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January 7, 2014

Notable (and amusing?) account of an execution method gone to the dogs

In various settings, some folks are quick to point out that the United States is uniquely punitivie in its use of imprisonment compared to all other nations in the world and also that the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty.  And advocates for sentencing and corrections reform (myself included) sometimes contend that the US ought to try to learn from the policies and practices of other nations.  These realities came to mind when I read this notable recent article sent my way by a helpful reader reporting on a recent high-profile sentencing and punishment in another part of the world:

The execution of Jang Song Thaek, the No. 2 man in North Korea, took Beijing by surprise and will adversely affect bilateral relations. Beijing's displeasure is expressed through the publication of a detailed account of Jang's brutal execution in Wen Wei Po, its official mouthpiece, in Hong Kong, on Dec 12.

According to the report, unlike previous executions of political prisoners which were carried out by firing squads with machine guns, Jang was stripped naked and thrown into a cage, along with his five closest aides.  Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called "quan jue", or execution by dogs.

The report said the entire process lasted for an hour, with Mr Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader in North Korea, supervising it along with 300 senior officials. The horrifying report vividly depicted the brutality of the young North Korean leader. The fact that it appeared in a Beijing-controlled newspaper showed that China no longer cares about its relations with the Kim regime.

Amusingly, as this new Reuters piece reports, it now appears that the "international media frenzy over reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle had been executed by throwing him to a pack of dogs appears to have originated as satire on a Chinese microblogging website."  Here is more:

One of the pitfalls of reporting on North Korea is that few independent media have offices there and visiting media are tightly controlled in a country which ranks among the lowest in global surveys of press freedom. Because of the lack of first hand information, many lurid stories about the country gain credence.

Trevor Powell, a Chicago-based software engineer, who first spotted the link to the Weibo post and reported it on his own blog said that analysts and experts were "still all missing the obvious fact that the original source of the Wen Wei Po story was a tweet from a known satirist or someone posing as him/her." Powell blogged about the post here.

January 7, 2014 at 02:19 AM | Permalink


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America succinctly terminates lawfully convicted aggravated murders, and by statute we formerly executed rapists as well.

Communism, totalitarianism, and gun-free zone police states have more in common with our pagan left-wing, than with pro-Death Penalty theists.

Just ask metro-sexual Dennis Rodman, or the liberal editors of Rolling Stone.

[ reason.com/blog/2014/01/04/rolling-stones-5-economic-reforms-millen ]

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 7, 2014 9:03:26 AM

Doug stated: "...the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty."

If a conservative ever stated that "Policy A is not preferable because the rest of the Western world does not use it," he would be branded a racist and excised from polite society.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 10:03:39 AM

"they were completely eaten up"

This sort of thing does sound a bit ridiculous when you think about it. I was not aware the story was "120 dogs" -- I heard some radio show reference "dogs" as if a few dogs were used to attack and maul the person. It does show we should be wary about certain "factoids."

The OP leads the comment partially quoted by T. with "some folks are quick to point out that the United States is uniquely punitive" -- which sort of qualifies what the comment says. When it comes to something "punitive," many have some rule of leniency that would make U.S. being particularly punitive an issue, possibly -- at least, it wouldn't be "racist" etc. to say so.

If a conservative noted the U.S. was doing something wrong because the rest of the Western World didn't use it, I would need to note the conflict. Since conservatives often aren't internationalists anyway, the comment is a bit weird.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 7, 2014 11:28:35 AM

Conflict/context ... almost the same thing.

BTW, how many heard about the story & the thing that bothered them was the treatment of the dogs?

Posted by: Joe | Jan 7, 2014 11:30:32 AM


Different versions of Doug's comment has been used by DP abolitionists for as long as I can remember. It is done so in a way that the obvious implication is always that Western world=civilized world. There is not even a valid reason to bring the point up unless you are judging non-western cultures as inferior. That is indeed racist, at least by the standards a liberal would traditionally judge a conservative.

As far as conservatives never uttering such a phrase, you may be correct. However, such a point does nothing to change the inherent racism (again, by their own standards) and double-standard in this common abolitionist argument.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 11:44:09 AM

TarlsQt, As hard as I try, I do not see any "racism" in the observation that

'...the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty."

Why is it racist to state a fact?

Posted by: observer | Jan 7, 2014 11:50:22 AM

Joe and observer, you need to understand that many modern conservatives and liberals (especially the pundit class with folks like Limbaugh and Hannity and Maddow and Matthews) look for opportunities to play the role of "unfair victim" in modern political discourse. Especially since Obama became Prez, I NEVER stop hearing "If Bush had said/done that...., the left would have...."

