Deterring Killers?

June 30, 2005

Dennis Rader, the sociopathic psycho-killer known as BTK (Bind-Torture-Kill), has plead guilty and confessed in a matter of fact manner to the brutal murders of 10 victims, explaining in open court how he stalked, constrained, and murdered them. Carrying his “hit kit” he entertained sexual fantasies while “putting them down” like animals.

BTK would make a fine poster child for anti-death-penalty activists who would want everything possible to be done to save this fine specimen of human life from the punishment that justice demands for his heinous crimes against society and humanity.

However, they do not have to fight that fight because BTK performed all of his murders (which are known) before 1994, when Kansas reinstated the death penalty. His last murder was in 1991. This raises the question of whether the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1994 deterred Rader from killing again. There had been other gaps of time in BTK’s killing spree as long the span between 1991 and 1994. Isn’t it likely that BTK would have killed again but for the reinstatement of the death penalty?

Postmodernism: Oppression Everywhere

June 29, 2005

With a hat tip to A. Greenwood on T&S’s notes from all over, I found the discussion at the Claremont Institute responding to the absurd thesis of C.A. Tripp’s posthumous The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln (2004), which was published a year after Tripp himself had died of AIDS, to be very enlightening.

Allen C. Guelzo provides a succinct statement as to the root of what even makes such a claim plausible in today’s academic circles and intellectual climate in his response to Tripp’s thesis that Lincoln was “primarily gay” and that it was only Lincoln’s homosexuality that actually allowed him to espouse “anti-Establishment” views such as human decency, tolerance, and the emancipation of the slaves (if he had been straight then he would have simply been another oppressive white male Christian deist, so something must explain how he was actually a good person). Guelzo writes that

Surely Lincoln was so public a figure, and homosexuality so leprous an accusation in Victorian America, that not even P.T. Barnum, the Cardiff Giant, and the Feejee Mermaid could have distracted attention from a president who committed sodomy with the captain of his guard.

But this perfectly commonsensical objection has the weight of three gigantic considerations leaning against it. . . .

Our persistent sense that the truth is always being hidden behind veils was fed by the Romantics, nurtured by Marxist theories of false-consciousness and hegemony, and gorged upon in this generation by postmodernists whose stock-in-trade is uncovering hidden traces of oppression in literary and social “texts.” When no “narrative” can be trusted, there should be no surprise that the “subaltern” and the anti-narrative become the default explanations; and when the striking of postmodern poses becomes fashionable in popular historical writing, it’s no wonder that Lincoln should be explained in terms of what he did in the closet rather than what he did as president. In the postmodern climate, nothing is what it appears to be, and so postmodernism contributes its mite to making a homosexual Lincoln plausible.

This seems a concise and accurate description of the nature and agenda of various postmodernisms in the field of literary analysis. When such interpretive modes are introduced into what is supposedly the objective act of relating history, it can open the doors to any agenda to “expose” the “truth” that everyone has supposedly been hiding all these years. These postmodernisms, however, are slippery tools, at best, and become indeed vehicles for driving the most diverse of hypotheses, most of which, however, share the agenda of “uncovering” the “hidden traces of oppression” that are, of course, what any given text is really encoding in its aesthetics.

LDS, FARMS, BYU Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit in Germany

June 28, 2005

The Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that was housed at BYU in the late 1990s and a derivative of which then traveled around the country displayed at Stake Centers is now making its way around Europe. The exhibit has already been in France and is now in Germany. It has been in Frankfurt am Main so far and will be displayed in Stuttgart from the end of June to the middle of July, in Munich from the middle of July to the end of July, in Berlin from the middle to the end of September, and in Dresden from the middle to the end of October. It will also travel to Austria and Switzerland, to Salzburg from the beginning to the middle of August and in Zollikofen at the beginning of September. I would absolutely love to see that exhibit in the Berlin Tiergarten stake center! But, alas, I will be in Japan at the time for my brother’s wedding (the Japanese reception, actually, as the wedding will be in SLC).

I have actually been fortunate to have been involved to a very small extent in this development. Elder Hafen wanted Jack Welch, one of the original promoters of the exhibits in the 1990s and one of the people whose contacts in the Middle East were invaluable in bringing priceless, indeed uninsurable, scrolls and fragments from Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East to BYU for the exhibit (of course the goodwill built up by FARMS contributed significantly to this as well), to open the Stuttgart exhibit with a public lecture given in the stake center and at which press was supposed to be in attendance. Jack Welch then contacted me to assist in translating various sources on the scrolls for his speech and in proofreading the German speech he had written for the occasion. The extra time it has required outside of work has been well worth it because I have spent the last couple of weeks immersed in fascinating information about the Qumran community and the genesis and content of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I have also been infected by Jack Welch’s catchy enthusiasm for the scrolls.

