Tag Archives: Thomas M. Curley

gratuitous cruelty

 

 

‘after false drug test he was in solitary confinement for 120 days’

 

 

‘Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings’

 

 

El Chapo – Washington Post 2-14-2019

 

 

‘Where El Chapo Could End Up’ – NY Times 2-15-2019

 

 

 

“In a memorandum on April 16, 2003, [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld approved 24 of the recommended [interrogation] techniques [for at the American-run detention site at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba]. … An action memorandum presented to [Rumsfeld] on Nov. 27, 2002, recommends that he approve a number of interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo, including one described as ‘the use of stress positions (like standing), for a maximum of four hours.’

“Mr. Rumsfeld, who labors in his Pentagon office at a stand-up desk, added this handwritten postscript: ‘I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?’ ”

— “Files Show Rumsfeld Rejected Some Efforts to Toughen Prison Rules,” by Douglas Jehl, The New York Times, June 23, 2004
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As I was walking downtown in the City on Thursday morning last week. enjoying the quiet, early morning streets — it seems that there is always something interesting or beautiful to see — I had a feeling of elation. The sun emerged from behind clouds at approximately 9 a.m.

I was thinking what a wonderful thing (which I assume as a given) freedom (personal, one’s own) is. And how awful is must be to be deprived of it.

My mind was wandering. I thought of an article I had read in the Times that morning: “After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days.”

One hundred twenty days, four months, in solitary confinement. For testing positive for drugs while incarcerated. (The test results proved to be wrong. The inmate was not using drugs. The drug-testing equipment used was defective and failed to produce accurate results.)

The stupidity and cruelty of how the prisoners in the article (others suffered similar injustices and pain as the result of the same flawed drug tests) were treated seemed so unjustified, and just plain that.

Then I thought of the so-called supermax (a term meaning highest security prison): the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado (also known as the ADX), where recently convicted drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) is imprisoned.

 

 

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“This place [the ADX] is not designed for humanity,” Robert Hood, a former warden, told The New York Times. (“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’ ”).

Inmates spend 23 hours a day inside cells the size of a bathroom with little human contact and only one window three feet high and four inches wide. Every part of the prison’s 500 cells is made of poured concrete. Each cell has a bed, a concrete slab covered with a thin foam mattress, and a “combo toilet, sink and drinking water unit.” Some cells have a single slit in the door that shows a sliver of the hallway.

In an essay published on the internet, an inmate at the ADX wrote that even when prisoners are let outside their cells, the surroundings are severe. “No mountain, bush, tree or blade of grass is visible from the yard, just the sky,” he wrote. “The cages have just enough room to do aerobic exercises. Other than the opportunity to breathe fresh air and feel the sunshine on your skin, the outside cages are just cells that are open to the sky.”

Meals, mail and medicine are all delivered. “Everything the inmate needs comes and goes through the door slot,” the inmate wrote, adding that “the basic setup is for long-term solitary confinement.”

“The purpose,” the intimate wrote, “is to gradually tear a person down mentally and physically, through environmental and physical deprivation.”

“The segregation is intense; it’s a punitive environment as harsh as any place on Earth,” Duncan Levin, a former federal prosecutor, told the Washington Post (“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” February 14, 2019).

 

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I was also thinking about Albert Schweitzer.

In my adolescence, I read Albert Schweitzer’s Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography (originally published as Aus Meinem Leben und Denken). The book made a profound impression on me. I was greatly impressed by the principle of Reverence for Life adumbrated by Schweitzer:

“[T]he man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own. He experiences that other life in his own. He accepts as good preserving life, promoting life, developing all life that is capable of development to its highest possible value. He considers as evil destroying life, injuring life, repressing life that is capable of development. [italics added] This is the absolute, fundamental principle of ethics, and it is a fundamental postulate of thought. …

The ethic of Reverence for Life is the ethic of love widened into universality. It is the ethic of Jesus, now recognized as a logical consequence of thought.

 

 

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Applying this to the case of notorious criminals such as El Chapo,* it seems to me true in principle that:

El Chapo must be locked up. He was the violent and feared leader of a criminal enterprise who had escaped from prison in the past and who would seem to be beyond redemption, should that be a matter of consideration. Along with accomplices, he habitually carried out murders, often brutal, of rivals, witnesses, and underlings who ran afoul of him.

But he should be allowed to see and embrace his wife and daughters as visitors. To be confined in something less than a virtual torture chamber. Because all prisoners are persons: human beings.

I feel that the operating principle should be: Do the minimum human harm possible. Regardless of how evil an individual is considered to be.

Gratuitous cruelty gives pleasure to those who inflict it.

