Monday, July 28, 2014

Compassion, Punishment, and the Death Penalty

The recent conversations about the death penalty made me think ... and that is not a bad thing. It all started when one of my IRL (In Real Life) friends posted on Facebook one of the links about the apparently botched execution in Arizona. (Which link he posted is not important to this story.) The person who posted is someone I have known for quite a few years. He is a hard worker for the volunteer organization where we met.

In a prior life, he worked in the prison system. He retired from that position and began running a non-profit which helps to re-integrate people leaving prison into society. In my mind, it is important work.

Mind you, I am opposed to the death penalty on moral grounds. In a truly moral society, how can we justify ever taking another person's life. However, I recognize that not all agree with me on that point, and argue for the use of capital punishment.

My friend made this comment, the last sentence of which went straight to my heart:
"What John Q. Public fails to understand is that this penalty is carried out and witnessed by public servants (correctional personnel) who must deal with the memory for the remainder of their lives. I had a colleague who witnessed an electrocution in 1969 and never fully recovered from that trauma. Execution has devastating and hidden costs to the human soul."
 Execution has devastating and hidden costs to the human soul.

I posted on Facebook, and there were comments from a full range of my friends, family, and acquaintances. Many of them echoing my thoughts and feelings about the death penalty.

Then there were comments from another friend, one who has been on the other side of the bars from my first friend, mentioned above. Below, I have edited and combined two of his comments.

I know first hand what it is like to be in prison for multiple years. I gotta chime in on this one. I [want to] make two points: 1). It costs less to house an inmate for life than it does to go through the lengthy, automatic, mandatory appeals process for a death penalty sentence. 2) A mandatory, natural life sentence, with NO chance of parole, is a far more severe punishment than a quick and painless death. Let 'em rot in prison for all their days and think about what they did.

Death is the easy way out. Do away with the death penalty and institute mandatory life sentences. Save money and mete out a more severe punishment. It's a win/win. (And as an added bonus we do away with all the extraneous nonsense).
There is a perspective I had not considered. Death is the easy way out.

A third friend (who is a nurse by profession) commented:

I also don't believe this is the best answer for all of humanity, but it might be the best of no good options for the family members of the victim.
As a society, we can't afford to finance the multiple appeals and lengthy incarcerations for the worst of worst criminals.
At this point, my intellectual side comes out and it truly more expensive for the appeals than the incarceration assuming no appeals and parole? Will the certainty of a sentence of life without parole, and no appeals, help the families of the victims deal effectively with their loss? More for me to ponder.

A final note....I found the whole conversation most interesting. Every single person who commented on my post is someone who is part of one or another of my real-life circles. They are people who would not necessarily know each other, and I am the only one who knows all of them. It was a respectful and thoughtful conversation. One I am glad I had especially since it is one which may not have happened without the technology of social media.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Happy Birthday, Blog

It was nine years ago that I started this blog. Wow.  #568. A great deal has happened to me since then.

One thing which has not changed for me was the subject of my second blog post ever, on July 7, 2005. The title of that blog was: "Driving, Weather, and 'ALA Post-Partum Blues'". The first two are not issues for me today, but the third still is. Here is part of what I said then:
For many of us, we get to spend some concentrated time together working on important issues, thinking thoughts about the big picture and enjoying working hard on the process. We get to vote and make decisions. Now we are back home. For me, that means the every day realities... While we email back and forth between conferences, that personal contact is really important. ... I am very much in favor of having technology help us to do our work, but this "blues" I am feeling are clearly related to a sense of missing the personal interaction.
(I did edit some of the text.) While we have tools to use which are different than we did nine years ago, I am still a firm believer in the importance of personal contact. At this conference, I got to meet some friends whom I had only interacted with using tools like Facebook. Our future relationship will be able to be deeper having had personal interaction.

(Oh, and Happy Birthday to Brian, my younger son, whose name is often mistyped by my clumsy fingers as "Brain.")

Saturday, July 05, 2014


No, I am not going to post about what is happening in my personal life.

Being at the ALA Annual Conference has put me in a reflective mood. One of the topics I have been thinking about the nature of personal relationships.

I love going to ALA Conferences, because I get to spend time with various folks who I do not get to see very often. For some of them, my relationship with them goes back to the mid-80s or before. (The mid-80s is when I began my active work in ALA.)

There are several folks with whom I have spent a great deal of time, in intense discussions, for a period of time. I am thinking of ALA Executive Board (EB) and ALA Council in particular. Service on the  EB is very intense. There are 4 - 5 meetings in person each year (Midwinter and Annual included) with almost monthly phone conference calls, and many, many emails. Catching up with those folks is important to me. This is the one time of year when that happens.

