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Tuesday, 13 November 2007


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[I have deleted your comment, 'NIB', because this is a serious subject upon which I have clearly asked for serious contributions. So, please, save the, er, jokes for another occasion.]

those who support the continuation of abolition must also face squarely the fact that they are condemning innocent people to death by murder

Why "must" we now accept, without proof, a conclusion that you have never successfully managed to demonstrate in several years of trying?

I have found, Larry, that in almost every part of tangled human affairs it is impossible to produce definitive proof of the sort beloved by mathematicians - and Marxists! It always, but always, ends in a judgement call. In this case my judgement is that capital punishment *would* reduce the murder rate, yours is that it would not, but you cannot prove it, any more than I can. I would adduce to my argument the often, indeed, obvious, fact that penalties in other areas of human activity have the desired effect, that is, they *reduce* the number of occurences whilst never totally eradicateing them.

I would add, ahem, that merely telling me that I cannot prove *my* case does not absolve *you* from supporting your argument that abolition will improve the situation we now face. If, however, you are an abolitionist on principle, as I described above, then you still have the duty to admit, and face up to, the cost of your policy.

Thanks for that message from the Department of Dishing It Out But Not Taking It Back, David.

You're getting pretty handy with those censor's scissors lately, aren't you?

'NIB', do you really have difficulty reading? I'm sure not, so please go back and re-read the title, my first sentence and my last sentence - and then come back here and say something sensible, pro or con, I don't care which.

Yes, thanks for that further message from the Department of Dishing It Out But Not Taking It Back, David.

You're the one who's added more inane comments to people's blogs than just about anyone else I know of (except perhaps your chum dearieme). You're the one who never stops doing so, even when you're asked nicely. You're the one who gets banned and brags about it. And here you are getting all het-up about the tone of the debate.


Oh, I was right, you do have difficulty reading. Sorry!

Oh dear, having trouble facing the truth when it's presented to you, are we David? How sad!

So what's it going to be this time David, the censor's scissors, or the snide comment?

1) Other things being equal, more people will be murdered in the absence of capital punishment than in its presence.
2) Some innocents will be executed.

If you don't accept both these propositions, no useful debate can occur.

Whilst I, grimly, acknowledge 2), the likes of Dr. 'Teabag' duck and dive to avoid 1) which is why he has failed to return to this debate.

No, I have failed to return to this "debate" because like all "debates" at this place it is a sham. And I don't "duck and dive" to avoid 1), I am simply not persuaded of its truth.

I am however open to persuasion, and for a while David attempted to make the case for it - he was signally unsuccessful. Now he's given up and simply insists that we "must" accept it, with no further evidence required.

It is not clear at all that dearieme's first proposition is true - in fact, the debate so far is about the truth or otherwise of precisely that assertion. It would therefore not be "useful" at all to just "accept" that it is true; it would in fact destroy the entire basis of the discussion.

Besides which, David himself admitted, earlier, that he cannot prove that this proposition is true:

In this case my judgement is that capital punishment *would* reduce the murder rate, yours is that it would not, but you cannot prove it, any more than I can.

So if David is unable to prove that capital punishment would reduce the murder rate, he also has no empirical basis for stating that the absence of capital punishment would cause murders to increase.

What we are left with, then, is this: the only thing that has been offered in order to justify state-sanctioned murder is David’s own "judgement". Well, forgive me if I do not consider this a compelling reason to exterminate the lives of my fellow human beings. Since the blood will be on David's hands, the onus is surely on him to demonstrate that his "solution" will in fact have the desired effect.

Happily, parsing Dr. 'Teabag' is not very difficult:

"like all "debates" at this place it is a sham." David Duff never agrees with me.

"I am simply not persuaded of its truth." So therefor I will not bother anyone by explaining why.

"[He, David Duff] insists that we "must" accept it, with no further evidence required." So therefor I will not bother anyone with "evidence" to prove that statement I just made.

See, it's easy! Anyway, Dr. Teabag has the opportunity here to explain why he is "not persuaded of the truth" of proposition #1, above. I am genuinely curious because I do not remember ever reading anything from him that was other than a flat denial of its veracity. If it is a case (again!) of my old memory failing me, let him tell us again. I am not looking for a proof (see above), only some supporting indications sufficient to hold that opinion.

Over to you, Doctor!

No, Dave, it's still "over to you"! You're the one who wants to kill people, so you have to demonstrate to us that proposition 1 is true. Teabag doesn't have to do anything until you've done that - that's how debates work!

