There is a difference between cost and value. Cost is how much you pay for an item. This may be tangible, such as the $2.50 for your Starbucks coffee, or intangible, such as what you would have spent with that $2.50 instead of picking up your double-mochaccino-half-caf-with-foam. Value is what you are willing to pay for an item. Thus, people are only willing to buy something if the cost is equal to or less than their personal value of that item. If you value that hot dose of zing juice more than the $2.50 cost, you will stand in line, pony up the money, and head out with caffeinated cheerfulness.

But let’s stop looking at this from an Econ 101 perspective and bring it into the real world. A parent understands value and cost instinctively when he or she creates a punishment for misbehavior. The child then weighs his or her options: do I value putting ants in my sister’s Cheerios more than the cost of having my butt waxed by a 2×4-wielding dad? For most kids, the cost of the punishment is higher than their perceived value of misbehavior, and Dad is spared the call from Child Protective Services asking him to explain the suspicious bruises on Junior’s backside. The scary thing, at least to a parent, is when the child decides, “You know, the punishment is a pain, but I’d rather behave badly and pay the price than give up what I want to do.”

All crime has an associated cost. If Chris Criminal commits a particular crime twice and is caught each time, it is obvious he values the commission of the crime more than the possible cost of punishment. A criminal who has a rap sheet as long as your arm is someone who obviously values committing crimes far over the cost society can dole out. If Chris Criminal kills someone and is thrown in jail, we can see what value society places on the life of his victim based on the sentence Chris is given. Based on a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, society valued the average victim’s life at eight years of incarceration in 1981 to 14 years in 1995. That is the cost of a slain human soul in the United States–fourteen years. Life was valued even cheaper in England during these same years, with a murderer serving an average of five years in 1981 to eight years in 1995. With costs like these, is it any wonder that some criminals choose to kill again?

I believe in the death penalty for murder–not out of a need for revenge, nor because I particularly want to punish the criminal, although punishment is a valid response to a crime of this nature. Rather, I am in favor of capital punishment for two primary reasons. First, someone who commits a crime worthy of capital punishment is a menace to others, and society has the responsibility to protect its people by removing this kind of violent offender permanently. While serving as a juror in a capital punishment case, I was asked if I would favor life imprisonment with no chance for parole as a sufficient means of removing that criminal from society and preventing him from causing harm to others. My response was that, even in prison, he would still have access to other inmates and guards, and that he had already proven through his acts that he was a menace to the people around him. Second, I support capital punishment because I value human life so highly. This may sound like a contradiction, but it is not. I value the life of a victim greater than the eight to 14 years of imprisonment that society imposes on a killer. If a man knew, without a doubt, that killing his wife and unborn son would result in his death–not might, but WOULD result in his death and quickly–then perhaps Laci and Connor Peterson would still be alive today. Scott Peterson clearly valued returning to bachelorhood in the arms of Amber Frey more than he valued the life of his wife and unborn child. Anyone who could make such a cold-blooded calculation is worthy of being removed from society in a way that makes it impossible for him to re-enter it and harm anyone else.

Scott Peterson’s impending death also serves the purpose of deterring other Peterson-wannabes, reminding them that the price for committing murder is a long wait on death row, followed by a sudden shock or a big sleep at the end. Some opponents of capital punishment pooh-pooh the notion of deterrence, saying that it is impossible to prove that capital punishment keeps people from committing crime, since you can’t prove you stopped something from happening when it didn’t happen. But it’s hard to argue against this fact: when Scott Peterson is dead, he will be permanently deterred from murdering anyone else.

If our society truly values individual life highly, then someone who commits murder and deprives others of life cannot be treated lightly by society.

This casual disregard for the value of human life is evident in the daily news. On December 5, Kathy Feaganes Allen made a U-turn and ran down some teens who had accidentally hit her car with a golf ball. There was no damage to her car, but the kids most definitely suffered damage. This was not the action of someone who lost control of her vehicle; Allen willfully turned, accelerated and plowed into the teenagers. She then coolly got out of her car, lit a cigarette and called her husband to report what she had done. To Allen, the value of her car was greater than the lives of those three kids.

