When he died…

August 31, 2010

When he died, he did not ask god
why he allowed so much suffering.
He was, he realized, afraid that
god would ask him the same question.

Based on a story told by Shaine Clareborne
(which he credits to a duo of Philadelphia
comedians)… Interview with Krista Tippett.
“The New Monastics”, Speaking of Faith.
(Public Radio International)


fishers of men

August 30, 2010

I should have taken a photograph.

I was out walking with my daughter and one of the dogs. Dallying just down the street, I noticed and stopped to stare at a church’s weekly sign-board.

Like so many others, it displayed a slogan… attracting attention to itself with an attempt to be witty or cute.

“Be fishers of men. You catch them, and I’ll clean them”.

This strikes me as at not just absurdly gruesome… but actually offensive. As a non-Christian, I do not want to be caught and eviscerated. . . thank you very much.

I did consider that I might be stewing over a darkly whimsical  reading of a silly sign. But could it really not have occurred to the jingle-writer he/she is echoing the Inquisition?

I did some reading… it turns out that the popular idea of heretics being disembowelled by their holy tormentors is widely questioned by historians.

(That torture was a central part
of the Inquisition’s work,
there is absolutely no doubt).

So perhaps no heretic was ever disembowelled in the frustrated pursuit of a confession… I’m not sure it matters here:

The image (torture by disembowelling) was in my head, and I’m sure that I’m not alone.  That mental-image becomes jingle’s context… context which turns that sign into something (at best) carelessly distasteful.

Hurricane Katrina.
5 years ago, August 2005


from: “Katrina’s Hidden Race War”
A.C. Thompson. The Nation

…The Point, as locals call it, is a neighborhood within a neighborhood, a small cluster of ornate, immaculately maintained 150-year-old houses within the larger Algiers district. A nationally recognized historic area, Algiers Point is largely white, while the rest of Algiers is predominantly black. It’s a “white enclave” whose residents have “a kind of siege mentality,” says Tulane University historian Lance Hill, noting that some white New Orleanians “think of themselves as an oppressed minority.”

A wide street lined with towering trees, Opelousas Avenue marks the dividing line between Algiers Point and greater Algiers, and the difference in wealth between the two areas is immediately noticeable. “On one side of Opelousas it’s ‘hood, on the other side it’s suburbs,” says one local. “The two sides are totally opposite, like muddy and clean.”

Algiers Point has always been somewhat isolated: it’s perched on the west bank of the Mississippi River, linked to the core of the city only by a ferry line and twin gray steel bridges. When the hurricane descended on Louisiana, Algiers Point got off relatively easy. While wide swaths of New Orleans were deluged, the levees ringing Algiers Point withstood the Mississippi’s surging currents, preventing flooding; most homes and businesses in the area survived intact. As word spread that the area was dry, desperate people began heading toward the west bank, some walking over bridges, others traveling by boat. The National Guard soon designated the Algiers Point ferry landing an official evacuation site. Rescuers from the Coast Guard and other agencies brought flood victims to the ferry terminal, where soldiers loaded them onto buses headed for Texas.

Facing an influx of refugees, the residents of Algiers Point could have pulled together food, water and medical supplies for the flood victims. Instead, a group of white residents, convinced that crime would arrive with the human exodus, sought to seal off the area, blocking the roads in and out of the neighborhood by dragging lumber and downed trees into the streets. They stockpiled handguns, assault rifles, shotguns and at least one Uzi and began patrolling the streets in pickup trucks and SUVs. The newly formed militia, a loose band of about fifteen to thirty residents, most of them men, all of them white, was looking for thieves, outlaws or, as one member put it, anyone who simply “didn’t belong.”

The existence of this little army isn’t a secret–in 2005 a few newspaper reporters wrote up the group’s activities in glowing terms in articles that showed up on an array of pro-gun blogs; one Cox News story called it “the ultimate neighborhood watch.” Herrington, for his part, recounted his ordeal in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke. But until now no one has ever seriously scrutinized what happened in Algiers Point during those days, and nobody has asked the obvious questions. Were the gunmen, as they claim, just trying to fend off looters? Or does Herrington’s experience point to a different, far uglier truth?

…evidence indicates, at least eleven people were shot. In each case the targets were African-American men, while the shooters, it appears, were all white.

The new information should reframe our understanding of the catastrophe. Immediately after the storm, the media portrayed African-Americans as looters and thugs–Mayor Ray Nagin, for example, told Oprah Winfrey that “hundreds of gang members” were marauding through the Superdome. Now it’s clear that some of the most serious crimes committed during that time were the work of gun-toting white males.

So far, their crimes have gone unpunished..


"This Man Died Here"

photo by
Robert Stolanrik


From “More police charged in post-Katrina shootings”
Associated Press – Canadian Press – CBC -July 13, 2010

…Five former New Orleans police officers have already pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shootings on the Danziger Bridge that left two men dead and four wounded just days after the August 2005 hurricane.

In one instance, a mentally disabled man was shot in the back and stomped before he died…

…In court filings, police are accused of fabricating nonexistent witnesses, plotting to plant a gun to make it seem as if the shootings were justified and kicking spent shell casings off the bridge weeks after the shootings…

August 28, 2010

“The past is inaccurate”

Czeslaw Milosz

I don’t particularly like people running through the streets smashing store windows and burning police cars.

