Archive » August 2020 » Columns

Sometimes the heading “The Old Men of the Mountain” is a misnomer because some of the OMOTM are not that old, by the group’s standards anyway. In this case, one of the OMOTM reported that he and a few of his friends (who still play with their bikes) went on an 800-mile motorcycle trip to Alexandria Bay on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. They were gone about three days and had a nice ride because, as the OMOTM reported, the weather was great.

This shows it is still possible to have fun and take great trips without leaving the state so having to quarantine is not necessary. The OMOTM reported they also visited the Eisenhower Lock, and visited about a dozen American Legions in the area but found only a few open.

A person has to be younger than this scribe to pull a trip like this. A three-day trip like this would take the scribe a three-month recovery session to get over it. It did sound like fun for those who can, and should, take a trip like this.

Another OF in a conversation mentioned that he was going to schedule time to watch the Perseid Meteor Shower and he did. The OF said he went out three times during the night to view the heavens in search of the meteors. The OF reported that he spotted only three; he did not mention if all three came at one time or it was one each time he went out. One hundred an hour must have been someplace else — not where the OF was.

One thing that the OF did notice was the absence of bugs. We (the OF and this scribe) started talking about the absence of bugs, and the few birds we have seen. Both the OF and this scribe said even wasps, mosquitoes, millers, and the like are not around as much; there are a few but not like they should be, and neither are the birds that feed on them.

The OF and the scribe discussed the absence of these birds; neither of us can remember seeing a cedar waxwing in a couple of years. They may be around but the OFs haven’t seen them or the swallows this year. In the evening, these birds would be darting all over the backyard but haven’t been around last year or this year as far as we can tell.

The swallows used to take over the bluebird houses; now they are empty for us. The other things on the wane are the small undomesticated animals; they seem to be disappearing also. The OF brought up how he has not seen a snake in a long time either.

One OF added to this conversation that we should just watch what might happen next year. We are probably going to be overrun with insects, bugs, wasps and little critters so much so they are going to be a pain in the — neck.


Some OFs meet

A few of the OMOTM are meeting at some of the local restaurants but this scribe is not one of them. The scribe’s wife is 85, and the scribe is 87 with a few stents in the heart and both of us are on meds. Still, both of us are very careful, and if we do go out it is well planned and not very often.

What we will need to help the column is to have one of the group, who meets with some of the determined others who are very fearless, email the scribe with who was there, and where, along with what they discussed.

There are some topics that have been done to death in the column i.e., old cars, trucks, tractors, doctor visits, and the virus. If anyone can come up with interesting topics other than those, like who was just let out of jail, or who took the challenge of skydiving, or who has the virus (that is different than the coronavirus in general) or who ran away with the woman next door, that all would be neat for the column.

So for now, this small bit will have to do. 



Here are some signs you’re getting older:

— All of your favorite movies are now revised in color;

— The car that you bought brand new becomes an antique;

— Conversations with people your own age often turn into “dueling ailments”;

— Frequently you find yourself telling people what a loaf of bread used to cost;

— “Getting lucky” means you find your car in the parking lot;

— The gray-haired person you help across the street is your spouse;

— It takes a couple of tries to get over a speed bump;

— Lawn care has become a big highlight of your life;

— One of the throw pillows on your bed is a hot water bottle; and

— A sexy babe catches your fancy and your pacemaker opens — the garage door.


1934 military fire truck

— Photo from John R. Williams

Karl Remmers restores tractors, and rescued a 1934 military fire truck.

The weeks seem to fly by; it is time for another column, and soon it will be time for another one, etc. etc. As we all grow older day by day it is nice to have a project that keeps us busy; the old men have many of those.

The scribe has reported on these over the years. One project that is rather constant is the restoration of old things, as in the case of the bridge builders, removing, repairing, reinstalling and even starting from scratch with their bridges so hikers can safely enjoy the paths that wander through the Hilltowns.

There is a group of OMOTMs that restores and preserves old equipment — stationary or mobile. These types of projects require movement (body), study (mind), and execution (satisfaction of a completed job).

Put all these together and with the OMOTM it makes age, and attitude, just a number. To show what these OMOTM have accomplished through their own work, or work to be done, and even purchases that have to be maintained, here are just a few of them.

Some projects that the OMOTM start now take much longer than when the interest was first initiated.

Usually this scribe does not name names in the column to protect the innocent, and in our case it may also be the guilty. For this, the scribe will name names but only in this one category. The OMOTM also have many more in the group that have interests and talents which require clear heads: musicians, pilots, artists, gardeners, etc.

