Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Goodness Gracious

What is good?

It's somewhat of an existential question, but one raises it here in light of today's news:

A man is shot and killed in an aborted armed robbery attempt.

The dead man was one of the hold up gang attempting to ambush guards delivering a cash roll to a bank in Sydney.

"He was good man. He was the best guy in the world," said one relative, who did not wish to be named.
Comments following this story are, not surprisingly, askance that the would-be robber could be described as 'good'.

It brings us back to the topic at hand.

It can be contended that most people would consider 'good' to be merely an adjective - satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree according to the dictionary.

But is that enough? I would suggest not. The fact that a person is not a murderer, not a bank robber, not a thief, is not nearly enough to suggest that they are good.

There is nothing outstanding in not being any of those things. It is reasonable to expect that the vast majority of us are none of those things.

But does that make us good? I would suggest not.

Good is not so much a state of being but instead a state of action.

That friends would remark that their dead compatriot 'was a good man; the best', but it doesn't make him so.

There is no opportunity for moral equivalence - a good man would not commit an armed robbery no matter what his circumstances, a good man would not (implicitly) threaten the life of another by brandishing a deadly weapon.

It's an extreme example and one might be heartened by reading the number of commenters who recognise the fact the one isn't 'good' because one labels him so.

So, back to the question, what is good and how is such goodness measured?

Like everything that can be measured there needs to be an objective standard by which goodness is benchmarked.

It's at the heart of the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Were the two people who passed the beaten and seriously injured bloke good?

By a subjective standard, yes. They didn't beat up the victim, they were just minding their own business, they didn't do anything wrong.

Did they do good?

No. Not by the objective standard that Christ uses in the above story.

The man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho was a Jew - an ideological enemy of the Samaritans - no one would have blamed the Samaritan for walking on by - he had even less obligation than the two guys who went by earlier. But he didn't.

He did good by stopping, he did good by obligating himself to the care and welfare of this total stranger, a man who in another time and place might very well wielded a knife against our Samaritan.

No, our armed robber today was not a 'good man' not by any religious or secular definition.

But it does raise a question or two:

Are we good? By what standard? Is it enough? What can we do that is good? What good can we do? And when do we start?

-- Nora

Friday, August 08, 2008

Class Act

Later that day:

Click to view the full size image

Moved out of 'Breaking News' and into 'Entertainment'(?), had nonetheless cleaned up its act in coverage of a murder at a party for rapper and convicted criminal Lil' Kim.

Eight hours earlier:

Click to view the full size image

...and The Daily Telegraph is more interested in 'party girl' Lil' Kim's 'booty' and 'sexy legs' than either a young woman murdered and stuffed in a cupboard or the victim's heartbroken mother.


-- Nick

Sunday, August 03, 2008

And While We're On The Subject Of Unlearned Lessons...

The Gold Coast Sun reports in its July 30 edition that gangs of vandals as young as 13 are spraying graffiti and smashing up a Gold Coast shopping centre at Helensvale, making it a no-go zone after dark.

The Gold Coast City Councillor responsible for the area was reported to be:

...concerned with the behaviour of local youth and wants the culprits caught and stopped.
And how might that be achieved? By telling them not to be naughty and building them yet another skateboard bowl or graffiti wall?

One of the affected business owners blames the young criminals' parents - but isn't that how we got into this mess in the first place:

Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke, You gotta understand,
It's just our bringin' up-ke That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies, Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we're punks!

Gee, Officer Krupke, we're very upset;
We never had the love that ev'ry child oughta get.
We ain't no delinquents, We're misunderstood.
Deep down inside us there is good!
-- West Side Story, 1956.

-- Nick

Death Sentence

It's often argued that capital punishment is no deterrent to murder. But it does prevent it.

How can this be so? Here's how:

Eric Thomas Turner... was the last inmate in NSW to be sentenced to death - it was later changed to life imprisonment - over the 1948 strangling murder of his 15-year-old girlfriend. On the same day, Turner also took an axe and murdered the girl's father.

Turner was released in 1970 but three years later he would stab to death his mother-in-law, and then also kill his 11-year-old stepson who went to the woman's aid.
Two people died because a convicted murderer was not put to death and was later released, only to kill again.

The failure of a 12 year prison sentence to teach this particular killer a lesson was itself a lesson that went unlearned by the authorities because when he was again sentenced to life imprisonment in 1973, it was later redetermined to a 20 year non-parole period.

Fortunately, when Turner became eligible for parole in 1993, he didn't seek release and when he finally did so in 2007, something must have sunk into the minds of the parole board by then because he was refused. He died in Long Bay prison hospital last month of lung cancer.

It would have been an unnecssary consideration - and two innocent lives would have been saved - if he had simply been executed back in 1948.

Of course, anti-death penalty proponents might argue that the error lay in not keeping a killer permanently incarcerated.

Indeed, even the most resolved of those on the pro-capital punishment side would have to concede at least a little if this were the case but sadly it's not.

Our 'civilised' response to the 'barbaric' practise of executing murderers in Australia is to imprison them for 10 to 12 years and call it a 'life sentence' to make law-abiding lambs fondly imagine the wolves are being kept from their doors.

In the United States, they execute murderers, don't they? Not really - 0.06% of convicted murders have been executed since 1967 and the average time served by the rest is also 10 to 12 years.

In Britain, eight years is the average time served for murder.

And here are a few more instances of the risk of not executing killers but rather releasing them:

In 1985, 13-year-old Karen Patterson was shot to death.... Her killer was a neighbor who had already served 10 years of a life sentence for murdering his half-brother Charles in 1970... Joe then murdered his adopted father who had worked to persuade parole authorities to release Joe from the life sentence.

Katy Davis... was attacked and forced to open the door by Charles Rector, on parole for a previous murder. (Rector and two accomplices) ransacked her apartment, abducted her and took her to a lake where she was beaten, gang-raped, shot in the head and repeatedly forced underwater until she drowned.

In 1965, Robert Massie murdered mother of two Mildred Weiss in San Gabriel, California. Hours before execution, a stay was issued so Massie could testify against his accomplice. Massie's sentence was commuted to life when the Supreme Court halted executions in 1972. Massie was paroled (and) eight months later robbed and murdered businessman Boris Naumoff in San Francisco.

From Britain:

A 22-year-old man killed a traveller and went on to murder another man while on police bail...
-- Nick