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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Does Portillo dream of electric pigs?

Mmmm... so the other night I caught a BBC Horizon programme hosted by Michel Portillo called 'How to Kill a Human Being'. The point of the programme was to look into the various methods of execution used around the world - but particularly in the United States - to see which was the most humane, and potentially to propose a better method.

I have to say that since seeing the mighty Portillo fall to the puny Twig in the 1997 election (known in our lefty student house as 'bloody good telly'), I have found a grudging respect for the former defence secretary. Like many pariah politicians, his fall from grace seemed to release him from invisible chains, and he has been reborn as a rather thoughtful political commentator with just the right dash of gravitas.

However there were some uncomfortable glimpses of the old Portillo as he traipsed around a variety of unfortunate labs, hanging crash dummies and electrocuting pig corpses while musing on our responsibilities to the condemned.
You may have guessed that I'm against the death penalty, not from any particular moral high ground, but simply because I do not accept that the state has the right to take the lives of its own citizens - this seems somehow to be against the spirit of the agreement that exists between free people and the governments that consensually rule them.

Thankfully the EU agrees with me, and unlike my otherwise freedom-loving American friends I sleep soundly knowing that my country does not have the right to murder me under a cloak of due process.

All of this means that the notion of humane execution seems rather odd to me. Perhaps in the future the Horizon team could address other pressing questions from the oxymoronic fringe.
  • How do you have the least disruptive riot?
  • How does one politely kidnap?
  • What's the most generous way to burgle?
Happily the programme ended in a puff of self-indignation when Portillo presented his own version of the perfect execution method (hypoxia) to some Professor or Evil in the United States (sorry - I didn't make a note of the chap's name, just in case writing it down would summon him like some horrific angle of death).

Professor Evil looked amazed at Portillo's suggestion of humane execution, because he wanted the condemned to suffer; he was after an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a barbarous murder for a capital offence in any one of 38 states.

It was a satisfying reality check to end a programme that was just a little bit too gleeful about killing - even if the killing was all done in the best possible taste.

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