A triumph of Canada’s justice system

The accused challenged the justice system with threats to prosecutors, verbal abuse of court officials, meandering monologues and behaviour so bizarre that he was exiled to the ‘rubber room’ for three months.

Richard Wills admitted to stuffing the body of his lover in a trash bin, but swore he didn’t kill her. The judges responded by taking every step to ensure a fair trial. In doing so, they tolerated extremes of behaviour and assented to orders that led to defence lawyers being paid at least $800,000 of public money to defend him.

It was, in a strange way, a triumph of the system.

That’s the teaser for a story in today’s Globe and Mail. The writer is Christie Blatchford, one of my favourite journalists.

Sometimes the justice system bends over backwards to ensure a fair trial. Blatchford is absolutely right when she describes this as a “triumph of the system”.

It’s certainly better than throwing suspects in jail without charges, refusing to let them see a lawyer, holding them indefinitely, and denying them access to a court of law. But I suppose “triumph of the system” means different things to different people.

Testament to a remarkable, complex personality

For such a physically strong and restless man, the act of painting proved an ideal balm and release and he was in fact quoted as saying, “if it weren’t for painting, I couldn’t live; I couldn’t bear the strain of things.”

Artdaily.org reports that Sir Winston Churchill’s painting, Marrakech, will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s. The painting

was a gift from Churchill to the former US President, Harry S. Truman, in 1951 and has remained with the Truman family ever since. The work is being sold by the former President’s daughter, Margaret Truman Daniel, who actually hand-carried the painting from Downing Street, London to the US on behalf of her father.

To accompany his gift, Churchill wrote to Truman: “This picture was hung in the Academy last year, and it is about as presentable as anything I can produce. It shows the beautiful panorama of the Atlas Mountains in Marrakech. This is the view I persuaded your predecessor [President Roosevelt] to see before he left North Africa after the Casablanca Conference [in 1943]. He was carried to the top of a high tower, and a magnificent sunset was duly in attendance.”

Dumbledore [shouldn’t have] Emerged from the Closet!

There has been a recent ruckus about J.K. Rowling’s recent declaration that Dumbledore, beloved headmaster of Hogwarts, is, in fact, gay. Or at least, in Rowling’s mind he is. As many, many people have pointed out, it seems to be somewhat from left field.

Some people have approved. Others have disapproved. Others still have pointed out that it’s kind of frivolous. One of the best POVs I’ve come across thus far was in Albert Mohler’s most recent podcast.

As Mohler is prone to doing, he tangents a bit at the beginning of the show. While it is technically on the Death Penalty, he gets into Harry Potter a couple minutes in. Here’s an excerpt that I found particularly compelling:

You know, what this particular culture critic comes back to say is that, if true, this is still unimportant. And I think that, from a literary source as authoritative as the New York Times — indeed, the front page of the Arts section of the New York Times today — is the worst indictment that is likely to be feared by J.K. Rowling.

But it’s just a reminder to us that, these days, the issue of homosexuality is not just something that is seen as a moral issue. I want you to notice closely that what this means is that homosexuality is a marketing issue. That indeed, what J.K. Rowling is doing here, after her books have long been finished and published and released, is that she’s coming up with a new market, hoping for new readers, and new appreciation for her books.

We can only be glad that William Shakespeare did not live long enough to come back and tell us that Hamlet was gay, or that Henry V was a transsexual, or that Romeo was really involved in a deep pathos over sexual orientation, thinking that indeed, perhaps, Juliette was a cross-dressing male.  Now that’s the kind of nonsense, by the way, that if you write a dissertation about such stuff, is likely to get you tenured in one of the Ivy League universities. It’s about morality, yes. That’s what’s of central concern to us. It’s about marketing to some, and it’s also about the chaos about a postmodern culture the more you look at it.

It really is a pity how these things become more about the marketing than the morality. I think that homosexuality is getting to the level of feminism — for a while it was a genuine concern, but as more and more people are accepting it, it’s becoming mainstream.

