#449: Cruel and Unusual

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #449, on the subject of Cruel and Unusual.

The Eighth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, prohibits, among other things, “cruel and unusual punishment”.  (It also prohibits excessive fines and excessive bail.)  As I was reading the accounts in the Gospel According to Matthew and its parallels of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, it came to mind.

One point that stood out to me is that crucifixion has long been regarded the most torturous way to execute a criminal.  It isn’t really that spikes driven through wrists and feet are painful (although they are certainly excruciating–the word itself means “from crucifixion”), but that the victim survives this and hangs by his arms, sometimes for weeks, struggling to breathe.  He painfully lifts himself with his legs to get air, but eventually is too exhausted to do so, and suffocates.

Yet before sending Jesus to be crucified, Pilate had Him whipped.  This seems the epitomy of adding insult to injury:  you have been condemned to die the most horrible death mankind has ever inflicted on anyone, but before you do we’re going to thrash your back until it is swollen and bleeding.

In fairness to Pilate, there is some suggestion in the accounts that he was up against a group determined to see Jesus executed, and he may have hoped that were he to beat the prisoner adequately it would satisfy the accusers and they would allow him to release Jesus.  It didn’t work.

However, it got me thinking, what exactly is cruel and unusual?  The problem is, they are both relative concepts.  When the Founding Fathers included those words in the Bill of Rights, they clearly meant such things as stocks and forms of corporal punishment such as beatings.  They as clearly were not outlawing capital punishment, as executions continued unchallenged for over a century.

Some years ago I wrote a bit of political satire in which I suggested that there was something wrong with our treatment of murderers.  Many states still had the death penalty then, and if you committed a heinous enough murder or series of murders you could be put to death for it.  Yet everyone dies, and many people die either painfully or unexpectedly or both.  We take the surprise factor out of death for those we execute, as we ultimately give them the exact date and time that they will die; they can prepare for it.  Further, we make every effort to make this as painless as possible.  The Romans crucified many criminals, but if you were a Roman citizen you could not be crucified, you would instead be beheaded, which was a much quicker and less painful way to go.  The Guillotine was invented as an improvement on this, a more reliable way of beheading which was thus less likely to be very painful.  Long rope hanging was developed precisely for the purpose of making death quick and relatively painless.  We want to kill our criminals, but we don’t want to hurt them.  And thus if you wreak enough pain and horror and fear, you get to die quietly and painlessly and with certainty.  It seems almost a reward for your efforts.

Today we have lethal injection:  the administration of the right doses of the right chemicals theoretically puts the convict into a sleep from which he will never awaken, and so he dies painlessly.  Yet it seems that it does not always work so, and part of it is that not every execution uses the same chemicals.  There are drugs that make such executions painless, but the companies that produce these, yielding to pressure from those who oppose capital punishment, are refusing to supply them to the states that would use them for this.

The strategy of that opposition is that if those states cannot get the drug that makes lethal injection painless, it will become cruel and unusual, and the courts will block it.

It is a clever strategy.  It is also a bit unfair–that is, undemocratic.  It also is very subjective.

It is undemocratic because the people who want to end capital punishment are not getting legislatures to change the laws, but getting courts to act as tyrants and rule that the law cannot be enforced.  If you don’t like the law, you should work to change it through the legislative system, not attempt to finesse it through the courts.  Besides, it’s also very dangerous to give that power to the courts, because then they will be in a position to exercise it if their opinion swings against you.

That is the other problem:  what is cruel is subjective, and what is unusual is subjective.  Within these United States, hanging, including short-rope hanging, was not considered either cruel or unusual, and in other common law countries beheading was still used.  Firing squads have been used for U. S. military executions, which are also covered under the Constitution.  Any state which finds itself blocked from using painless lethal chemicals for their executions could easily institute one or more of these other methods.  Some of them already have those options available by law.  The tactic could backfire severely.

Are those alternatives cruel?  By what standard?  They are far quicker and less painful than crucifixion, or even stoning.  Are they unusual?  Again, by what standard?  They are quite common in the brief history of this nation, and still in use in some other countries around the world.

An argument that executions that are not completely painless are unconstitutional fails the test of history.  Those who wish to eliminate capital punishment should focus on getting legislatures to change the laws, and stop trying to end-run democracy.  I wish them success in their efforts to do this the right way.

