(another) Taser Victim

The Globe and Mail is reporting that there wass another taser-related death in Western Canada yesterday:

A man was killed in a confrontation with Winnipeg police yesterday after being hit with a taser stun gun, the first such incident in the city’s history.

The incident began just before 4 p.m. when police officers confronted a man in a back alley adjacent to the grounds of the national microbiology laboratory in the city’s downtown core.

They had been called to the area by a member of the public asking for help in a criminal matter, said police spokeswoman Constable Jacqueline Chaput.

“I’m not privy to the information surrounding that encounter, however it did result in the deployment of an electronic control device used by one of our officers against the male,” Constable Chaput said. “It is yet to be determined by the investigation whether the electronic control device had a hand in the fatality.”

It’s worth noting that the link between the taser and the death is not certain yet, for prudence’s sake. But I don’t think most people would object to such an assumption. After all, it has happened altogether too often that tasers killed instead of stunning.

The last major coverage an incident got in Canada was out west as well, marking the death of a Polish man in B.C.. That was over six months ago, although there have been other minor issues involving tasers since, both in Canada and the United States. But is a six-month gap really enough to pass by? Can we stand to have another half dozen people killed before the government is willing to consider the ramifications of taser usage?

This is a sticky issue. As I argued last time, there’s a fine line between appropriate violence and abuse. Tasers are theoretically supposed to help eliminate that line. As far as I can tell, the ideal technology would permit policemen to restrict a criminal with minimal physical violence, which tasers are designed to do.

But they don’t. There can be no denying that electrocuting someone to death is a pretty good example of “violence”. It’s convenient, yes, but the fact remains that tasers are clearly toeing the line of abuse — and in many cases, are well over it.

My plight isn’t a new one. And it won’t be the last time it’s heard. But it needs to be made public that these weapons are causing excessive harm, and this type of a situation demands that the public cry out against the use of tasers. Until the technology can be perfected to absolutely minimize the number of unjustified deaths, a ban needs to be put on them in the short-term.

Either that, or policemen who use the taser hastily need to be punished. Heavily. And not just those who kill someone, either. Any instance where quick use could have resulted in damage should be determined hazardous. It’s not a game to pull the trigger, and the ones in charge of doing so need to realize that sooner than later.

Actually, death is not beautiful

This photograph packs such an emotional wallop, I decided to share it even though I find it very troubling:

apparently beautiful suicide

It’s a photo of a dead woman lying on top of a car. A few minutes earlier, she had leapt from the observation platform of the Empire State Building. The force of her landing caved in the roof of the car and smashed out its windows.

Jason Kottke, who has the full story, calls it the most beautiful suicide.

Actually, no. It’s a beautiful photograph, despite the subject matter.

Suicide is never beautiful. Death is never beautiful. I know:  there have been several suicides in my family, plus several unsuccessful suicide attempts. Suicide is always a tragedy.

I will always remember a conversation I had with one member of my immediate family. Whenever anything bad happened to her, she would immediately think, “I wish I was dead.” And I don’t mean whenever something really bad happened to her — any small setback would produce the same reflexive thought.

Somewhere in her mind, there lurked the idea that death was beautiful:  the solution to all of life’s manifold problems. I wonder whether other people have the same idea. People who themselves might be potential suicide candidates.

Death is ugly. You want beauty?

Glenn Gould(Glenn Gould)

Life is beautiful.
boys laughing(by Flickr user GDabir)

Life is beautiful.
backlit, pregnant(photo by Pascal Renoux)

Life is beautiful.

16 month timetable the right policy

The Prime Minister of Iraq agrees with Obama’s timetable for a U.S. withdrawal:

When asked in an interview with SPIEGEL when he thinks US troops should leave Iraq, [Prime Minister] Maliki responded “as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned.” He then continued: “US presidential candidate Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months.” …

Iraq, Maliki went on to say, “would like to see the establishment of a long-term strategic treaty with the United States, which would govern the basic aspects of our economic and cultural relations.” He also emphasized though that the security agreement between the two countries should only “remain in effect in the short term.”

Democrats circulate an interview McCain gave in 2004:

QUESTION: Let me give you a hypothetical, senator. What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there? I understand it’s a hypothetical, but it’s at least possible.

McCAIN: Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it’s obvious that we would have to leave because— if it was an elected government of Iraq—and we’ve been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have other challenges, but I don’t see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.

Marc Ambinder comments,

This could be one of those unexpected events that forever changes the way the world perceives an issue. Iraq’s Prime Minister agrees with Obama, and there’s no wiggle room or fudge factor. This puts John McCain in an extremely precarious spot: what’s left to argue? to argue against Maliki would be to predicate that Iraqi sovereignty at this point means nothing. …

(Via e-mail, a prominent Republican strategist who occasionally provides advice to the McCain campaign said, simply, “We’re fucked.”)

Meanwhile, President Bush is now open to “a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals — such as … the further reduction of U.S. combat forces in Iraq.”

Uh … that would be a “timetable for withdrawal” that dare not speak its name.

Big bucks for bunnies

From Artdaily.org:

Today at Sotheby’s London, Beatrix Potter’s original watercolour illustration for the final scene from “The Rabbits’ Christmas Party” sequence sold for the remarkable sum of £289,250 … setting a new record for any book illustration sold at auction.

Not just an illustration for a children’s book, but an honest-to-goodness work of art. Click to see the full sized version at Artdaily.org.

The Rabbits' Christmas Party

A sign of the times

“To think that someone would come and steal from a church, it’s hard to swallow,” church warden Rosalie Webb told CBC News.

What were the thieves after? Heating oil.

It’s a sign of the times, I suppose. Perhaps in more ways than one.

A Burden Too Great (Amos 8:4-9)

I was in Peterborough this weekend, preaching at St. Andrews United Church — my parents’ congregation. St. Andrews is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. That’s a very long time, by Canadian standards:  stretching back to a time before Confederation (in 1867, when four of the provinces united to form a nation).

I don’t know whether anyone will be interested, but I decided to upload my sermon to the blog. I’m speaking on an environmental theme, grounding the message in a text from the prophet Amos.

The sermon is 25 minutes long, which is a rather long time for modern people to sit still and listen. But I’m not apologizing. I think it’s possible to hold people’s attention for that long, but a sermon has to be well crafted for it to work — no meandering.

The first voice you’ll hear is my father, reading a few verses from the Gospel of John. I’ve broken the recording into three segments. The middle section is longer than the other two.


The land trembles:

Moral cause and effect:

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