You started well enough, 'PS', but forgive me if I point that your rather slid across dodgy ground!

Indeed, you are right to say that I warned Dr. 'Teabag' that 'proof' in the forensic or mathematical sense was not possible in this, or most other, very human affair, but that does not mean that judgements cannot be bolstered by appeals to supporting facts.

For example, in other areas of quasi-legal matters, the risk of punishment has been seen to be effective, to give but two examples, in drink/driving and now in smoking in public places. Or let me turn it around, if legal punishment does *not* deter, then why do we bother with it?

So, you see, "the only thing that has been offered in order to justify state-sanctioned murder is David’s own "judgement"" is not actually a true statement.

However, I look forward to hearing *your* supporting evidence that proposition #1 above is not true.

Sorry, 'Captain', but that one simply will not fly. Truly innocent people are being killed *now* (see post above) as a result of the implimentation of 'Teabag's' policy, so there is even greater urgency for him to provide supporting evidence for his stance.

"However, I look forward to hearing *your* supporting evidence that proposition #1 above is not true."

Again, this ain't how it works, guy. The person who makes the proposition has to provide evidence for it - he/she can't simply ask the other parties to simply "accept" it on sight. It is a bit cheeky to make an unsupported statement and then ask someone else to prove that it is not true. You'd be kicked out of debating school for that racket.

So, if yourself or dearieme would care to do the right thing at this point, that would be truly "useful".


Truly innocent people are being killed *now* (see post above) as a result of the implimentation of 'Teabag's' policy, so there is even greater urgency for him to provide supporting evidence for his stance.

Pffft. So if Larry T would just give us his evidence on David Duff's website he could save innocent lives? Or are you rather hilariously inflating the importance of this here little back and forth?

Dave, these are just the age old rules of debating: if you want people to accept the truth of your proposition you must first advance some evidence for it. Them's the breaks. Once you or dearieme has extended that courtesy it would then be up to Larry to explain why he believes your supporting evidence to be flawed - but since you have as yet not provided any, he does not have to do any such thing.

"inflating the importance of this here little back and forth" - indeed:

1000s murdered since 1960s = Blood on anti-hanging Larry's hands

100000s dead in Iraq since 2003 = No blood on pro-war Duff's hands

Funny how that works.

As you outrank me, Captain, please excuse my impertinence in taking issue with you.

I am happy for Dr. 'Teabag' (and your good self) to take issue with *my* stance, and I am happy to debate it. However, good manners, common-sense and the pleasure of a full debate can only be satisfied if you and Dr. 'Teabag' return the favour. Of course, you are liberty to decline, but rather like a man who slips away from a duel, one is left to draw one's own conclusions.

Excuse my forthrightness, David, but are you stupid?

Do you honestly not grasp how debating works? No-one, in any debate, is under any obligation to address an unsupported proposition. The way debates work is this: a proposition is made, and supporting evidence supplied. The other side then responds to that evidence with evidence of their own.

Since yourself and dearieme have merely made a bare and unsupported assertion, the other side is likewise entirely entitled to refuse to accept that proposition until such time as you provide supporting evidence.

If you think that it is valid to simply say that "more people will be murdered in the absence of capital punishment than in its presence", without evidence for doing so, then you must accept that it is equally valid for someone else to then say, also without evidence, "more people will not be murdered in the absence of capital punishment than in its presence". That it is to say, it is not valid at all.

So, your approach is fundamentally flawed from the outset. If an argument has not been made, it need not be refuted. You see? Nobody is obliged to argue against your "stance", only your arguments. I could say that my own "stance" is that you are a buffoon, but that would get us nowhere. You need to do some actual arguing, otherwise you will get no debate. You need to provide evidence for the things you say. I cannot say this in smaller words without feeling profoundly embarrassed on your behalf.

The ball is most definitely in your court, even if you would need both hands and a torch to find it.

"And caught with his trousers round his ankles in the sheep pen, the defendent attempted to pass himself off as a passing naturalist shepherd! M'lud, this sort of bluster fools no one, the prosecution rests."

Or some such variation on the theme of people who in their childhood were often heard to cry that if the others didn't play by their rules they were going to take their bat and ball home - so there!

So, we bid farewll to Capt. Vinegar who added so very, very little to our conversation.

Well, excuse me for trying to moderate this pathetic charade of a debate. They aren't my rules, Dave. They've been around for a lot longer than either of us, and you can't conduct a debate without them. Your failure to comprehend this simple truth is the reason why you always find yourself at precisely this sort of impasse, every single damn time.