Before you go bonkers on me, don’t think I said that it’s at an ideal level. I would argue that feminism is not, either. My girlfriend once gave me a great quote from one of her teacher’s conferences, and while I cannot remember the exact wording, what it came to was that real equality for women would come when guys have female bosses and don’t think anything about it. Instead, as it stands, women are praised and the source of awe when they are in leadership positions, or are political candidates, etc.. The fact that the media is beginning to hinge on homosexuality as a selling point may [will] end up undermining the ability of these people to go about their lives as any straight person would. And that’s not equality, that’s an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your personal slant on the situation.

“Pro life” is broader than the abortion issue

Evangelical pastor Rick Warren (whose book, The Purpose Driven Life, has sold approximately a buhzillion copies), felt the heat from fellow evangelicals last year.

His sin? He invited Barak Obama to speak at his church, in conjunction with the 2006 Global Summit On AIDS and the Church.

As everyone knows, Obama is a Democrat and pro-choice.

I am embedding the Youtube video of Warren’s response. The sound quality is poor, and it’s a long interview, so I’ve excerpted a key segment below it.

If you watch the first two or three minutes, there is one funny moment. When Warren says he’s willing to work with gay people, the interviewer’s eyebrows shoot upward so quickly, they practically fly right off his head.

If you can only work with people that you agree with 100%, you’ll never get anything done. …

I could show you Christians that run the whole spectrum politically and that’s not what we’re about. This is not a political issue. I’m a pastor, not a politician, and we’re about trying to save lives.

[Q. Do you think the evangelical movement has spent too much time focusing on questions of homosexuality?]

Well I definitely believe that we should expand the agenda because I’m tired of the Church just being known for what it’s against. … I do believe that there are other issues [besides gay marriage and abortion] involved, including 40 million people who have HIV/AIDS, growing to nearly a hundred million by the year 2010. 20 million deaths.

You know we’ve had two holocausts in my generation. One of them is the 40 million Americans who aren’t here because of abortion. And the other is the 40 million who are dying right now around the world because of AIDS. 20 million have already died.

I don’t think one is more important than the other. I think “pro life” means you care about saving lives any way you can. And that means malaria, that means poverty, that means waterborne eye diseases and many other things, not just one kind of protecting life. I’m for protecting life — all of life.

Some parts of Warren’s statement may make some of you cringe. But evangelical Christians get an awful lot of bad press, including from me, so let’s give credit where credit is due.

It’s so blinking obvious that the term “pro life” has a wider application than just the abortion issue. You mean it extends even to gay people dying of AIDS?! Who’d a thunk it?

Some evangelicals oppose torture on the grounds of the sanctity of life.

Maybe someday someone will argue that medical marijuana is also a sanctity of life issue, to prevent suicides like the tragic death of Robin Prosser.

Jesus the Stalker

I thought that this post (passed on by my ever-watchful girlfriend!) was most excellent, although the point may evade a lot of people. And I don’t mean excellent just for its humour — which it most certainly is — but excellent from an Evangelical Theological viewpoint.

The author diverges quite a bit, going into a long and often overwhelming rant against little figurines. However, while some people in the comments section seem to have missed the point the first time through, I got it pretty fast, when she stated:

So, seriously. I think it’s safe to say that Jesus isn’t going anywhere. Sure, there are plenty of people who don’t believe, but, and let’s really think about this, do you honestly think that making Jesus my homeslice is what’s going to make the difference between me believing in the Bible and not? What the people who are making these products fail to realize is that these things are not helping non-believers see the “light”. All they’re doing, really, is make believers look ridiculously corny. Like, you buy into this crap? Jesus on a Tobogganing trip? The fuck? What does this have to do with, well, anything? Does that answer the questions of hatred, war, famine, disease?

