The Magazine

Death in Europe, Metro riders, and more.

Jun 25, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 39
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WITH GEORGE W. BUSH visiting Europe last week as Timothy McVeigh was being put to death, it was perhaps only natural that newspaper readers would be treated to a sample of European opinion on capital punishment.

"Almost as One, Europe Condemns Execution," clucked a typical headline in the June 12 New York Times. Well, at least they said "almost."

In the body of the article, we discover that the headline refers, first off, to other headlines. "Assassination of an Assassin," from the lefty French tabloid Libération, is one piece of evidence adduced for European condemnation. And joining Europe’s journalists are, of course, Europe’s bureaucrats. The Times helpfully reminds us that the anti-death penalty consensus is so firm that a nation must ban capital punishment before it can join the European Union.

But then the article’s thesis suffers a collision with its reporting. It turns out that European public opinion—the non-elite jumble of incorrect feeling and thought that right-thinking Eurocrats in Brussels spend their careers trying to suppress—is far from unanimous. Take the French, described in the article as "not even Europe’s staunchest abolitionists; they split about 50-50 on the death penalty." Of course a 50-50 split means the country comes nowhere near to being staunchly abolitionist.

The Spanish, for their part, are staunchly opposed to capital punishment. Elsewhere in Europe, however, public opinion closely resembles the same split in favor of executions that one finds in the United States. The British are about 60 percent in favor of capital punishment (about where American opinion stands). A Dutch poll recently found 52 percent of respondents to be in favor. And though the Council of Europe may in one voice call the execution of Timothy McVeigh "sad, pathetic and wrong," Swedes and Italians are also close to being evenly divided on the death penalty.

Furthermore, it was only in the 1990s that the death penalty was outlawed in Ireland, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Greece. It would have been more accurate for the Times to have said, "Almost as Half, Europe Condemns Execution," but that has no ring to it.

The following day, the same paper’s editorial page intoned, "For many Europeans, talk of shared trans-Atlantic values rings hollow so long as America carries out executions." For many Americans, talk of shared trans-Atlantic values will ring just as hollow so long as the anti-democratic ethos of Europe’s institutions is as entrenched as it is on capital punishment.


POSSIBLY BECAUSE OF ITS HEAVY CONCENTRATION of transportation experts, the Washington, D.C., area is famed for its traffic jams and nightmare commutes. Hence, one of the most popular features of the Washington Post is the "Dr. Gridlock" column, which specializes in letters from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of angry and often deeply unattractive D.C. commuters. This reader’s June 11 letter, though, may never be surpassed for cold-heartedness.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Regarding the pregnant woman who asked for others to accommodate her on Metrorail, let me first say that pregnancy is a choice. It is not a handicap, nor is it related to aging, neither of which is a choice; these people—not the pregnant ones—should be offered the seats closest to the doors.

If a person’s balance and circulation are adversely affected by a chosen state (pregnancy), perhaps public transportation is not the best choice for that person.

Asking people to change their behavior out of common courtesy for all riders is perfectly valid. I would not offer my seat to a pregnant woman any more than I would offer my seat to a woman wearing high heels.

Choices have consequences, and one of the consequences of being pregnant or wearing high heels is that you may be uncomfortable sometimes.

If you don’t want to deal with these consequences, don’t get pregnant or wear high heels. If you need to sit, ride the train during a non-rush hour or choose another means of transportation.

In other words, instead of expecting others to change their behavior to make you comfortable, change your own behavior to make yourself comfortable.

Amy Michaud

And still transportation experts wonder why Americans resist mass transit.


DO WE NEED TO REPEAT the case against campaign finance reform? As THE SCRAPBOOK has explained many times in the past—oh wait; let’s turn instead to Ron Brownstein’s excellent June 11 column in the Los Angeles Times, on the recent British elections: