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HON 2777 Students: Write with the reader in mind!

End of Semester

18 May 2010
The Moral Lesson - Death
Image by Edith OSB via Flickr

It’s been interesting to consider the Death Penalty from so many angles with all of you this semester.  Your papers were interesting to read – everything from fairy tale death to famous people’s executions.

This blog will stay online, although I will unenroll you as authors.   Your work will continue to be available for others to locate.  It has had nearly 5000 “hits” in the 16 weeks we’ve been working.

The “Blogger of the Semester” prize goes to Sydnee with 7 posts – way to go!

I took the photo at right a few years ago in the church at Subiaco, where St. Benedict lived in a cave for 3 years.  It is supposed to be a moral lesson in the transience of all material things, given for a young person (shown in white on the left).  While the first corpse (on the top) is dressed in fine clothes, the third (on the bottom) is merely a skeleton: all that looked so fine has rotted away.

We have grappled with some difficult topics this semester, and handled them well.  As you can see from the headline below, even the information about the laws has already changed – so keep your eyes open and your thinking caps on!

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Presentations Monday May 10

7 May 2010
Slice of Time
Image by Edith OSB via Flickr

We had 7 great presentations on Friday – bravo! – and the remaining students are scheduled to present on Monday, May 10.  We will also have some refreshments and time for the Student Satisfaction Surveys.

Please do arrive on time, so that each person has an attentive audience.

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Bonus News: Solitary Confinement

1 May 2010
tags: , ,

In this class we have talked about the prison systems, and solitary confinement. I recently found a new report from Nightline and the National Geographic Channel that takes us into Colorado state penitentiary a maximum security prison. In CSP everyone is in solitary confinement. This is a great report as they interview inmates, prison staff, and a psycyatrist. It’s also a video so we can see what solitary confinement actually looks like in a US prison.

Solitary at CSP is used as a forum of behavioral modification. If a prisoner in the general populations misbehaves in some way, most commonly acts of violence. They are put into solitary confinement for an average of two years. However, many are there for several years. Currently 80,000+ prisoners serving time in solitary confinement in US prisons. In this report solitary confinement refers to prisoners kept in isolation 23 hours a day. Stays in solitary are determined by prisoner behavior. Contact with people is minimal. Food is delivered by slot, showers are robotically controlled. Physical contact occurs only when moved from cells.
23 hours a day are spent in an 8×10 cell, with one hour a day in a small exercise room. The exercise room has one pull up bar, and is otherwise empty. The cell rooms have a small slit window, and a large florescent lamp, there is a bed and some small bin for clothing and personal effects. Some prisoners use this bin as a chair. They have a small ledge and stool, possible to take the place of a desk or a table. It looks like there is a sink and toilet in each room. Otherwise the room is barren. Prison officials say this reduces violence in the general prison population, and that it is the most effective way to handle disciplinary issues. Many prisoners complain of psychological and physical distress. The Supreme Court has never addressed the constitutionality of solitary. Some lower courts have indicated there may be unpleasant side effects.


“Three things happen to people here:
1. They learn to put on blinders.
2. They keep getting madder and madder. Angry about trying to fight a battle they can’t win.
3. They go Crazy”

– Larry Clacy 7 year prison sentence for ID theft. In prison he attacked two guards. Two times placed into solitary confinement, previous sentence was five years.

“The mind is always going and it seems like you just can’t shut it off , sometimes I just felt like I might just crack, man was not made for this. “

“For the people who are still in there? All I can say is that I am going to pray for them and hope that they can make it out og there with all there sanity, cause it’s a mad house in there.”

- Hozen Golzalus recently released from solitary into the general public. He was serving a 5 year term in CSP for car theft and parole violations He was deemed an escape risk with a history of dispensary problems. He also said being in solitary is like being tom hanks character in Castaway.

