Timothy McVeigh

Timothy McVeigh is dead. Has justice been done? The President thinks so, and so do many of the parents and family members who lost loved ones in the odious crime McVeigh committed in Oklahoma City. There are no doubts about his guilt; McVeigh was unrepentant. He was the perfect case for those who favor state-sponsored executions.

His act of mass murder ended the lives of nearly 200 people and diminished the lives of hundreds more. His execution, conducted in the name of the people of the United States, diminished us all. The death penalty is barbaric; the enthusiasm for it is uncivilized. The Europeans have it exactly right. A society that claims to value life cannot then kill and call it justice. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Murder and capital punishment are not opposites that cancel one another, but similars that breed their kind.”

By strapping McVeigh to a gurney and filling his veins with poison, we descended to a level of morality unbecoming a great nation. Almost alone among modern democracies, we ludicrously embrace the death penalty as a deterrent–which it is not–and as a way of achieving justice. There is no justice in killing people who have killed, only crude retribution. The survivors of McVeigh’s victims still awake every morning with a void in their lives. If there is some grim satisfaction in the knowledge that McVeigh has had his life cut short, it will be short-lived.

The wounds McVeigh inflicted are beyond earth’s healing powers. They bleed still, even though Timothy McVeigh now is nothing but ashes. Would that Americans could say we held ourselves to a higher moral authority than did this detestable man.

The Puerto Rican Day Charade

It is curious that this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, held on June 10, was pronounced a glowing success by the city’s media outlets, such as The New York Times , and by elected officials, such as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Of course, measured against last year’s parade, in which 50 women were victims of sexual attacks, news of which spread worldwide and did incalculable damage to New York’s reputation as a safe tourist destination, this year’s parade could be considered a “success”–if, that is, one’s definition of “success” is any public event that does not turn into a riot. But by any other standard, the parade, once again, only served to debase the city and those whose heritage the parade purports to honor.

New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade has become a macho mix of bad manners and disgusting conduct that seems to have only one imperative: to trash the city, particularly Central Park and Fifth Avenue, which by noon resemble a slovenly garbage heap. It is unlike any other parade–be it Jewish, Irish, Italian, West Indian–and one wonders why the Hispanic community, which has contributed so much to New York and has much to be proud of, chooses to single itself out and create a day in the city that is as revolting an exhibition of the human condition as one could imagine, a day when many New Yorkers choose to be out of town. The millions of dollars it costs the city in cleanup is probably small, relative to the revenue lost when tourists from all over the world make sure they are not in the city that day.

And once again, the parade was not without criminal incident. Seven women reported being victims of sex attacks. Several men were arrested for assault, and 63 motorcycles were confiscated. And later, several hundred parade-goers who ended up in the Bronx threw bottles at police, surrounded and started rocking a city bus, and set fire to trash cans and a car. The fact that the parade route was spared such mayhem may only have been because the city deployed 6,000 police officers to line the route. What does it say about a parade when a small army is required to keep order?

The past several years have shown that many of those attending the Puerto Rican Day Parade regard Fifth Avenue and Central Park as nothing but good places to throw their trash. City officials, wary of alienating voters, are complicit in denying the degree of damage done each year. One step would be to hold the parade in a more contextual setting, in a neighborhood where the parade would reinforce the existing community fabric and benefit local businesses economically. The sponsors should explore other locations, such as the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, Northern Boulevard in Queens or the Lower East Side–why not have the parade on First Avenue, from 23rd Street down to Houston Street, with a party at the East River Park?

Surely a parade that truly reflects the pride and dignity of the city’s residents of Puerto Rican descent is something which can be achieved.

Capriati, the Comeback Kid

When she was 14 years old, Jennifer Capriati made it to the semifinals of the French Open. She was a teen sensation; great things were ahead of her on the court. But then, famously, her life fell apart, and her name moved from the sports pages to the gossip pages: marijuana possession, shoplifting, drug rehab. But last weekend she was back on the French clay, and this time, at 25, she took home the title, her second Grand Slam win of the year. After dispatching Serena Williams and Martina Hingis, Ms. Capriati beat 18-year-old Belgian Kim Clijsters with blinding ground strokes and gritty endurance to become the first American woman to win the French title since Chris Evert did it in 1986.

Ms. Capriati’s comeback, which she began in 1996, has built to this shining moment. Three years ago, she was ranked 101st in the world; now she is ranked fourth. In a few weeks she will be on the grass at Wimbledon, where she and Venus Williams are the favorites. But her true victory is already won.