These kind of comments always annoy me (from both the left and the right) because (1) they cater to a silly notion that if the other side plays unfair/dirty, I should be able to do so, too, and (2) they lead folks to strain to find basic factual comments like mine above to be a reflection of some kind of bias. But I do find these kinds of comments especially amusing coming from the right given that they always criticize a culture of victimology in which everyone thinks they as subject to an unfair double-standard or unfair treatment.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 7, 2014 12:21:28 PM

Observer asked: "Why is it racist to state a fact?"

Good question.

I can only respond in two ways. Either

1) Direct you to look at my response immediately above your post; or

2) Ask you to look inward and figure out why progressives made it so.

We did not make the rules. For example your side determined that mentioning the near 75% bastardy rate in the black community or that young black men murder at a rate 14 times higher than young white men is racist. Heck, we were even accused of a "racist dog whistle" by your MSNBC chums when it was mentioned Obama plays a lot of golf (it supposedly linked him to the Tiger Woods screw anyone lifestyle). Those are "facts" too.

I am only asking you to live by your own rules/standards. There is no reason to even bring up the "only country in the Western world to have the DP" argument unless you are implying that the Western world is somehow superior. If not, it is as irrelevant as saying, "the only country with the DP to have a mean winter temperature below 45 degrees."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 12:35:14 PM

If you had some dogs commenting on this blog is would be more fair and balanced. Like those dogs on Turleyblog. But, in defense of the dogs who ate the Korean guy. Think of them as kind of a human firing squad. They were told to "get the il one". Not the un one. Maybe he is not even dead. Maybe there was no dog attack. Maybe he is locked up in some Soledad place in N Korea watching TV as we speak. It is not like Bin Laden where we dropped his dead corpse out of a plane, never to be found but surely to be eaten by sharks.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 7, 2014 12:36:23 PM

LOL@ Doug This is the only time I have ever typed "LOL" and literally did laugh out loud.

1) First, you never do get around to saying whether there is a double-standard, just that you are annoyed by the claim. An amusing part of this is that you have to ignore (or be ignorant of) the fact that setting up double-standards is a codified part of the liberal playbook. Use Google and look up Saul Alinsky.

2) You never get around the meat of the post, whether or not implying that Western culture is somehow superior is racist. If not implying Western superiority, then why not cite another irrelevant "fact", like the US has a colder mean temperature than most DP nations? What relevance does that statement bring to the table?

3) All good teachers are open to correction. That part of your post, even if I take your comment in the best possible light, is a logical fallacy. It is a form of the Appeal to Popularity (albeit "popular" in only one part of the overwhelmingly "white" world and mainly among the "ruling class" rather than the people in many of those nations). Do you respond in anger to your law students when they correct you or are you such a condescending prick that they would not dare?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 1:44:44 PM

LOL@TarlsQtr, as it seems I have touched a right-wing nerve, which often leads in the Obama era to a reference to Alinsky. (I typically know I have touched a left-wing nerve when I get a reference to Hitler or Bill Otis.) In any event, I am glad I got you to laugh and type LOL, though I am not so glad you think I am angry or a "condescending prick." I almost never get angry except when trying to protect my family, and I try not to be a prick here or elsewhere. Name calling notwithstanding, let me address your points/concerns:

1. I am VERY eager to highlight how often the folks on the left set up double-standards. Indeed, I am typically considered among the most conservative members of my faculty because I have long criticized the many double standards used by folks on the left to praise the Clintons and assail the Bushes. I am also very eager to highlight how my wife and kids and neighbors and David Brooks and the New York Times and others set up double standards. My favorite one to criticize the right on the right's general praise for large corporations and free market institutions freed from government regulation and then their never-ending criticisms of the "liberal lamestream media" which is run by a bunch of large corporations and free market institutions freed from government regulation (thanks to the 1st Amendment).

In short, I agree 100% that the label racist is full of double-standards on both the left and the right. I would also suggest that who uses/abuses more double standards depends largely on who is Prez: the left now seems to have many more double standards now as they try to explain/defend Obama; the right seemed to have more double standards when GWB was Prez. I could go on and on on this front, but I hope you understand that I am eager to say a pox on both political houses when it comes to using double-standards.