So, then. Carry on berating Larry Teabag for not refuting evidence you have yet to provide, if you think that will help advance the "conversation". Even you will eventually realise the futility of this, at which point you might consider providing some actual evidence for your propositions. You may even find that people start to take you a little more seriously.

I haven't "berated" anyone! Except 'NIB' and he doesn't count. In fact, I am the 'beratee', having been called, for example, both 'stupid' and 'a buffoon' - oh, that was by you, Captain. Does that sort of language come under the heading of, to use your own words: "The way debates work"?

By the way and before you leave - er, you are leaving aren't you, only I've worked with some posey actors in my time who would take for ever to make an exit, so enthralled were they with their own performances - anyway, you keep demanding evidence supporting my argument which I provided above - please don't tell me you are suffering with 'NIB's' word blindness, I really don't think I could cope with both of you:

"For example, in other areas of quasi-legal matters, the risk of punishment has been seen to be effective, to give but two examples, in drink/driving and now in smoking in public places. Or let me turn it around, if legal punishment does *not* deter, then why do we bother with it?"

Not word blindness, Dave. I'm ignoring your "no knock-about stuff" plea on purpose.

You have no "purpose", 'NIB', you are, both literally and metaphorically, aimless!

Not that I mind, really, you make me feel better about myself.

Hey, it was you that announced my exit, not me. I ain't going nowhere just yet.

Does that sort of language come under the heading of, to use your own words: "The way debates work"?

I don't see any reason why not. I'm concerned with the very necessary rules of debating here, not your own personal preference not to be called a stupid buffoon. So long as the former are observed, the latter seems fine to me, you stupid buffoon.

The proposition you are required to substantiate is this one:

1) Other things being equal, more people will be murdered in the absence of capital punishment than in its presence.

Are you going to tell us that having a cheeky smoke in the corner of a nightclub is the same as killing someone? I do hope not.

The feeling's mutual.

Ask yourself these three questions, Captain:

Has the incidence of smoking in public places gone down, gone up, or stayed the same?

Has the incidence of driving whilst drunk, gone down, gone up, or stayed the same?


Obviously the only scientific way to settle this argument is to divide the entire country into two sections, one section where capital punishment is reintroduced, and the other (the control) where we continue with the current system. Then one could compile statistics like David's list, but compare them in a useful & informative way, ceteris paribus, without having instead to speculate, fruitlessly, about "what might have happened."

Personally, I do suspect than anyone planning a murder would firstly take the trouble to lure her victim over the border before she killed them - I would - but, it is not clear how many of the murders on the above list are planned, in that sense.

Dammit, Hilary, brainy as well as beautiful! Why didn't I think of that?

We should rebuild Hadrian's wall, give the Jocks their independence and immediately install capital punishment. Many of our murderers, a growth industry as we all know, will seek opportunities north of the border and if a few more Jocks get topped, well, I'll try and bear the news with courage.

Nice one, Hilary, shame it went whoosh straight over our not-so-genial-host's head.


1. This has gone down.

2. I honestly have no idea. Do you have the stats? Also, do you not mean the detection, rather than the incidence, of drunk driving?

3. The first has gone down due to any number of factors, increased public awareness of serious health implications (and the resulting taboo effect) most likely being a significant factor, along with the fact that not smoking is now a precondition to one’s entry to most socially desirable venues these days. There is no doubt a punishment element, but most of this burden is faced by the owner of the public venue. It should be noted that smoking was already in decline well before the smoking ban was implemented.

If the second behaviour is in decline it is most likely also due to a variety of reasons, of which punishment is just one. Again, increased public awareness of the danger of drink driving is no doubt a major factor – if not for the drunk driver himself then for those in the wider community – his friends that might confiscate his keys or the bar owner that might phone a taxi. The concept of designated drivers is more widely accepted. Punishment probably plays a more significant role in this case than in the case of smoking (as it more directly affects the actor), along with, probably, increased efforts on the part of the authorities to detect drunk driving. Stopping drunks in cars is a good way to improve your stats if you are a cop. Anyway, this is all speculation. You are still free to provide any evidence you like.

The point here is that none of these cases are as simple as “punishment = reduction”. There are many other factors at play here. It should also be noted that none of these reductions have been achieved by murdering anyone who is found guilty in court of the offense, whether they are in fact guilty or not (it is significant that it is vastly easier to prove that someone was smoking in a public place, or driving while drunk, than that they are guilty of murder). Also, the multitudinous reasons why someone might commit murder are not at all similar to the reasons why someone might try to have a sly puff in a dark corner of a club, or decide that they aren’t that drunk at all and stagger to their car. Murders carried out in rage or in passion or in the service of a criminal organisation or gang are obviously less likely to be affected by the style of the punishment.

