HERE is a grim statistic to warm the liberal heart: it costs $2
million more to execute a felon than to impose life imprisonment
without parole. As an argument against the death penalty, it is not
the one that liberal Europeans would necessarily reach for. But it
is apparently working for Conservative Republicans in the United
States, whose default position one would expect to be pro-capital
There were more paradoxical perspectives in The Documentary:
At the end of death row (World Service, Tuesday of last week),
in which Rajini Vaidyanathan visited Tennessee, a state so keen on
execution that publicly accountable judges known to be soft need to
beware of their electorate.
Tennessee has recently passed a law allowing the reintroduction
of the electric chair. So successful have been campaigns by the
likes of Reprieve, an organisation based in the UK, and boosted by
the recent case of the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in
Oklahoma, that the methodology of death is now a significant
And the US public's appetite for the death penalty is on the
wane. Republican lobbyists claim not just that the cost of state
execution is high, but that it instantiates the wielding of
government power over the life and liberty of the individual.
Church constituencies, especially on the buckle of the Bible Belt,
also hold power in the debate, although currently the pro and anti
lobbies are split along denominational lines.
Yet, for every sorry tale of a criminal's last hour, there is
some equal and opposite force: here, the case of Channon Christian
and Christopher Newsom, whose kidnapping, torture, and murder were
unbroadcastably appalling. Interviewed here, Newsom's parents
recalled that it was as a result of a particular sermon from a
Baptist preacher that they were confirmed in their belief that the
death sentence should be imposed. It was a reminder that, for some,
it is the righteous thing to do.
Happily, the kind of moral challenges faced by the agony aunt
from the magazine Cosmopolitan, Irma Kurtz, are not in the
same league; but, in World Agony (Radio 4, Monday of last
week), she is finding out, from agony aunts around the world, about
the universality of human dilemmas.
Take Bachi Kakaria, featured last week, whose columns in the
Mumbai Mirror and Bangalore Mirror regularly
treat of adolescent heartbreak and career disappointment. Kakaria
takes a refreshingly bracing approach to most of this: "Adolescence
is an age of acne and ecstasy," she declares, and most of the
problems will not last beyond the next bout of spots.
If you don't fancy writing to a newspaper about your issues, why
not pop them into a bottle and see what the unknown recipient makes
of them? In Word of Mouth (Radio 4, Tuesday), Chris
Ledgard explored the various genres of bottled messages, from the
cry for help to the cry for friendship.
There have been some notable success stories resulting from this
form of communication - lifelong friendships, even marriage. But
the sad fact is that most bottles end up pretty much where they
were thrown. And, besides, you should not be littering the seas in
the first place.