#448: Inventive Versers

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #448, on the subject of Inventive Versers.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have previously completed publishing my first seven novels,

  1. Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel,
  2. Old Verses New,
  3. For Better or Verse,
  4. Spy Verses,
  5. Garden of Versers,
  6. Versers Versus Versers, and
  7. Re Verse All,

in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the eighth, In Verse Proportion,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about my expectations for the futures of the characters and stories–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued, as being written partially concurrently with the story it sometimes discusses where I thought it was headed.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

It was suggested in connection with Re Verse All that shorter more frequent behind-the-writings posts would work better; they proved to be considerably more work in several ways.  Thus this time I am preferring longer, less frequent posts.  Previous posts for this novel include:

  1. #432:  Whole New Worlds, covering chapters 1 through 21;
  2. #437:  Characters Relate, chapters 22 through 42;
  3. #440:  Changing Worlds, chapters 43 through 63.
  4. #443:  Versers Acclimate, chapters 64 through 84.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 85, Slade 196

At this point I created a list of inventions in my notes that Slade had launched plus those he had mentioned, so I could better identify what he could invent next.  I decided that his plumbing people, who were still working on the thermostat for the heating system, could create an atomizer as a step toward the internal combustion engine which had use in itself, if they didn’t already have such a thing.  I also broached the concept of flying machines, which were not yet on my list.

Chapter 86, Kondor 202

I had it in mind that the first fruit brought would be figs, and that grapes were not going to be so readily available as hoped.  I didn’t want to default to oranges, and when I thought of lemons and limes grapefruit was the next to come to mind.

Chapter 87, Brown 222

I had been stuck on this chapter, and the longer I was stuck the more difficult it appeared.  One of the big difficulties, though, was that I abruptly saw no way for Derek to test the translation program.  I even considered having him try to use it to communicate to some of the indigs, and have it translate something so badly they were horribly offended and attacked and killed him.  There is a story of an early Multiverser test game in which the character saw a village filled with small blue people, and as he approached they all came out smiling and happy, and then he said, “Hi”, and they suddenly become infuriated and attacked and killed him.  He ever after wondered what “Hi” meant in their language.  But as I was musing on it, I came up with a potential solution–but it requires that Derek recognize the problem, so that became my goal for this chapter.

My solutions on the translation program came slowly, as I guess they would have for Derek.  I realized that the computer spoke all three languages, but wasn’t programmed to translate between them, and that got me pointed in the right direction.

A few days before this chapter posted I saw something on television in which a translator made the distinction between two kinds of translators (there were names for them, but I don’t recall these), the more common one those who studied several languages as in school and so when they hear or read something they internally translate it to their native tongue and then translate from their native tongue to the other language.  By this understanding, my sister, who was a United Nations translator for a time, would hear something in Chinese, grasp what it would be in English, and then translate that into French.  The other type would be someone who grew up in a multi-lingual home and so thought in multiple languages and so goes directly from one language to another.  In this case, my sister, who has been known to think and even dream in French, would hear something in Chinese and understand it in French.  I don’t know how she does it, but it seems that Derek’s computer program is of the first type (translates from the language of the input to the language it knows, and from that to the language it outputs), which validates his solution, sort of.

Chapter 88, Kondor 203

I was concerned that I didn’t want to put too much time into Kondor’s dehydration, but I didn’t want it to seem as if he resolved it too quickly, either.  The notion that they would serve soup seemed to solve my fluids problem.  I was also considering coffee and tea, but I wasn’t certain whether ancient Persians would have coffee or tea or both or neither, so I ducked the issue.

Chapter 89, Slade 197

I spent a lot of time staring at this chapter in my brain.  I felt like everything was moving too quickly for credibility and too slowly for reader interest.  I did have three effectively different stages for progress, the building of the house, the combat training, and the engineering; and in engineering I always had at least three different projects progressing.  Yet there was a connection between one of the engineering projects and building the house–the central heat–so I found the progress on the latter stymied by the problems of the former.

I started this chapter with the intention of touching on all three stages, but I needed to get the house completed and to do that I needed to solve the heating problem.  I actually have no idea how those early systems worked, but I vaguely recall my great uncle adjusting the valve on the base of a radiator in their dawn of the (twentieth) century home, and I don’t know whether I’m remembering at all well, but it suggested a way to control the heat without having to control the boiler.  From there I decided I could push the construction forward, and that filled the chapter.

Chapter 90, Kondor 204

The Kondor story has been flowing nicely.  Unlike the other two stories, I’m more concerned about fitting everything into it before I have to move him out.