The OMOTM have Pete Whitbeck and his cars, one a running Model T; Bill Lichliter and his restoring old military vehicles; Karl Remmers restoring tractors, and rescuing a 1934 military fire truck, and maintaining it; Roger Chapman and his tractors plus a 1933 Hudson to be restored. The OFs live what they talk.

Now that many of the OFs are enjoying the extra time at home, things are getting done around the house. One OF said he did two things. One was eventually learning how to use and then using a smoker he purchased quite a while ago. The OF said he bought it because he thought it was the thing to do — everyone else was buying them.

In this time while at home, and not running all over the place, he has learned how to use this specific piece of BBQ grill, and now uses it all the time. The OF has made special trips into his woodlot to cut hickory sticks to use in it and the OF said that food from this cooker is real gooood.

Another thing that is getting done is yard work, and exterior and interior painting of the ole château. This should help the paint, and paint-accruement manufacturers, but can lead to some surprises.

For example, one OF who was pulling weeds in plantings around the house had a huge surprise. After pulling the weeds, the OF said he had a pile of them and so carried them out to his compost pile. Just as he was ready to throw them on the pile, he saw the biggest snake he has ever seen in his compost.

The OF said the snake had to be three inches through and at first he could not see the head, so he carefully cleared away some of the compost and saw that it was a round head with round eyes and round pupils (if anyone cares to get close enough to check this out), which generally means it is harmless.

The vipers generally have an arrow-shaped head with flat eyes, which can have slits in them. (Again, if anyone wants to go eyeball to eyeball and check it out, go ahead. Lesson for today).

The snake must have been logy or full because it did not scurry away. It stayed still in the compost long enough for the OF to take a picture of it and send it to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

The OF said they returned with information on the snake. It is quite uncommon in our area; however, it is a northern water snake, and the water snakes are one of the most common snakes in the lower 48 states and are very beneficial and harmless.


Exercise for seniors

The scribe, after perusing the net for more activities for the home-bound, found the following helpful advice on exercise for seniors:

— Begin by standing on a comfortable surface, where you have plenty of room at each side;

— With a five-pound potato bag in each hand, extend your arms straight out from your sides and hold them as long as you can, then relax;

— Each day, you’ll find you can hold this position longer. Try to reach a full minute’

— After a couple of weeks, move up to 10-pound potato bags and then 50-pound potato bags. Eventually you will be able to lift 100-pound potato bags and hold your arms straight for a full minute. (I’m at this level now);

— After you feel confident at that level, put a potato in each bag.

— By Otis Historical Archives Nat'l Museum of Health &ampField notes

A triage station in Suippes, France during World War I.

For Pete Hamill

I predict that the “word of the year” for 2021 will be “triage,” pronounced: tree·aazh. And that’s no small claim considering that the word for 2020 hasn’t come out yet — and here I am betting on 2021.

As you might know, every year the major dictionary companies pick a “word of the year” because they can’t find a word in their book to say what they need to say — so they invent a word, add it to their dictionary, and share it with others.

It’s an extraordinary event really because a word is being born before our eyes; on a global scale, the human race is given greater competency to speak about what it needs to stay alive — if only by a word.

For 2019, the Oxford Dictionaries chose as their word of the year “climate emergency.” They said it referred to a “situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”

They could not find the sentiment in their book so they created “climate emergency” to allow the human tongue to speak with greater confidence about, again, what it needs to stay alive.

For 2019, Merriam-Webster chose “they.” You might say, hey, “they” is already in the dictionary! But Merriam-Webster said no, the company was now using it as a singular to refer to a person whose gender identity is “nonbinary.”

A deeply profound statement. A “he” can now be a they and a they can be a “she.” And a “they” can be any other expression of gendered-being.

And yet all the grammar books, all the lessons we learned growing up about “number” say you can’t refer to more than one person as a he (or a she). You have to say they. And you can’t refer to one person as they; they are more than one — a rule that religions disregard.

Through their choice, Merriam-Webster changed the way we speak about identity. They saw using “they” instead of “he” as a matter of justice for it takes into account the needs of people whose identity stood in a “no-man’s” land.

Those are two instances of the word of the year for 2019 by two great dictionary companies; now we await 2020.

But I suggest, as we do, that we pay attention to the word I chose for 2021: triage — and, yes, it is in the dictionary.

By 2021, “triage” will be seated deeply in the conscious of every American — and every other soul affected by the coronavirus — because it means a group or committee will be making decisions about who will live and who will die by culling the herd.

