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Archive for February, 2012

The death penalty seems to me to be a form of punishment that should not still exist in first world countries (the “civilized” world some say), or any country for that matter. Still, many countries around the world use to the death penalty as the ultimate form of punishment for its population. These countries are: Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Tonga, United States, Vietnam. I still don’t understand how these countries can’t see what capital punishment for what it is, legalized murder by the state. So many countries have realized the inhumanity in the type of punishment and banned it, countries like Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Venezuela. As we can see, Capital Punishment has been practiced by most countries, and 58 nations currently still use this barbaric form of justice, while 97 nations have abolished it.

The UN General Assembly has adopted in 2007, 2008, and 2010 a non-binding calling for a global moratorium on executions, with plans to eventually abolishing them. Even if most of the world’s nations have abolished capital punishment, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries where executions take place, seeing as how China, India, the United States of America and Indonesia, the four most populous countries in the world continue to apply the death penalty (although in India and Indonesia only rarely. Each of these four nations have voted against the General Assembly’s resolutions. It is believed that in 2010 there has been about 5000 executions in China (there are no official numbers that are released by the government, but these are the estimates of different human rights organizations),  252 in Iran, 60 in North Korea, 53 in Yemen, 46 in the United States, and many other lives have been taken in the name of justice throughout the world. Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and the United States are the only developed countries that have retained the death penalty. The death penalty was overwhelmingly practiced in poor and authoritarian states, which often employed the death penalty as a tool of political oppression.

I believe that the death penalty is ineffective in its role and the impact that it is meant to have, Albert Camus has greatly influenced my view on the subject with his essay Reflections on the Guillotine. Countries where the death penalty have been abandoned, crime has not risen. The world has changed since its implementation, capital punishment no longer serves as the deterrent that it might have been. One glaring fact that I have noticed is that during its implementation in the past, executions were conducted in public places and now it has been done privately in prisons. Even though I agree with conducting executions in private, it takes away the element of deterrence and renders the death penalty as a means for the state to dispose of those that they see as irremediable.

The threat of death is also insufficient to prevent people from committing crimes seeing as how death is the only common fate that is shared by all, regardless of guilt. Seeing as how most murders are not premeditated no deterrent can be effective and in the case of premeditated murder the deterrent is still insufficient to stop those who have already decided to commit the act.

Without serving a purpose, capital punishment is reduced to an act of revenge that only breeds further violence, which is fueled by sadism and perpetuated by tradition. This is then an act of state of revenge just like the concept of an eye for an eye and justice is to be based on law and principles and not base instinct and emotions.

Also, there is no absolute authority that is capable of delivering judgement as no man posses absolute innocence himself. Because of this the maximum penalty should be set at life labour due to the possibility of judicial error, a life of labour is first of all much harsher than death and it carries the possibility of being reversed, the convicted also can have the option of choosing death via suicide.

And lastly, capital punishment is inappropriate because by conducting revenge for grievances it simultaneously hurts the family and loved ones of the convict in the same manner as those being avenged were hurt by the initial crime.

I believe that it is now time to take action, there are two petition campaigns that amnesty international are conducting against the executions of two men in the USA. The death penalty is a contentious social issue, 37 states in the USA still practice this barbaric form of so-called justice. The most recent Gallop poll shows that 61% of Americans support the death penalty in the case of aggravated murder and more rarely for felony murder, these numbers drop drastically if there was on option for life imprisonment without parole. The first execution by the United States judicial system was Manuel in Illinois County in June of 1779 for Witchcraft; most executions in the beginning were for aiding slave runaways or slave revolt, which was a capital crime, these people have all posthumously pardoned since the abolition of slavery in the USA. The legal process of the death penalty in the USA has five steps: (1) sentencing, (2) direct review, (3) state collateral review, (4) federal habeas corpus, and (5) the Section 1983 challenge, which has become increasingly important (Clemency or pardon, through which the Governor or President of the jurisdiction can unilaterally reduce or abrogate a death sentence, it’s an executive rather than judicial process.). Right now in the US there are two men on death row that Amnesty International are trying save with an aggressive petition campaign to hopefully stop the execution of Romell Broom and Reggie Clemons.

The action that I think is more pressing is the petition to stop the second attempt for the execution of Romell Broom in the state of Ohio. On September 15th 2009 the technicians attempted for over two hours to execute Romell Broom by lethal injection, even with the help of Romell, the state was not able to complete the task because they were unable to find an adequate vein. During this witnesses have stated that you could clearly see the pain that he was experiencing, clearly showing the cruel nature of executions. This is not to pardon the crime that was committed for which he was found guilty, and it is not to minimise the suffering of the family of the victim, we are demanding that Romell Broom be spared of death by lethal injection and that he serve time in a Ohio penitentiary.