From among my "Council friends," one of the things I value is the ability to disagree on any given issue, but to still maintain a relationship, if not deepen it. Respect for a person does not mean you cannot disagree.Indeed, some of the folks I most respect on Council, are some with whom I disagree on one or more issues. We can disagree without being disagreeable. I have one friend (from Council and EB) who often says, what is most important is keeping an open mind and listening, especially to those with whom you disagree. She cites an example (I remember the event, but not the issue), when she and I were among a small group who stood in support of a particular motion with some of the folks with whom we most often disagreed. We had sat and listened to the arguments, and changed our minds! Getting to hang out with folks like that is part of what has enriched my life in ALA.

Facebook helps to maintain contact with many of my ALA friends, and, for me, enriches many of my relationships. At the same time, it is important for me to have the "face-time" or IRL (In Real Life) contact. That is and important part of what ALA meetings are about for me today.

I also had one of those "serendipity" moments. The first day of the conference, I had wandered through my hotel, and accidentally into the next one. I "saw the light" and was headed towards the street. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice someone else headed that way, but I was trucking on. Then, after having passed the person, I heard my name. It was someone to whom I had been introduced on Facebook, and with whom I had chatted a couple of times, but had never met (even though they were from New Orleans!). We chatted for a few moments, and after I mentioned I was headed out to find food, we agreed to go have breakfast. We wound up at the restaurant across the street, aptly named Serendipity.

For me, it was a great beginning to the conference. Many relationships were solidified, and others renewed. It is part of what I need on a periodic basis.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

More Thoughts on Vegas

One of my friends commented to me privately that she thought that my last post had been pretty negative and harsh about Vegas. Ant that could be true, and reflective of my mood at the time. Conference was not yet in full swing, and my comments reflected many of the comments I heard about the site.

Here are a couple of positive things:
  • People watching (especially outside the conference) is absolutely fascinating
  • There is an incredible mix of people just to judge the externals: ages, ethnicity, groupings mixed and not
  • People are often pretty happy-looking when they are not being amazed at the sites
  • Las Vegas is like no other place in the world
  • Here is (generally) an escape from reality
  • The Monorail is pretty amazing and wonderfully clean
  • Actually, given the volume of people and the activities they are engaged in, Vegas is a pretty clean city in terms of trash (at least on the Strip)
One part of Conference which helps to invigorate me, is meeting up with colleagues. That is a huge part of the experience. I get to see folks I have not seen in quite awhile (sometimes only a year, other times longer). It is also a chance to meet IRL (In Real Life) folks with whom I more often interact using technology.

Yesterday morning I was looking for breakfast and had that kind of experience. I was walking through a hotel/casino when someone called my name. It was someone who is a Facebook friend and with whom I had had some conversations, but had not ever met in person. We wound up going to breakfast -- Serendipity was the appropriate name of the restaurant -- which gave me a great beginning to the day.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thoughts about Vegas

I have been in Las Vegas (NV) for about 24 hours now. I am here for the American Library Association Annual Conference. It is not my first visit to Vegas, but it is the first time I have been here for a conference. The last time ALA was held in Vegas was in 1973.

Here are some somewhat random observations about Vegas based on this visit. Some are about Vegas as a place, and others are about Vegas as a venue for ALA Conferences.

  • "The Strip" has a lot of vertical to it, but outside of it, Vegas is like much of the west, and very low to the ground.
  • Because of the many tall buildings along the Strip, you can't really see the mountains, and get a physical sense of place.
  • Vegas is loud. Very loud. Every hotel lobby seems to be a mass of binging, clanging slot machines. The noise permeates the place. Also, the ceilings are generally low adding to the volume.
  • Signage is miserable. The hotels want to trap you at the gambling machines.
  • Outside is a mass of signs.
  • Traffic on the Strip is pretty bad.
  • The hotels and resorts are very territorial:
    • Fences abound between properties;
    • There is no idea of having the flow of traffic (vehicular and pedestrian) be logical;
    • Perfect example: the "Sky Bridge to Hotel" from the Convention Center....not sure what it goes over, there are no windows in it, there is no mention on the signs of which hotel, and the inside part ends at an escalator down to an alley between the Convention Center and the Hotel
  • Within hotels signage is at best miserable, and more often non existent.
  • There is no such thing as a straight line path between two points.
  • Nothing seems permanent. One of my colleagues was here 18 months ago for a meeting. There are no longer buildings in some places where there used to be, and vice versa. Some buildings new then look very run down already.
  • Distances are vast.....Instead of "objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear" it is true here that objects (hotels) you can see are further than you think.
I'll post more later about my more specific conference experiences/days.