That is, part of the population will be denied the resources it needs to stay alive — capitalist ideology on steroids — because those resources just aren’t there.

Webster’s Third International says triage is: 1 Brit a: the process of grading marketable produce; b: the lowest grade of coffee berries consisting of broken material 2: the sorting and first-aid treatment of battle casualties in collecting stations at the front before their evacuation in hospitals to the rear.

The last is what most people are familiar with. Fans of the TV series M*A*S*H know all about it. In the show’s 122nd episode, “Margaret’s Marriage,” Chief Nurse Major Margaret Houlihan performs pre-op triage in a wedding dress!

And with “triage” we find ourselves once again in the field of economics because we’re talking about the value of some thing or some one as opposed to the value of some other thing or some other one. It’s “Antiques Roadshow” with people being appraised.

Triage says there’s only so much to go around and too many in need, so some will be sent to the desert to let the birds of the air have their say.

It’s very much related to the concept of “the value of a statistical life” (VSL), which is a measure of whose life is valuable — calculated by how much society is willing to spend to keep a person (or group of persons) alive. Triage says some are not worth the price; they cost too much.

You can see how all this relates to the distribution of the vaccine we have been promised to inoculate ourselves against COVID-19. It’s no small thing.

What if the vaccine is “strong enough” so a person can go to the mall any time he wants, can wade into the thickest crowds at the shore, can shop day or night without the slightest fear of catching anything — no mask! You want to be first in line?

If you read, or listen to, or watch, any of the major news sources in the country (world) today, there is considerable discussion about how fair the upcoming distribution system will be. The word transparency keeps cropping up; nobody wants to be cheated unfairly.

What’s troubling is that the matter is already before us. On July 25, Nicole Chavez and Kay Jones reported for CNN in an article “A Texas hospital overwhelmed by the coronavirus may send some patients home to die.”

“May send some patients home to die” means triage, the desert, the birds of the air having their say.

The medical staff at Starr County Memorial Hospital in Rio Grande City — located on the United State-Mexico border — said they couldn’t take it anymore, they were out of gas, nothing was left in the cupboard, they were sending people home, to die, in some cases alone.

In a Facebook post, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said with wistful sadness, “Unfortunately, Starr County Memorial Hospital has limited resources and our doctors are going to have to decide who receives treatment, and who is sent home to die by their loved ones. This is what we did not want our community to experience.”

Later she said, “Our backs are against the wall. We are literally in a life and death situation.”

Committees were being set up at Starr County Memorial Hospital to decide who should go home. Starr County? I keep thinking of Star Chamber.

Who then should get the vaccine first? Doctors, nurses, and all their assistants, who keep bodies lined-up in hospital hallways, alive? There seems to be universal agreement they should get the shots first.

What about “vulnerable populations?” Are they next? Recent epidemiological data say the poor, African Americans, and Latinos are the worst hit by COVID-19. Should not they, our poor, our black, and our Brown citizens be next in line?

What about the agèd? Those 75 and over the virus blows through like a locomotive. Should not they be next? But some will say: Those old fogies had their day; let’s focus on younger souls to give them a shot at life.

These are the kinds of variables that comprise America’s (the world’s) value of a statistical life index today and will determine who will be culled from the herd.

And if Miss Corona rages even more so this coming fall and winter — as is universally agreed she will — there will not be enough beds to go around. Who should be the first to get — as they used to say in vaudeville — the hook?

Footnote: Hospice teams will be stretched so thin, they too will send folks to the desert to die, some alone and some spiraling in wonderment as the birds of the air circle above. I can hear them now: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/ O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” 

And, if it does, they’re saying, why ain’t it waving for me?


Day 1: I was doing a major outdoor project near the house, by my garage. I had wood, power tools, and extension cords all over the place. At one point, I noticed a huge bumble bee hovering about. Hmmm, that’s strange, I thought. There were no flowers where I was working.

Day 2: I’m working hard with a power drill. All of a sudden, I look up and I see not one but two huge bumble bees. Now I’m thinking: Hey, what’s going on here? All of a sudden — yow — I got stung on my left shoulder.

I don’t know what guys do who aren’t married to someone who knows everything, but I went screaming into the house, yelling for my wife. When she saw what it was, she got some water, dragged me back outside, mixed the water with some dirt, and slapped it on my shoulder. Surprisingly for something that crude, it actually worked. According to my wife, the mud draws the stinger out. How about that. Lucky I married up.

Day 3: I’ve dealt with nasty yellow-jacket ground nests before, so I reached into my playbook from that since I still had a ton or work to do outside. What I do when confronted with ground nests is to first find the hole. That was easy in this case.

