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Culture War Roundup for the week of January 22, 2024

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NBC Bay Area, "Protests continue as large walls surround People's Park in Berkeley". (Part of an ongoing series on housing, mostly in California. Also at theschism.)

(Notes on browsing: some of these links are soft-paywalled; prepend archive.today or 12ft.io to circumvent if you run into trouble. Nitter is dead and Twitter doesn't allow logged-out browsing; replace twitter.com with twiiit.com and try repeatedly to see entire threads, but anonymous browsing of Twitter is gradually going away, alas.)

I've covered historic laundromats and sacred parking lots, but what about a historic homeless encampment?

In 1969, some Berkeley locals attempted to make a vacant University-owned lot into a "power to the people" park. The University decided to make it into a soccer field and evicted them a month later. Later that day, at a rally on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Berkeley student President suggested that the thousands of people there either "take the park" or "go down to the park" (accounts differ), later saying that he'd never intended to precipitate a riot. The crowd grew to about six thousand people and fought police, who killed one student and blinded another.

The park has stayed as it was since then. UC Berkeley has attempted to develop it, first into a soccer field, then in the 1990s into a volleyball court (made unusable by protests), then in the 2010s in an unclear way which involved a protester falling out of a tree they were sleeping in, and most recently starting in 2018, into student housing with a historical monument and permanent supportive housing for currently homeless people.

The status quo involves police being called to the park roughly every six hours on average as of 2018, colorful incidents like a woman force-feeding meth to a two year old, and three people dying there within a six-month span. (There are forty to fifty residents at a given time.) The general vibe from students matches up.

The 2018 plan started having public meetings in 2020; when construction fencing was built in 2021, protesters tore it down; a group calling itself "Defend People's Park" occupied it and posted letters about how an attempt to develop the site is "gentrification", the university could develop "other existing properties", the proposed nonprofit developer for the supportive housing has donors which include "the Home Depot Foundation, a company that profits off construction", and so on.

Legal struggles are related to the 2022 lawsuit to use CEQA to cap enrollment at Berkeley and a lawsuit using CEQA to claim that student noise is an environmental impact. In the summer of 2022, SB 886 exempted student housing (with caveats and tradeoffs) from CEQA, and AB 1307 explicitly exempted unamplified voices from CEQA consideration. The site has been one of about 350 locally-designated "Berkeley Landmarks" (one for every three hundred and forty Berkeleyans) since 1984, but was added to the National Register of Historic Places that summer as well in an effort to dissuade development. (The National Trust sent a letter in support of that student-noise lawsuit.) Amid all this, RCD, the nonprofit developer attached for the supportive housing, left the project, citing delays and uncertainty. The State Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in the summer of 2023, but the case may be moot in light of AB 1307. The university says yes, and "Make UC a Good Neighbor" says no. Search here for S279242 for updates.

And that brings us to this January. On the night of the fourth, police cleared the park in preparation for construction, putting up a wall of shipping containers which they covered in barbed wire the next week to prevent people from climbing them.

Local opponents of the project take the position that "Building housing should not require a militarized police state", which seems to indicate support for a kind of heckler's veto. And, of course, it should be built "somewhere else". (This meme, basically.) Kian Goh, professor of urban planning at UCLA: "So, do places of historical and present political struggle not matter at all to yimbys? Or do they just not matter as much as new housing?".

Construction appears to be proceeding, after more than fifty years of stasis. Noah Smith attempts to steelman the NIMBYs, but I don't find it convincing. I'm sure the people who cheered burning down subsidized housing in Minneapolis saw themselves as heroes, but that doesn't make them any less wrong.

As a postscript, the City Council member representing the district of Berkeley including People's Park is Rigel Robinson, who entered office at 22 as the youngest ever councilmember, and was generally expected to be the next mayor. He abruptly resigned on the ninth, ending what had been a promising political career, likely due to death threats stuck to his front door. The Mayor of Berkeley wrote a supportive opinion piece; a fellow councilmember wrote a similar letter. On the other hand, a sitting councilmember in neighboring Emeryville retweeted "Sure sounds like going YIMBY ruined it for him. Here's to running more real estate vultures out in 2024 🥂". People are polarized about this. It's made the news.

I'm going to nutpick one of the comments from an article on his resignation, as a treat.

The Park People could care less about council members, the next one will be equally clueless about the Park's existence; the Park is beyond municipal dictatorship, it is a world-level political symbol that has now been "awakened" again. The Big Surprise will be the decision by the State Supreme Court to find AB 1307 unconstitutional.

If only people could live inside a world-level political symbol. Current plans for construction at the site are here.

Some of the other nitter instances still work, but it sounds like they too will die soon.

In a sense, this is sad, but in another sense, it's probably good for me.

If I had to predict which service was going to become a walled garden, I wouldn't have picked Twitter. Is this enshittification?

Enshittification originally meant when a platform linking two sides of a market (e.g., Uber) screws over both sides as it desperately tries to become profitable.

https://www.wired.com/story/tiktok-platforms-cory-doctorow/

Here is how platforms die: First, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.

Sure seems like "abuse their users to make things better for their business customers" to me. Letting users share tweets via third parties without ads can reduce the reach of the ads!

as it desperately tries to become profitable

Worse than that, in Twitter's case. IMHO "profitable" would have been an achievable goal, but "profitable enough to pay for $13 billion in loans that'll need to get rolled over post-interest-rate-hikes" isn't going to happen.

The origins of People's Park are a little more complicated than you imply. The area was originally obtained by the university by eminent domain, forcing homeowners to sell against their will after which the university bulldozed the houses and then left the site vacant for more than a year (see here). I think those original homeowners at least had a legitimate reason to be pissed off at the university.

That said, I find myself deeply irritated by the actions of local protestors in the decades since. I see no reason why the university has an obligation to maintain a homeless camp which was involuntarily forced on it in the first place, especially when there is an acute shortage of housing for students (the actual paying customers of the university). Some context is useful here: for many years the university has had a severe lack of housing for students. Most undergraduates live off-campus after their first year and even then, the university has trouble accommodating just the freshmen and transfer students who are guaranteed a spot in the dorms. A few years ago they were housing some students at Mills College about 10 miles away and at times have also housed students in the lounges of the dorms (which were not intended as bedrooms). By the way, the increase in enrollment that led the student housing situation to get this extreme was not unilateral action on the part of the university, but rather part of a University of California system-wide deal with the state to freeze tuition and enroll more in-state students in return for an increase in funding (see here for example).

I'm also annoyed by protestor complaints that the university should has plenty of alternative sites to People's Park and should use one of the those. Not only are some of those alternate sites much smaller than People's Park, most of them are already in use by the university (unlike People's Park) and developing them would likely face neighborhood anti-development activism of its own. Moreover, why can't the university develop multiple sites at once? The student housing shortage is so severe that even adding another 1000 beds (which the People's Park development is expected to do) would not come close to fixing it.