Solitary confinement prisoners often suffer from “difficulty with thinking concentration, memory, disorientation, its basically a delirium. One of the things we find in solitary confinement is that people become very paranoid.“

- Dr. Stuart Grassian, psychiatrist

“We aren’t cutting them off from physical contact because it’s fun or because we like being cruel. We are cutting them off until we can assume that contact is going to be safe. We believe in what we are doing here, we believe in the ability to modify behavior and to change individuals to make them more productive and more safe.”

- Suzan Joans, a warden at CSP

After this report I am wondering what a life sentence in solitary would do to person? Would they be able to retain sanitary or would they crack after 10 years? On a related note many people state that they wish to inflict pain or physical discomfort on death row inmates, for revenge, justice, retribution, or whatever. So they don’t these people advocate for life in solitary?

The video wont embed so here is a direct link.–10337804

Points for Presenters

30 April 2010

What is the worst kind of class presentation? The type where someone made a couple of notes because “I know the topic” and rambles until pulled off stage by a large hook.

Here is what I hope your class presentations will be like:

  1. Begin with a clear, concise, statement of the question or thesis of the paper.
    (“I wanted to consider the presentation of executions in songs across the centuries”)
  2. State a plan or outline
    (“There are so many different types of music that I chose to look at just two: opera and folk ballads.  I chose these two  because …”)
  3. Present the core elements of each part of your plan
    (“Executions often occur in the final act of operas, as the culmination of the plot line…. Women taking the place of their beloved on the day of execution was a surprising theme in the folk ballads.”
  4. State a conclusion
  5. Bonus points:  Have an excellent question prepared for the class to contribute.
    (“After completing this paper, I wondered why executions were so popular in plot lines. What do they add that an accidental death, or a departure, does not add?”)

This style of presentation, in the business world, is called an Elevator Speech.  The idea is this:  You find yourself in an elevator with a rich person who might fund your new business / promote your event – bu you will never see her/him again.  If you don’t have a speech prepared, you’ll just stumble around and be ineffective.  So: have a short speech prepared that does not SOUND canned – it sounds natural.

Here’s a short video on making an elevator speech:


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Chapter 10 summary

27 April 2010
tags: ,

Chapter 10 summary

1994 support was 80%
1966 support was 42%

Why American Death Penalty Opinion is important

American death penalty opinion is the one of the main reasons the death penalty is still used.
Five related reasons
1. Political capital for legislators.
2. High support leads prosecutors to seek more death plenty convections
3. Judicial job securely. Judges fear being removed if public not appeased
4. Governors fear political backlash if they veto death penalty cases
5. Public opinion used to judge the evolving standers of society

The History of American Death Penalty Opinion

First survey in 1936 of 2,201 adults showed 61% supported the death penalty for murder.
In 2006 65% of Americans supported the death penalty for murder.
Overtime there was a V-trend with the bottom of the V hitting in 1966 when support was at 42%.
There has been a move in polls to have higher support, and lower “no opinion/I don’t know”
Its thought this has something to do with the Furman decision as support was at 50% pre-furmen, and 57% post-furmen.

Newser polls have more accurately accounted for demographic variations based on gender, race, age, politics, education, income, occupation, religion, city size and region.
It was found that

“whites, wealthy people, males, republicans and westerners tended to support the death penalty more then blacks, poorer peoples, females democrats, and southerners. “

in each demagogic group showed greater then 50% support for the death penalty. Race was the only exception where nonwhites only had 49% support.

The Present
The Marshall hypothesis: public opinion must be taken into account for a legal punishment can be stopped if the public outcry agesnt it is too high. The option of the informed electorate must be taken into account. Given this Marshall thinks the public would conclude that the death penalty is immoral and thus unconstitutional.

Social scientists have studied this idea and found some support for this, however the studies suffer from methodological problems defining an “informed individual”. Marshall’s definition is on page 372. There is uncertainty about how much information is required to be informed.