The bumble bees were clearly coming and going from a hole close to the house on the side of the garage, right where I was working. I hooked up my shop vacuum cleaner and placed the hose — with as long an extension as I could rig up — so that it was right next to the hole. Then I watched and waited.

Sure enough, as bees returned to the hole — probably filled with pollen from flowers — they got sucked into the vacuum. Even ones that tried to exit the hole got sucked in as well. That’s a great trick you might want to file somewhere.

Let me say right here that I love bees and their symbiotic relationship with humans. We need them very, very much. However, when a nest is so close to your house that you or yours are getting stung, it just has to go, period.

Day 4: I went out early in the morning after putting the shop vac away the night before. I thought I was all done with the bees. Ha! Little did I know it was just the bee-ginning.

The bees started right back up, entering and exiting the hole again. I didn’t want to use the shop vac again because it’s rather loud. Instead, I got a fly swatter and, believe it or not, I was able to achieve a very high kill rate with that simple plastic tool.

If you sit by the hole, you can just see the yellow on their backs as they start to emerge. Then it’s like a game of whack-a-mole. The returning ones are trickier, as they circle the hole fairly rapidly, and only slow down when they’re sure it’s the right location. That’s when you get your chance to whack them.

Unfortunately, often the first whack doesn’t kill them; they can still crawl around for a very long time afterward unless you whack them several more times. Believe me, I took no pleasure in this, but it had to be done.

Day 5: I had thought I was all done by Day 5, but then another hole appeared and there were so many more I had to drag out the shop vac again. Yes, it was that bad. I have dry, sandy soil in that location, which turns out to be perfect for ground-nesting insects. By this time, I had finished the outdoor project, and now it was all about controlling the bee problem. I was a man on a mission.

Day 6: No vacuum needed but there were still so many bees coming and going that I would go outside, and if I just stood there for five minutes I was sure to see at least one or two. So that’s what I did all day, go in and out every now and then, hunting and killing bees.

I don’t know how many I got in total, but if you add in the ones sucked into the shop vac it has to be in the triple digits. I also put out a 2-liter soda bottle with the top cut off, stuffed back in upside down, and sugary soda inside. I read that bees would be attracted to the scent and get caught. Didn’t work. Got a lot of ants, though.

Day 7: Unbelievably, I had another hole develop and there were still more bees coming and going after a week. I was going bee crazy at this point! I looked up methods on YouTube for ground nest removal.

Some people are just nuts. Muriatic acid? Pouring gasoline into the hole and lighting it? Truly crazy stuff. Apparently bees don’t like the smell of garlic or cinnamon, but I was too far gone to try deterrent methods like that. I needed to end it sooner rather than later.

Day 8: The morning started with yet another hole in the same area. I sat there with the fly swatter and killed about 25 of them before the action stopped. I dug up the area but could not find the nest or the tunnels. Then I got out a big tarp and used concrete blocks to just cover the whole area. I checked in on it periodically after that and it appeared to have done the trick. Appeared.

Days 9 to 15: Every day with the tarp on the ground started out with about 25 angry bees wondering what was going on. They were so mad their incessant buzzing sounded like screaming. I was able to get most of them with the swatter, but boy were they angry.

Serendipitously, I heard a report on National Public Radio about ground-nesting insects like bees, ants, and wasps. Turns out some of them don’t have hives, but rather live alone underground where it’s cool and they can produce their larva. I think that’s what I was dealing with, though why there were so many I have no idea. Probably it was building up over time, and I only noticed it when I had that large outdoor project to do.

Day 16: Finally, no more bees. Hallelujah! My plan now is to put in patio pavers and stone to get rid of the sandy soil that attracted them in the first place. I’ve had my fill of bees for a long, long time. I don’t even want any honey these days.

Bee-lieve me, I bee-moan the fact that this bee-came such a beeg thing, truly bee-yond the imagination, and I’ll bee much more cautious bee-sides the house from now on. Un-bee-lievable. Just bee hopeful they don’t bee-set you next.

This scribe has contacted a few of the Old Men of the Mountain and one Old Man of the Mountain who is not a member of the gathering, but really is an old man of two mountains because he owns the top of one mountain in Richmondville. Anyway, the main topic in discussions is the pandemic situation. So here we go again.

One of the OFs thought that the virus was brought here by aliens from another planet, just like explorers years ago from another continent brought smallpox to the Indians. This OF thought it wasn’t aliens that brought the virus but the supposed virus is the aliens themselves.

