Thursday, 22 September 2011

On Charlie Wolf, the death penalty, and loss-leading bananas

I suppose the combination of the Daily Mail and a former TalkSPORT host who blazed a trail for Jon Gaunt to follow was never going to be quite perfectly tuned to my taste. Even so, I was taken aback to discover quite how often the "American broadcaster currently living in the UK" Charlie Wolf managed to make me splutter bewildered obscenities at my screen in his jaw-dropping piece on Troy Davis' execution last night by the state of Georgia (direct Mail link).

Wolf begins by painting a surprisingly quaint picture of the scene of the execution which I won't quote in depth; peaceful, gentle, humane. Lovely in all aspects really, with only the minor niggle of a man being slowly killed by the state having to be glossed over. "Putting down the family dog would have been a lot worse", claims Wolf, before embarking on one of those sentences you have to read numerous times, from different angles, possibly getting a trained professional to confirm that you just saw it;
Far from an execution, this was more like state-ordered euthanasia.
So...an execution, then? I'm not sure how something can be 'far from' being the thing that it is, but then I guess that's why I don't get paid the big bucks to write for the Daily Mail. It takes a special breed of...well, something. I kind of wonder why he stopped at 'euthanasia' in his brazen attempt to cutesify the fact though. Why not call it 'judge-encouraged natural causes'? Or 'state-nudged endless sleepytime'? I worry that some of these writers lack ambition.

Wolf though, sensing his moment, is in the ascendancy at this point. Other writers might consider pacing out the crass statements at this point to conserve energy, but Wolf boldly goes for the jugular and piles stupid on top of stupid in a wobbling Jenga tower of madness;
The average person going into any Accident and Emergency department would have had a more painful experience than those put to death as doctors jab, prod and shock people in an effort to keep them alive.
The key distinction, fans of subtlety may note, between going into A&E and being executed is that one is trying to keep you alive, and the other is trying to kill you. Some people might consider this difference big enough to make void such a comparison, but perhaps I'm missing the bigger picture. This sets Wolf off on an entirely pointless riff about how totally not-painful lethal injection is compared to having your heart restarted after a major coronary or something, as if opponents of capital punishment are only bothered about the pain of the subject in the brief moments of the act itself. Baffling non-arguments come thick and fast here; Iran has more painful executions! The Chinese kill people who haven't even killed people! Something about Guy Fawkes!

Having seen the level on which Wolf's arguments operate thus far, it's frankly terrifying to see him begin his next bewitchingly cock-eyed point with the phrase 'In simplistic terms...', but he does. Oh God, he does. Explaining how having the death penalty proves that a society 'values the lives of its citizenry' (no, really), Wolf scrawls the following with his very bestest crayons;
In simplistic terms think of it like one of those self-service scales in Tesco.

If I push the illuminated button for 'bananas' and the little sticky tag comes out I expect it to fall in a certain price range.

Too much and I don't buy -- but also, if too little, just pennies, I am suspicious too. Why so cheap? What's wrong here?

They mustn't be that good if they are worth so little.
Not having the death penalty, yeah, is like selling surprisingly cheap bananas. Right? Why would anyone eat cheap bananas? It seems obvious now he's said it. But you would never have thought of this analogy, would you? That's the difference between normal, human folk like you, and The Professional Writer. They're missing a trick not paywalling this stuff.

After a brief detour to the glittering outskirts of reality, Wolf returns to the Tesco metaphor he's obviously so proud of;
Getting back to the Great Tesco Scales of life... If I was to put the lives of Officer McPhail, shot in cold blood; James Byrd, dragged to a grizzly death; or the Petit girls and their mom, raped and killed, what is the price that would come up? How much would their lives be worth?

In this country, how much is the life of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman from Soham worth?
Seemingly for Wolf, the answer is 'exactly the same amount as their killers'. Victim dies, the killer dies. Balance has been restored! It's so simple, it's almost childish! Yes...almost.

For me, the reality is that the loss of a loved one is so huge that it can't be balanced out by removing someone else from the face of the earth in retribution. For Wolf, the value of your life can plunge quickly to nothing if you commit a serious enough crime. I can understand 'an eye for an eye' in principle at least. I just can't help feeling it does little other than increase the total amount of suffering. Not just killers, but their families. And people who find the spectacle of executing citizens on ceremony a tad distasteful. Anyway,
What is the life of James Bulger worth (what little there was; he was tortured and murdered at the age of two)?
Well, it's worth the lives of two other children (Thompson and Venables), apparently. This is how Wolf's macabre scales work. It's basic science, stupid!