On another topic, I'm really skeptical about the university's plan to put a homeless shelter right next to a student dorm in the proposed People's Park development. I imagine most students would prefer not to live next to a homeless shelter, many parents would be freaked out by the idea and it would likely create a chronic source of problems for the university, especially if there are any altercations between homeless people living in the shelter and students in the dorm. Perhaps the university is simply planning to build the dorm first and then drop the homeless shelter idea once the dorm is already fait accompli.

Thank you for providing context; I really should have included the depth of housing problems at Berkeley (see page 10 and following). About a tenth of students were homeless at some point, though this mostly took the form of couchsurfing. (This matches up with how homelessness works; it's mostly temporary, and people only wind up on the street when they've exhausted their social networks.)

I'd also point out that the University predates the city; the city is there because of the University, which makes claims that the University is ruining the City, in a way, confused.

On another topic, I'm really skeptical about the university's plan to put a homeless shelter right next to a student dorm in the proposed People's Park development.

On the one hand, the homeless people are there in the area around the University already; they're just outdoors. On the other, I absolutely see what you mean. This is a hell of a compromise; more than half of the space will still be a park (an actual park, this time), and there will be more homeless/formerly-homeless people living on the site after the project is complete. It's a testament to just how ideologically committed the left-NIMBYs are that none of these concessions even registered. The maximalist position, I think, would have been an enormous mega-dorm covering the entire footprint of the site, and that's nowhere on the radar.

Perhaps the university is simply planning to build the dorm first and then drop the homeless shelter idea once the dorm is already fait accompli.

I don't think they're insincere, but ironically, the level of protesting has made this outcome considerably more likely. Supportive housing development, like any publicly-funded housing, involves a "layer cake" of various overlapping funding sources and deadlines, a byzantine array of mutually near-contradictory requirements, and so on. (Previously discussed here.) Any disruption or delay can trash the whole process.

I really should have included the depth of housing problems at Berkeley (see page 10 and following).

Just wanted to mention that the stats on homelessness of Berkeley students and postdocs at the link you included seem somewhat misleading to me. The definition of "homeless" being used seems to include things like "living in an airbnb for a month while looking for long-term housing." They claim that around 20% off postdocs have experienced homelessness which seems crazy at first (postdocs aren't wealthy, but their salaries aren't that bad) until you notice that more than half the postdocs who say they've been homeless were living in an airbnb or motel during their period of homelessness. And 95% of them were homeless for under 2 months, which really seems to fit the pattern of living in a short term place while looking for a long term rental because you just arrived in town and didn't have a chance to visit and look for housing beforehand.

Thanks for your original post and your reply to my comment. I think we agree on a lot and your take on the situation is perceptive.

I'd also point out that the University predates the city; the city is there because of the University, which makes claims that the University is ruining the City, in a way, confused.

Great point.

On the one hand, the homeless people are there in the area around the University already; they're just outdoors. On the other, I absolutely see what you mean.

Yeah, but having homeless people in the area is a bit different from literally living next door to a homeless shelter. None of the existing dorms is as close to People's Park as the proposed dorm would be to the proposed shelter and that's bound to make some students and parents nervous. I did notice that the proposed development is apartment style housing for students so it probably wouldn't be freshmen living there, which might help.

This is a hell of a compromise; more than half of the space will still be a park (an actual park, this time), and there will be more homeless/formerly-homeless people living on the site after the project is complete. It's a testament to just how ideologically committed the left-NIMBYs are that none of these concessions even registered.

To be fair to the activists, there are plenty of homeless people who for one reason or another prefer to live in an unregulated homeless camp than in a shelter. So if your position is "you should never say no to homeless people" then it makes sense to be upset about the development of People's Park and the concession offered by the university might not look very appealing. But I agree that from the perspective of the university, this is a massive concession.

I don't think they're insincere

I'm not sure. Carol Christ and the other high level administrators of Berkeley are not dummies and they must realize that (1) having a homeless shelter next to a dorm is bound to be a source of headaches and (2) there's a chance that the housing gets built but the shelter does not (maybe for the reasons you cite). Perhaps they are not explicitly planning on only building the housing but I suspect they wouldn't mind at all if that was the final outcome.

To add a bit to the comment about alternatives to People's Park: some of the alternative sites are currently serving as parking lots. It should surprise nobody that there is a notable parking shortage around the university (albeit not as severe as the housing shortage) and so I imagine the university is wary of getting rid of those lots, especially if there is a chance that between destroying them and building new dorms, their development plans may get stuck in years of lawsuits, leaving them with less parking and no extra student housing in exchange.

I'm nutpicking quotes, but I'm actually trying to make a substantive point. Well, more substantive than the obvious.

"the Home Depot Foundation, a company that profits off construction"

Is there something wrong with this? I mean I doubt the person who said it is some kind of doctrinaire Marxist criticizing profit(or at least, I doubt that they're criticizing Home Depot for profit), so they're criticizing construction as something inherently bad.

And I feel like zeroing in on this; "construction is inherently bad" is kind of nutsy. Not just "duh, where are people supposed to live"- it's an attitude of opposition to doing things, going out in the real world and making a change. I feel like this is my leviathan shaped hole-sized hock, but at the end of the day numbers, names, things on paper, vibes, these are just reflections of what's happening in the real world. You can fuck around with renaming things but it doesn't change what it is that you're renaming. Calling a luxury apartment building "affordable housing coop" with no other change does not actually stop the rent from being $3k/mo, you might as well call it kruphnewdala or something. At least it'd be less confusing- after all, you'd be inventing a new(very stupid) word instead of lying. "Point deer, make horse" only goes so far. You still can't ride a deer(most of the time; I'm sure you can find a youtube video of a crazy Russian guy riding a reindeer or a moose or something). It remains an eating animal, not a "but officer, the horse wasn't drunk" animal. In like manner, you can change zoning on a park(as it seems they did 50 years ago), but it has no actual effect until the bulldozers roll in. It's still a vacant lot full of drug addicts fighting. And I think this is behind a lot of weird far-left hobbyhorses; changing the real world instead of empathizing is morally wrong. It's wrong to send cops to intervene in a mental health crisis because they have an actual effect; it should be social workers who provide empathetic nonsense and don't change the situation. It's wrong to respond to a housing shortage by building housing; instead official figures should hand out money to the losers(which, following the laws of supply and demand, just raises the price of housing).

"Building housing should not require a militarized police state",

No, it shouldn't. Various weirdos should just get out of the way. The logical end point of that idea- that things requiring a militarized police state are verboten- is that nothing requiring coercive power should ever get done. That's obviously bad; you can't run a society without coercion of some kind. Like freedom is great, but not the freedom to shit in my neighbor's pool. Or the freedom to prevent him from building on property he owns. Etc, etc.

Is there something wrong with this? I mean I doubt the person who said it is some kind of doctrinaire Marxist criticizing profit(or at least, I doubt that they're criticizing Home Depot for profit), so they're criticizing construction as something inherently bad.