He feels that their spaceship landed somewhere in the east and the aliens were brought by this landing and that is why we are having so much trouble with the virus and it spread worldwide so fast, because it has a brain and a plan.

So this scribe thinks the OF is only half right. The scribe thinks the virus is the alien. The alien is traveling the universe, looking for a planet it can inhabit and take over. The main plan is first to eliminate as many of the inhabitants of the planet as they can in the shortest period of time. Then they will have free run of the rest and can take care of them in their own time.

Once this is done, they will have control of the planet and it will be their home. With the planet Earth, the aliens ran into a serious problem that they had not planned on. The problem is called oxygen. The aliens can’t handle oxygen.

So, as the president says, we are in a real world war, and our weapons are simple masks, and social distancing. Social distancing is a cube or a box the alien can attack from front, back, sides, top or bottom so we must be prepared from any direction.

As the alien reaches out to grab another victim, and there is too much space between the launch point and the victim, the alien will take in too much oxygen so the alien weakens and can’t reach the victim and dies.

The aliens have found they have another problem with people on the planet Earth. For the most part, earthly people wear clothing and the alien has a problem working its way through the clothing to attack a bodily fluid, and the alien also found that the bodily fluids are also protected by an outer layer of skin and this skin is waterproof and can be cleaned easily.

However, there are voids in the skin where bodily fluids are exposed and, if they can get to those areas of the body, there is a chance it can eliminate that one body of the earthly species. However, this planet has an unusual liquid that is made up partly of oxygen, and when combined with soap, the oxygen and soap does the alien in.

So the battle rages on with the alien trying to take over, and the populace fighting back with PPE’s, soap and water, and spacing themselves apart and surrounding themselves with a space of oxygen. If there is enough space (six feet) the alien won’t make it across.

The aliens are finding out this earth is not as easy a target as they thought, but they keep fighting on because their ship was found and destroyed so there is no retreat, and no escape. It is a fight till the end.

We are at war, my friends, and the enemy has attacked the old people first because they are the ones with the smarts. Take that, William Shatner.


Missing breakfasts

Also, in talking with the few OFs (we have discussed this before), we find the OFs really miss the breakfasts; on top of that, the OFs are old and they miss their routine. What they also miss is telling all the other OFs what their plans are for the week and what they are going to do.

The thing is, all the other OFs know most of this is wishful thinking because each one does the same thing and what really happens is maybe 20 percent of what the OFs tell each other they are going to get done, gets done. The rest is nap time!

A part of each conversation also is a deep and heartfelt concern for those out of work, and small businesses that have no business and are struggling. All the OFs desire a quick solution to the pandemic so things can return to some kind of normal, even if it isn’t the old normal.

And now, a final word from the internet. It seems this scribe recently got a senior’s GPS. Not only does it tell me how to get to my destination; it tells me why I wanted to go there.


Maximilien Robespierre and his supporters were executed by guillotine on 28 July 1794.

Are you asking if I support the death penalty, or if I believe in the sovereign state’s right to kill?  Those questions operate in altogether different universes, and I counsel caution in conflating philosophy with procedure.

But you’re right to ask, now that the federal government has resumed executions of federal death row inmates (three last month) previously suspended since 2003. So far this year, the United States and its component states have put 10 people to death; another five will be executed by the end of 2020.

I support state-sanctioned slaying — it’s the foundational premise of my job. Be it the clandestine raid on bin Laden’s compound or the righteous annihilation of those who opposed America’s unyielding advance up Normandy’s banks in 1944, I accept our government’s inherent right to employ deadly force as among the most justifiably self-evident of all societal truths.

But every right is wedded to its own abuse, and eventually breeds excess. That’s why any defense of state lethality is fundamentally tested when applied to the mode of American capital punishment. And since my dad has cornered the market on debating America’s post-Vietnam foreign policy, I’ll focus this discussion on the domestic context, and explain why I don’t support the death penalty — yet.

What proceeds is the perspective of a veterinarian’s son, who was raised vegetarian because “it’s wrong to take innocent life” but who simultaneously learned that there was no injustice in “putting to sleep” a German shepherd after she ripped apart the family goat a second time. (Of the German shepherd, ’twas said: “This world is inconsistent with her nature.”)

And the thesis of this column is that those who seek to abolish the death penalty are as misguided as those who support its current form.

First, on “justification”:  Our essential imperative must be a shared philosophical agreement that, if done justly, the state should have (and reserve unto itself) the right to kill. If you don’t agree with that, then here we must part ways — for my acceptance of state legitimacy requires that it function as an adequate arbiter of justice, and satisfactory dispute resolution necessitates the full array of options.