Reggie Clemons was sentenced to death in St. Louis as an accomplice in the 1991 murder of two young white women, Julie and Robin Kerry, who plunged from the Chain of Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River. Two other black youths were also convicted, including Marlin Gray (executed in 2005). Clemons has consistently maintained his innocence. His case illustrates many of the flaws in the U.S. death penalty system. Shortly after a 2009 execution date was stayed, the Missouri Supreme Court assigned a judge (a “Special Master”) to investigate the reliability of his conviction and proportionality of his sentence. Amnesty International urges the state of Missouri to recognize the serious problems with Reggie Clemons’ case and to commute his death sentence. It is also important to note that there has been many irregularities that have arisen in this case, professional mistakes by the prosecution, allegations of police brutality and intimidation, possible racial prejudice, and an inadequate jury representation during the trial. There is a petition that has also been created to stop the execution of Reggie Clemons, Amnesty International is leading this campaign. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used.

I urge you to please take action and print out the petition and bring them to your workplace, school, social clubs, and whatever other activities. We must speak up and act until we are able to live in a world that is free of the death penalty and that humanity is honored and recognized.

 

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Today I was sitting in the subway on the way home from work when I heard school children saying very derogatory comments in regards to Indian culture (for example, Namaste is something to laugh at if you ask them). It seems that lately I have been faced with many racist/anti-immigrant comment and also many borderline comments on these issues and have begun to ask myself “Why does it feel like I am the one that always siding with the other side?”, why do I always feel like there is a peaceful solution to the world’s problems? Where does this hope come from? Why do I feel like I don’t necessarily have the moral high ground in all these different situations? Why do I feel that we should always discuss and find a middle ground, that no one should impose values on others?

I feel lately that it seems that the mechanics of racism and intolerance are being acknowledged and simply accepted as matter of fact (We all remember the ESPN fiasco with basketball star Jeremy Lin and how no harm was intended by the blatantly racist comment [could someone please explain to me when the word Chink is ever used in a non-racist way?]). I think of the anti-immigration laws that have been passed in the past couple of years, the war on illegal immigrants has grown to a scale that justifies war like actions. If we look briefly at the US Mexican border we are reminded of the divide between the reality that these two countries live in, and how it is normal that one would seem like a dream no matter what the work may be. I have always gotten a kick out of the term illegal immigrant, migration is a human right and has always been what we do since our early beginnings on this planet. And hey, I wouldn’t be typing this blog post from this seat if my ancestors did not participate in some illegal immigration of their own. Here comes my question about moral high ground, who the fuck are we to say that some people are not allowed to come and impose their traditions and values in our country when that is exactly what we did 400 years ago? I mean seriously, why is our genocide of the Native American Peoples justified and now we freak out that a poor Mexican wants to come to work in horrible work conditions to ensure that I can eat my strawberries when I watch my horrible reality television shows, then what’s the problem? Please don’t talk to me about healthcare as a reason as I watch my fellow citizens eat McDonalds everyday and live mostly sedimentary lives. Seriously!

Mexican – US border

I am also having more and more difficulties with the idea that we accept immigrants to our country, but they better not try to put their beliefs in my face! Again, let’s remember the imposition of Christianity on the Native American Peoples (to save their souls if I remember correctly), by putting them in residential schools and making them live away from the parents and tribes for years only to return to their new homes on newly made “reserves” with Christian names. If this is not imposing values on a population, then I don’t know what isn’t. This is when I ask myself, who am I to judge which cultural values are better? How do I know what is best? I mean, my country doesn’t have that great of a track record either, it’s not like we have a good track record when it comes to how we treat the Native American populations, seniors (ref: The new allegations of abuse in a seniors wing in Edmonton), our veterans once they have stopped being useful to the war machines. the homeless (we all remember the Vancouver Olympics I think), and unfortunately the list could go on.

I have always believed that no one is entirely innocent or guilty, and this is why it should be hard for us to carry such absolute judgements towards others. I have and will always believe that we must take the time to sit down with people and find a middle ground instead of always fighting for the high ground. We say to the world that we are a tolerant people, but I find more and more that this statement is losing its validity. The 20th century was a century of violence (there was not a time when there was no war) and make this century a century of dialogue and tolerance. Before we try to impose our views or judgements on others maybe we could give ourselves a check list of points to examine to ensure that we make this a tolerant and compassionate world.

  • If I were the target of these comments or judgements would I find them fair?
  • Am I trying to impose a moral high ground?
  • Am I feeding into my fears of my ignorance towards a certain subject?
  • Have I looked at both sides with an open heart and mind?
  • Am I looking for a compromise to try to please both sides?
  • Am I approaching this without judgement or prejudice?

I am sorry to have imposed this rant on all of you, but I find that it is important to speak up and show people who there is maybe a better way. I am not trying to impose a moral high ground on others, but to show that we will develop a better relationship with others around us if it is done with respect and compassion. We are all different and let’s take advantage of that fact, there is so much that we can teach each other!  And who knows, we might learn a thing or two about ourselves along the way!

