March 30, 2001
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In an editorial this morning opposing the death penalty for the Oklahoma City bomber, the New York Times slips into a pattern it has been using more frequently lately: "This page opposes capital punishment, and believes the surest way to punish Mr. McVeigh would have been life imprisonment without parole. That would have robbed him of the deluded martyrdom he seeks with execution."
As Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles.com noted recently about another Times editorial, "Instead of troubling its readers with arguments, it cited authority. . . the authority of ... itself." As Kaus says, "It's nice the Times is convinced it's right! Now how about convincing us?"
There are some good arguments against the death penalty, mainly concerning the inability to reverse mistakes once it is administered (and in any system, especially a government-run one, there are likely to be mistakes.) But the arguments the Times attempts to make after trying the old "this page . . . believes" gambit are weak.
The claim that life imprisonment without parole is "surer" punishment than execution is a strange one. What could be more sure than the electric chair or lethal injection? There are sometimes hitches in executions, but does the Times really think that that the government is not going to be able to manage the technical feat of putting McVeigh to death? If the lack of sureness is the result of the extended appeals process available to capital defendants, would the Times prefer to curtail those appeal rights?
Then there is the business about robbing McVeigh of "deluded martyrdom." What better way to rob him of his sense of deluded martyrdom than to kill him? It depends on your eschatology, but Smartertimes.com believes that if the Times really wants to rob McVeigh of his sense of righteous victimization, or of any other sense he has, putting him to death would be a surer way of doing it than letting him stew in prison for years.
Lost in Kurdistan: A front-page dispatch in today's New York Times about smuggling between Iraq and Turkey refers first to the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Then, later on, it refers to something called the "Kurdistan Peoples Party." And in the next paragraph, it refers to Masoud Barzani as "the head of the Kurdish party," without identifying which party he heads. The reference to these two Kurdish parties without explaining the difference between them has the effect of confusing readers. Smartertimes.com knows that Mr. Barzani is the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, and it is aware of another Kurdish party called the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and of a Marxist terrorist group called the Kurdistan Workers Party, or the PKK. But the reference to the Kurdistan Peoples Party, followed quickly by the reference to Barzani as "head of the Kurdish party," is just mystifying.
Elite Travelers: An article in the business section of today's New York Times reports, "Until the Concorde was taken out of service last year after one crashed near Paris, the jets were only available to elite travelers paying extremely high prices." In fact, travel on the Concorde (which is what the Times writer seems to mean) was available to anyone, "elite" or not, willing to pay the price.
Cafi Society: Something must be wrong with the machine the New York Times uses to make the accent over the "e" at the end of the word "cafe." (Smartertimes.com has similar problems and doesn't bother with the accent mark.) The Times' problem is even more egregious; it turns the "e" into an "i." A "Public Lives" column in the metro section of today's Times refers to "an alternative cafi experience," and an article in the national section refers to "Chez Panisse Cafi in Berkeley."
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