2. I do not know what it means to be "racist," but I do know that this label has become (like the label sex offender) a term now used only to besmirch, not to explain. I try to avoid using terms only to besmirch, and I generally work hard to avoid calling anyone racist (on this blog or elsewhere). On a related front, largely because of my own affinity for Western culture, I am very eager to assert and imply that Western culture is "superior," though a reach that conclusion based on my philosophical commitment to increasing human health, wealth and happiness. It seems that most western nations are, generally speaking, much better at increasing human health, wealth and happiness than non-western nations. If that observation and affinity for Western culture leads people to call me a racist, that is there decision. But I often make reference to western culture because, at least right now, I do buy into the notion of Western superiority because it seems that most western nations are, generally speaking, much better at increasing human health, wealth and happiness than non-western nations.

3. I hope I am open to correction, but I am not sure what your are correcting. Can you better explain what you see as the logical fallacy in my statement that "some folks are quick to point out that the United States is uniquely punitivie in its use of imprisonment compared to all other nations in the world and also that the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty"? Perhaps record cold is making my brain work slower, but I do not understand what is a logical fallacy in this statement. Or was it another statement that led you to see a fallacy and led you to believe I was angry and/or a prick?

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 7, 2014 2:32:09 PM

Let us put this succinctly.

Why is Finland or Norway an adequate comparison but Singapore, which executes drug traffickers and has virtually non-existant drug abuse or drug related crime, not?

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 2:33:00 PM

I think Singapore is a important comparison for the US death penalty, as is China (which executes some white-collar offenders and drunk drivers) and as are are other non-western nations that use the death penalty a lot or a little for crimes that range from sexual to religious offenses. Indeed, if anyone's concern is proper use and possible abuse of the death penalty, Finland and Norway are terrible comparisons because they do not use this form of punishment. (Indeed, just about all of Europe is a terrible focal point for death penalty comparisons because 20th century warfare -- and especially the Nazi's use of state-sponsored execution for genocide -- necessarily distorts European experiences and perspectives about the punishment of death.)

Thus, if your core concern, Tarls, is with how others use international comparisons in death penalty discussions, I am all with you. (Notably, when pushing to end the DP for kids, much was made of all other nations (including DP nations) by abolitionists, but when pushing to the the DP for child rape, very little was said about the fact that most nations with an active DP use it for extreme sexual offenses. I noted this point on this blog during the run up to the Kennedy ruling, which I still think is much more misguided than lots of other modern Eighth Amendment rulings by SCOTUS.)

I fear, Tarls, that you think I may be angry and/or a prick because you bear the scars that many modern conservatives feel based on name-calling by angry pricks on the left. (Indeed, I think many other minorities (political, racial, economic, religious) who feel they are unfairly subject to double-standards bear scars based on name-calling by angry pricks who dislike them for whatever reason.) But just as you likely do not like when people assume the worst about whatever you say, I hope you will not do the same about what I say.

Most critically, I urge you to read and review very carefully what I actually say, not what you think I said or what you think I might mean. That is what I try to teach my students to do, though I do think they sometimes (wrongly) assume I am angry at them and sometimes (rightly?) view me to be a prick when I keep pushing them to check their assumptions about me at the classroom door.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 7, 2014 3:29:26 PM

Doug stated: "...as it seems I have touched a right-wing nerve, which often leads in the Obama era to a reference to Alinsky."

Again, you choose window dressing over substance. Is, or is not, erecting double-standards part of the codified liberal playbook? Do you confirm or deny the connections between modern liberalism and the Alinsky model? Is there a similar playbook used by conservatives instructing them to do the same thing?

In response to your number 1: First, your statement about being the most conservative member of your faculty is just shooting fish in a barrel. I will pass.

Of course, double standards abound. However, "racism" charges are a uniquely ubiquitous and destructive form that deserve extra scrutiny. If someone calls me a hypocrite, I will first agree (we all are) and then go back to work. If someone calls me a racist, my reputation and livelihood would likely be irreparably harmed.

The second part is simply mind-blowing. When it comes to "race" there is no equivalency. Who was the last person of note from the right, even a Limbaugh, to call Pelosi, Reid, or Obama "racist?" Meanwhile, a good and decent man now out of the public spotlight cannot have an adopted African-American granddaughter without being mocked. There has even been outrage in this country about the phenomenon of white, right, evangelicals adopting more and more black babies. Where is the equivalent on the right? Does the Tea-Party call the Occupy movement "racist?" You are just so off-base.

2. Your disposition on Western culture is necessarily (for your purpose)narrow. You claim to be an advocate of "evidence-based" policy, yet your statement in the OP leaves out most of the world when collecting that "evidence". Furthermore, even with your narrow definition, you completely ignore the fact that 99.99% of the "human health, wealth and happiness" that was achieved in the Western world was done so when approximately 100% of the Western world had the death penalty. Shakespeare did not write in 2006 England and Jonas Salk did not create the polio vaccine in 2011 Massachusetts. It appears that the Western world did just fine with "human health, wealth, and happiness" with the DP.

