Should We Rape a Rapist?

Around the world, only one-third of all countries still allow the death penalty; the majority of executions occur in the United States, Iran, China, North Korea, and Yemen. Since 1973, over 140 death row inmates in the United States were found innocent and released because of wrongful conviction – during that same time 1,200 people were executed – a 12% rate of error! The death penalty was found to not be a deterrent to crime and states with no death penalty have homicide rates at or below national rates (Amnesty USA). A recent Pew Research Poll found that support for the death penalty has dropped in the US: 49% support and 42% oppose. There were 20 executions in 2016 which is a significant drop since a peak of 315 in 1996. These facts are both sobering and encouraging – depending on one’s particular viewpoint. I think the best way to understand the death penalty is to examine the lives of the people on death row. A great resource for this examination is by reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a non-profit lawyer who fights for inmates on death row who were wrongfully convicted. To put it simply, death row is many times a political tool that propagates racism, injustice, and systemic bias against those who cannot pay for a proper defense lawyer. My question is why does the United States still have the death penalty?

The logic of the death penalty is all wrong. Why is it right to kill a killer? The action of writing a wrong with another wrong seems like an archaic practice right out of the Medieval Ages. Is the “eye for an eye” mentality the best usage of justice. Is any single action greater than the sum of our parts? Why does the death penalty differ from all other sentences? Why don’t we rape a rapist? Why don’t we abuse an abuser? Why don’t we steal from a thief? All of these scenarios sound ridiculous but don’t they fall under the same logic? We’re killing a killer because it is an equal reaction. Putting this obvious inequity aside, just think of the 12% rate of error that was earlier mentioned. Court systems are inherently flawed because of politics and implicit biases; the axiom “guilty until proven innocent” comes to mind. Defense lawyers are overworked and resources for the poor are stretched so thin that many go to court via Skype. How can we sentence people to death – the ultimate final verdict – in a system that has so many problems? Finally, the death penalty doesn’t deter killers. In many cases, murder is done without premeditation and rational thought is completely absent. The death penalty is an afterthought to a murderer because most people who murder never thought they would in the first place.

So what is the argument for the death penalty? Most people who support it usually overly trust the justice system and believe all convictions are perfect. Also, they believe that it deters crime (disproven above) and that it is not “cruel or unusual punishment” (Over 2/3 of all countries believe it is). What about the revenge component – if someone killed my loved one wouldn’t I want them to experience the same fate? This may sound logical but when victim families are interviewed they many times wish for a life sentence over the death penalty. Why is this? Fist off, it is a long process to execute someone. There are years of appeals and the total amount of court appearances continue to open up wounds for the bereaving victims. Secondly, revenge killing is never as satisfying as one thinks – just reference any major religious text or psychology journal to understand this more. Life in prison is a far greater punishment than any expedited death. Not only does the prisoner have to live locked up, they have to ruminate about what they did. Guilt and rumination are almost always universal (except in some mental-illnesses). Being conscious of wrong doing is the whole point of the criminal justice system – why would we cut that short for the worst crimes? Just think about your own regrets – what felt worse – staring at the ceiling with guilt or falling asleep to escape?

The Hydrocarbon Man

Could you imagine your life without petroleum? Our daily lives from the food we eat to the cars we drive depend on the oil industry. Without oil, we would not have our comfortable life of abundance and hyper-connectivity. I always knew oil was important and that it had influenced a lot of our world politics in the last century. I never knew the full extent of how oil shaped the hydrocarbon man until I read the The Prize by Daniel Yergin. This book is 800 pages of pure geological-political-historical-orgasmical enjoyment. It won the Pulitzer Prize and encompasses the rise of the world-oil industry between 1859 to 1991. Suffice it to say there is no easy way to summarize this book. There are some very important events in world oil that everyone should know:

1859-“Colonel” Drake drills the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania
1870-John D. Rockefeller forms Standard Oil Company
1873-Oil fields in Russia open for development
1896-Henry Ford builds his first car
1901-Gusher at Spindletop, Texas discovered: beginning of Sun, Texaco, Gulf
1903-Wright Brothers first flight
1907-First drive-in gasoline station opens in St. Louis, MO
1908-Discovery of oil in modern day Iran
1910-Discovery of “Golden Lane” in Mexico
1911-US Supreme Court rules dissolution of Standard Oil Trust
1914-World War I sees first mechanization of battlefield and need for secure oil
1922-Discovery of oil in Venezuela
1930-Discovery of biggest oil deposit in East Texas
1936-Hitler occupies the Rhineland and ramps up synthetic fuel production
1938-Discovery of oil in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia
1938-Mexico nationalizes foreign oil operations
1939-WWII begins with all countries heavily dependent on oil to mobilize soldiers and weaponry
1951-Iran nationalizes foreign oil operations
1952-First Holiday Inn opens (middle-class hitting the open road)
1955-First McDonald’s opens in suburban Chicago
1956-Discovery of oil in Nigeria and Algeria
1960-OPEC founded in Baghdad
1968-Oil discovered in Alaska
1973-Yom Kippur War: Arab Oil Embargo (price per barrel rises from to $2.90 to $11.65)
1975-Automobile Fuel Efficiency Standards introduced in America
1979-Iran overthrow of Shah and Iranian hostage crisis
1981-Panic from problems in Iran send oil from $13 to $34 dollars a barrel
1982-OPEC implements first quotas
1983-First launch of Crude Oil Futures
1989-Exxon Valdez tanker accident
1991-Gulf War motivated by large reserves of oil in Kuwait