No Daily Mail article would be complete without a wild flail at The Left, and sure enough Wolf gets a picture of Bianca Jagger up on his dartboard and takes aim;
But I don't see any enlightenment --or indeed consistency-- on the left. The only consistency is the fact that the liberal intellectual elite is secularist, and puts no stock or sacredness in the value of life.

They do not protect the lives of the unborn; euthanasia (and not just for the terminally ill) is toted as an ideal over palliative care; and in the case of heinous crimes they opt to protect the lives of the murderers over the victims.
Yes! You can cross that one off on your Tired Argument Bingo card and collect your prize; a gnawing sense of fruitless despair! What Wolf is arguing here is that the Left is mad for only giving a shit about the living, when foetuses should clearly be prioritised over those of us who are here (be it people convicted of a crime*, or women who don't want to have children). Wolf impressively manages to find time in that breathless run-through of a stock argument to cram in a hilarious bullshit strawman about how the Left approve of euthanasia for people who aren't terminally ill, and implies that they think it should be instead of palliative care instead of as a last-ditch alternative when palliative care isn't providing a tolerable quality of life. Quite a skill.

[*Let's not forget here that the reason this case has become so high-profile is because there's a widespread belief that Davis is the victim of a miscarriage of justice and may indeed be innocent. While I personally oppose capital punishment in all circumstances, his potential innocence is the reason this case is being discussed].
The abolition of a death penalty here is not the sign of some form of modern day enlightenment but in fact is just the opposite.

If anything it is a sign of moral weakness, of a society that is so afraid of its own barbarity that it cannot grasp the difference (or distinguish) between justice and revenge.
See? Liberals just don't get it! It's about justice! A word I've just appropriated and defined around my existing beliefs! Suck it! Stop being so morally weak and let the state have the ultimate power to kill people! What exactly is so unenlightened about leaving a man strapped to a gurney while he waits for lawyers to finish negotiating over whether he lives or dies?

Conveniently, the abolition of the death penalty in the UK was the fault of people Wolf already hates, which is a bonus. It was 'the intellectual liberal classes of Oxford and Cambridge in the sixties that hijacked the Left', in case you were wondering. Anyway, knowing the value of a strong finish, Wolf waits til a couple of paragraphs from the end before solving the tricky 'does the death penalty deter murder?' argument once and for all, with the razor-sharp clarity of a man who hasn't really thought about it for more than a single fucking second;
The deterrent effects of the death penalty in the United States are incontrovertible.

One only has to look at studies and statistics concerning murderers who have been let out to kill again to realise that the death penalty does work as a deterrent – if not for others, at least for the killer in question.

At this point I could go round digging for statistics about how many murders there are in the US, but I'd have more success walking out into the main road and trying to stop speeding lorries with my penis than I would trying to argue with this guy. It would probably be less painful, too. I'm not sure he even understands what the word 'deterrent' means. If he does, he's hiding it deep under layers of his own bluster here.

In conclusion, I could really have quoted more of this, to be honest. Part of me wonders why I bothered to share something this painfully boneheaded with you all. But then I thought, hey, an eye for an eye. If I have to suffer, I don't see why you lot shouldn't too. It's balance. Karma. And, er, something about banana prices.

6 comments:

  1. Just clicked on the link and forced myself to read that clumsily written, hate-filled piece of bollocks and almost feel sorry for the bloke. If that's really how he thinks and not just a cynical ploy to ensure the Daily Mail publishes it, then it must be hell to have to live in his head.

    Your writing, in comparison, neatly and eloquently dissects it, I think.

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  2. You know the feeling when you're so exasperated and annoyed by something you want to weep? That's how I felt reading those quotes.

    Well done taking down that piece of trash.

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  3. Nice post there. The debate about capital punishment is a strange and baffling one to be honest - most of the pro-death penalty crowd are hellbent on revenge.

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  4. Charlie Wolf lectures the liberal Left over the sancity of life.
    This from a man who supports fox hunting! Moron!

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  5. great post! and yay for more blogging from you :-)

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  6. I think I love you a little bit. Keep writing forever please.

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