I think the argument the argument very much is about the profit part. Fleshed out, the argument is that profiting from an action incentivizes you to convince others to want that action. For example, for-profit prison systems would advocate for sending more prisoners their way.

Is there something wrong with this? I mean I doubt the person who said it is some kind of doctrinaire Marxist criticizing profit(or at least, I doubt that they're criticizing Home Depot for profit), so they're criticizing construction as something inherently bad.

Why would you doubt a leftist activist in Berkley could be a doctrinaire Marxist? If they aren't explicitly Marxist they at least believe some adjacent far left ideology that borrows heavily from Marxist theory.

Basically what @netstack says below- it wouldn’t surprise me if this person has some ideas adjacent to Marx’s stance on profit. But it seems clear that they’re not arguing from that stance, they’re trying to paint the construction company as something inherently immoral because of what it does, not because of business practices. It’s similar to eg ‘profits from war’ ‘profits off fossil fuels’- even when Berkeley leftists who claim to be Marxists say it, they’re not criticizing Exxon for making money, they’re criticizing it for oil production.

There’s a decent chance the speaker would, if pressed, endorse something like Marx’s stance on profit. I don’t think the statement given looks like an argument from that stance.

The statement has a clear meaning if interpreted through a Marxist lens. Home Depot and other capitalist organizations and individuals are pressuring directly and indirectly UC Berkley to engage in actions that promote capitalism and the interests of the capitalist class. That UC Berkley is really run by a bunch of communists is irrelevant in Marxist theory. I doubt they really believe Home Depot or other capitalists really did anything to pressure UC Berkeley on this issue. They don't care if they did. It's a part of their ideology that everything that exists is a superstructure built on a capitalist base. Everything bad must be linked to capitalism no matter how tenuous the claim.

The Big Surprise will be the decision by the State Supreme Court to find AB 1307 unconstitutional.

Is this like the left wing equivalent of Q? Trust the plan!

The California Supreme Court somehow found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Never underestimate the ability of liberal judges to find a way to get the result they want.

You are actually totally wrong.

My mistake I remembered it as being the California Supreme Court, not the Federal Courts. Either way, one can't deny liberal judges are quite given to judicial activism. They used to be proud of it.

Vague swipes at "liberal judges" aside (it's more of a cyclical thing), I think the reason the federal courts wind up legislating from the bench so much is that Congress is so useless.

On the other hand, the California legislature, while sometimes frustrating, actually does things (see here, here, here, here, and here, for example), so you don't in practice see the thing where the courts say "well, Congress could gainsay us if they wanted to", and the court's ruling stands no matter how politically-charged, because Congress generally has enough veto points to prevent it from doing anything controversial.

You can see a worked example of the California process in this very story, where the courts held that "people talking" is an environmental impact, and the legislature passed an urgency measure near-unanimously to gainsay them. (An urgency measure requires a two-thirds majority and takes effect immediately instead of at the beginning of the following year.)

Had this happened in federal court, I assume we'd just be dealing with the ruling and all of its ridiculous consequences.

From reading that link, I suspect they're talking about https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollingsworth_v._Perry , which was where the US Supreme Court found Prop. 8 unconstitutional.

It rhymes, doesn't it? Hopefully there's no semi-coherent greater meme infrastructure that this all hooks into, but who knows?

Just so you know, your link of "this meme" is broken. Any use of a media reddit link with an old.reddit url will redirect you to the "nice hat" page. (Fixed by simply removing the "old." part

Thank you for the heads-up; fixed!

There was a recent change to the "Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act" which has led to several of the best natural history museum museums simply shutting down their Native American exhibits last week, rather than (what I would naively expect, based on the title) removing human remains from display or something. For instance, The Field Museum papered and curtained over their displays. The American Museum of Natural History is closing two exhibit halls.

This seems like the sort of rule that looks like it might make sense initially, of not grave digging and talking to descendants, until everyone is suddenly reminded that archeology largely is grave digging, and finding descendants is often fraught, with plenty of Tribal Council politics even if a museum can figure out the right authorities to talk to.

I can't tell if this was the intention of the President's Office when they passed the rule, and how much will be left after everything settles (or if it won't settle, and everything will just sit in storage awaiting a change of zeitgeist).

Admittedly, I already mostly go to the local natural history museum for the animatronic dinosaur, and my state has lots of Pueblo Ruins museums, but they're not very good, and run in partnership with the Native American communities. It isn't clear how this will affect locally interesting museums about communities not continuously inhabited since the most archeologically interesting period, such as the Dickson Mounds museum (I recommend stopping by if you're in the area!). Their most interesting parts for non-archeologists are landscape, reproductions and dioramas anyway, so perhaps not much. The Milwaukee Natural History Museum has an unusually enjoyable Native American section (very good in general, go if you're in the area!), but iirc it was also mostly reproductions and dioramas as well.

Ultimately, I suppose it will probably not deteriorate the experience all that much for non-archeologists once the dust settles, but will be one more step of history museums in general toward irrelevance.

I can't tell if this was the intention of the President's Office when they passed the rule, and how much will be left after everything settles (or if it won't settle, and everything will just sit in storage awaiting a change of zeitgeist).

I think anybody can tell that it was the intent, at least according to the link you provided regarding the NAGPRA Act itself:

These regulations provide systematic processes for returning Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony to lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian Organizations (NHOs). The revised regulations streamline requirements for museums and federal agencies to inventory and identify Native American human remains and cultural items in their collections.

Between funerary object, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony, I think anything goes since cultural patrimony is synonymous with cultural property. And I would emphasize the word cultural is by now long hijacked by the Left: as in cultural studies or cultural sensitivity or cultural racism or LGBT culture and others. The word cultural in this context is one of the archetypal examples of "we share your language but not your dictionary", similar to words like inclusion or diversity. So if you hear something like culturally relevant teaching you cant translate it as woke, probably explicitly as a vehicle to pose as a protector of oppressed native peoples to gain power.

So yeah, I guess the exhibition curators and museum directors are now scared shitless as they probably know what is coming their direction - if they do not immediately overdo at least by factor of 10 of any measure they think is reasonable.

My take on this is that it has less to do about museums, and more a general decline in the US-American cultural/social reelvance of the Native American groups.

From an admittedly distant view, even as the sort of progressive/SJW criticisms of problematic Native American cultural references and caricatures increased in the 2000s/2010s, my sense is that rather than replace these with 'better' alternative symbols, there's been a broader trend of simply stripping Native American references entirely, with no indian cultural identifier left. Whether it's a butter company removing an iconic native american from branding, or the (American) football team Washington Redskins changing to the Washington Commanders following years of activist pressure, 'you can't have bad things- change it' isn't the same as 'do better things.'

I don't know about that. I feel like Native American culture is having a little bit of a moment, popular shows like Reservation Dogs, there's the new movie Killers of the Flower Moon, I've heard the phrase "Land Back" a lot more in recent times. Things like land acknowledgments are a thing, at least in certain liberal cities.