As an Evangelical Christian, I was raised in a church that relies heavily on this “homeslice” concept. Ask anyone what the key to salvation is, and their response will be “a personal relationship with Jesus.” Consider their children and youth ministries, and you will notice a heavy emphasis on the “Jesus on a Tobogganing Trip” concept — Jesus encourages playing games and enjoying yourself and he’salwayspresentsoyoushouldfeelhappy!!!

While I don’t think that this upbringing is entirely lacking in substance, I think it falls into the same snare that too many groups of Christians have: It humanizes our faith. To rephrase, I think that the typical Evangelical perspective takes the Gospel and interprets it based on our understanding of certain concepts, and renders it into a useless version of itself.

I can’t focus on every aspect of this, clearly. There are a number of underlying factors here, and many cultural values that have been loaded into this faith system. But the one aspect I would like to target is one of the most important messages in the Bible, and easily the most recurring topic: Love.

Interpreting the Bible with Love in mind is a valid perspective, by me. It’s safe to say that God wouldn’t have deliberately created humans without love as a factor; Omnipotent beings, as far as I can tell, don’t just poke around for fun and accidentally wind up creating a sentient race. Also, His continued devotion to the Israelites is only explainable through love, since He continuously denounces them for their sins, then turns around and hands them another chance. [add to this His omniscience, and one has to figure love must be a major factor, since He knows they're going to botch up again!] And the message of Christ is undeniably one of love, with the ultimate conclusion of a series of love-filled lessons being Christ’s loving sacrifice upon the cross in order to restore mankind.  The ultimate love story, as told by John: “For God so loved the world”… and you know the rest of the verse!

Simply put, as 1 John 4:16 puts it, God is love!

Now, perhaps I’m sounding a little too much like the people who made the Basketball statue in the post. And I’m glad. That’s the point. Too often, the word love in our society is equated with friendship, or companionship. This is the failing of the Evangelical church.

One could do a lifetime of studying on just what the Bible says love is. I’m not going to do that. But what I think is important for Christians to realize is that this interpretation of love is a) too simple and b) too relative. For eons, women and men were married out of necessity. They didn’t choose wedlock; Rather, the woman was given to a man, for political or familial reasons. Clearly a person in such a system would interpret the statement “Jesus loves you” differently than the typical Evangelical does. Love in an age of assigned marriage is about dedication, perseverance, and practicality.

I’m not arguing that their perspective is right; Rather, there’s a combination of both factors contained within the Bible. What I’m arguing is that Evangelicals too often get caught up in the idea that Jesus’ love for us is modern love, a love which is relationship-driven and quite “buddy-buddy.” Ideally, couples today joke with each other, flirt with each other, and have an overall chummy partnership.

And yet, the Bible teaches that God is Sovereign. He is, as the author of this post points out, God, not our next-door neighbour. Yes, he is omnipresent, and yes he loves us, but that does not necessarily combine to make playing basketball with God a Biblical necessity.

And, as Rockstar Mommy points out, there’s a practical implication behind this form of “advertising” Jesus. For rich, white [spoiled] kids,  sure, basketball is the epitome of a relationship. But for one starving in the streets of capitalist North America? Or for a child with AIDS in Africa? I don’t think that saying “Jesus wants to play keepaway with you” will capture the spirit of love for them.

And for the rest of us intellects, it just makes a good joke! :P

Why the Bush Administration resorted to torture

The one thing we know about torture is that it was never designed in the first place to get at the actual truth of anything; it was designed in the darkest days of human history to produce false confessions in order to annihilate political and religious dissidents. And that is how it always works: it gets confessions regardless of their accuracy.

Andrew Sullivan has been brilliant in relentless pursuit of the torture issue this week. The post quoted above continues with a hypothetical scenario:

On 9/11, [Vice President Dick] Cheney immediately thought of the worst possible scenario: What if this had been done with weapons of mass destruction? It has haunted him ever since — for good and even noble reasons.