In addition to his public lecture, which, I believe, is to be held Wednesday, June 29 (but I may be mistaken about the exact date), Jack Welch will also be giving one or two firesides in the area. I think he specifically mentioned Karlsruhe, so if anyone is out there, try to make it. He will be speaking on a variety of topics, all of which fascinating, and most of which focusing on the status of work that FARMS is involved in. He will also speak some on the work of Joseph Smith since we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth this year. In one of his talks (but I don’t know if it will be in Karlsruhe), he will be giving a German version of the BYU Devotional Address he gave in 2004 on what it means to “love God with all your mind.”

My hope is that the Scrolls exhibit will interest the public in Germany and will promote some reflection on the role of religion in the life of a society. I don’t think that there needs to be a particularly LDS angle to the presentation of the scrolls, aside from the fact, which will be quite obvious, that the exhibit is the creation of BYU and FARMS. Jack Welch will be making a few points that will resonate with Latter-day Saints in the audience but will seem nothing more than interesting information to others in the audience.

For instance, he will mention the copper scroll discovered at Qumran, which is a thinly pounded copper plate inscribed with Hebrew characters–an example of Hebrews writing on metal plates before the birth of Christ which surprised scholars when it was discovered in the 1950s. (Noone has yet been able to decode the message on the copper scroll, I believe, but it is thought that the scroll contains the location of the treasure of the Temple of Jerusalem.) This will be interesting to a non-LDS audience but will have special meaning to Latter-day Saints in the audience because they will be thinking of other Hebrew writings on metal plates. Also, he will talk about sealed documents as found at Qumran and compared to Roman sealed documents, comparisons between the Qumran community and the early Christian Church, and other fascinating topics for LDS and non-LDS alike.

Skateboard Activists at LOVE Park

June 22, 2005

I was a teenage skateboarder. My period of skateboarding was the early to mid 1990s. At that time, LOVE Park (JFK Plaza) in Philadelphia was a major skateboarding site and appeared frequently in the best skate videos and magazines. I never had the opportunity to skate there (although I have skated Embarcadero, or the Justin Herman Plaza, in San Francisco). LOVE park derives its name from the Robert Indiana public art LOVE sculpture that stands in the middle of a shady plaza paved with smooth concrete tiles and possessed of numerous concrete ledges, curbs, stairs and other attractions irrestible to skateboarders. Although skateboarders have always had to avoid security guards and police when skating downtown, including on public property and at parks, it looks like LOVE park was officially made illegal for skateboarders in 2002. (Business and city workers/officials always shoo skateboarders away for liability issues–as a teenage skateboarder I and all the skateboarders I knew would scoff at the idea that we would actually sue a business for getting a skateboarding injury on the premises, but now that I am a grumpy lawyer, I am not so confident of the magnanimity of skateboarding kids, or rather of their parents who are probably looking for the perfect lawsuit to get rich.)

Yesterday, the skateboarders protested en masse. The picture above and this picture are from the protest. A collection of photos from yesterday’s protest, including these two photos, can be seen at this website devoted to reversing the anti-skateboarding policy. According to this morning edition story on NPR today, “hundreds” of skateboarders converged on LOVE park yesterday in a protest aimed at removing restrictions on skateboarding on the JFK plaza. I find it amazing that the skateboarders organized themselves for such an event, but really it was just a day out skateboarding at one of the most famous illegal skate spots in the country. What local skateboarder is going to miss out on that? But I also feel for these skateboarders because of how the thing turned out.

It was just their luck (believe me skateboarders always seem to have rotten luck) that the day of their protest also happened to be the day of a massive anti-biotech protest organized by environmental and animal rights activists. Thus, as the skateboarders showed up at LOVE park as the anti-biotech march passed by there, causing a lot of confusion among the skateboarders and, I would imagine, generally drowning out any protest value the skateboarders’ “takeover” of LOVE park might have had. Then it got even worse. Police scuffled a little with the anti-biotech protesters while residents scolded the skateboarders. Then a police officer died of a heart attack! According to the NPR report, the skateboarder protest pretty much fizzled out after that and the anti-biotech protest even lost a lot of its momentum. Well, here’s hoping that the skateboarders get LOVE park back.

On a side note, although I have never skateboarded at LOVE park, I have been a regular at other similar sites in various cities. The most high profile skate spot that I have skated was at Embarcadero in San Francisco (more than a decade ago–skateboarding has been nearly impossible at Embarcadero since about 1996, I believe). I also liked Liberty Park in downtown SLC and numerous spots around downtown Dallas. In fact, I broke my arm in 1994 trying to nosegrind a bench we had set down a run of four steps near the San Jacinto building in downtown Dallas. Of course, I still remember dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sweet spots for skateboarding all over Dallas, Houston, SLC, the Bay Area, and even Provo. Those were definitely fun days.

