Thursday, October 11, 2007

Moral issues...

Got an interesting letter last week from a group known as "Death Watch International". I will admit that I missed their logo which was located at the bottom of the e-mail, and probably this would have told me what they were about much more than the first letter they sent which frankly had me thinking virus more than social action. However, as the letter itself was real and not spam, I did write them back and they replied back to me as well. The main issue at hand is the death penalty, which they are opposed to, and they wrote to me because they were planning on an action and possibly wanted me to feature them on the news or maybe to join in. Here are the letters:

    Death Watch International wrote:
    NB Please understand that we are having a go at the regime, not the people - if anything is wrong please let me know....

    Hi - now you no longer have to leave an illiterate's medieval mark on a ballot paper anytime soon, why not get your retro-medieval fix by pelting some politicians with rubbish? It's fun...

    The DWI launch is setting out to create a diplomatic incident, we've got support from Tutu to Ludo, and you should see the pictures...

    Best, Simon Shepherd.
    Death Watch International
    Suite 642, State House, 176 Station Rd, Harrow HA1 2RH, UK ;

    From: Adam Goodman
    Sent: 11 October 2007 14:30
    To: deathwatch international
    Subject: Re: Pressure on Belarus...

    I say no. It is not needed nor is it wanted. Also. I won't open your attachment.

    Practical solutions for difficult problems are what is called for, not childish pranks.

    Death Watch International wrote:
    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    I appreciate what you are saying – but we are trying here to engage a new generation in an issue about which all of us involved feel very deeply. We include people who’ve been on death row, lawyers who’ve worked tirelessly to save people from death row and seen their clients die when they’ve failed, and long standing campaigners. So I am afraid I can not agree with your analysis that it is not wanted or called for. But we do appreciate this won’t be to everyone’s tastes.

    Best wishes,

    Simon Shepherd
    Founder and Director
    Death Watch International

    From: Adam Goodman

    Aha Simon, now I understand your position on Belarus .

    Yes, it is true that Belarus still has the death penalty but to be honest, I am not so sure how I feel about this issue. Certainly as a base thought, I believe that murder is inherently wrong. I am also against fascism and war in general and feel that human beings have the capacity for reason and moral judgments and would probably exercise that judgment more frequently if there was a greater vested interest allowed us in our lives. On the other hand, in our current version of the great society we have people like Jeffrey Dammer. After he was caught and sentenced to a more humane fifteen or sixteen life sentences for killing and eating young boys, the thought of his continued existence was too much even for the people of the prison he was incarcerated in. To be sure, whichever inmate actually stabbed him to death was never particularly hunted for and I am sure there was not too much of a cry of despair publicly after the event took place. Now, certainly this is an extreme example and it is also extremely easy to say that not killing the man via the courts was a demonstration of the difference between a supposedly civilized society and a madman. But on the other hand, I am pretty sure there was probably a majority out in the general public who breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the son-of-a-bitch was dead. Charles Manson is still alive. Are we better for this? Saddam Hussein got hung and there was not such a cry of outrage. So my point is to ask if human beings really are beyond bloodlust as of this juncture. To me the answer is that I am not sure that this is so.

    And this brings me to the Belarusian issue. Perhaps the real question to be asked is this: are we attacking Belarus for continuing to employ the death penalty for certain crimes or are we attacking Belarus for refusing to bow to the European Union? Just within the last month there was a trail where several "Polish and Russian" spies were found guilty of passing secrets about mobile missile launch systems over to the Polish embassy. When they were found guilty and sentenced to 15 years, it was added that if there were any casualties as a result if their breaching national security, the sentence would be commuted to death. How do we answer the question of the righteousness of this decision? We can say that detention and removal from society is "punishment" enough? On the other hand, what of the people who potentially lose their ability to walk the earth because of the actions of these men? And this is not to mention the breech of public trust. Of course we are also speaking about issues of "war" here aren't we? But inevitably, shouldn't we first decide that war is no different from common murder? I would think we would have to decide as a species that all killing is inherently wrong. This is a biblical question of course, but if we even go down that road, should not we consider the diminishment of people's lives by producing toxic industrial waste, chlorofluorocarbons and other air and water pollutions, global warming, etc to being the same as attempted murder? And this is not to mention economic issues which lead to an over-abundance of stress, loss of property and status. And of course we should also include social responsibilities and even the problems of over-population. Where are we not killing each other every day?