This panic led him immediately to think of Saddam. But it also led him to realize that our intelligence was so crappy that we simply didn’t know what might be coming. That’s why the decision to use torture was the first — and most significant — decision this administration made. It is integral to the intelligence behind the war on terror. …

But torture gives false information. … It is perfectly conceivable that the torture regime — combined with panic and paranoia — created an imaginationland of untruth and half-truth that has guided US policy for this entire war.

Sullivan’s hypothesis makes one wonder how catastrophic the failure of the American intelligence agencies really was. Not merely a failure to prevent 9/11; but also, perhaps, a catalyst for the reprehensible torture policy; which then became the source of doubtful information that has led to a series of disastrous policy decisions.

Maybe, maybe, maybe — it’s a series of guesses. But sometimes verifiable facts are unavailable on crucial issues. In that case, the best you can do is to propose a hypothesis that accounts for those facts that are known. With that in mind, consider this:

On October 11, 2001, a month to the day after the terrorist assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W Bush faced an even more terrifying prospect. At that morning’s Presidential Daily Intelligence Briefing, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, informed the president that a CIA agent code-named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda terrorists possessed a ten-kiloton nuclear bomb, evidently stolen from the Russian arsenal. According to Dragonfire, this nuclear weapon was now on American soil, in New York City.

Now one pictures a terrified President receiving terrifying briefings each morning. A President who makes decisions on a worst-case-scenario basis, when hindsight tells us that the worst-case-scenarios weren’t about to happen.

In my view, Sullivan’s guess about the Bush Administration’s motives is plausible. Regardless, Sullivan insists that it doesn’t excuse the ongoing errors and sins of the Administration:

It has equally become clear that the possibility for an attack on this scale has been over-estimated. And the right response to more information is to adjust accordingly. … It was possible to abandon the torture policy after it had been revealed to be counter-productive and illegal.

To continue in this vein — against the violence [sic: I assume Sullivan meant to write “against the evidence”] — and to repeat the hysteria with respect to Iran after the fiasco of Iraq is not, in my judgment, merited by the true nature of the threat we face. It is an idee fixe, perpetuated by a fundamentalist psyche unable to seek evidence outside itself and its own ideology.

To cap it off, I invite you to read the heart-wrenching account of one man’s desperate, false confession. You’ll find it here.

At least one band is still making actual music

In an era of “singers” who merely talk rhythmically, artists who “create” by “sampling” tunes written by other artists, and — perhaps worst of all — awful remakes of disco songs I loathed the first time around …

Thank goodness that MuteMath has taken up the torch! In the words of The immortal Who,

              Rock is dead / Long live rock!

I saw MuteMath in Ottawa a few weeks ago, and I’ve been meaning to post on them ever since. Their eponymous disc is good, but this is a band you don’t fully appreciate them until you’ve seen them live. Frontman Paul Meany is a true showman. He needs to be or the audience would never take its eyes off Darren King, who is simply relentless on the drums.

This video captures the band descending into near-anarchy, at about the two-thirds mark. (Unfortunately, Paul isn’t in particularly good voice. Months of non-stop touring presumably accounts for it.)

Shades of The Who’s auto-destruct pop art!

But most of the attention MuteMath has generated has come via the Youtube release of the video for their single, Typical. Plus, the video demonstrates that Paul Meanie really can sing:

Some listeners hear a typical (the pun is accidental) alt-rock band. They’re missing the electronica element which keeps things fresh. This reviewer describes the band’s indebtedness pretty well:

An aggressive amalgamation split equally between the influence pool of Radiohead’s electro-centered material, early U2 and The Police’s punk-tinged tones, packed alongside members’ own ambitious merger of spastic percussion, pounding pianos and intriguing programming.

That same site has some good photos of the band members, although they didn’t get the bass player for some reason.

Yes, the drummer’s headphones are duct-taped onto his head. When’s the last time you saw a hip-hop act that had to do that?

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