New (Rough) Translation of Goethe’s Erlenkönig

June 15, 2005

I listened to a cd of Schubert’s Goethe-Lieder on the way to work this morning and very much enjoyed all the songs. But the problem is that I’ve had Goethe’s haunting poem “Der Erlkönig” in Schubert’s tune in my head all day. So, I took a break from work and decided to offer a new but rough translation of this scary but sobering poem. I know there are a few problems with the meter that I hope to fix if I get the time (feel free to offer commentary/criticism), but it’s still worth posting, I believe:

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm.

Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein
Gesicht? –
Siehst Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif? –
Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif. –

»Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel ich mit dir;
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.«

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht? –
Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind. –

»Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.«

Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort? –
Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau. –

»Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.«
Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan! –

Dem Vater grauset’s, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in den Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

Who rides so late through night and wild?
It is the father with his child;
his ride is burdened by his effort to hold
that boy in his arms against the cold.

My son, why hide your face in fear?
Oh father, I see the Elfking draw near!
My son, the Elfking with his crown and tail?
It is not him but mist and hail.—

“Oh little boy, come go with me!
Come play my games with youthful glee;
My flowered beach is a wonder to behold,
as is my mother with her dresses of gold.”

My father, my father, do I hear right,
what does the Elfking promise this night?—
Hush, my child, you’re safe in my arm;
and the wind on the leaves offers no harm.—

“Fine boy will you not go with me?
My caring daughters for to see;
such daughters as perform a nightly routine
to cradle you with dance and song in that scene.”

My father, my father, do you see there
the Elfking’s daughters so dark but so fair?—
My son, my son I do actually see:
The pasture looks gray underneath that far tree.—

“I love you my boy and your beautiful face;
And if you won’t come then I’ll show you your place!”

My father, my father, I can feel his disdain!
The Elfking has touched me and caused me such pain!

The father is worried and rides with more force,
The weak boy in his arms he spurs on the horse,
and reaching the goal he glances with dread;
for in his strong arms his child lay dead.

(c) John Fowles 2005

I have observed this soberness and even sadness in many of Goethe’s poems.

1713 Bach Aria in His Own Hand

June 10, 2005

On my way to work this morning NPR provided me with a rare treat in the form of a previously unheard and unknown aria composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. (A segment of the aria, which was aired this morning, can be heard at the NPR website.) It is the first unknown work of Bach to be found in a generation–since 1975, to be precise. At 28, Bach was an organist in the court of the Duke of Saxony-Weimar. He wrote this aria on the last two pages of a birthday pamphlet sent to the Duke by a pastor. It was found this week in a box of such birthday pamphlets, by which people tried to curry favor with various courts during that time period, by researchers who were mainly interested in the bindings of the pamphlets. This aria was to put a poem by Johann Anton Mylius to music, the first line of which contained the Duke’s motto: “Alles mit Gott und nichts ohne ihn.” (“Everything with God and nothing without him.”) The world is lucky to have found it.

Back in September 2004, I blogged here about a tragic fire that destroyed between 25,000 and 30,000 priceless, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind volumes in the Anna-Amalia Library in Weimar, Germany. I mentioned that a 1534 bible owned by Martin Luther was saved. We now know that this unknown aria was also spared the flames because the box of pamphlets, which unbeknownst to anyone also contained the Bach aria in his own hand, was sent to Leipzig for restoration just months before the fire. It was a stroke of luck, but one wonders what undiscovered treasures might have been destroyed in that fire after all.

Ties Against Kyoto

June 4, 2005

Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has challenged his cabinet to quit wearing jackets and ties to work in an interesting effort to help Japan meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. He is at the top of the movement that Japan’s Evironmental Ministry hopes will enable Japan to use less energy to power air conditioning units this summer. (“[Koizumi] fordert auf Plakaten und Zeitungsanzeigen legere Sommertracht im Büro und erschien am 1. Juni ohne Schlips in der Kabinettsitzung.“)The idea is that if male workers don’t have to wear jackets and ties to the office, the air conditioners don’t have to be set so low and use so much energy. This plan overlooks the fact that hot is hot and getting to come to work without a tie is hardly going to be worth the trade for a hotter office all day long.

In any event, the calculation goes that if the temperature in all offices in Japan is raised from 25 to 28 degrees celsius, then the country can avoid burning 350 million liters of oil for air conditioners. Japan’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Heinzo Takenaka, even believes that this will help turn the economy around because it will cause people to “stream into” shops and boutiques to “freshen up” their work wardrobe. (“Wirtschaftsminister Heinzo Takenaka träumt sogar von einer Konjunkturbelebung durch “Cool Biz”. Bürokraten und Angestellte sollten in die Boutiquen strömen, um ihre eintönige Arbeitskluft aufzufrischen.“) It seems to me that people will be “streaming” all right–with sweat–and will definitely need to “freshen up,” but I think it is a little overly optimistic to think this will be what turns the economy around.

All of this just seems a little contrived to me. But if they think this will work, more power to them.