I think the difference then vs. now is that Native American culture feels more straightforwardly oppositional, whereas back in the rose-tintedly colorblind 90's and 2000's, it felt more...cooperative? Integrative? Like they were just other people alongside all of us. Of course, there is too much trauma in history for that view to have survived, but I think it definitely used to be more an added flavor sort-of thing rather than a separate culture. (Again, though, reality suggests that it has always been the latter.)

That has been my sense as an outsider from New Zealand comparing our own indigenous politics to American. It seems that the well meaning attempts have done more to 'erase' the culture than to protect it. Overall the welfare of indigenous Americans seems to have been pretty well ignored by the mainstream liberal/progressive left whilst at the same time they have spent the majority of their attention on the plight of African Americans.

I think there's something to this, and that it's unfortunate. American Indian culture is often quite interesting.

I do like what the Ojibwe adjacent areas have been doing in Minnesota, with "Indian Education" teachers in the schools, both academically supporting native youth, but also making popped wild rice and leading field trips to the art and culture exhibits, leading plant walks, and inviting drum circles to assemblies. It adds regional flavor, which seems good. Not that (clearly!) Minnesota doesn't have their own problems, but Ojibwe teachers and artists are, on he whole, doing good work.

Reminds me about that law banning leaving trace amounts of sesame (?), even with warning on packaging. Intended to be help for people deathly allergic to it. Deliberate inclusion of sesame remained legal.

Resulting in producers starting to add sesame deliberately. Impacting people with allergy but capable of eating products that had just traces of it.

Resulting in producers starting to add sesame deliberately. Impacting people with allergy but capable of eating products that had just traces of it.

I'm dumb. Why would this rule change cause them to start adding sesame deliberately?

Edited my comment a bit to clarify that deliberate addition remained legal.

  1. building separate sesame-free factory was infeasible
  2. they were not allowed to list sesame as in product without adding it
  3. they were banned from listing product as maybe containing some traces of sesame
  4. stopping using any sesame in all products would hurt them more (and they would need to do extreme cleaning of factory)

What else they could do?

How much do you think it costs to prevent trace contamination from a fairly common ingredient in other products? Your options are effectively 1) extremely thorough cleaning, 2) completely separate production facilities, or 3) stop making either the products with sesame or those without. Option 3 is by far the cheapest and there's apparently more demand for products with sesame than without.

  1. requires also stopping any use of sesame in all products made in that factory

Ah, that's what I was missing. I thought they could simply say "made on equipment that may have traces of sesame".

And exactly that practice was banned causing the mess.

That's the warning they were effectively campaigning against

Presumably there is an exception to sesame products, i.e. if your product does not have sesame listed as an ingredient, you need to make absolutely sure there is zero sesame in it.

Exactly this one.

I think this is a case of good intentions going horribly wrong because the people making the rules don’t understand the process and decided based on what sounds good rather than what work. A rule requiring getting permission when the owners of the material are clear, obvious and still around to ask is fair enough. But when coupled with the difficulty of finding the actual tribes (which may not exist anymore) and the definition of relics being fairly wide means that you essentially cannot dig or use any artifacts because you can’t get permission. This will definitely end up erasing a lot of Native American culture from our interpretation of history.

This will definitely end up erasing a lot of Native American culture from our interpretation of history.

No, the point is to let the Native Americans be the sole interpreters of that history and culture. We don't need pesky archeologists and geneticists telling us about how their tribe only moved into that area a few hundred years ago. We need to rely on indigenous ways of knowing that are much more valid than the colonialist violence of western science.

This was my cynical conspiracy take. Need to hide the genetics from the graves of the tribes they committed genocide against.

This will definitely end up erasing a lot of Native American culture from our interpretation of history.

You know, I've had the same thought about things like renaming sports teams. Not that the previous name of the Washington Commanders wasn't offensive, but that we've established a de facto rule that mentions of Native American culture or history are offensive, but also that nobody got fired for just completely ignoring the topic. It already feels like public awareness of real native traditions and people has dropped tangibly in the culture over the last few decades of my life because attempts to bring it up are soured by (IMO bad-faith, shallow) criticism that it's "problematic" or doesn't cast enough native actors. Not that there's nothing at all to those claims, but I think they end up being overall counterproductive, and in practice are just erasing it from the culture completely.

I think there's something to this.

There's some enthusiasm from my parents' generation for Tony Hillerman's novels, set in the Navajo Nation, especially because he was a careful observer and puts in a lot of interesting local details. There's a TV adaptation from a couple of years ago that, in general, looks rather good (I haven't watched it because cop shows aren't my thing), so the top hits on Google are things like this:

WINDOW ROCK-Despite fine acting, suspense and entertainment featured in the first episodes of the AMC mystery series “Dark Winds,” overall the show misses the mark when it comes to accurately portraying Navajo language and culture, say some Diné experts.

Navajo is one of the most difficult languages in the world for outsiders to learn. That's why it was used instead of code during WWII. Also, speakers like to teach it wrong so they can laugh about it (source: my mom was living on the Reservation for a while. She is not bitter about it, and figured they're entitled to their fun) The Navajo youth most interested in careers like acting are least likely to learn it, because that would require growing up with their grandparents, herding sheep or something. There is not a large pool of Navajo speakers who are also attractive actors. And yet:

One thing learned in the first episode is that if a non-Diné actor wants to depict a Navajo character, they need to have Navajo language lines down and support to do that. “C’mon Hollywood, do better,” said Clarissa Yazzie, who is also a popular social media influencer. In a TikTok critique, Yazzie spelled out how some of the actors’ mispronunciation of words changed their meaning to the point of distraction and shock.

Lol, "social media influencer" as representative of traditional culture. The lesson is mostly just not to try.

There's some enthusiasm from my parents' generation for Tony Hillerman's novels, set in the Navajo Nation

Ouch. :( Yeah, I was a huge Tony Hillerman fan, read all of his Leaphorn/Chee mysteries. (His daughter has continued the series, but unsurprisingly, it's a weaksauce imitation that spends lots of time on Chee's wife and her struggles being a woman and a Navajo cop.)

There's a TV adaptation from a couple of years ago that, in general, looks rather good (I haven't watched it because cop shows aren't my thing), so the top hits on Google are things like this:

There have been several film adaptations of Hillerman's novels. The Dark Wind starred Lou Diamond Phillips (who is Filipino), and the others were PBS Mystery specials. All of them were mediocre.

In another, similar vein, look at the show Kim's Convenience. I recall reading that the reason the show shut down was because they had someone on the crew (a camera guy, I believe) quit, and they couldn't find an Asian person to replace him. So rather than have non-Asians on the crew, they shut it down. But as a consequence there's one less depiction of Asians and their culture in the broader culture. The perfect was allowed to be the enemy of the good.

Also, real talk - the name Washington Redskins wasn't offensive, and they should've just kept it. People would've moved on to complaining about something else eventually.