3) Simple. Using "Western culture" as a substitute for thought is a first order fallacy. The fact that most of the Western world does not have the DP has no influence on the merits of the DP in either direction. It is not right or wrong because of what they feel in Portugal, France, or Finland. It is merely an Appeal to Popularity, an attempt to influence based on the irrelevant positions of Europeans. As I have stated 2-3 times now, if an Appeal to Popularity is not your intention then why mention Western culture at all?

One final point. Your "mainstream media" example is also a very poor analogy. ESPECIALLY the fine folks at the NYT's, the Washington Post, NBC, and others in the "elite media" will be the first to tell you they hold a sacred position as the "4th Estate", necessary for a free America and ensconced in founding documents. Coca-Cola holds no such high-mindedness. They admit they are for profit. And sure the right (correctly) complains a lot about the media but what bills have been lobbied by the right to destroy them? Do we need to examples of leftist threats to bloggers and other "new media" or rehash the "Fairness Doctrine?"

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 3:30:58 PM

Off home. I will try to respond to your newest post tonight/tomorrow.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Jan 7, 2014 3:31:51 PM

I look forward to your additional responses, TarlsQtr, but I continue to hope you will try to focus on what I have said, not what you think I said or mean or what others say or mean about the death penalty. In the meantime, let me just address a few points:

1. I have never been given a copy of the "codified liberal playbook" so I do not know what would or would not be in it. I have read about Alinsky's work (mostly because my right-leaning friends keep telling me about it), but I am not sure if that is the playbook you are referencing. Whatever your meaning, I am confident liberals (and many others) were using double standards well before Alinsky was born and well after his work is forgotten.

2. I agree that the charge "racist" has extra bite in America circa 2014, and I think that is a darn shame. Especially because I strongly believe conscious sexism and class/culture-bias is a much bigger problem in America circa 2014 than is conscious racism, I tend to view folks who throw around that label as trying to bring more heat than light to an issue. That is why I try never to use this label, and I am troubled when folks on the left or the right use this label in any setting. Again, it seem you bear the "victim scars" of thinking Romney and the Tea Party and others on the right get victimized by this label when thrown around by folks on the left. Indeed, I would agree that folks on the right get tarred with the label racist much more than this problem runs the other way. But my solution is to stop using this loaded word rather than try to engaged in what seems like silly debates about which side is more unfair in their use of double standards.

3. As you likely fail to understand, I tend to be an agnostic supporter of the DP when its use is supported by significant democratic institutions and representatives. Thus, I tend to be an agnostic supporter of the DP in the modern US. (That is one of the main reasons I am viewed by most law faculties to be to the right of most folks in my field.)

4. I was not making an argument in my main post. I was making an observation. Let me repeat that observation and again express my confusion as to what you think is a logical fallacy: "some folks are quick to point out that the United States is uniquely punitive in its use of imprisonment compared to all other nations in the world and also that the United States is one of the few nations in the western world to make continued and somewhat regular use of the death penalty." I meant to describe here an observed fact about what "some folks are quick to point out," not to make an argument for or against the DP. And I continue to struggle to understand what it is about what I actually wrote --- rather than what you think I mean or what others might say --- has you so worked up?

5. I am sorry, again, if I made you so upset that you thought I was angry or seemed to be a prick. But my focus here is with stated words and actual claims by me, not implications that you or others want to draw based on what you or others think I might mean.

6. Based on some other assertions you have made, TarlsQtr, that I am not a real libertarian, I keep thinking you believe I am some kind of wolf in sheep's clothing. If I am, I hope you will keep trying the sheer me without just calling me names. I am always interested in reactions to what I say and think, but I am always troubled by folks who resort to use of unpleasant words when expressing their reactions.

Travel home safe and stay warm!

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 7, 2014 4:48:38 PM

I have inner conflicts over the killing of human beings by the people i.e. The State. My religion says to look at the Sixth Commandment and my politics or my inner anger says "get even". So, I come down to turn about is fair play or an eye for an eye. I now adopt the Sears Roebuck version of the bible and think that Y'all can kill. But I like it when some perp who rapes, gets raped. When a shooter gets shot. When a thief has everything taken of value from him including the girlfriend. When someone plucks out an eye, they have their own eye plucked out. I do not agree with having a dog pac eat a guy unless the guy was abusive to dogs. So, no pun intended, I think "il" of the dog attack on "un". Or vice versa.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 7, 2014 5:53:08 PM

For a less headline-grabbing international comparison, wikipedia indicates that the very same day in December as the high-profile (by whatever means) executions in North Korea, Japan carried out two death sentences, presumably without much hoopla or media attention. Japan is of course not a "western" country, and it's sometimes not entirely clear what people mean in this context by "western," assuming it's not just a euphemism for "majority-white and not majority-Muslim."