Because, if the menu of equitable recourses is lacking, vigilantes will just handle it themselves.  Illustrated: It’s not hard to imagine aggrieved parents resorting to their own ingenuity and enterprise to rectify a perceived deficit in justice if a court’s post-conviction treatment of their child’s murderer is too soft.

(Let’s pause to offer the sanctimonious a chance to pronounce that “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Now let’s together note the wholesale failing of that cliché’s basic arithmetic, since “an eye for an eye” leads not to blindness, but rather just to poor depth perception.)

Second, on “rationales”: Capital punishment is generally rationalized pursuant to theories of public security and deterrence, punishment and retribution, or — to a tragically lesser extent — “utilitarian mercy.”

My dad likes to say that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent unless applied to jaywalking. What he means is that the threat of execution won’t dissuade someone from committing a violent crime out of passion, despair, callous disregard, fury, or evil. But, if crossing the street could fetch a death sentence, you’d likely be a tad more conscientious about where you stepped off the curb.

Meanwhile, I’ve always been troubled by vengeance as a rationale, as I presume there’s something intrinsically wrong with people who perpetrate wanton violence. Whether it’s rage or hate or desperation or run-of-the-mill-sociopathy, only the maladjusted, abused, or insane generally act on the capacity to commit violent crime — and something about wreaking fatal revenge on such innately broken people seems unsavory.

That discomfort with revenge informs my adherence to the final theory: utilitarian mercy.  Remind me to tell you about the time I contracted COVID-19 in a war zone. For six dreadful days, the coronavirus ravaged my fever-wracked body, yet it was the resulting mandatory quarantine in a tiny windowless room that truly sucked.

By day nine, I was firm in my belief that life in a barren cage with no hope of escape is a greater violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment than a swift and painless execution. So, while I sympathize with those who oppose the death penalty because “rotting in prison is worse,” there’s likely a better use of limited state resources than accommodating retributive sadism. To my mind, utilitarian mercy is the only moral and practical rationale for the death penalty.

But if that’s the death penalty’s ethical framework, is there an ethical defense of the alternative, i.e., forever imprisoning a German shepherd who’s exposed her nature as inconsistent with this world, when “elimination” would serve a just punishment while also freeing up cage space? I’ll give you two.

The first acknowledges that the racial inequality of America’s death penalty is so unacceptably heinous that it fails outright the “this is why we can’t have nice things” test.  Roughly 42 percent of the faces on America’s death row are Black — more than three times their proportion of the U.S. population.

The disproportionate tendency of prosecutors to seek — and of juries to impose — the death penalty against black defendants for comparable criminality smacks of ethnic cleansing. (Yeah, I said it.)

What right have we to remove imperfect people from an imperfect world? If you want an impartial capital-punishment regime, roll up your sleeves and fix every other social ill first, starting with socioeconomic and environmental disparities as well as biases in law enforcement. 

The second ethical defense of a life sentence over a death sentence is that forever caging a dangerous German shepherd equips that veterinarian to rectify her mistake if forensic testing later reveals Lily Goat to have been viciously attacked by a different dog.

Earlier, I noted as self-evident that the state should have the right to kill if doing so could be done justly. But putting into practice that abstract philosophical precept is a complex proposition. 

This is where things break down. Because since 1973, 170 prisoners have been fully exonerated of the wrongful convictions that landed them on death row. For perspective, that’s one person spared the ultimate miscarriage of justice for every 10 people who have been executed (1,522 in total) since America’s death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Are you kidding me?

“Existential Proposition 1” must surely be that state execution of the innocent is humankind’s most egregious social sin. “Existential Proposition 2” follows that a single such instance is worse in moral magnitude than a thousand acquittals of the guilty.

Armed with these companion propositions, I thus bequeath unto tomorrow’s legislators five guiding principles with which to erect a just regime for capital punishment:  

FIRST, none shall be executed for nonviolent crimes.

There’s a lot of socially destabilizing behavior out there, but a con man who preys on old women’s bank accounts is best imprisoned, not destroyed. This principle ensures that the (capital) punishment fits the crime, i.e., that one should be denied life only where it intentionally operated to deny another’s.

(Is a co-conspirator who helps devise the fatal plan but doesn’t actually pull the trigger nonetheless guilty of a violent crime? In the interest of time and limited column space: sure.)

SECOND, none shall be executed for crimes absent a genuine and knowing admission of guilt — one freely made and restated in court, free from coercion or duress, upon advice by legal counsel.