But this can’t be all that surprising, when our society holds human life in such disregard. At any time during her pregnancy, a woman can have a doctor destroy her unborn child’s life. The same act which contributed to Scott Peterson’s death sentence happens every day in America at the mother’s request. In Oregon and in several other locales, assisted suicide is permitted by law. In Florida, Michael Schiavo has shown that he prefers to have his disabled wife die by starvation than to divorce her and let her own parents care for her. As much as we joked about giving Grandpa an extra morphine drip in his IV, we never truly wanted to be the agents to contribute to his death; he received all the medical attention he could get before he passed away. But each year, numerous elderly relatives are hastened to their death by families who have grown tired of caring for them. Americans have proven by their actions that they like the idea of convenient death for inconvenient people.

“Enlightened” Europe has taken this concept several steps further. At first, the severely handicapped were euthanized. Then indigents, political dissidents and Jews were marched into gas chambers and liquidated. It took the Allies several years and millions of lives to force the Nazis to kick the eugenics bad habit. But sixty years later, Holland is picking up where the Nazis were forced to leave off. Officials at Groningen University Hospital recently admitted that they have euthanized (read: killed) four infants with severe disabilities. This announcement was downplayed in the world media, buried in the back pages of newspapers if it was reported on at all. The bare facts are horrifying: Dutch doctors may, without parental consent, take the life of a child up to 12 years of age if they deem it necessary. Parental wishes in the matter are only to be taken under advisement and are not in any way binding. In this regard, the European Union is inching closer to Hitler’s dream, but without the ovens. C.S. Lewis appears eerily prescient:

The greatest evil …. is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.

I value my life, and the lives of those whom I love, greater than any white-coated doctor or smooth-talking politician ever could. But God values human life even more than I do. The Lord reminds us that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10). Those who do not value what God prizes so highly will be held to account for their actions.

I’ve been thinking about death again. I wrote previously how our culture has become separated from death, both of people and of food animals, and our separation is interesting when you consider the violence level of our computer games or the body count in popular movies. This time, I’m going to focus on subjects of mortality other than the death of President Reagan and the varied reactions to it.

On September 7, 2004, a milestone was reached in Iraq when three solders died in fighting around Baghdad, and a fourth soldier died from wounds received the previous day. This brought the total number of Americans who have died in Iraq past 1,000 — three-quarters of these deaths related to combat. Every death is a tragedy, even deaths of villains such as Odai and Qusai Hussein — more so with the deaths of these brave American husbands and fathers, mothers and wives. Each death is a tragedy because the opportunity to do good and benefit others is now gone. This is why, while I believe in and support the death penalty, I do not believe it should be rushed into, nor should it be something we exult in, even when it happens to such sorry excuses as the Hussein brothers.

StrategyPage.com has a large list of military-related images and articles. Most images are related to the current American activities in Iraq, and because the military’s primary job is to kill people and break things, there are many images of death and destruction. WARNING: The following three links show graphic scenes of death. There is a video of an F-16 dropping a bomb in the middle of hostile Iraqis in Fallujah, or an attack helicopter engaging three insurgents with 30mm cannon fire, or a lone Iraqi being shot before he could fire his RPG at American troops. The first two are black and white, but the last is in color. I would guess the camera was 50 feet away from the Iraqi as he was shot. The last clip must have been recorded off a Spanish-language news channel because the announcer says, “La muerte en directo se han convertido en un imagen por te vean allí. Esto ocurrido en el …” This translates approximately to, “This actual death has been caught in this live image. This occurred in the…” or that general idea.

