Friday, September 23, 2011

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The execution of Troy Davis has once again put the issue of capital punishment in the spotlight. I confess at the outset that I am not sympathetic to the case. I believe that he received a fair trial and plenty of appeals. He was on death row for 22 years, and during that time his case was reviewed by 12 courts of appeal. He was convicted by a jury, and despite what is going around on the internet, there were multiple eyewitnesses who will still testify to this day that they saw Davis shoot a man in the middle of a parking lot in cold blood for interfering with the pistol whipping he was giving to another man.

The case made me wonder this: if the prosecution brought forward 34 witnesses to this deed, if a jury convicted the man, if the jury recommended the death penalty, if Davis lost every appeal, if the case was reviewed by 12 courts and once again at the order of the Supreme Court, and Davis was still executed, at what point would the critics of his execution be satisfied that due process was followed?

If someone is against capital punishment, I understand their never being satisfied with the verdict. It seems to me, however, that something different than that may be at play here. That is, if we live in a culture that has, by and large, rejected the idea of absolute truth. If we are allergic to objective truths by nature, then I wonder what sort of evidence is required now to prove anything "beyond a reasonable doubt"? It seems impossible to do so in a culture that is convinced the only reasonable thing to do IS doubt.

The PR team for the defense performed a near coup. They lost in the courtroom multiple times, but they seem to be winning in public opinion. How? They cast doubt on the judicial system. They said "seven of nine" eye-witnesses recanted. The public believed that, but is it true? There were 34 witnesses, not nine. None of the recantations made said that Davis didn't do it; they simply said they were no longer sure it was him. Actually, only two of the seven were supposed to have said that, but the defense never let them testify. Why not?

The defense also cast doubt on the officers who investigated the case by saying they coerced witnesses. Did anyone ask if the defense coerced the witnesses before the appeal? And, why are we ready to believe that the police stepped over the line without their being subject to a fair trial? The defense says that the witnesses said that they were coerced, and we just believe that? The courts didn't, and there are still witnesses to this day, even by the defenses account, that are willing to take the stand and say, "I saw Troy Davis shoot Mark MacPhail in the parking lot."

What does it take, then, to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt? Two eyewitnesses? Twenty? A video of the incident? DNA? Or could it be that we are simply so uncomfortable with saying, "This is the truth" that we can hardly pass judgment on anything anymore?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Primaries, Debates, and Figuring out who to Vote For

I believe that the Republicans have now held three major debates running up to the primary election. It seems to me, from reading commentary and the way the media portrays these debates, that the only function of these debates is to figure out which candidate to vote for. That is a terrible way to view the debate process, and because of this idea, it effectively silences all the candidates except the front-runners.

Take Ron Paul for example. He is definitely the weird uncle of the Republican primaries. I'm not going to vote for him, but I sincerely wish that he would get more time in the primary spotlight. Republicans need to hear the guy say what he says about Social Security, Medicare, and "preemptive attacks" on sovereign nations. Not necessarily because we need to adopt Ron Paul's views, but because we need to know that there are alternative view points.

Here is what is important to remember. Just because we elect Rick Perry, Barack Obama, or whomever America chooses, it does not mean that we have elected them whole-cloth, and that we can never oppose any of their agendas. Besides this, we may not completely agree with a certain agenda, but may simply wish it were more nuanced. Debates are supposed to help us do this with ideas. Debates are supposed to refine ideas and make them better.

Let's pretend that Rick Perry is your guy. You agree with him on 80% of what he says. But on the issue of Social Security, you actually like what Ron Paul says, with whom you agree with only 40% of the time. But to your dismay, Ron Paul is virtually ignored in the debates, and because Romney and Perry only want to talk about troop deployment, the serious issue of Social Security never even comes up. Worse, if Ron Paul drops out, you fear the subject will be virtually ignored. So you really, really want Ron Paul to stay in the race but you also really, really want him to lose because he is daft enough to say out loud that Iran should be allowed to have nukes!

The educated voter needs to have a good grasp of the issues. He needs to listen to the debates to see which ideas he likes the best. After he has his issues and ideas prioritized, then he can go about measuring the candidacy of each individual. This gives the voter the advantage of knowing his candidates strengths and weaknesses, and give him the ability to communicate to his preferred candidate his concerns should he get elected. It is our duty, as citizens of the United States, to respect our elected officials, but also to communicate to them our concerns in a respectful manner.

It is probably too early to have chosen a candidate for office. Unless, of course, you are a Democrat who thinks President Obama has done a bang up job, or you have followed the career of a particular candidate enough to know that this is your candidate no matter who else runs.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

You Can Never Go Back

A few friends and I had a conversation recently about how difficult it is to watch a football game now that is not in HD. We all laughed at how grainy old football clips are, even to the point of not being able to follow the football very well. The odd thing is that, at the time, none of us even noticed that the picture was grainy.

This phenomenon happens with just about every technology. Old pictures are far fuzzier than you remember when you first took them. We wonder how anyone ever played a game like "Pong" or "Space Invaders." And who doesn't notice the improvement of special effects in movies now?

I don't know of anyone who would trade HD for the old grainy TV. I hardly know anyone still using a "film" camera. We would never go back to those antiquated technologies. They simply do not capture reality as beautifully and as easily as modern equipment.

It is the same with the disciple of Jesus Christ. At each moment of our journey in Christ, we believe that we see our Lord clearly, and that we understand the beauty of His Word. Yet, with each successive day He comes into clearer focus, and His glory and worth becomes clearer. Sometimes, we will stumble across an old journal entry, or a note scrawled on a page, and we may chuckle at how we understood our Lord and His promises. We may marvel at our uncertainty, brashness, pride, or understanding. We see that, at that time, our picture of God was very grainy. We should be glad that the clarity has improved, and we should be grateful that we never have to go back.