Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Death of a Terrorist

The United Nations General Assembly decided late last year that the death penalty ``undermines human dignity.'' Duh! Of course in a perfect world, justice would be certain that people convicted of capital crimes are truly guilty of them. Because murder and rape also undermine human dignity, and the United Nations General Assembly has managed to look the other way far too many times in cases of the most fundamental abuses of human dignity imaginable. Let's put genocide on the list, for example.
Well-intentioned opponents of the death penalty often have not sat face-to-face, as I have, with convicted murderers condemned to die and asked them why they did what got them into that situation. I hope those folks, and others not so sure about the issue one way or another, will get a chance to know more about what they are against before being so set against it.
Japan, China, the U.S. and about 50 other countries have a death penalty for capital crimes. The United Nations notion on seeking a moratorium on executions is that there is no evidence that executing criminals has any deterrent value to dissuade others from similarly heinous crimes. Maybe so.
It is also arguably true that not all the people who kill each other do so with cold-blooded, malicious intent. Humans are very complex people. Murder in a fit of rage or passion is still murder, though, and if a person comes unhinged in a moment of rage or passion once, how can we know that won't happen again?
So, for better or worse, the death penalty removes from society some people with murderous intent (and the proven ability to exercise it).
The reason more people are not executed for killing other people is often that they repent, clearly understanding the enormity of what they've done, and their punishment is knowing in their hearts that they have done something terrible to another human being, often wrecking the lives of others in the process. That's a heavy weight to carry. Execution at least has a certain finality to it.
I do not like the idea of people killing other people under any circumstances. I wish people would be nicer to each other. I am among those who used to believe that the death penalty was wrong and useless too, and as a young reporter covering murder trials, I often felt that people found guilty of crimes that called for the death penalty might not have been guilty -- the old ``reasonable doubt'' concept.
Once in awhile, however, and increasingly as I get older and perhaps more cynical and tired of the crap that slick lawyers pull in criminal trials and the stupidity of their colleagues who sit in judgment of capital crime cases, I realize that the death penalty is not only not a bad idea, but actually well-deserved in many cases.
One such case was settled yesterday with the execution in Japan (Japan hangs people) of a pervert named Tsutomu Miyazaki. He was hanged for the abduction and murder of four girls between the ages of 4 and 7 between August 1988 and June 1989. His case dragged on for years as lawyers sought to prove Miyazaki was mentally unfit to understand his criminal responsibility.
Miyazaki was a loner and a misfit who lived in a two-room outbuilding he shared with his younger sister, apart from his family's house. He had stacks and stacks of porn video tapes. He had a moderate physical disability in that his arms were somewhat shorter than would be normal for a person of his build, and that might have made him unattractive to women or maybe unable to masturbate or something. For whatever reason, he seduced little girls, got them into his car and drove them down country roads where he stripped them, used them for sex, then killed them. He hacked up the body of at least one little girl, burned the pieces and buried her bones in the garden.
Miyazaki was not a nice man. He deserved to die. I am only sorry it took so long, and that he didn't have the benefit of fear, rape, torture and dismemberment before the noose.
Japan's death penalty comes under criticism for the way it is carried out, too. Amnesty International doesn't like the idea that the people on death row don't know when they will hang, and relatives and other interested parties don't know either until a notice is posted on the prison bulletin board the day of the event. These notices are monitored by a committee of lawyers who oppose the death penalty, as they exercise Japan's judicial appeal process. So in the case of the Miyazaki execution, the public found out about it and two other executions the same day. The little kids he killed did not have any chance to psychologically prepare themselves for death. They were too young to understand what was going on anyway, so even if he had told them his intentions, they probably would not have understood. Miyazaki did have the advantage of knowing he would hang, and lacked only the certainty of when. So he died without the element of terrorism he inflicted upon his victims.
And make no mistake about it, to a murder victim, there is nothing more terrifying than realizing you are going to die. A person being hanged has a few seconds to twitch in agony, but there is no evidence that this does anything toward helping him realize the enormity of his crime.
If you haven't formed an opinion on the issue, I'll let Amnesty International express its views, in fairness. Their Web site discusses their position here:
Since this is MY blog, however, I would say again that, although the death penalty is undeniably a denial of the killer's human rights, it is no more or less complete than the denial of human rights of the murder victim.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Loners, Losers, Killers

It would be nice if Japanese people and people who are seriously fond of Japan would be more realistic in their appraisals. These folks have good intentions, I'm sure, but they tend to give a misimpression of Japan, when in fact it is a country populated by all kinds of people. Most are good, honest, law-abiding, basically nice, or at least not-so-bad folks. Some, however, are not (as is true of any other country I know of, which is why I am posting this bleat).
One of the not-nice people got lose recently in the shopping district of Akihabara, long known for its consumer electronics stores, and more recently for its Akiba Maid-san bars and similar cosplay outlets. Anyway, Akihabara has cleaned up in the past few years, with a nicer railway station area and access, somewhat better choices of places to eat, and other pleasantness, making it one of the major must-see stops for anyone passing through Japan, as well as all the Otaku who are regular clients.
Since this involves a criminal case still under investigation, I won't get into the detail too much, beyond pointing out that a 25-year-old part-time factory worker, feeling alienated and lonely and generally put-upon by society, decided to screw with the Wa by driving a truck into a crowd of Sunday strollers (the streets of Akihabara are blocked off on Sundays so people can walk about more easily), killing seven people and generally scaring the hell out of people.
The killer continued his spree by randomly slashing and stabbing people with knives, mostly attacking them from behind.
Police say the killer posted messages with his mobile phone, warning of his intentions and expressing his rage. Unfortunately, nobody picked up on these warnings until after the fact.
Gun-control advocates often point to Japan as a model of a safe society because of its strict controls on handguns and rigorous investigation of those who seek permits for hunting rifles and target pistols.
In reality, however, since handguns are generally maintained mostly by police and yakuza gangsters, the rest of society resorts to whatever else it can find to use as a weapon. This makes baseball bats, cutlery and umbrellas murder weapons. While the murder rate per capita in Japan is about 1.1 per 100,000 people compared with 8.7 per 100,000 in the U.S. (These are 20-year old numbers, but the ratio hasn't changed much), the deaths are more dramatic because they occur in a society that has been led to believe is safe.
Whatever you choose to believe about homogeneity and safety of the society and the law-abiding nature of people, I'd recommend keeping an eye out anyway, just in case.

(Learn more about Japan's crime rate from the government's official statistical database:

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Bye Bo

I saw him twice in concert. Saw his band's candyapple red 1950 Cadillac hearse (Bo Diddley and the B.O. Trio in gold script on the sides). Saw him at the Chess-Checker-Argo studios in Chicago when he barged in on a Chuck Berry recording session and jammed with him. Shonuf Bo Diddley's shave-and-a-hair-cut-two-bits beat influenced a lot of guitar players you will never hear or hear of, including me, as well as legends like Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones, The Who... heck, even George Michael!
Rolling Stone magazine called his signature chugging on that custom Gretch cigar box ``The most plagiarized rhythm of the 20th century.''
However much he was troubled by the ripoffs and lack of respect or royalties he got in his lifetime, Bo Diddley's musical influence is undeniable. Maybe it was not a surprise that he died yesterday at the age of 79. but I'm sorry he's gone.