US Back in the Execution Business

In a 7 to 2 vote the US Supreme court ruled April 15th that the most common method of lethal injection to execute condemned prisoners is constitutional.

The justices said the three-drug combination used by Kentucky, the Federal Government and 34 other states, sodium thiopental, which induces unconsciousness; pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes the muscles; and potassium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest, does not carry the risk of substantial pain so great as to violate the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment

"Simply because an execution method may result in pain, either by accident or as an inescapable consequence of death, does not establish the sort of 'objectively intolerable risk of harm' that qualifies as cruel and unusual," wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

This begs the question - Just what would qualify as cruel and unusual?

The immediate result of the decision was to dissolve the de facto moratorium on executions imposed since the court announced in September that it would decide the case, Baze v. Rees. Indeed, only hours later the Governor of Virginia lifted the hold he had placed on capital punishment.

The day before the Supreme Court decision, Amnesty International released its annual report on capital punishment, Death Sentences and Executions in 2007, which said that at least 1,252 people were executed in 24 countries and at least 3,347 people were sentenced to death in 51 countries. Up to 27,500 people are estimated to be on death row across the world

However, the most interesting element of the report (to my mind, at least) was the list of top executing countries. Eighty-eight per cent of all known executions took place in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA. The actual ranking was:

China – at least 470 executions, Iran – at least 317 executions, Saudi Arabia – at least 143 executions, Pakistan – at least 135 executions, USA – 42 executions followed by Iraq and Viet Nam with at least 33 and 25 executions respectively.

Yes, the land of the free, home of the brave, world leader (?) is right up there with the worst of them – a shameful record.

Since World War II there has been a consistent trend towards abolishing the death penalty. In 1977, 16 countries were abolitionist. As of January 1 2008, 92 countries had abolished capital punishment altogether, 10 had done so for all offences except under special circumstances, and 33 others had not used it for at least 10 years - while 62 countries actively retained the death penalty.

At least 3,000 people (and probably considerably more) were sentenced to death during 2007, and at the end of the year around 25,000 were on death row around the world, with Pakistan and the USA accounting for about half this figure between them.

Because I know you’re going to ask, my country, Canada, eliminated the death penalty for murder on July 14, 1976 because of fears about wrongful convictions, concerns about the state taking the lives of individuals, and uncertainty about the death penalty's role as a deterrent for crime. The last execution in Canada took place on Dec. 10, 1962 at Toronto’s Don Jail.

According to Amnesty International Canada, contrary to predictions by death penalty supporters, the homicide rate in Canada did not increase after abolition in 1976. In fact, the Canadian murder rate declined slightly the following year (from 2.8 per 100,000 to 2.7). Over the next 20 years the homicide rate fluctuated (between 2.2 and 2.8 per 100,000), but the general trend was clearly downwards. It reached a 30-year low in 1995 (1.98) -- the fourth consecutive year-to-year decrease and a full one-third lower than in the year before abolition. In 1998, the homicide rate dipped below 1.9 per 100,000, the lowest rate since the 1960s.

I expect I will get some comments from irate Americans on this one.

From the Why am I not Surprised Department

Yoko Ono sues "Expelled" filmmakers over Imagine

48 minutes ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) - John Lennon's sons and widow, Yoko Ono, are suing the filmmakers of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" for using the song "Imagine" in the documentary without permission.

Lennon recorded the song in 1971 and in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it No. 3 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, according to the lawsuit.

Ono, her son Sean Ono Lennon, and Julian Lennon, John Lennon's son from his first marriage, along with privately held publisher EMI Blackwood Music Inc filed suit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeking to bar the filmmakers and their distributors from continuing to use "Imagine" in the movie.

They are also seeking unspecified damages.

The documentary, which features Ben Stein, an actor, comedian and former speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, looks at alleged discrimination against scientists and teachers who support so-called intelligent design as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution.

The suit is against the film's producers and distributors: Premise Media Corporation, C&S Production LP and Rocky Mountain Pictures.

The producers cited the fair use doctrine, which allows the use of copyrighted materials for the purposes of commentary and criticism.