I briefly debated the name of the handmaid, but Zilpah was both the next name on the list and the name of the handmaid of the Leah in the Bible for whom I named this one, so it seemed the right choice.

I reminded myself that Joe and Leah are still newlyweds, and she is very attractive.

Chapter 91, Brown 223

I was struggling with how to have Derek accomplish something in this world and make it to the next one at a reasonable point in the story, and suddenly I had a couple ideas all at once.  I’m launching the first one here; the second one is that the colony ship has to find a suitable planet before the people are ready to colonize it, but I can get to that shortly.

Chapter 92, Kondor 205

I fit this together as I went, trying to give the impression of everyone pressing in to see Leah and incidentally interested in Joe.  I decided that English was less used here than at the Capital, and so most of the noise was in Farsi and Arabic.  I also decided that gossip was going to be more in focus here.

Chapter 93, Slade 198

I needed to move the story forward, so I decided to finish the house and get the Slades into it.  I didn’t want to jump too much, though, so they still need furnishings.

Chapter 94, Brown 224

I was going to push forward with the next events, but I realized that I wanted to include a collision avoidance incident which was probably too much too fast.  Instead I pushed forward most of my translation problem solution, and decided it was time to introduce Vashti to psionic skills.

Chapter 95, Kondor 206

I’m building an extension to the Arabian Nights world which will enable me to create a war of sorts.  I’m working from the political history of the ancient middle east, and in essence changing the names to something related to them.

Chapter 96, Brown 225

I had set this up as a Slade chapter, but then I decided that the best way to handle Slade was to leap forward a few months, and to give that feeling by skipping him here and doubling up on Derek and Kondor, so that’s what I did.

I had to check to confirm that Derek did not know how to tap speech centers, but figured he’d heard it mentioned so he would know it could be done.  Given his high psionic bias, it should be something he could learn easily.

Chapter 97, Kondor 207

I started this with setting up the training room, then looking for something else realized that Kondor had to meet Zilpah.  At first it was just a paragraph about the maid, but then I realized that it should be played out, so I started dialogue which went in unanticipated directions, and moved the information about the girl below the meeting, and then decided that my opening about setting up the training room was out of place, and moved it to the end.

Chapter 98, Slade 199

I needed to get Slade’s story moving forward, and I was thinking that it was going to head into winter, but that reminded me that the parakeet world had double-length years, so it would be a long summer.  It also struck me that given what I had accomplished he must have arrived in the early to mid spring, and summer was going to give me the opportunity to fast forward a bit.

Chapter 99, Brown 226

I was beginning the end of this story.  I needed Derek to steer the main ship, and find a suitable planet for colonization, fly one of the shuttles to investigate it, and then land The Wanderer on the planet’s surface to begin the colonization process.  Detecting a comet on potential collision course with the ship was the start.

Chapter 100, Kondor 208

I wanted to begin the end of Kondor’s story here as well, but I wanted to prefigure it so it wouldn’t seem as if I rushed into something just to remove him.  I had been considering it for a while, and had dropped a few hints, I think, but I needed to move that direction.

Chapter 101, Slade 200

The fact that the university engineering department was now turning out inventions that were changing the world was going to attract applicants who wanted to study there, so I recognized that there would be an influx of students, and that meant more birds to work on projects.  I still had motion pictures, lightbulbs, and internal combustion engines to build, so I got started on them.  I also have something of the same concern that Slade has:  what does he invent next?  Hopefully, though, that won’t become a problem.

Chapter 102, Brown 227

This was a significant step.  Derek is now actually flying the ship, Vashti having genuinely calculated the movement of spatial objects.  I have also introduced the target planet, and will be able to move this story to its finale soon.

Chapter 103, Kondor 209

This was the step forward that would move Kondor into a battle.  I was creeping forward with this, because I was not certain how to do it, but I managed to get the backstory in place.  I also needed to bring Leah and Zeke along, because if I manage to verse out Kondor on the battlefield I’ll need them to be relatively near.

I’ve been struggling with the notion that Leah’s maid might have to come with her when she verses out.  I’m thinking not, but it’s almost as if I need an excuse for her not to come.

The setup for the battle is based on the historic middle eastern situation, in which Syria, Assyria, and Egypt were three superpowers kept from swallowing up the small nations in their midst by their avoidance of confronting each other.  It was typical for one of the big nations to start moving on one of the smaller ones, and the smaller nation to call on one of the other big ones for aid.  This then resulted in the other nation sending out troops mostly to frighten the first, and the establishment of a “suzerainty treaty” under which the little nation would pay ongoing tribute to its rescuer.  One of the little nations in the mix then was Edom, the descendants of Esau, and so I decided to base my nation-in-trouble on it, but call it Esai, and its people Esites instead of Edomites.  I called the Egyptians the Copts, an ancient name for one of the peoples of that region preserved in the modern Coptic Orthodox Church.