This last clip is the most dramatic image of death, and the news station probably used it as an example of how evil the American troops are to slay this poor innocent Iraqi. As much as I am saddened when people die, I can’t blame the American troops for shooting at a man who was preparing to attack and kill them. Nor can I condemn the bombing or shooting of the people in the first two videos. If you rise up armed against U.S. troops, your overall life expectancy is dramatically shortened. Consider it a law of nature, if you will. Speaking of laws, Niven’s First Law states, “Never throw shit at an armed man.” This should be translated, printed up and dropped as leaflets all over Baghdad. The corollary to this law states, “Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.” This corollary should be handed out to every news agency which sends its people into a war zone. It could possibly save some lives, although it is too late for Mazen Tumeisi. Tumeisi, a Palestinian journalist, died as he was filming near a burning Bradley vehicle in Baghdad as an American helicopter fired rockets on the vehicle. It is pretty standard for the military to destroy a disabled vehicle if the enemy might loot it. The last thing the military needs is for its own ordnance to be used against the troops. I have heard various media people rage about how they are fired on and sometimes killed while reporting the news. News Flash: when reporting from a war zone, standing right next to the action is dumb.

Speaking of dumb, I come to my final topic of death: euthanasia. Wesley J. Smith wrote in the Daily Standard, “In the Netherlands, 31 percent of pediatricians have killed infants. A fifth of these killings were done without the “consent” of parents. Going Dutch has never been so horrible”:

First, Dutch euthanasia advocates said that patient killing will be limited to the competent, terminally ill who ask for it. Then, when doctors began euthanizing patients who clearly were not terminally ill, sweat not, they soothed: medicalized killing will be limited to competent people with incurable illnesses or disabilities. Then, when doctors began killing patients who were depressed but not physically ill, not to worry, they told us: only competent depressed people whose desire to commit suicide is “rational” will have their deaths facilitated. Then, when doctors began killing incompetent people, such as those with Alzheimer’s, it’s all under control, they crooned: non-voluntary killing will be limited to patients who would have asked for it if they were competent.

And now they want to euthanize children.

In the Netherlands, Groningen University Hospital has decided its doctors will euthanize children under the age of 12, if doctors believe their suffering is intolerable or if they have an incurable illness. But what does that mean? In many cases, as occurs now with adults, it will become an excuse not to provide proper pain control for children who are dying of potentially agonizing maladies such as cancer, and doing away with them instead. As for those deemed “incurable”–this term is merely a euphemism for killing babies and children who are seriously disabled.

Jim Quinn, a talk show host from Pittsburgh, sums up the attitude that leads to this sort of “euthanasia”:

I have identified the basic, fundamental difference between the liberal cultural Marxist and the conservative American, and the difference is this: for the liberal every new life is a burden, another person to be educated by the State, cared for by the State, fed by the State, clothed by the State, and housed by the State. For every conservative out there a new life is a gift, another source of potential genius, another possible solution to the human condition.

“Why didn’t you send us a cure for AIDS, God?!?”

“I DID, BUT YOU ABORTED HIM.”

I believe our culture has become separated from the reality of death. Not too long ago in history, we saw young and old pass away in our homes, and disease ravaged families. But with technological improvements to medicine and health care, people expect to live longer and better lives. Now when someone is sick, we rush him or her to the hospital; this is where the terminally ill most often die. Have we reached a point where people die more often in or en route to a hospital than in their own homes?

I cannot help noticing that we are raising a generation so separated from death that they think meat comes from a wrapped Styrofoam tray and not from the body of a dead animal. I have tried to explain to my niece the connection between the cute deer nibbling on my garden (get out of there, you $#@%ing deer!) and the venison I cook up in a stew or roast. So far she hasn’t been able (or willing) to link the two. How many people would lose their lunch if they had to watch a cow being butchered, but have no problem ordering a rare steak for lunch?

I remember watching a four-part documentary on PBS about five years ago called “Death: The Trip of a Lifetime.” The host, Greg Palmer, discussed death and the various ways in which human cultures react to it. I’ll have to visit my local libraries and see if they have a copy of this series. It is well worth finding and watching if you want to explore some of the ways human beings deal with death. I must confess that President Reagan’s funeral had the proper combination of religion and military pomp to be a proper funeral service in my eyes. But I am a product of my Christian and military upbringing, so this is only to be expected.