Whether it’s the notoriety-seeking serial killer who wants attribution for his misdeeds or the genuinely remorseful boyfriend who allowed his murderous jealousy to consume him, this principle is a safeguard guarantee that a perpetrator rationally acknowledges why he’s to be subjected to that most extreme application of state power.

Lacking this awareness or acceptance, the alternative of a (life)long prison sentence will afford plenty of time to come to terms with what’s been done. 

— THIRD, none shall be executed for crimes absent corroboration by deoxyribonucleic acid AND the existence of sight-based indicia of unassailable reliability.

This “poison pill” insists on an evidentiary threshold which is, by design, nearly unattainable. If the justice system is to put a dude to death, his culpability must be assured to a mathematical 100 percent.

Fortunately, few violent crimes leave no DNA behind, and much of the recent high-profile violence has been accompanied by that requisite “sight-based indicia or reliability” (e.g., unbiased eyewitness accounts, high-resolution surveillance footage, the first-person camera-phone video with which the perpetrator live-streams his rampage).

If prosecutors can meet this most implausible of evidentiary burdens, perhaps capital punishment is the only proper recourse.

— FOURTH, none shall be executed for a crime where there exists a credible rationale for its perpetration.

The wife who kills her husband to spare herself another 15 years of horrific physical abuse, the father who kills his pre-adolescent daughter’s rapist, the sister who kills her brother’s murderer — I mean, there’s murder and then there’s murder, am I right? 

“A Time to Kill” wouldn’t have made the bestseller lists as “A Time to Await Judicial Determination on Defendant’s Third Appeal of the Motion to Stay Proceedings in the Matter of Defendant’s Plea for Rehearing of the Sentencing Case.” 

— FIFTH, none shall be put to death except for by well-oiled and industrial-scale guillotine. 

That’s right.  If our society can’t come to grips with the appallingly gruesome messiness of capital execution, then we have no business being in the business. The gas chamber, the electric chair, lethal injection — these are modernity’s innovations to sanitize the experience of punitive state killing, leaving serenely intact the body from which the state has just separated a soul.

And each of these methods has at one time or another gone horrifically awry, presenting a traumatizing spectacle of nightmarishly unconstitutional torment as the dead-man-walked convulses in pain because the toxins missed the vein, or the voltage was wrong, or the nervous system only partially responded to the gas. 

The 21st Century guillotine permits no such mistakes. Advances in machining can independently assemble a self-piloting tractor-trailer without even a millimeter’s deviation in how tightly a rivet is screwed on; if the same technical efficiency is applied to a technologically-perfected guillotine with a blade crafted of the finest Tungsten-Titanium alloy, then the only drawback to this executionary method is society’s “pleasant company” hang-ups.

Quick. Painless. Guaranteed. Theatrical. Certainly, your jaywalking epidemic would be solved.

For the death penalty’s die-hard (pun) supporters, this five-prong approach affords a just and certain resolution to the most egregious violations. And its restrictions don’t limit the broader application of justice; where the death penalty is unavailable because these criteria aren’t met, there still exists a whole slew of draconian measures by which to punish offenders (e.g., life imprisonment). 

For capital punishment’s bleeding-heart (pun) opponents, my approach resolves the core concerns of systemic failure and irreversible mistake; capital punishment would be applied sparingly, rarely, and only when guilt was corroborated, acknowledged, and indefensible.

True: faulty science, biased testimony, false accusations, and — that most monstrous of sins — prosecutorial misconduct will always present the peril of a wrongful conviction, but a death sentence for a crime “beyond all doubt” won’t be an option for convictions attained merely “beyond all reasonable doubt”.

Yes: There are scores of moving accounts of redemption, where the embittered and testosterone-fueled former victim of child abuse kills in his 20s, only to embark post-conviction on a journey of self-discovery through the prison library, emerging as a remorseful pacifist who even obtained his law degree.

So? A silenced victim deserves better than to serve as her killer’s ticket to enlightenment; her life was worth more than that anecdotal reference in the feel-good Dateline special on her murderer’s rehabilitation.

I don’t care what wisdom Nidal Hasan learns behind bars, or what penitence Timothy McVeigh might’ve shown had that meal not been his last. Neither Dylan Roof’s nor Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s guilt is in doubt.

I’m unpersuaded that the Golden State Killer is too old for death (like, what?). When it comes to avowed monsters like these, I’m less Samuel Jackson’s “yes they deserve to die and I hope they burn in hell,” and more “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

Except that: My philosophical commitment to capital punishment withers before ever-present societal injustice and the inescapable Truth that every one of us is complicit if the state takes an innocent life. Ergo, I ferociously oppose the death penalty until we as a species are mature enough to handle it. 