The Redskins name got changed because the owner got caught pimping out the cheerleaders amd not sharing revenue with other NFL entities and he wanted a positive news cycle.

...but that we've established a de facto rule that mentions of Native American culture or history are offensive, but also that nobody got fired for just completely ignoring the topic.

This reminds me of when Land O Lakes kept the land, but removed the Indian.

I can certainly understand why people would object to insulting portrayals of their heritage, but I am genuinely baffled by people that are upset by positive portrayals that are merely inaccurate in the specifics. If someone takes a cool part of your culture, dresses it up to look even cooler in an inaccurate way, and then celebrates that aesthetic, this does not harm you! There were probably not a lot of Danes that strongly resembled the Minnesota Viking, and I would strongly wager that the Skol chant is not all that similar to real Viking traditions a thousand years ago, but it's all pretty fun and gives a generally positive impression of those Northmen.

but I am genuinely baffled by people that are upset by positive portrayals that are merely inaccurate in the specifics.

I can definitely understand why someone would dislike inaccurate portrayals of their culture. It doesn't seem like a big enough deal to pitch a fit about, and especially when that culture either A) hasn't existed for a thousand years or B) doesn't have a one to one correspondence with the real world, it seems kind of silly. But the concept of it being bothersome to see highly inaccurate portrayals of yourself and people like you in mass media is intuitively obvious.

will be one more step of history museums in general toward irrelevance.

What are other such steps?

That might have been too salty, it's a mixed bag.

The Santa Fe Museum Hill Indian Arts & Culture museum is quite good, especially when they have a traveling exhibit up. There was an excellent glass art exhibit a couple of years ago, and the current Dine (Navajo) weaving display is also quite good. https://www.indianartsandculture.org/current?&eventID=5406 They are, especially, very good at things like lighting an integrating a bit of technology in a way that improves the experience, rather than having a bunch of broken tablets embedded in signs, as I've sometimes seen. They have a couple of other spaces with also excellent lighting and use of color to improve the experience.

I've mostly just been feeling like the older museums have a lot of interesting reproductions and scenes, and the newer ones tend to have a lot of flat panels with words and images that might as well have been a website (would be better as a website!), but it could just be based on where I personally have visited.

They can't compete with shiny and ultra-palatable pop culture?

Over a decade ago, the BBC came out with a documentary titled How to Kill a Human Being that went into what the director believed to be the most humane and painless way to execute someone if you really wish to do so. Towards the end of the documentary, they interview someone who believes that death row criminals don’t deserve the most humane death possible because those criminals hardly offered their own victims a humane death. The documentary gives it an air of “Look, we’ve found a humane way to actually do executions, and these barbaric Americans don’t want to do that because to them, bloodthirsty cruelty is the point.”

Well, what do you know, Alabama has now actually implemented this “most humane” form of execution for the first time, and news coverage from the BBC and others have been almost exclusively negative. There’s little to no nuance, just statements that the UN and EU condemns this “particularly cruel and unusual punishment.” Where now is the context that the US is merely doing what it was previously criticized for not doing?

To be sure, the scene of thrashing does seem to be more violent than the documentary insinuated such an execution would be, but that itself appears to be because the inmate tried to forcibly hold their breath for as long as possible instead of allowing themselves to pass out from hypoxia. I wouldn’t pin the blame for voluntary thrashing on the method of execution.

What do you think? Am I wrong in reading this as just another case of “Americans can do nothing right”?

I watched that or something similar quite a while ago, and the major difference between the attempted execution that didn't go to plan and the one proposed is to use a chamber with the atmosphere replaced rather than the mask that failed to achieve the purpose it was meant to.

Somehow the richest and most powerful society in the world, one that executes a hundred million cows a year, can't figure out how to execute humans because uh, it's messy.

AFAIK what happens with animals when butchered is not very nice.

And while it is fine with me in case of animals - I would have higher standards for death penalty.

I mean, a captive bolt pistol with a large caliber seems like a fairly humane way to go. I don't think there's much left when half your brain gets smashed to mush.

But at that point why just not hang people or use a guillotine? Not sure why those are unacceptable.

Not sure why those are unacceptable.

for some people blood is unacceptable while executing people is fine

or managed to stop beheadings without stopping executions

Well for those people we invented hanging, which is more finicky but still fairly reliable provided it's done by a professional.

Basically all non-torture execution methods are probably less painful than the median "natural" death. The idea that a few minutes of writhing is considered unacceptable is laughable. I've got some bad news for y'all. You, yes you, and your parents, and everyone you love, are going to writhe in pain for a lot more than a few minutes at some point before you die. Even if Canada-style MAID becomes the standard everywhere, imagine how much pain you would have to be in before you decided to end it once and for all.

Eh, what about carbon monoxide poisoning, or nitrogen narcosis, or enough morphine to kill a large horse? Or heck, how about general anesthesia followed by a severing of the carotid?

Have we really not figured out how to reliably get a human to go to sleep and never wake up?

Nitrogen narcosis is what they are condemning as inhumane.

As an aside, hunters advance this justification. A rifle bullet through the chest is generally a much less miserable way to go than dying in the wild of starvation after you've broken your leg due to natural age-related muscle wasting. Or natural being-eaten-alive by the resident cougar because you're just not so good at avoiding predators in your senior years.

Assuming the hunters are hunting animals that are old enough (not uncommon if your species is not considered a nuisance species), hunting can be seen as a flavor of mercy.

Now I want to see a documentary about game hunting-as-conservation and the game meat trade, titled “A Flavor Of Mercy”.

Well, what do you know, Alabama has now actually implemented this “most humane” form of execution for the first time, and news coverage from the BBC and others have been almost exclusively negative. There’s little to no nuance, just statements that the UN and EU condemns this “particularly cruel and unusual punishment.” Where now is the context that the US is merely doing what it was previously criticized for not doing?

Obviously it's negative because they are opposed to the concept of a death penalty altogether.

Regarding Canada or other examples or scenarios, waaaay easier to put someone to death who wants to die and will comply compared to someone who does not.

Why don't they just make the OD on opiates? You just fall asleep and stop breathing.

No supplier will sell them the opiates.

I find it deeply ironic that the criminal justice system, which spends a lot of time interdicting illegal shipments of vast quantities of opiates, would have trouble getting its hands on some.

You're not wrong, though, I don't think they could get legitimate suppliers to do so over the table, while at the same time "leave a lethal dose of fentanyl and clean needles, and pretend not to notice the OD" is probably more effective than we'd like to admit, but also wouldn't work in all cases.

Is it ironic that the police confiscate a lot of guns but still have to purchase service weapons?

Seems similar enough to me.

If there was a handgun shortage, and police were going on patrol unarmed as a result, I would consider that quite ironic.

I'm not convinced; the Chinese are more than happy to sell fentanyl in massive quantities into American markets.

The states can’t order from a non DEA licensed source

Do you think the fentanyl crisis is caused by people who are legitimately ordering their fentanyl for medical purposes?

(this comment was dumb and I misread the post I was replying to)

No …

Please forgive me and disregard my post - I misinterpreted your comment and saw it in the wrong context.

Probably because finding a doctor who will assist in this request is both necessary and difficult.

Doesn't a doctor (or a nurse) need only to put needle in convict and actual dose injected by executioner?

Import a doctor from Mexico as a consultant. Problem solved.

The immediate, sarcastic, rejoinder that leaps to mind is "just re-brand this as an abortion, no problems then!"

But I think that if you have rights of conscientious objection to participating in or assisting abortions (and you should have such rights), then you should also have rights of conscientious objection to participating in or assisting executions.

The AMA prevents even reading an ECG to make sure the heart is stopping for executions because that is a violation of the duty of a medical practitioner and so they impose this on their members even if there were doctors willing to assist at executions, but if you don't want to read an ECG to make sure the heart is stopping during an abortion you are a monster who must be forced to do your duty (to be fair, the AMA doesn't go this far and will respect conscientious objection).

But is there anyone doing papers and studies like the below for executions, rather than abortions?

We argue that, in certain circumstances, doctors might be professionally justified to provide abortions even in those jurisdictions where abortion is illegal. That it is at least professionally permissible does not mean that they have an all-things-considered ethical justification or obligation to provide illegal abortions or that professional obligations or professional permissibility trump legal obligations. It rather means that professional organisations should respect and indeed protect doctors’ positive claims of conscience to provide abortions if they plausibly track what is in the best medical interests of their patients. It is the responsibility of state authorities to enforce the law, but it is the responsibility of professional organisations to uphold the highest standards of medical ethics, even when they conflict with the law. Whatever the legal sanctions in place, healthcare professionals should not be sanctioned by the professional bodies for providing abortions according to professional standards, even if illegally. Indeed, professional organisation should lobby to offer protection to such professionals. Our arguments have practical implications for what healthcare professionals and healthcare professional organisations may or should do in those jurisdictions that legally prohibit abortion, such as some US States after the reversal of Roe v Wade.

Try swapping in "execution" for "abortion" there and see if you think the argument still holds good. Even if execution is illegal in some jurisdictions, doctors might be professionally justified to assist at them. Professional organisations like the AMA have a responsibility to uphold the highest standards of medical ethics even when they conflict with the law.

When doctors help the state to punish and eliminate its enemies, atrocities often follow.

The word "often" makes this statement true but vacuous. Otherwise, if you're trying to suggest that getting doctors involved makes things worse, I'd like to see some evidence other than your say-so.

Also, I'd take issue with describing criminals as the state's enemies, at least the kind of criminals who get the death penalty in America. They're everyone's enemies.

When doctors help the state to punish and eliminate its enemies, atrocities often follow. Doctors understandably refuse to take the first step onto the slippery slope to becoming grisly technicians of torture and death.

Doctors, as licensed professionals, are owned by the state. If the state wants to say "you want a doctor's license, you have to assist in executions", it could. The doctors' only recourse would be to leave the state. Which, granted, they probably would for this.

The sociological interest lies in watching people fail to join the dots.

The airplane safety card has a section on depressurization and the oxygen masks dropping down. "Put your own mask on first."

The danger being guarded against is that the parent takes too long trying to fit the mask on their frightened child and the parent passes out themselves. But how could that happen? Surely the parent soon suffers respiratory distress that forces them to fit their own mask before resuming helping their child? No. Hypoxia doesn't work like that. It is the carbon dioxide that makes you want to breath and the parent is breathing that out just fine. You can pass out from hypoxia with very little warning. I think this is now widely know, mostly due to the warning on the airplane safety card. The warning retains its place on the terse card because they want every-one to know.

There are other routes to this knowledge. Starving My Brain of Oxygen…For Safety?!? is two minute video on pilot training

Without proper training, pilots may not recognize the symptoms of hypoxia

More on the hypoxia training story I was looking for a much older video, which I think was an upload of a historical film of hypoxia training for pilots, with the low oxygen environment being some kind of Nissen hut. Hypoxia training isn't new.

There is a classic industrial accident involving a storage tank. Workman climbs down inside to do maintenance after the tank has been drained. But the residual chemicals have reacted with the oxygen, so he climbs down into a nitrogen atmosphere and dies. His safety buddy sees that he has passed out and, forgetting his training, climbs inside to do a heroic rescue. He also dies. Do you prefer Deaths from Environmental Hypoxia and Raised Carbon Dioxide or Confined Spaces Deadly Spaces: Preventing Confined Space Accidents? The YouTube video has a cute animation with a plumber with a mustache (Mario?) testing the air in the sewer. This also happens down on the farm Incident Investigation: Worker Loses Consciousness in Manure Spreader Tank | WorkSafeBC.

News coverage pretends to know none of this

In his Guardian interview, Smith said he feared that if Alabama carried out his execution it would put the new killing method of nitrogen hypoxia on the map.

The news coverage makes it seem that you can blunder into a confined space with little oxygen, gasp and struggle, and face the horrifying prospect that if you cannot escape in twenty-two minutes, then the lack of oxygen will kill you. And that this is a new hazard. I would feel more comfortable with agit-prop headlines screaming: Capitalism has been killing workers with nitrogen hypoxia for decades.

I'm feeling a little lost. Was the execution deliberately botched by pro-death-penalty activists trying to persuade the impalers and the crucifiers that the method is sufficiently cruel? Were the difficulties invented by anti-death-penalty activists trying to persuade us that the method is excessively cruel? I can tell that I'm being lied to, but not why or by whom or which details are false.

I can also see that the lying isn't being called out, perhaps not even noticed. The lies contradict well known stories about how the world works and how to avoid being killed by it, and yet people don't seem to join the dots and complain about the contradictions. That troubles me.

There is a classic industrial accident involving a storage tank.

You may appreciate USCSB's "Hazards of Nitrogen Asphyxiation" video as well.

Was the prisoner a heavy smoker? The details are hazy, but I remember reading that the respiratory system of a smoker is so accustomed to high CO2 levels in the lungs that it uses O2 leves to drive the breathing cycle instead.

No, he's been in prison for 35 years. If he was a heavy smoker beforehand(very plausible) he's been clean for decades.

You can't smoke in American prisons? TIL

Not officially, no. All American prisons are- I think the Russian term is ‘red prisons’, where they’re controlled by the gangs, so some do anyways- but death row inmates are highly monitored and separated from the general population.

It's the other way around. "Black prisons" are those where the wardens let the prisoners manage themselves as long as a semblance of discipline is maintained, "red prisons" are those where the wardens manage everything by the book.

However, smoking isn't banned in Russian prisons no matter their color. It's banned in control units of various kinds, but if your specific punishment type includes a walk, you are allowed to smoke during it.

The "red" ones are cop prisons. Gang prisons are "black".

Oh, then they’re black prisons.

