penalty. A Gallup poll released this morning found that only 61 percent of Americans approve of using the death penalty for convicted murderers, a 39-year low. Our country seems to be the cusp of cultural change when it comes to capital punishment. Do you know where you stand?
It’s okay if you don’t. The death penalty is a morally complex issue, tangled up by competing threads of history, media, the political process, religion, class, and—last, but not least—emotions.
Sensing a need for national conversation about the death penalty, ThinkProgress blogger Alyssa Rosenberg launched “The Pop Culture and Death Penalty Project”—a six-month-long exploration of the intersections between art and crime, morality and mortality. Beginning next Wednesday, October 19, she’ll be hosting discussions about books, television shows, and films that deal with the topic in one way or another. Subjects include Richard Wright’s Native Son, 1938 film Angels with Dirty Faces, and a few episodes of HBO drama Deadwood.
Unfortunately, Rosenberg didn’t include any readings from the alternative press. I hope to fill in that gap for you, highlighting a few articles that tell the human stories of criminals, victims, and everyone caught in the fray.
Could you forgive the man who shot you in the face? The title says it all in this tale of forgiveness, bureaucracy, and racism by Michael J. Mooney for D Magazine. Rais Bhuiyan confronts his assailant ten years later and tries to stop his execution.
- “The executioner is the one that suffers,” says Jerry Givens, a former executioner for the state of Virginia, in this profile from The Daily Beast.
- A writer for The Good Men Project describes the awkward feeling one gets when reporting on an execution.
- One by one, countries are ditching the death penalty, according to an article in The Economist. The West African country of Benin is the latest to abolish capital punishment permanently.
- “Humanism cannot support the death penalty,” begins a recent moral case against capital punishment put out by the Center for Inquiry. “Humanism stands for a social ethics of equality, individual human rights, justice for everyone, and government that defend their citizens. Death penalty supporters appeal to these principles, too. But they narrowly interpret them to justify government killings, and they coldly apply them to the weakest among us.”
Utne Reader has reprinted a number of fantastic articles about the death penalty in the past few years, including “Give Me Death,” in which a lawyer explains why his client volunteered to be executed; “Thou Shalt Not Kill. Unless . . .,” in which a counts down to an execution in Texas, one day at a time; and “At Death’s Door,” an interview with long-time death-penalty activist and Catholic nun Sister Helen Prejean.
- We wouldn’t want to forget the classics. George Orwell’s 1931 essay “A Hanging,” in which he describes the execution of a criminal by the British Imperial Police.
Sources: Center for Inquiry, D Magazine, The Daily Beast, The Economist, The Good Men Project, ThinkProgress
Image from Marion Doss was taken at the “instant bullets from a French firing squad hit a Frenchman who collaborated with the Germans. This execution took place in Rennes, France on November 21, 1944.” Licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 22, 2011 11:12 AM
Irascible, hard-digging journalist Chris Hedges tells The Progressive in an interview that both Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were on to something, and their dystopic visions are neither far fetched nor incompatible:
“I used to wonder: Is Huxley right or is Orwell right? It turns out they’re both right. First you get the new world state [Brave New World] and endless diversions as you are disempowered. And then, as we are watching, credit dries up, and the cheap manufactured goods of the consumer society are no longer cheap. Then you get the iron fist of Oceania, of Orwell’s 1984.
“That’s precisely the process that’s happened. We have been very effectively pacified by the pernicious ideology of a consumer society that is centered on the cult of the self—an undiluted hedonism and narcissism. That has become a very effective way to divert our attention while the country is reconfigured into a kind of neofeudalism, with a rapacious oligarchic elite and an anemic government that no longer is able to intercede on behalf of citizens but cravenly serves the interests of the oligarchy itself.”
Whew. Hedges also critiques President Barack Obama as “seduced by power and prestige,” describes being booed off the stage at a college commencement for speaking out against the Iraq War, and explains that Americans have some growing up to do. It’s hard stuff, but in the end he tips his hand—he’s doing it all for his new baby girl:
“What kind of a world are we going to leave the next generation? I, at least, want my children to look back and say, ‘My daddy was being arrested at the White House fence and booed off commencement stages. He was trying.’”
Source: The Progressive
(full article available to subscribers only)
, licensed under
Panel image by Shepard Fairey.
Thursday, July 31, 2008 1:10 PM
Beginning August 9th, the late George Orwell’s diary will be published as a blog, each entry appearing 70 years to the day after the British writer first penned it. Orwell (1903-1950) is best known for the classics 1984 and Animal Farm, although he was also a fiery essayist. The online publication of his diary is a project of the Orwell Prize, a British award for political writing.
Orwell kept his diary from 1938 to 1942. Gearing up for August, the Orwell Prize folks hint at what the entries contain:
What impression of Orwell will emerge? From his domestic diaries (which start on 9th August), it may be a largely unknown Orwell, whose great curiosity is focused on plants, animals, woodwork, and—above all—how many eggs his chickens have laid. From his political diaries (from 7th September), it may be the Orwell whose political observations and critical thinking have enthralled and inspired generations. . . . Whether writing about the Spanish Civil War or sloe gin, geraniums or Germany, Orwell’s perceptive eye and rebellion against the ‘gramophone mind’ he so despised are obvious.
Image by mushroom and rooster, licensed under Creative Commons.
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