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I just finished reading a book by Michel Onfray entitled L’Ordre Libertaire: La vie philosophique d’Albert Camus, it is a philosophical biography about the person and the development of his thoughts throughout his life. It is a really great concept, I find that this is always a question that we ask ourselves when we read the great minds of our times or the past, did they actually live their philosophy? Camus lived his philosophy and always stayed true to who he was. The poor boy from the neighbourhood of Belcourt in Alger, was a “pieds noirs” by definition but lived the life of a Muslim Algerian much more than his European brothers and sisters, the boy of a poor illiterate cleaning lady widowed during the First World War, used literature as a way to escape the strict and stern grandmother that would beat him on a regular basis at home, and found a way out of the only world that he knew, one of poverty and suffering. He didn’t have the privilege of being raised in the same circle as Jean-Paul Sartre and the others of the St-Germain des Pres group, who were raised in a family of privilege and surrounded by books and the best of ivy schools. Camus saw philosophy and literature as a way out, his philosophy always reflected the life that he lived and he made it a point to always stay true to his beliefs no matter what the subject was. Because of his upbringing, he did not approach philosophy the same way, he was more of a non-philosophers philosopher, living the Nietzschean ‘Yes’ at all times. He lived a philosophical life until his untimely death in 1960, where we found the manuscript to The First Man and The Gay Science by Nietzsche.

What exactly is a philosophical life? How can we think of a man’s existence, his engagement in the world, his outlook on the work, as clear and singular. Michel Onfray would respond that the philosopher thinks that to live and live better, he must reflect on what drives his actions, meditate on the goal and draw an existential map, he reads, writes, in order to organize the chaos that is categorised by a certain verb. For Camus, his verb is action. During this work, Onfray takes all the writings from, whom some would call the James Dean of philosophy, and does not distinguish them, his novels, essays, theater plays, correspondences with friends, notebooks, and treats them as a continuous work. But who is Camus? Michel Onfray describes the philosopher as sensitive and affectionate, generous and loyal, sometimes fragile, hesitant, not sure of himself.  Camus wrote to be read and understood, this is what helped him to exist. Thus, who is the real Albert Camus? Philosopher, author, journalist, the creator of a new language, passionate reader, freedom-loving positive anarchist, anticolonial thinker, no ones disciple. Onfray says that Camus was a hedonist philosopher, pagan, pragmatic, Nietzschean, and he was the son of the poor and he remained loyal to them his whole life.

What this book made me realize was that Camus had a different approach to his colleagues, he commented on Being and Nothingness by stating that it was a strange mistake in our lives that we try to feel our lives from the outside. It is this fidelity to the interior life that Camus builds his philosophical and political sensibilities. It is thanks to this fidelity that he speaks in the first person, just like Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche. It is in this fidelity to the basic values (honour, dignity, simplicity, fraternity) that he is able to describe the emotions and perceptions from Algeria: the sounds of the city that enters the homes through the balconies, the smells of restaurants in the small side streets, the light from the bay in Alger, the freshness of the evenings with their gentle perfumes. Noces was written for the hedonists and The Rebel pour anarchist thought.

I must admit that I really enjoyed Onfray’s study of anarchy and Camus’s lifelong relationship to it. The Rebel is a text that I have always admired, for many reasons, but one that I truly connected to is the fact that Camus knew that this book would not be well received by the public. He, however, stayed true to who he was and wrote a book that was antitotalitarian, antifascist, anti-capitalist, Camus the libertarian, defends pacificism and the right to criticize. The reception of the book, as we all know, started a war between the intellectual elite against the poor farmer’s son from the poor neighbourhood of Belcourt as being a philosopher for the bourgeois, seeing as he condemned the Soviet regime once it was discovered the existence of the Gulags (very reminiscent of the concentration camps that had happened not that long ago). I always found this argument hard to follow, that Sartre justifies the work camps in the ultimate goal of the communist regime in Russia is fine by me, but how is he the philosopher of the people (a bourgeois by every sense of the word) and that Camus was not with the people. We all remember the series of articles that he published in Alger Republicain at the age of 25 about the situation and suffering in Kablylie in 1939. He defended the arab and muslim minorities, criticized colonialism and its mechanics, avid opponent of classism, and opponent of the death penalty and bloody revolutions. He also stated that the rise in Algerian nationalism was due to the accumulation of the humiliations, frustrations, and exploitations that the people endured. I find that this book was maybe not read with the attention that it deserved, The Rebel is still relevant today and thanks to the clarity and insight that Camus brings, it will always be a reference for our world.

Camus had only one wish, ” Je demande une seule chose, et je la demande humblement, bien que je sache qu’elle est exorbitante : être lu avec attention.” Roughly translated it says that he asks for one thing, and he asks humbly, even if he knows that it is exorbitant: to be read carefully. I think that we owe that much to him.

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