But someday, those Five Principles could sustain a system where the death penalty isn’t a recourse at all unless it’s the first recourse. And in that far away future, where an accused (1) acknowledges his guilt of (2) a violent crime that’s (3) beyond any doubt by virtue of irrefutably corroborative evidence and (4) for which there’s no reasonable justification, I’ll support the (5) expedient option that delivers both justice and the mercy of instantaneous escape from a world inconsistent with his nature. 

For a capital punishment that spares the wrongfully accused while delivering the quick and painless passing of the rightfully accused, let’s turn for inspiration to that other lady of justice — the Queen of Hearts — as she triumphantly bellows “off with his” etc. etc. and all that.

Does that answer your question? 

Captain Jesse Sommer is a lifelong resident of Albany County, currently deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).  He welcomes your thoughts at .

Many of the Old Men of the Mountain are hanging around the house and going out only as necessary. Groceries and doctors seem to be the major outings, and the grocery bit gets some help at times.

Even the doctors’ appointments (depending on the problem) can be done by phone, and with Zoom becoming so popular maybe soon it will be almost like being in the examining room. Still, for the OFs, they claim there is nothing like being there, and there have been times that the OFs have reported the doctor has found something that the appointment was not for.

One OF described that, at one of his doctor visits, the doctor was listening to his heart from the back and, when he pulled his shirt back down, the doctor said there was something on his back that should be looked at right away. The doctor then made an appointment for the OF from the office with a dermatologist.

The OF kept that appointment and found it was skin cancer caught in the nick of time. The dermatologist also found another blemish that was cancerous, plus two pre-cancer spots on the top of the OF’s bald head, which the doctor said, when he first looked at him, “Before we even start, we better take care of those right away,” and he did. This could not be done over the phone.

Another OF chimed in on this conversation with what happened to him. This OF said he went to his dentist with an awful toothache, or so he thought. When the dentist came in and looked in his mouth, the OF said the dentist told him, “You don’t need me, you are in the wrong place; you have a sinus problem, go see your regular doctor.”

“This is another example,” the first OF commented, “On how can this be done over the phone?”

“Of course,” the other OF retorted, “how can a dentist do anything over the phone? He would require one heck of a long set of arms and hose on that drill.”


A virus question

In a recent phone conversation with an OMOTM, this OF asked this scribe a question that the scribe had no answer to, and he wondered himself what the answer would be. This particular OF has his groceries delivered and the OF was wondering if this scribe knew how long the virus lives on the packing and bags the groceries are in.

If he left then in the breezeway for four or five hours before going out to get them, is the virus still active? This scribe has no clue; never even thought of it. In this heat, the perishables would have perished by then.

This scribe knows he has seen a chart somewhere that told how long the virus is active on different surfaces but now can’t remember where he saw it. The scribe should have immediately cut it out and added it to the collection on the refrigerator door. The wife said I should have told the OF to Google it.



This scribe bumped into an OF filling up gas cans at Stewart’s, while the scribe was filling up his van and both did the same thing. The scribe thought this was very unusual. The OF and the scribe both sprayed the octane buttons and the nozzle with Lysol before touching them to indicate gas octane, credit card numbers etc. That was something.


Travel scuttled

This pandemic/virus — whatever you want to call it — has changed so many plans. Two OMOTM mentioned over the phone that generally during the summer they take off for summer vacations — one to the beach, and the other to Lake Michigan. Neither one is going anyplace because right now New York is one of the safest states.

“But you can go to Maine,” the scribe offered. The OF said they go to relatives in Texas. OOOPS.


Role reversal

The pandemic and subsequent quarantine have also brought to attention the one thing that parents usually dread. Our adult children are becoming our parents.

The wife of this scribe h as been taken to her doctor appointments by a daughter and she introduces this daughter as her “mother.” Another friend calls her daughter “The Warden.” Still another friend tells us that her daughter likes to tell her when and where she should go and even if she should go out.

The OFs have noticed this kid-bit going on even before the current virus situation took hold. How often the OFs remember telling their kids when they were teenagers what they were going to do, and where they could and couldn’t go.

Now these kids are doing the same to us. One OF mentioned that he can’t ever remember telling his parents what they could and couldn’t do. Then, one other OF said, “That is because your parents couldn’t do much (physically) and you did it for them.”

Life without sports! Not much on TV. This scribe would like to report a young lady sitting on his couch yesterday. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.