So, dearieme’s proposition is far from established. It is certainly not currently a proposition that we “must accept”, and your proffered "evidence" is weak at best. All you have done is pointed to a two scenarios where punitive measures may, along with any number of other factors, have played an undetermined role in the reduction of certain behaviours. But these are entirely different behaviours and entirely different punishments, and the relationship between the former and the latter is by no means clear. Your scenarios do not even tell us anything conclusive about the use of punishment in those two specific cases, let alone anything that can be usefully transposed to the case of murder and capital punishment. None of this helps to establish that “more people will be murdered in the absence of capital punishment than in its presence”.

But this is all quite obvious, which is probably why no one else has bothered to say it.

You wish me to explain why I am not persuaded that the death penalty reduces the murder rate. OK then, it is because I have never seen any convincing statistical evidence to that effect.

I am clear in my own mind that the default position should be that we do not execute people unless doing so will provably do any good.

There's another point. Despite your crude utilitarian calculations here (based on figures which you have invented), you have previously admitted that your love of hanging "is not based on some sort of utilitarian policy" but simply that you thought it right and proper that "society expressed its outrage at what it considered to be the most despicable of crimes, taking another person's life, by insisting that the perpetrator forfeit his or her life in return. This dread sentence spoke loudly and clearly for all of us, and the sense that a great wrong had been righted by the greatest punishment of all, was a cleansing balm for the whole of society."

If you really want to award yourself points for grimly acknowledging the practical consequences of your opinions, and pat yourself on the back for tackling such a "personal, profound and hideously difficult" issue as taking notional responsibility for a few non-existent deaths, then you should admit the following:

Even if it could be proved to you that the death penalty didn't work, you'd want to have it reinstated anyway. Never mind the murder rate, the hanging of a few innocent people would be well worth it for that "cleansing balm" you find so terrifically exciting.

The last part of my comment contained a link here:

(It got deleted for some reason.)

Thank you, Gentlemen, for continuing the conversation. I will deal with the good 'Captain' in this comment first, and turn to Larry in a separate comment later, if I have the energy. (I have just sat through a turgid production of 'Othello' and I must confess a softening of my attitude towards murder!)

I asked: "Has the incidence of smoking in public places gone down, gone up, or stayed the same?" and if so, why?

Unfortunately, 'Capt. Vinegar' failed to read my question carefully enough and failed to note the words "in public places". In other words, I was not asking about a reduction in smoking, only smoking in public places. This nullified much of his argument which consisted of explanations as to why smoking in general had declined which he rightly put down to health and social pressures. Also he tried to deflect the power of the legal punishment by pointing out, correctly, that it was aimed at the owners of the public places such as publicans. However, in my view they only act to support his law because of the draconian consequences if they don't. Also, the smokers still face a punishment - expulsion from the place concerned, enforced by the law-fearing publican.

When it comes to drink driving, I admit I haven't the statistics to hand but a quick Google produced the fact (from an anti-drink/drive site) that in 1979 the number of deaths due to alcohol was 1,640, and the rate in 2004 was 560. Obviously some of this reduction might be due to greater car-build safety, but then again, the number of cars must have increased enormously. Unless anyone can prove otherwise, I am taking it as a given that drink/driving has reduced since the change in law and I guess it dropped at a faster rate as and when it became clear that the police were enforcing it with some enthusiasm. I'm sorry, but I just cannot go along with 'Capt. V's' Panglossian view that it was factors other than the likelihood of being caught and the severity of the punishment, and anyway, those social pressures came about *after* the publicity and campaigns were mounted and sustained for years as a result of the original law coming into force.

So whilst I can agree with him that there are, indeed, "other factors at play", I am of the view that they are very subsidiary; and when he states that "The point here is that none of these cases are as simple as “punishment = reduction”", I can only repeat that it is a judgement call and I think punishment is a huge part of subsequent behaviour. I have never equated the *occasional* complications of murder (and usually such 'complications' stem from a domestic situation) with the relative simplicities of drink/driving, but in my recent studies of murders in the UK, many, if not most, beg for *any sort of motive* at all - beyond sheer bloody wickedness and a sense that life is cheap and punishment laughable.

I have done my best to answer 'Capt. Vinegar's' points, so now let me repeat my other question: if he is stating that legal punishment is negligible in curbing criminal behaviour, why do we bother with it?