Chapter 104, Slade 201

I had two purposes here.  One was that I needed new devices for Slade to invent.  The other was that even though the avians are going to be completely outmatched by the aliens, I wanted to advance the avian weaponry significantly, giving them Gatling guns and six-guns and other automatic weaponry.  However, I had to think through the sequence in which this could be created.

Chapter 105, Brown 228

I was working ahead in my mind through the several steps that were going to get the people to the planet and then beyond that remove Derek and Vashti from the universe.  If I had a problem now, it was that I was not sure whether Derek or Joe would verse out first, and that mattered.

This has been the fifth behind-the-writings look at In Verse Proportion.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will endeavor to continue with more behind-the-writings posts for it and another novel.

#447: The Song “When I Was Lonely”

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #447, on the subject of The Song “When I Was Lonely”.

This is another very early song, undoubtedly from my high school days, performed by The Last Psalm.  It didn’t make the list because it’s a very simple song, musically and lyrically.

That doesn’t mean that the song has no merit at all.  The simple message is still solid.  In the fourth verse, I changed the accompanyment to underscore the notion of dying.  In the fifth verse, I replaced the last two lines with instrumental because “I haven’t been lying” would not be understood as intended.

This was another vocals-over-midi-instruments recording made as part of the nostalgic collection of Last Psalm songs recorded for Jes Oldham entitled When I Was Young.  I remember that sometimes I sang it, but eventually I gave the solo to Peggy Lisbona, as it was in her range and I was trying to avoid being the star of the band.  It strikes me that Peggy was a friend of Jes, whom I met the night I invited Jes to sing with us and Peggy leaped at the opportunity to be involved.  I was hesitant to include someone I had never met before, but she proved to be a remarkable asset.

When I Was Lonely.

So here are the lyrics.

When I was lonely and all alone
I just asked Jesus to be my own,
And I haven’t been lonely since He came in
And made my heart his home.

When I was cryin’ and feelin’ sad
I just asked Jesus to make me glad,
And I haven’t been cryin’ since He came in
And made my heart his home.

When I was searchin’ for who I am,
I just asked Jesus to take command
And I haven’t been searchin’ since He came in
And made my heart his home.

When I was dyin’ inside my soul
I just asked Jesus to make me whole,
And I haven’t been dyin’ since He came in
And made my heart his home.

When I was lyin’ flat on the floor
I heard my Jesus outside my door.

When I was lonely and all alone
I just asked Jesus to be my own,
And I haven’t been lonely since He came in
And made my heart his throne.

I can only hope you benefit from the song in some way.  I will continue with additional songs in the future.


Previous web log song posts:

#301:  The Song “Holocaust” | #307:  The Song “Time Bomb” | #311:  The Song “Passing Through the Portal” | #314:  The Song “Walkin’ In the Woods” | #317:  The Song “That’s When I’ll Believe” | #320:  The Song “Free” | #322:  The Song “Voices” | #326:  The Song “Mountain, Mountain” | #328:  The Song “Still Small Voice” | #334:  The Song “Convinced” | #337:  The Song “Selfish Love” | #340:  The Song “A Man Like Paul” | #341:  The Song “Joined Together” | #346:  The Song “If We Don’t Tell Them” | #349: The Song “I Can’t Resist You’re Love” | #353:  The Song “I Use to Think” | #356:  The Song “God Said It Is Good” | #362:  The Song “My Life to You” | #366:  The Song “Sometimes” | #372:  The Song “Heavenly Kingdom” | #378:  The Song “A Song of Joy” | #382:  The Song “Not Going to Notice” | #387:  The Song “Our God Is Good” | #393:  The Song “Why” | #399:  The Song “Look Around You” | #404:  The Song “Love’s the Only Command” | #408:  The Song “Given You My Name” | #412:  The Song “When I Think” | #414:  The Song “You Should Have Thanked Me” | #428:  The Song “To the Victor” | #433:  The Song “From Job” | #436:  The Song “Trust Him Again” | #438:  The Song “Even You” | #441:  The Song “Fork in the Road” | #442:  The Song “Call to Worship” | #445:  The Song “How Many Times”

Next Song:  Rainy Days