If pop culture has taught me anything, they're too busy using them as currency to actually smoke them.

CO2 is not relevant in this case. Death is due to hypoxia, not CO2 poisoning.

Yes, but the gasping reflex is driven by CO2 levels in healthy humans and O2 levels in smokers.

I found an article with a detailed timeline. It says that the attorney general gave officials the go-ahead for the execution at 7:56. It then says that Smith "began to shake and writhe violently" at 7:58, and that this lasted around 2 minutes. It then says he began taking deep gasping breaths and that his breathing was no longer visible at 8:08 (unclear if it was visible at 8:07 and then stopped, or if that is just when the journalist first noted it was not visible). It quotes the Alabama Corrections Commissioner as saying the nitrogen gas flowed for 15 minutes. So the most obvious possibility, assuming that he held his breath and then began to shake either when they began the gas or after he started running out of oxygen, would be that he lost consciousness in 2-4 minutes and took 10-12 minutes to stop breathing. It is also possible he began to shake before they began administering the gas, in an attempt to get the execution delayed again like had happened previously, in which case the timeline would be less clear.

The BBC article quotes Alabama journalist Lee Hedgepeth as saying that "Kenny just began to gasp for air repeatedly and the execution took about 25 minutes total.". My first thought reading this (and the beginning of the post I was writing before deciding to try finding an actual timeline), was that "total" could include the time before they began administering the gas, the time after he lost consciousness, and the time after he was dead when they still had the mask running or were otherwise doing something that the journalist considered part of the execution process. In classic "The Media Very Rarely Lies" fashion, mentioning "total" execution time after mentioning him gasping for air makes it sound like he was living/conscious/suffering for 25 minutes after they began the gas, but does not actually say so. The timeline confirms it, there was 22 minutes between when they opened the curtains at 7:53 and closed them at 8:15. So the 22 minutes includes before the execution was ordered, after he was unconscious, and after he was dead (and then Hedgepeth rounded up to 25).

The Department of Corrections had required Hood to sign a waiver agreeing to stay 3 feet (0.9 meters) away from Smith’s gas mask in case the hose supplying the nitrogen came loose.

It is a deficiency in the article that it fails to mention the composition of the air that Hood was breathing. It would have clarified why Smith's attempt to avoid hypoxia by holding his breath demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the peril he faced.

I can tell that I'm being lied to, but not why or by whom or which details are false.

Execution being botched is also possible, all reported facts can be true here.

I'd go Hanlon's Razor here, a video of violent thrashing is pretty evocative evidence if you don't bother to do further research, and most people don't.

Also I don't know why this is the most humane method, I would think something like 'detonate large c4 brick under their pillow while they're asleep without prior warning' would be most humane, just more aesthetically upsetting to everyone else.

And sure, rebuilding the cell is probably expensive, but the entire nation does less than 20 executions a year. Compared to the court costs, it's probably a minor expense on the overall system.

People have a hangup where they interpret visible damage to the body as suffering.

Visible damage usually causes suffering. Visible distress, such as this man’s doomed attempt to hold his last breath or George Floyd’s struggles as he died of overdose under an officer’s grip, is the hangup. Distress is easily interpreted as a sign of damage, but the obvious is not always the underlying truth.

I was similarly confused by the media coverage of this execution, but what seemed likely to me was that a couple of outlets whose reporters are already trained to see swastikas in every shadow pattern-matched "asphyxiation by nitrogen" with "gas chambers," told all their friends that "Alabama is doing a Nazi thing," and then they all ran with it.

Regarding humane forms of execution, seeing as two things the US has in excess are fentanyl and guns, I always figured we should dope them up and then shoot them in the head, but that would run afoul of the unwritten rule that execution must be as clean and sanitized as possible so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the executioners. To which I say if we as a society can't stomach the sight of someone's brains splattered against a wall then we may as well abolish the death penalty because we clearly can't handle the weight of the responsibility.

I always figured we should dope them up and then shoot them in the head

Why bother with step 2? Step 1 will accomplish the job on its own.

but that would run afoul of the unwritten rule that execution must be as clean and sanitized as possible so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the executioners

That's not to not offend the sensibilities of the executioners, that's to not offend the sensibilities of death penalty opponents who are trying to nickel and dime the death penalty away.

As ever, there is absolutely no reason to treat objections to specific methods of the death penalty as good-faith disagreements. The overlap between people that insist that another method be used and people that don't want anyone executed is almost complete. For those of us that think there should be at least an order of magnitude more executions, most of us don't actually care about the method; if I thought updating from firing squad to some fake and lame "humane death" would be a compromise that gets people to stop trying to save the lives of vile murderers, I would take the compromise. I do think execution should be done by methods where the executor can't avoid the fact that they're ending a life, but whatever, I'm not that insistent on the point.

While the United States is slow about it and doesn't execute enough people, that it still does it to some of the worst people in the world is a great example of it retaining civilizational superiority over countries that take pride in their weakness.

I, a minarchist, am of the opinion that the elected governor should be the one to throw the lever, turn the knob, or fire one of the guns with a 1/4 chance of having a blank. The denial of an appeal for mercy is basically this, so let her feel the moral weight of the death and the moral hazard of the doubt of “maybe he truly was innocent”.

As someone who has been opposed to the death penalty for a long time, I can assure you that people opposed to the death penalty aren't making any arguments that are overly concerned with the specific method. The usual case is that proponents try to sanitize the process as much as possible to avoid bad PR. Capital punishment is a much easier sell if it looks more like putting down a dog rather than a violent, public action. Opponents simply point out that these methods aren't as "humane" as their proponents like to make it seem. I don't know of anyone who has ever argued that they'd be in favor of capital punishment if only we could eliminate the suffering involved. To the contrary, I and several of my friends of the same disposition are of the opinion that if we're going to have capital punishment we should stop pussyfooting around and just do it. Firing squad and hanging are still viable methods of execution in the US, but the authorities in places like Alabama that like to thump their chests about capital punishment are too squeamish to actually implement them, and instead turn to half-assed measures like nitrogen hypoxia in a vain attempt to make people think that the business of killing someone against his will is a perfectly cromulent practice.

I remember back in the 90s Phil Donahue or some other left-leaning talk-show host wanting to show an execution on television in the hopes that it would end public support for capital punishment. I also remember, a few years later, news reports that public opinion for the practice dipped to an all-time low following the heavily publicized execution of Timothy McVeigh (before shooting back up after 9/11). If all of these southern governors so adamant about the necessity of the death penalty are serious, they should have no problem 1.) Using execution by firing squad, 2.) Personally attending an execution, and 3.) Either showing it on TV or livestreaming it. The fact that this is the one part of the penal system that's kept under wraps says a lot. PRisons have no problem bringing in TV crews for reality shows and allowing access to various do-gooders who want to help prisoners. Fines are pretty self-explanatory. Community service is done within the community, and even the oft-criticized "forced labor" of chan gangs is usually done right along a public highway. But when it comes to executions, they don't want to even record the process let alone broadcast it, and we rely on descriptions from a select group of journalists and other witnesses to even know what happens. All I ask is that if death penalty proponents are serious, they stop half-assing the process and let people see it. Public executions were the norm throughout most of human history, and I haven't heard any compelling reasons why, if we're going to keep the death penalty, we have to hide it from the public.