I like to think (it is consistent with Jesus’s teachings) that somewhere in the afterlife there will be an accounting, a reckoning, for each individual, of one’s benevolent actions and one’s evil actions with respect to harm done to others in whatever capacity, whether it was a crime or actions supposedly not evil, but nonetheless equally so, done in an official capacity. Human suffering should be minimized.

Donald Rumsfeld’s comments encapsulate all of this. All of the above reflections of mine.

 

 

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Addendum:

 

As I observed in a previous post

 

is it possible (or desirable) to hold two divergent opinions at the same time?

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/01/25/is-it-possible-or-desirable-to-hold-two-divergent-opinions-at-the-same-time-2/

 

sometimes, if not often, one can assert, or stake out, a position only to find oneself thinking otherwise almost, as it were, in the same moment.

I also read an article in last week’s New York Times about a young man convicted of murder in Pennsylvania:

The bodies of four victims were found on the farm [in Bucks Country, Pennsylvania] after an extensive search. They had been partially burned in a roaster made out of an oil drum, and had been buried in a 12-foot-deep hole. (“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings,” The New York Times)

The man was convicted of first degree murder for the killings this week. He seems not to have shown remorse. His cousin pleaded guilty to the murders last year. “Your Honor, I want the four families to know I am so sorry,” the cousin said at his sentencing. “I hope that they find some peace in knowing that I’m just genuinely — I can’t even come to terms with what occurred. I’m sorry.”

As Leo Tolstoy observed, one’s horror at the depravity of heinous crimes seems to vary inversely with the length of time passed since the crime was committed:

A sinking man who clutches at another and drowns him; or a hungry mother exhausted by feeding her baby, who steals some food; or a man trained to discipline who on duty at the word of command kills a defenseless man–seem less guilty, that is, less free and more subject to the law of necessity, to one who knows the circumstances in which these people were placed, and more free to one who does not know that the man was himself drowning, that the mother was hungry, that the soldier was in the ranks, and so on. Similarly a man who committed a murder twenty years ago and has since lived peaceably and harmlessly in society seems less guilty and his action more due to the law of inevitability, to someone who considers his action after twenty years have elapsed than to one who examined it the day after it was committed. [italics added]

— Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace; First Epilogue

Well, in this case, the brutality of the murder and depravity of the killer seemed such to me that no punishment seemed too harsh. Prosecutors initially had sought the death penalty, but the district attorney changed his mind after meeting with the families of the victims.

Philosophers have been trying to come to terms with questions pertaining to what is just since Plato. The following is a passage from a book I am currently reading:

The natural law denotes the eternal and archetypal rule of right action flowing from the will and wisdom of God and guiding men possessed with free will through their ability to reason. Whereas revelation represents a direct communication of divine decrees to a privileged portion of the human race, the natural law proclaims itself with varying degrees of clarity to all rational beings, even to those deprived of biblical truths. Most of mankind came to acknowledge and obey this providential source of all earthly law and order, not through pure ratiocination, but through the historical attempt to discover empirically the conditions of life needed for optimum happiness: “…

Throughout the series the natural law comes close to being associated with a crucial principle of human necessity behind social progress. Such a principle ultimately reflects an elemental drive within human nature for self-preservation and social interaction, both of which generate mankind’s historical pursuit of happiness and preference for a civilized habitat to satisfy that drive. This principle of human necessity provides a norm for measuring the value of actions according to their strict “utility” in fulfilling the contradictory selfish and social impulses of humanity for the protection and fellowship of a civilized community. … But at the heart of all civil development lies an unremitting trial-and-error effort to meet man’s basic physical and psychological needs within the limitations of his earthly environment. If human nature craves social fellowship and protection, it also requires the restraints of a strong sovereign power to curb its egotistical appetites and enforce order and cooperation in a world left inherently unstable by original sin. …

 

— Thomas M. Curley, “Editor’s Introduction,” A Course of Lectures on the English Law: Delivered at the University of Oxford, 1767-1773, by Sir Robert Chambers, Second Vinerian Professor of English Law; And Composed in Association with Samuel Johnson, Volume I, Edited by Thomas M. Curley (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1986), pp. 40-41 (summarizing the contents of Chambers ‘s lectures at Oxford. which were influenced by,  and influenced, the views of Samuel Johnson)
The book has been worth reading for reasons other than those that primarily drew me to it, and I see that while I find the law disagreeable and punishments often cruel and odious, the former is necessary.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 26, 2019

 

 

* Did Schweitzer intend for his thoughts to be applied to criminals and depraved human beings? I am sure that was not what he was thinking of. After all, serial killers don’t have “reverence for life.” Nevertheless, what I feel is that if one (in Schweitzer’s words) gives “to every will to live the same reverence for life that he gives to his own,” one by implication — or extension of Schweitzer’s principle — must not deny the humanity of others, without exception.

