Earlier this week, James Degorski, the second of two men convicted in the 1993 Brown's Chicken massacre, was spared the death penalty by a Chicago jury charged with deciding his fate. As Eric Zorn has observed, if we're going to have a death penalty, this would be the case that cries out for it. But rather than debate the merits of the death penalty or the relative merits of the death penalty in the Brown's case, I would like to address another matter that nags at me when these cases are discussed.
Inevitably, someone chimes in to criticize bleeding hearts for thinking that they have the right to offer mercy and forgiveness to the killers. The argument goes something like this: Not your loss; not yours to forgive. And, besides, mercy and forgiveness are cheap when you're dispensing them at a distance, insulated from personal victimhood.
I agree with this sentiment, but I'm not so sure that the argument always arises from a deep sense of ethical integrity or from sensitivity to the plight of victims, as much as it is used to provide moral cover to those who crave vengeance from a distance. I find this usurpation of vengeance just as troubling as the usurpation of forgiveness.
My take: if it isn't your loss, you don't get to forgive; but you aren't entitled to satisfaction of your displaced cravings for vengeance either. Sometimes victims want other people to butt out and let the law try to do approximately the right thing, which will never really be justice or personal restoration anyway. The state can attempt some simulation of justice, but justice can't always be had. Certainly, wanting to 'throw the switch' oneself, as I've heard several people say in the Brown's chicken case, is not about justice. The person who feels that way ought to pursue a more serious encounter with the darkness of their own psyche and leave the serious problem of justice to those who aren't salivating over the chance to kill.
When the state acts against a criminal, it should first act to protect society as a whole. Second, it should act to ensure justice as much as possible without becoming as primitive as the worst among us. If someone tortures and kills children, we don't torture the killer and we certainly don't torture and kill the family members of the killer to make the killer feel what his victims' families felt. While the state should seek something approximating justice, it should do so without falling into a moral abyss. We are entitled to collective protection and victims should be restored as much as possible, but without the state becoming a monster that finds scapegoats--even guilty scapegoats-- that legitimize the displaced expression of our worst collective impulses.
But all of that is a digression from my central point, which is this: if you insist that forgiveness belongs only to the victimized, don't assume that you are acting on behalf of the victim when you get all jacked up for vengeance. You're not doing that for the victim. You're doing that for yourself. We have a collective responsibility for justice, which is not the same thing as vengeance. For those inclined to seek religious justification for vengeance, remember that an eye for an eye is not merely an entitlement to exact payment; it also represents a limitation on payment owed, delegitimizing our often bottomless, disproportionate cravings for vengeance.
For years, many educators have championed “errorless learning," advising teachers (and students) to create study conditions that do not permit errors. For example, a classroom teacher might drill students repeatedly on the same multiplication problem, with very little delay between the first and second presentations of the problem, ensuring that the student gets the answer correct each time.
The idea embedded in this approach is that if students make errors, they will learn the errors and be prevented (or slowed) in learning the correct information. But research by Nate Kornell, Matthew Hays and Robert Bjork at U.C.L.A. that recently appeared in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition reveals that this worry is misplaced. In fact, they found, learning becomes better if conditions are arranged so that students make errors.
People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail. In a series of experiments, they showed that if students make an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve information before receiving an answer, they remember the information better than in a control condition in which they simply study the information. Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning. It’s an idea that has obvious applications for education, but could be useful for anyone who is trying to learn new material of any kin.
In one experiment:
Students were asked to read the essay [on vision] and prepare for a test on it. However, in the pretest condition they were asked questions about the passage before reading it such as "What is total color blindness caused by brain damage called?" Asking these kinds of question before reading the passage obviously focuses students' attention on the critical concepts. To control this "direction of attention" issue, in the control condition students were either given additional time to study, or the researchers focused their attention on the critical passages in one of several ways: by italicizing the critical section, by bolding the key term that would be tested, or by a combination of strategies. However, in all the experiments they found an advantage in having students first guess the answers. The effect was about the same magnitude, around 10 percent, as in the previous set of experiments.
CORNELL—A custom-built suite of science-fiction-themed video games may help researchers uncover clues to the chaotic nature of autism. Matthew Belmonte, assistant professor of human development at Cornell University, worked with collaborators in computer science to develop the video game suite called Astropolis.
Unlike much of the current research on autism, which isolates and tests a single domain, Belmonte designed the user-friendly games with embedded tasks that test users—children with autism or Asperger syndrome ages 10 to 15, along with their unaffected siblings—across multiple domains.
“Autism has been characterized as a fundamental perceptual abnormality; it’s been characterized as a fundamental attentional abnormality; it’s been characterized as a failure of theory-of-mind,” he says. “We each have our individual pet theories, and we each—me included—have designed experiments within these narrow theoretical apertures to confirm or refute hypotheses that are stated along our single tracks.”
In this experiment, he hopes to find links between social and nonsocial theories; and between behavioral and physiological data. He also hopes to sidestep a confounding factor common to autism research.
“When we look at people with autism in a lab, it’s not clear that we’re testing them under naturalistic conditions, because one of the hallmarks of autism is very high levels of anxiety—anxiety with new people, and anxiety with new places,” he explains. As a consequence, researchers often can’t be sure if their findings are due to autism itself or simply heightened anxiety. Continue reading at Futurity.org
Two Chicago emergency dispatch center workers were suspended without pay for up to 45 days because of a 6-minute dispatch-delay after an off-duty Chicago cop placed two calls to 911 for assistance. The officer was being followed by a car carrying four gangbangers who opened fire on his vehicle.
What I want to know is this: what did the 911 operator do in the 6 minutes after receiving these emergency calls? Is the information relayed to an intermediary who screwed up? Did the dispatcher take a restroom break or go have a snack? Maybe there is more to the story--some explanation that doesn't make the 911 workers look like negligent jackasses.
Can you imagine calling 911 because people are shooting at you and some fool on the other end of the line takes over 6-minutes to let the police know that you need help?
My guess is that we're only hearing about this because it was a cop who placed the 911 calls.
In any case, a forty-five day suspension without pay seems like a light penalty for such a monumental screw up.
I'm joking, but sometimes Stewart lends an important perspective that you'll find nowhere else in the media. In this segment, Stewart contrasts sparse coverage of the gay rights march on Washington with Fox News coverage of the tea partiers' D.C protest. What is particularly illuminating is the sight of Fox producers, on the ground, actually egging on the tax protesters against the backdrop of Fox reporting that didn't include a single Fox News reporter or camera on the ground for the gay rights protest.