Public executions were the norm throughout most of human history, and I haven't heard any compelling reasons why, if we're going to keep the death penalty, we have to hide it from the public.

This is usually justified by death penalty proponents as giving privacy to a dying man as the only mercy available. The punishment is death, it isn't suffering, it isn't humiliation.

On an additional practical note, public executions in this day and age would be attended by dueling sets of activists and maintaining security can present a potential problem. In the 19th century it was also noted that public executions were sometimes used by deranged condemned to put on a spectacle.

I think deranged it a bit much. Part o& the reason for a public execution is the lack of mass media that is widespread enough to get the message out as the state needs it out there.

The message would be essentially three things: person is found guilty of a crime, the state is able to catch try, and punish people, and the state has decided that the crime is serious enough that a harsh sentence is warranted. In our era, coverage of the crime is pretty solid, and at the time of trial, most of the details are known. You know they’ve been arrested, you hear about the crime, and you hear the sentence. There’s really no need to publicly execute the person on top of that because we have news to tell us. Go back 150 years or more and it might take time to get news to all of the surrounding communities that someone had committed a crime worthy of death. Go back 250 years and getting the same news out gets harder still. But people would gather for the execution and of course talk about it (and the more of a spectacle you make, the better) which makes a public execution a way to leverage a sort of virality to make sure that people don’t do the kinds of crimes that get them executed.

All I ask is that if death penalty proponents are serious, they stop half-assing the process and let people see it.

Once again: this isn't because of proponents. It's because of opponents. This is a constant issue with death penalty arguments. Someone claims that the fact that we don't do X means that we are ashamed of the death penalty. No, "we" don't do X because if we did, the activists who don't like the death penalty regardless of what we do would raise a stink about it. I'd be fine with public executions. But there would be campaigns and boycotts and blacklisting by people who don't really think non-public executions are any better than public ones, but who will do anything they can to make the death penalty harder.

Why aren't executions public? Activists. Why don't we just hang or shoot them? Activists. Why do we make it look medical? Activists. Why do we care so much about making it painless? Activists. Don't blame proponents for any of it.

On this topic, I really smell a meme of, "Just fucking tell me how I'm allowed to execute people." The unfortunate thing for @Rov_Scam is that, even if he is personally willing to tell you how he'll let you execute people, he doesn't speak for all of the other folks who are against whatever variations of capital punishment. And of course, there are some folks who are just against it in general and will jump back and forth between arguments willy-nilly.

I think the proponents of capital punishment would easily be able to rally their ranks around any particular method of execution that was Officially (TM) deemed acceptable by opponents. I don't think any plurality of opponents can be formed to credibly commit to finding any particular method of execution acceptable.

Public executions were the norm throughout most of human history, and I haven't heard any compelling reasons why, if we're going to keep the death penalty, we have to hide it from the public.

Sentiment turned against public executions through scenes like the one Charles Dickens describes from the hanging of Frederick and Maria Manning:

Devonshire Terrace,

Tuesday, Thirteenth November, 1849

Sir,

I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing so, at intervals all through the night, and continuously from daybreak until after the spectacle was over. I do not address you on the subject with any intention of discussing the abstract question of capital punishment, or any of the arguments of its opponents or advocates. I simply wish to turn this dreadful experience to some account for the general good, by taking the readiest and most public means of adverting to an intimation given by Sir G. Grey in the last session of Parliament, that the Government might be induced to give its support to a measure making the infliction of capital punishment a private solemnity within the prison walls (with such guarantees for the last sentence of the law being inexorably and surely administered as should be satisfactory to the public at large), and of most earnestly beseeching Sir G. Grey, as a solemn duty which he owes to society, and a responsibility which he cannot for ever put away, to originate such a legislative change himself. I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks, and language of the assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies on negro melodies, with substitutions of “Mrs. Manning” for “Susannah” and the like, were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians, and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police, with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly— as it did— it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil. When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgement, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world, and there were no belief among men but that they perished like the beasts.

I have seen, habitually, some of the worst sources of general contamination and corruption in this country, and I think there are not many phases of London life that could surprise me. I am solemnly convinced that nothing that ingenuity could devise to be done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the wickedness it exhibits. I do not believe that any community can prosper where such a scene of horror and demoralization as was enacted this morning outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol is presented at the very doors of good citizens, and is passed by, unknown or forgotten. And when in our prayers and thanksgivings for the season we are humbly expressing before God our desire to remove the moral evils of the land, I would ask your readers to consider whether it is not a time to think of this one, and to root it out.

I am, Sir, your faithful Servant.
Charles Dickens

You can say that this is all just stupid sentimentality and why shouldn't treat executions as public entertainment (if the Coliseum was good enough for the Romans, it's good enough for us!) And indeed, if our society has become coarsened enough, why not? But I think having public executions will be a battleground for two sets:

(1) Anti-capital punishment, who will want to show the degrading and inhumane activity and get it banned. (2) Pro-capital punishment, who are purely about vengeance and would have no problem watching someone dangling from a botched hanging and slowly strangling to death for minutes at a time.

Though I can understand the family members of victims wanting "yes, he should suffer torture and slow death the same way he inflicted it on my loved one", I think a lot of people who think they're tough enough to watch an execution and simply laugh at it might change their minds when faced with the reality. I don't think it is beneficial to society in the long run to coarsen our citizens to the extent that public torture is "eh, the last Saw movie was better, gorier, more enjoyable".

(I'm anti-capital punishment and anti-abortion, if anyone needs to know my positions here).

While the United States is slow about it and doesn't execute enough people, that it still does it to some of the worst people in the world is a great example of it retaining civilizational superiority over countries that take pride in their weakness.

I dunno. some of the worst civilizations/ societies also executed a ton of people. Saudi Arabia, for example, of more executions not leading to a better society. But I think the scope should be expanded to include pedos and the like.

Correct, the death penalty is so historically common and normal that pretty much every society will have had it. Killing the worst criminals is no guarantee of a quality civilization, but not killing them is an indication that the civilization has pathological empathy.

but not killing them is an indication that the civilization has pathological empathy.

or being indicator of being functional enough to keep them in prisons

The continued life of Anders Breivik isn't an indicator of being functional.

I would not optimise for edge cases.

Though if Breivik would be executed I would be fine with it.

But I think the scope should be expanded to include pedos and the like.

Up until 2008 there were people on death row in the United States for pedophilia and several death penalty states maintain laws allowing them to do so, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional during an election cycle. This is an interesting example of the usual dynamic where elite opinion is sharply negative towards the death penalty even as it retains popular support.