If you haven’t guessed from the tone of this article, I’ve been dwelling on death and our reaction to it this week. Ever since I heard of the death of President Reagan and later the death of singer Ray Charles, the whole subject of death was almost impossible to avoid if you followed the news. People die every day, and while this is often a sorrowful event for the loved ones who remain, the media doesn’t dwell on these deaths as they do when someone famous dies.

I was glad to see that President Reagan’s casket was kept closed. Having died at the age of 93 after years of Alzheimer’s disease ravaging his body, President Reagan no longer looked the way I remembered him as he left office, and I would rather remember him as the vibrant leader than the stricken invalid. I agree with my wife that there seems to be something barbaric about an open-casket viewing. Back when it was difficult for medical science to prove that a person was dead, it made sense to lay out the body and watch over it for a while. The fear of being buried alive would prompt people to give their dearly departed the opportunity to change their minds. This reminds me of the movie Charade with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, specifically the scene of them sitting at her dead husband’s viewing. Several unsavory strangers approach the body to satisfy themselves that he is indeed dead. I remember one holds up a mirror to see if Mr. Lampert is breathing, while a second sticks him with a pin. I can’t remember exactly what the third guy does, but I’m thinking he throttles the corpse for a bit. Since my life is not a movie, I see no reason to have my body lie in repose so that my family (or readers) can get in their last few hits.

I was at work and missed some of the pomp and pageantry that surrounded President Reagan’s funeral throughout the week, but I watched the final sunset ceremony in California. I was touched by the comments from his children and the crisp performance of the military. As a former military brat, I found the military aspects of the funeral both familiar and touching. Specifically, as an Air Force brat, the missing-man maneuver always affects me strongly and will often bring a tear to my eye. I was pleased to see the U.S. Navy perform this maneuver flawlessly with a four-man flight of F-18 Hornets. My father has requested burial with full military honors as befits his career as an Air Force officer, but while he is important in my eyes, something tells me that I won’t see quite the level of pageantry at his funeral as we saw at President Reagan’s.

Matt Drudge reported on his website that a top Clinton source said, “President Clinton really held out all hope the funeral would be a nonpartisan event, like Nixon’s was. He’s angry and disappointed neither he nor President Carter have been asked to speak, as of yet.” Clinton insiders murmured that Nancy Reagan was responsible for the service in which the two former Presidents were not invited to participate, but I cannot fault her. It was, after all, the burial of her husband, and the two of them were well within their rights to decide and declare how the service would be carried out. This is only to be expected.

What I didn’t expect was the very different tone of the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone. The Democrat Senator from Minnesota died unexpectedly in a plane crash only days before the 2002 election. Presidents Clinton and Carter were not specifically asked to participate in President Reagan’s memorial, but they were invited to attend the service. In contrast, Vice-President Richard Cheney was specifically instructed not to attend Senator Wellstone’s memorial. When Democrats gathered in what I believe should have been a solemn assembly to pay homage to a man’s life, somehow the memorial became a rowdy political rally, complete with chants and cheers and a call to arms to march to the ballot box and vote. When fellow mourner Senator Trent Lott was shown on the large screens, the hall erupted in boos. Not what I would really call appropriate for a solemn occasion, but I suppose this was what the family and Democrat leaders wanted.

Frankly, I’d choose the solemn over the vulgar any day.

President Ronald Reagan died today at the age of 93; when I heard, I lowered my flag to half staff. And there it will stay for a while as the nation mourns the death of its 40th president.

Addendum (6/7/2004): So now there has been enough time for people to start talking about Reagan. Some were favorable (here, here, here, and here), and some were not (here, here, and here).

You knew that his death would bring out the haters.

 

“I know in my heart that man is good. That what is right will always eventually triumph. And there’s purpose and worth to each and every life.”

President Ronald Wilson Reagan
1911-2004