    So as I say, I am not sure that I am opposed to the courts having an ability to take life. The executives have the ability to take lives. The military has this right. The rich have this ability. According to modern feminist thought, women have this ability when it concerns the children they are carrying. Pretty much the only group that is not allowed to kill are common people but frankly, anybody who is serious enough about it can take a life or can at least try. But there is no punishment for president Bush for killing people in Iran , Iraq , Afghanistan etc. We still have soldiers and obviously their job is to be killers. Cops still carry guns and sometimes, as we read just today, so do 14 year-olds who have problems understanding algebra. In any case, I think the issue is still very much debatable and for sure, I do not think harassing Belarusian executives by throwing garbage on them is anything but harassment on the part of the west. You see my point? In general I do not believe there is any reason for anybody who lacks a real vested interest in the country to make scandals here. Belarus is not EU, it is not even particularly thinking of applying and until they do, it is simply not any westerners place to stage social disturbances. Europe simply has no right to treat Belarus like a dog simply because of current political situations or an artificial economic advantage. This has been the case for far to long and it is inherently wrong.

    So this again is my answer: I say no to throwing garbage. I say you need to find another way to make your point because in general, this protest smacks more of Eurpean intervention in Belarus than it does propogating any real social issue. I say leave Belarus alone.


    PS, I hope you don't mind, but I am printing this.

    Death Watch International wrote:
    Hi Adam,

    Thanks for your very thought provoking response.

    While my own view is that the death penalty can never be justified – under any circumstances - you make a number of excellent points.

    I must say in particular that we have no beef with the Belarussian people. But we do with the regime and in particular its stance on the death penalty – which for me is a very black and white issue, even though I understand that for many others is more nuanced.

    My issue with the death penalty is a fundamental one. I believe that individuals have the right to protect themselves, and that states have the right to take actions to protect their citizens on their behalf. So war can be justified in self defence. Likewise, killing someone who poses a clear and present danger – for example someone running around a school firing off an automatic. But my beef with the death penalty is it is applied to people who, because they have already been caught, no longer pose any threat. Under those circumstances I believe it can never be justified.

    And then there is the inevitability that mistakes happen. Look at Timothy Evans, for instance. Or Carlos DeLuna. Or Nie Shubin. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

    And there’s the fact that the death penalty is by no means restricted to murderers. In China you can be executed for distributing porn. In Iran for being gay. And so it goes on.

    So to me sending a bit of rubbish to an official of a state is a small matter if it can help to highlight an issue which to me, and many others, is a matter of basic human rights.

    I know we won’t agree – but we have the right to disagree. I respect your position, and I am honoured that you respect mine enough to engage in debate on the matter.

    I look forward to seeing your article on your blog!

    Best wishes,


    From: Adam Goodman
    Well Simon, I still feel that the issue here is mixed in with issues between Belarus and Europe and because most of those "issues" have a strong basis in economic inequality, I therefore feel that the demonstration is not needed.

    However, I should probably add here that if people are looking for a very good issue which also has to do with people protecting themselves and that also needs a lot of help in terms raising public awareness, perhaps attention should be paid to the stopping of human trafficking and sex slavery. The Republic of Belarus just made a very strong public stance at the United Nations against this very egregious issue and this is also one of the most serious causes being championed by the people of the Repulic as well. The use and abuse of women and children whose only real crime is that they come from a lower economic standard is easily as morally reprehensible as allowing for a death sentence as a possible outcome of a trial. One really doesn't have to think too hard to understand what sorts of societal standards lead to the creating of such a market, or even the mindset of the countries whose available, expendable income finances such situations. This writer whole heartedly endorses doing everything and anything to curtail this business. No conversation regarding the meaning of the words humanity, human rights or morality could possibly condone kidnapping, manipulation and physical, mental and economic torture. The practice of luring disadvantaged women and children into the sex trade by profiteers can not be condoned or dismissed. Certainly if we are ever to think in terms of living in anything that could be called civil society, human usury needs to stop.

    There is also a concert taking place in Minsk this weekend which will be staged to raise awareness about this issue as well.

  • Note: For those of you who might have been disappointed by my not writing about current developments with teaching English, I am going to step out of my story for a couple of days. There are two real reasons for this. The first is that even though there have been a couple of interesting developments, the eventual results will very much color the retelling of the story. I don't think I am hiding from the truth but on the one hand, when you have a positive experience, as I did yesterday in Minsk, it does not always directly lead to a positive result and on the other, people lie. So considering these to potentialities, and because really, I am getting way too used to negative results to be very optimistic, I thought I would wait a bit and let things sort themselves out before commenting. The second real reason fo this is that the next post, which most probably will be tomorrow, will be the 500th for The STORY. I think probably there were several along the way which were what you might call "standard blogs", which means that they were reprints of news articles with some attached commentary but in general this space has been my place expressing thoughts or telling stories about The Life. Because of this, I think 500 posts is pretty significant. Of course making 500 "stories" also could mean that I haven't really made a damned bit of headway against Poland or even really in my life after Poland. Either way though I plan on doing something to mark the occasion and will get back into the teaching deal and about yesterday's trip to Minsk next week.

    more soon...

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