That is a lot of dates but they are all very important to understand. In the beginning, America was the main world producer of kerosene which was used for lamps. Uses for oil started to change with advancements in the combustible engine. At the turn of the 20th century, oil was starting to be used for gasoline in automobiles and fuel oil for all types of transportation. World War I was an experimentation in technology and showed countries how crucial it was to have secure access to oil reserves. The outcome of World War II was determined by who had the most oil. Germany and Japan both exhausted their supplies and were helpless to move their war equipment in the last battles. After World War II, the Middle East came center stage in supplying industrialized countries and the US was no longer a supreme exporter of oil. The Middle East would use their oil to increase prices and control foreign policy up until the 1980’s. In the 80s, oil began being traded on the futures market and its price was no longer exclusively controlled by OPEC. Oil is everywhere and has shaped our modern day lifestyle, politics, and even geo-political borders. I highly recommend reading this book because it shines light on our interconnected world and how it was shaped by a single commodity.

 

A Buffet of Religion

Happy Easter! Today is the day that Jesus was resurrected from the dead after being crucified for the sins of all mankind. I love learning about religions in a historical context and the differing philosophies are quite fascinating. Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism are the top three religions in the world with an estimated 5 billion followers. The problem with religion is that it is easy to get wrapped up into theological nitpicking. This is why there are so many different types of denominations within a particular religion. Everybody interprets religious texts differently and touts their views as the almighty-most-correct form. This gets tricky especially when eternal life is on the line. People want to be right because they don’t want to burn in hell. The idea of an afterlife is why radical zealots exist and why there has always been wars associated with religious beliefs. If religion was solely a philosophy then no one would care about conversions and cramming their ideology down people’s throats. In particular, Christianity and Islam, requires you to believe in certain things to go to heaven. Ironically, Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe in the exact same God and share much of the same religious texts. The spread of Christianity and Islam destroyed longstanding pagan religions in the pursuit of mass conversions. In Europe, there are no remaining pagan religions that have active practitioners today. In the Middle East however, there are still many religions that never converted to Islam because they were so geographically remote it was difficult for the government to force conversions. Furthermore, these religions survived because they believed in one god which was similar to Islam and hence somewhat acceptable by certain regimes throughout history. I read about these religions in Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by Gerard Russell. These religions are disappearing because of political unrest, global displacement of followers, westernization, Islamic conversions, and difficulties adhering to beliefs. Below I will summarize some interesting things from each religion.

Mandaeans: Originally from Iraq, this group has been dispersed to several middle eastern countries because of persecution. They believe in John the Baptist and hold baptism to an extremely high regard. They believe John the Baptist did not baptize Jesus and Jesus was actually a deceiver and distrustful person. They share several religious texts with Christians but have differing views when it comes to the Holy Spirit (actually a wicked figure) and the creator of the world. Estimated 60,000-70,000 members.

Yazidis: The Yazidis are mostly Kurdish Iraqis who live in the northern mountainous province of Nineveh. They believe in one god who sent 7 angels to earth to protect it with the most powerful angel being a peacock. The peacock angel is in charge of good and evil and actually fell from god in a similar way that Christians believe Satan fell from God. This similarity has created the myth that Yazidis worship the devil and for this they have been persecuted for centuries. Estimated 860,000-1,020,000 members.

Zoroastrians: At one point in time it was the main religion of the great Persian empire. Members today now are found primarily in Iran. Zoroastrians are believed to be the first religion that believed in a Heaven and Hell, which may have influenced Judaism and Christianity beliefs. Followers believe in morality and that their acts will be judged in the afterlife. Their beliefs are very detailed but mirror the general ideas of a creator with struggles of good and evil. Estimated 2.6 million members.

Druze: The Druze are primarily found in Syria and Lebanon. They are actually very similar to Muslims but they believe in reincarnation and use a different religious text. A quirky thing about the Druze is that their religious beliefs are only known by the educated Druze leaders. This secrecy was probably first put in place because it prevented persecution. It is not uncommon for a proclaimed Druze to have no idea what they believe in. Estimated 1,500,000-2,000,000 members.

Kalasha: The Kalasha are actually polytheists who live in the remote mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They sacrifice animals and celebrate festivals annually in honor to their gods. They believe in mountain fairies and the ability to connect with the spiritual world through mediums. The Kalasha do not believe in monogamy and if a married women is caught having sex with a man other then her husband the man is fined and laughed at by the villagers. Estimated 4,100 members.

These are only 5 of the estimated 4,200 religions in the world. Is there one group that has it all right? Why do we have so many different beliefs? Who is going Heaven? Hell? In the end, I don’t have all the answers and my religious beliefs boil down to what Jesus taught; don’t judge others and just love them-no matter what they believe.