Fair’s Fair

My grandmother reassured us that whenever we arrived at her house on the hill would be fine, so there was no need to rush. She said “I’ll look for ya when I see ya comin’.” Day, night, or in between, she would ask “are ya hongry?”

There was more questionable reassurance provided after the Closed for the Weekend travel ban a few weeks ago. We were told that it was going very nicely, and that only 109 earthlings were detained. Or some damn thing. It had been “unreviewably” decided that the risk posed by those from seven countries was unacceptable, especially for a country that is not yet quite great again.

I understand the process arguments and the more substantive ones, and know that this case and many others might ultimately be decided in a way that is alien to my particular ideals.

(Hard to believe that the so-called president’s words and those of his arrogant, ignorant underlings,* not to mention his juvenile tweets, have not irredeemably poisoned the judicial well against him and his class of 6th graders; the tabula can never be rasa again, nor should it be.)


But I’m more interested here in the numerical argument made in defense of the ban, and would like to suggest that we look at another issue in a similar way.

Recently, there has been lots of focus on the methods used when we administer the ultimate punishment. States have been put in the position of needing to break the law in order fully to apply the law, violating import bans in order to score some of the jigger.5  worth of an ingredient that goes into the Hyppocritic I.V. Even when the ingredients for this last call cocktail are successfully acquired, the willingness of medical personnel to participate is in question. If they do agree to help, few of them are practiced enough to ensure the Goldilocks dosage.

How many fewer of these medical personnel do you think will be keen to do their civic duty when they find out that, just as a for instance, the Attorney General of Oklahoma, rounding up stray votes, pressured those in his charge to use a Wikijury-rigged ingredient in the cocktail when the standard ingredient was not available? As you know, this actually happened: the doomed man disambiguated the Wiki entry, tried to help his executioners end his torment for forty-five minutes, then caught a well-deserved break and had a heart attack.

Who the hell, you might ask, was this OK AG who, under political pressure to get ‘er done, pressured the state-appointed death dealers to use this maybe/maybe not substitute drug?

Scott Pruitt. Nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency

Of course, “who cares?” say what you might call the die-hard enthusiasts. “Where was the vicious animal’s concern for cruelty 18 years ago when he took the life of this husband and father, that pillar of the community, or the other lady who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?”

In order to move on, and assuming an infallible establishment of guilt, let’s agree for now that pretty much any amount of cruelty is necessary and just. But there’s another pesky word in there:


What does that mean? Coming right after cruel and like that, was it intended mostly to limit the imagination? Was it hoped that it would keep us from going back to Hank the 8s time? During that maritally persnickety tyrant’s reign, the condemned didn’t plead for mercy or implicate others in order to avoid their ultimate fate. They had to plead for “beheading first, evisceration second, if it’s all the same to you, my good man…”

Sexual favors were traded to earn the rope instead of the torch.

Despite the way the word was used in those days, I’d like to suggest that it would be more valid for us to understand unusual in our current context this way: most people who did what this person did, or even worse, will not be executed, cruelly, protractedly, botchedly, or otherwise. Either they live in a state that has banned the death penalty, or they’re able to afford a sober lawyer, or a punishment designed to be ultimate turns out not to be so.

Put it more simply if you like, but can we agree–in an East Tennessee accent–that

“They’s an AWFUL lotta folks need killin’.”

You might counter with a reverse starfish argument:

“Well, it’s true we can’t kill ’em all, no, but we gave that one family justice.”

Sorry, that is not consistent with our professed belief in justice for all. It’s unjust to the few who are executed. But it’s also unjust to those whose family members have lost as much as the “lucky” ones. We have, beyond a reasonable doubt, proven ourselves incapable of equitably administering the death penalty.


We ought to give it up.