Tomorrow, I will turn to Larry with some stats that might change his mind - but I won't hold my breath!

David, I did read your question. The simple fact is that if the trend is for smoking in general to decrease then smoking in public places will also decrease. So when I say that smoking was on the decline even before the smoking ban was implemented, this if course means that smoking in public places was also on the decline. Obviously. So the point is that factors other than punishment can work to reduce undesirable behaviours.

The other important thing to note is that, yes, although there are some implications for the perpetrator of the cheeky smoke, this is a very, very mild punishment indeed. Harsher options might have included large fines, or jail terms, but in this case the penalty is simple expulsion from the public space. So if punishment works, then it is not at all established that the punishment must be the most severe punishment available in order to be effective. Perhaps the relative lightness of the punishment is made up for by the other factors, such as public awareness, an increasingly health-conscious society, the declining number of smokers and the concurrent preference for non-smokers to not inhale the smoke of others? Punishment can be one useful tool for ensuring observance of a law, but it is by no means the only one, or even necessarily the most effective. The smoking ban was largely implemented without much need for punishment at all. People, for the most part, simply accepted it.

Why do you not kill people, David? Is it because you don’t want to go to jail? Or is it because you believe it is morally wrong to do so? For myself and, I suspect, the vast majority of the people on the planet, it is the latter which stays my hand. If I can imagine killing anyone at all, it would most likely be in a situation where the last thing on my mind would be the punishment I would face – the defense of my family and loved ones from physical harm, for example. Most of the ordinary citizens of this country are not murderers. Why not?

I don’t kill people because killing people is wrong. What about you?

Gentlemen, and anyone else who is interested, I have published some graphs and stats in a new post so please go there to continue the conversation.

if legal punishment is negligible in curbing criminal behaviour, why do we bother with it?

To punish. To rehabilitate. To deter. Deterrence is one aim and yes, it often fails. Unfortunately the death penalty is one such case, despite the severity of the punishment and the finality for the person involved.

Capital punishment for drug offences in over 30 countries worldwide, for example, mainly in East Asia, has done nothing to stem the traffick of illegal drugs in those regions - on the contrary it has risen enormously. And we're not talking about death sentences with no execution to follow. We are talking about China where in 2005 over 25 people were publicly shot for drug offences to celebrate the UN's day against drugs. this achieved nothing.

In Vietnam, around 100 people are executed every year for drug offences - Vietnam remains a primary drug route. These deaths achieve nothing.

Do you honestly beieve, David, that the prospect of life in prison has no bearing on people's actions?

The point is that no-one who kills anyone intentionally plans to get caught. Oh yeah, I'll kill this kid and, you know, 20 years ain't so bad. Come on.

This brings us right back to the Captain's point. It is you who must justify death as a punishment and you scientific evidence must be strong enough to outweigh the moral repugnance of state sanctioned killing.

Unfortunately for that responsibility the wealth of death penalty related eveidence (by full time researchers and professionals on both sides of the debate rather than part time bloggers) shows no correlation between executions and reduced murder rates. Or, indeed, any other crime for which death is the penalty.

Those who are honest enough focus on punishment - you killed therefore be killed, they do not hide this with fictitious claims to deterrent effect. They simply want the person dead.

Do we see a reduction of adultery in Iran? Apostasy, drug trafficking? Not at all. All and more carry the death penalty there.

Finally, and I apologise for the rambling comment, people smoke less in public places because it has become illegal and they will not be allowed into the public place if they smoke. It is not deterrence in the same way as the severity of a punishment for something that is already illegal. Again, I have to look at drugs. Ecstasy was reclassified as a class A drug in the UK in the nineties and use skyrocketed, despite a possible 14 year sentence.

One other point - this is all academic. The UK will never bring back hanging - it is against the death penalty in all circumstances and advocates on this internaitonally - Tory and Labour.

They recently voted for a moratorium on executions at the third Committee of the UN General Assembly and will most likely also vite for it again at the General Assembly in December.

So what's your realistic suggestion for curbing murder rates given the reality that your preference for executions is not possible? What else have you got?

Simon, thanks for your comments - and you have nothing to apologise for. I have moved on to a post up above "Go figure these figures", so I will take the liberty of copying your comments and pasting them up there where we can continue the conversation.

Didn't realise that the Dinosaur Waddington was involved in that particular case. Shudder...

Quite so, Henry, but it was his incompetence that put that poor, innocent half-wit into prison for so many years. I swear if they ever catch up with me and put me up in the Old Bailey, I shall defend myself!

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