"We are disappointed therefore that Yoko Ono and others have decided to challenge our free speech right to comment on the song 'Imagine' in our documentary film," they said in a statement.

It seems that the producers of Expelled are not only intellectually and scientifically disingenuous. They are plain dishonest.

Muslim Call to Adopt Mecca Time

From the BBC we have this report published today demonstrating the cutting edge of current Muslim scientific thinking.

Muslim scientists and clerics have called for the adoption of Mecca time to replace GMT, arguing that the Saudi city is the true centre of the Earth.

Mecca is the direction all Muslims face when they perform their daily prayers.

The call was issued at a conference held in the Gulf state of Qatar under the title: Mecca, the Centre of the Earth, Theory and Practice.

One geologist argued that unlike other longitudes, Mecca's was in perfect alignment to magnetic north.

He said the English had imposed GMT on the rest of the world by force when Britain was a big colonial power, and it was about time that changed.

Mecca watch

A prominent cleric, Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawy, said modern science had at last provided evidence that Mecca was the true centre of the Earth; proof, he said, of the greatness of the Muslim "qibla" - the Arabic word for the direction Muslims turn to when they pray.

The meeting also reviewed what has been described as a Mecca watch, the brainchild of a French Muslim.

The watch is said to rotate anti-clockwise and is supposed to help Muslims determine the direction of Mecca from any point on Earth.

The meeting in Qatar is part of a popular trend in some Muslim societies of seeking to find Qur'anic precedents for modern science.

It is called "Ijaz al-Qur'an", which roughly translates as the "miraculous nature of the holy text".

The underlying belief is that scientific truths were also revealed in the Muslim holy book, and it is the work of scholars to unearth and publicise the textual evidence.

But the movement is not without its critics, who say that the notion that modern science was revealed in the Qur'an confuses spiritual truth, which is constant, and empirical truth, which depends on the state of science at any given point in time.

To adopt Mecca time, start by turning your clocks back 1400 years.

On the Road to Beijing

The use of the Olympic Games as a venue for political activity is by no means a new phenomenon. The 1936 Berlin games during which Adolph Hitler’s plans to demonstrate Aryan superiority were scuttled by black American athlete Jesse Owens who won four gold medals in the process; the death of eleven Israeli athletes taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich games; the boycott of the 1980 Moscow games by over 60 countries led by the U.S. in retaliation for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan immediately come to mind.

Thus, it is not surprising that, in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China’s abysmal human rights record in China itself, in Tibet and in its failure to pressure its ally and trading partner Sudan to end the fighting in Darfur where over 400,000 have died and 2.5 million displaced is receiving world-wide condemnation and attention.

What is surprising is that the political activity is not coming from governments. Although world leaders openly denounce China’s human rights abuses, afraid of offending the economic giant, none has had the courage to take direct action such as announce a boycott of the opening ceremonies or of the games themselves. All protest activity is coming from human rights organizations and individual activists.

Protesters are well aware that the upcoming Summer Games are not just “fun in the sun” for China. The government has tied the country’s global prestige firmly to the success of the event and as a result is very sensitive to slights, failures or embarrassments.

Currently protesters are concentrating on the Olympic torch relay which to date has been successfully interrupted in both London and Paris where it was doused several times and spent most of the planned route carried on a bus. As I write this, the torch has just arrived in San Francisco where more demonstrations are expected.

The power to mount a really effective protest lies with the athletes. However, under Rule 51, subsection 3, of the Olympic Charter, which says: "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." an athlete flashing a “Free Tibet” banner in Beijing risks being sent home.

We can hardly expect or ask of them, many of whom have spent years and in some cases almost a lifetime of training and practice in anticipation of the games, to do anything to damage their chances for an Olympic medal.

Chinese authorities and the IOC will see that direct activism ceases the moment the torch reaches China in May where it is scheduled to go on tour there. Nonetheless, protests along the route of the torch relay to date have successfully refocused the world’s attention on China’s criminal human rights abuses.

Will the Chinese get the message? Unquestionably.

Will they respond appropriately? Probably not.