Further study has been done to show that becoming informed about the death penalty has a polarizing effect. That is people become more firmly rooted in their support or opposition to capital punishment. The overall numbers where comparable to current national data.

Other studies were conducted that showed a large more away from the death penalty. But have a serious like of objective controls that undermined the studies validity.

Bohm did his own study to investigate this issue and found signifagent increase (~20%) in death penalty opposition. The main factors included the specificity of questions “all” or “some” of the convicts, and the survey methodology. Bohm also found evidence for a polarizing effect, and that when retribution was involved information had no little to no impact on death plenty support. Follow up studies showed a return to original positions after being informed on the issues.

Asking about alternatives

Bohm states that a large problem with option polls is how the questions are asked. Ambiguous questions can lead individuals to interpret them in unrealistic ways. Many people think that life in prison will result in less than 10 years being served before release.

When give the chose between LWOP and the death penalty the spilt was ~50/50. When LWOP+ (the + being restitution) support drops to 19-43%. Some murder victim’s family are uncomfterbal with accepting reparations money.

In polls people express secptasism that local authorities will keep convicts in prisons.

Opinion on death eligibly based on crime is all over the place. From 13 would execute all murderers to 95% we who would execute one.

Bohm ends the chapter by talking about the evolving standards of society and moral regression as death penalty cases increase, and that European nations abolished the death penalty despite high lives of public support for the death penalty. After sometime supported went down to almost nothing. Regardless it seems overall death penalty policy will remained tired to American public opinion.


Blogging and fair use

26 April 2010
Copyright Law
Image by The Ardvaark via Flickr

A few folks have posted news stories that, on quick reading, have the appearance of being primarily cut-and-paste of existing news stories.  In blogging, as in other forms of publication, the use of an entire piece of writing by another person is neither ethical nor legal.

How does one blog about a news story, then?

  1. You must include a link to the original story, not just the title and source.  It’s basic web-etiquette.

  2. Have something to say about it.

    • Compare something in this news story to other stories  with which it contrasts
    • Describe a general theme or principle of interest to you, and show how this story is an example of that theme.
    • Analyze the news story in terms of one or more theories or perspectives that we have studied.
    • If the news story takes one perspective, imagine what a person with an opposing viewpoint would say.  Build that argument, briefly, and state your own view
    • If the news item relates to something outside our death penalty class, you can make that connection

    No matter which approach you take, your blog post should be in your own voice, sharing your thoughts.

  3. Use short quotes from the original story to illustrate your point or let a particular style of voice speak for itself. If you are contrasting viewpoints, you might have links to two articles and quote dueling or corroborating voices.
  4. Be sure that all the information about the original source is available, at least through the link and, better yet, also by mentioning the newspaper and author by name.

If you have posted a “news” post that is entirely a re-post of other writing, please go back and do one of the following:

  • Write a real blog post (using the guidelines above) in which you interact with the item

  • Remove it from this blog and, if you were assigned “News” for that week, replace it with something that meets the guidelines.

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Kohlberg and Moral Development

25 April 2010

I thought it was pertinent to expand on the section in Bohm where Lawrence Kohlberg is cited as having completed a 20-year longitudinal study. Unfortunately, searching PubMed and EBSCO Host resulted in only an abstract. Instead I thought it would be nice to posit Kohlberg’s stages of development in regards to the stages that all people are said to go through. I found the information on the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary website, you can view the original discussion regarding it here.


Kohlberg’s (1958a) core sample was comprised of 72 boys, from both middle- and lower-class families in Chicago. They were ages 10, 13, and 16. He later added to his sample younger children, delinquents, and boys and girls from other American cities and from other countries (1963, 1970).

The basic interview consists of a series of dilemmas such as the following:

Heinz Steals the Drug

In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug-for his wife. Should the husband have done that? (Kohlberg, 1963, p. 19)

Kohlberg is not really interested in whether the subject says “yes” or “no” to this dilemma but in the reasoning behind the answer. [Click to read more] Read more…


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