 

 

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SOURCES:

 

 

“El Chapo escaped two prisons in Mexico — but no one’s ever busted out of the American ‘ADX’ ,” by Deanna Paul, The Washington Post, February 14, 2019

 

“Where El Chapo Could End Up: A Prison ‘Not Designed for Humanity’,” by Alan Feuer and Alan Blinder, The New York Times, February 15, 2019

 

“Man Sentenced to Life Without Parole in Brutal Farm Killings.” By Sandra E. Garcia, The New York Times, November 18, 2019

 

“After False Drug Test, He Was in Solitary Confinement for 120 Days: Hundreds of New York State prisoners were locked in cells, denied release or removed from programs when tests erroneously showed they had used narcotics, according to a lawsuit.” by Jan Ransom, The New York Times, November 20, 2019

footnotes

 

 

 

I have been a reader all my life and take great pleasure in it.

I am not an academic, yet I like to challenge myself by reading books on all sorts of topics. As well as trying to read the classics, I don’t shy away from reading scholarly tomes.

For example, being a lover of Walt Whitman, and always intending to read more of the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, I have begun reading a book by a well known English professor which discusses the influence the two had on one another.

I desire to read books in their traditional printed form, not on line. I love having the book in my hands and turning the pages. I appreciate the physical appearance of books and enjoy owing them. I tend to prefer hardbacks over paperbacks. This is especially true of hefty volumes. I find the pages easier to turn.

I have a pet peeve. It involves footnotes. Sometimes, they are boring and not essential from the reader’s point of view. But, often – usually — they are worth at least checking, and quite often, indeed, they contain valuable information. In the case of the work of some scholars, the footnotes can often be as informative as the main body of the text itself. This is true, for example, of the works of the Samuel Johnson scholar Thomas M. Curley, whose works should be better known (but never will be).

So, I ask, why are footnotes buried at the back of the book? Why do publishing practices require or mandate this?

I write scholarly essays for a separate web site of mine which is devoted to the writer Theodore Dreiser. I compose the essays using Microsoft Word. I try to document my findings using footnotes, to make what I have discovered through research verifiable and to give my articles credibility among scholars. Microsoft Word permits one to insert a footnote in a document wherever one desires. The footnote is inserted at the bottom of the page automatically, and the layout is adjusted automatically to allow space at the bottom of the page for the footnotes. One also has the option of creating an endnote, if so desired, in which case the citations appear sequentially at the end of the main body of the document.

I recall writing term papers as a college student in the 1960’s. I used a manual portable typewriter, a Royal typewriter with a Harvard College sticker on it that my older brother had bequeathed to me. Being a procrastinator, it seemed that I was always pulling “all nighters” to write the paper the night before it was due. I would have books spread out before me from which I would be cadging information for footnotes. (I almost always — by the way — composed my papers at the typewriter in a single draft, with no revisions.)

Allowing for footnotes in those days was a slight problem. One had to anticipate how many footnotes there would be at the bottom of the page, then make a pencil mark about a half an inch from the bottom of the page to allow space for each footnote. When one got to the pencil mark, one stopped typing the main text and typed in the footnote.

Can someone explain to me, if the technology is available to any student writing a term paper on his or her computer using standard word processing software — the technology to insert footnotes at the BOTTOM of EACH page, with the word processing program automatically making adjustments to allow enough space — why can’t publishing firms place footnotes at the bottom of each page instead of at the end of the book? It would save so much vexing flipping back and forth to find and read the citation. In the old days, footnotes were always at the bottom of each page in printed books. Why, in heaven’s name, do publishers insist on the supposedly “modern” way of doing it?

A friend of mine from the past who was a homegrown philosopher used to say to me, “Science marches backwards.” So do many other areas of modern life, big and small.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

      March 2017

 

 

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Addendum: I had a discussion the other day about the subject of this post — namely, footnotes — with someone whose opinions I respect. He suggested to me that the reason that footnotes get buried in, relegated to, the back of the book is because publishers and authors fear that most people don’t care to read them and that, if they were placed at the bottom of the page to which they refer, many readers would find them to be a distraction.

This is undoubtedly true. True as an observation about publishing practices, that is. But, I would say, flat out wrong.

A similar point was made to me once by an eminent scholar whom I became acquainted with when I was employed at Columbia University. His books were a pleasure to read on account both of the clarity of expression and the prodigious original research that underlay them. The footnotes were copious and lengthy and demonstrated considerable industry and erudition.

In discussing a recently published book of his with the author, whom I told that I admired it, his footnotes came up. He told me he had placed them at the end because, that way, people who didn’t want to read them could ignore them.

In retrospect, I thoroughly disagree with my acquaintance’s position on this. If the reader isn’t interested, he or she can go on to the next page and ignore the footnotes.