I can, however, think of historical occasions
which would have justified at least the latter,
even ethically demanded it… but that is besides
the present point. (But, if you’re must know:
I’m very far from conviced that the
G-20 summit of 2010 belongs in such a list).

Those few days in Toronto’s past summer offers plenty get almost anyone ranting. (Not everyone, of course, outraged by the same things). Some were widely discussed in the mainstream: especially, why the *@#%^ was the summit held in downtown Toronto rather than x, y or z. (How about Pearson Airport where almost all delegates had arrived?)

What really got my goat was the decision use an estimated 10,000 police officers. Many of these were in riot gear (banging batons on shields: deliberately unnerving), and/or carrying tear gas, weapons (the “ARWEN-37”) which fires giant rubber bullets, and four ear-shattering “sound cannons”… plus officers on horses (a tactic often misunderstood as quaint, but rather appreciated for its intimidation-value)… plus plenty armed with handguns, tazers and a s.w.a.t. team or two.

Here’s the rub:

The primary target of “Black Bloc” activists is the authority of the state. You do not need to be an anarchist (I am not) to see the authority of the state as being propped up by public trust in limbs of power, the police probably above others.

Talking to myself this morning, I put it this way: “Sending a massive police (a great deal of it essentially paramilitary) to protect an event such as the G-20 summit is like filling a moat with gasoline in an effort to protect your home from an arsonist.”

To my eyes, what the state accomplished was this:

Black Bloc activists (thugs or whatever you like, it doesn’t matter) were given a golden opportunity. Seizing it, they succesfully goaded the police into over-reacting. Not so much against themselves (few in the public had much sympathy for them), but against unarmed protesters.

Especially the day after the main Black Bloc rampage, the police embarrassed themselves with alarming disgrace.  Were they acting out of frustration, under some misguided orders, or in a clumbsy attempt to accomplish the impossible (seizing a few Black Bloc activists – who had by now shed their trademark black clothing – from large crowds of stubborn protestors)? I don’t think it really matters. The (quite accurate) optics were that the police attacked peaceful protesters, looking like thugs of questionable competency.

Anarchists want to sell the idea that police (the state) do not deserve the right to use force. What better advertisment could they ask for?

Omar Khadr was back in court last week.

(Actually, a military tribunal is not properly a court… but I’d like to get beyond the first sentence before getting riled up).

Jury selection looked for something a little odd. Only candidates who had never heard of Omar Khadr were considered to be qualified.  It might seem sensible to avoid the biases nutured by media reports. The problem is that it is idiotic to select a jury who – almost by definition – are ignorant of the world around them.  (I understand the story of Omar Khadr has recieved special attention in Canada, but it is hardly an obscure piece of internationalicona).

Second problem with jury selection (specific to this sort of case): the jury pool consists entirely of American soldiers. Of course the accused being judged at these military tribunals will not feature a “jury of their peers”… imagine a jury drawn from the prisoner population at Gitmo (or even, a bit less ridiculously, the people of Southern Afghanistan and North-Western Pakistan where accused such as Omar Khadr were seized). But isn’t it obvious that – in a case like Omar Khadr – a jury drawn from the ranks of the American military are exactly “the peers” of the solider he is accused of killing. This sounds like the plot from Kafka’s imagination: (1) you can’t assemble a jury of an accused’s peers, (2) you assemble a jury of the victim’s peers…. no less, co-members of an organization which stresses loyalty to each other as if “brothers”.
One more related point.  What kind of person is willing to be a solider, sent around the world to carry out a state’s international violence, without being at least somewhat informed about that world?  They are obviously not holding their orders – and their own violence – to any reasonabe moral scrutiny….  Not exactly the kind of person I want to be judging anyone.

So… court proceedure aside, I fume over a not entirely original question:

How can it possibly be murder to kill a soldier on a battlefield?

Am I cold?  I do suppose that any death is sad. The dead man may have been a swell fellow, and he almost certainly a family.

But he was a solider. Part of any solider’s job is to risk being killed… such as being at the recieving end of a hand-grenade. To accuse the killer — the guy who threw that grenade – of murder seem like a wonderful example of being a sore loser?

So how does killing a soldier on the battlefield get to be classified as murder?

The procecutor is arguing – citing international law – a combatants must be wearing a uniform. Since Omar Khadr was not wearing such a uniform, killing someone qualifies as murder.

….but oh yeah, I forgot (the prosecutor whispers quietly to himself)… we threw out international law when we decided to side step the Geneva Conventions (international law) and imprison a child soldier (Khadr was 15yrs when he was seized), declaring him (and hundreds of other detainees) to be “enemy combatants” and hold them at Gitmo.

….hmmm. Maybe this is one problem with abandoning your commitment to international law (there are plenty of others) is that you look very silly trying to use international law (the exact same Geneva Conventions) which you’ve already abandoned in detaining the very same “enemy combatants”.

Its almost too depressing to be enraging that
so many peopleare aparently blissfully unaware of the joke.