Posted by: JWB | Jan 7, 2014 6:53:29 PM

I generally appreciate when Doug B. takes time to comment and do so here, but it is not that I'm "surprised" or anything by the comment in part for reason you flag.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 8, 2014 10:33:32 AM

| Dennis Rodman sings "Happy Birthday" to North Korean leader |
Dennis Rodman sings Happy Birthday to his "best friend" North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, seated above in the stands, before an exhibition basketball game
at an indoor stadium of 14,000 in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014
-- Kim Kwang Hyon, AP

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- Dennis Rodman sang "Happy Birthday" ... before leading a squad of former NBA stars onto the court ... for a game Rodman said
is part of his "basketball diplomacy" with the North ...

• This was Rodman's fourth trip to Pyongyang. ...The visit come weeks after the execution of Kim's uncle, Jang Song Thaek,
who until then was one of the most powerful figures. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has described events in North Korea as a "reign of terror."

• In particular, Rodman has been slammed for not using his influence with Kim to help free Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American missionary in poor health
who is being confined in the North for "anti-state" crimes. ... Rodman raised an outcry at home when, in a television interview on Tuesday, he
appeared to suggest that Bae was to blame for his captivity.

• During an expletive-ridden interview with CNN about his trip, Rodman seemed to say Kenneth Bae, held in North Korea since November 2012 ...
was responsible for his situation.
" If you understand what Kenneth Bae did ... Do you understand what he did in this country? Why is he held captive in this country?" Rodman said,
declining to ... clarify what he meant."

• Bae's sister, Terri Chung, said her family was "outraged" by his comments ... { CBS/Wire Services }

Posted by: Adamakis | Jan 8, 2014 1:41:22 PM


I'm usually entertained by your posts, but really you're just silly on this group.

"Is, or is not, erecting double-standards part of the codified liberal playbook?"

Funny how one man's work becomes the "codified liberal playbook." I hadn't even heard of the guy until my college years, and I was liberal before then.

In any event, do you really need me to provide any of the hundreds of YouTube videos mashing up conservative leaders' then-and-now positions, or a Fox News montage? Do you not think that conservative political operatives have deliberately created double standards over the last decade?

And are you really suggesting that no conservative has ever taken a page out of Alinsky's "playbook" in their own campaigns?

"Is there a similar playbook used by conservatives instructing them to do the same thing?"

Uh, yeah...conservatives have plenty of their own playbooks. From Fox News alone:

--October 2009 email among Fox News's senior producers giving express directives on how to cover Obama's health care proposals. (For example, they were not to use the term "public option," only "government option.")
--Daily memos from John Moody discussing how the news events were to be covered, emphasized, or downplayed

Care to provide similar memos from the New York Times? Or NBC/ABC/CBS?

"Who was the last person of note from the right, even a Limbaugh, to call Pelosi, Reid, or Obama "racist?""

I suppose Limbaugh's "reverse racist" quip against Sonia Sotomayor doesn't count because of the "reverse" moniker. So I'll just hit the softballs:
--Glenn Beck: accused Obama of having a "deep seated hatred against white people"
--Stephen Marks: formed political SuperPac that ran TV ads accusing President Obama of defending black racism against white folks

Beck was 2009, Marks was 2012. I'm sure a little googling could come up with more.

Do we really have to stick to our partisan guns all the time, and perfunctorily defend our guys' screw-ups with "well, the other side is worse"? Or can we be, you know, reasonable, and concede that we're all a product of our own prejudices to some extent, that ideologuing on both sides will produce hypocrisy and stupidity, and that we should be better than that?

Posted by: Res ipsa | Jan 8, 2014 3:53:13 PM

Tarls, it seems you have gone away. I hope you have gone away better informed and not just angry. I know I am always better informed by discussing matters with you.

Posted by: Doug B. | Jan 11, 2014 11:45:23 AM

professor berman, i think that you would gain much by reading ta-nehisi coates, regularly. his work, discussions and thoughts on racism in america & the consequences of our indifference/ambivalence are invaluable. he is a national treasure.


Posted by: anonymous | Jan 16, 2014 11:47:29 AM

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