Roger Latimer’s Sentence

This is such a tough one. On the one hand, you have a vulnerable child suffering from serious and painful disabilities. On the other hand, you have a down-to-earth farmer who, by all accounts, was a loving and sensible father, who simply decided one day that he couldn’t bear his daughter’s continued suffering and went ahead and put an end to it. You have protection of the weak, the disabled, the voiceless. You have a justice system that ends up sentencing this father to a longer sentence than Karla Holmolka, who merely helped her husband rape, torture, and murder several young women.

I don’t disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to force Latimer to serve his sentence. I don’t see how they could have ruled otherwise. The question is not, in any case, whether Latimer’s decision made sense in any shape or form given his extraordinary circumstances. The question is whether or not the courts can look the other way or make exceptions to the law based merely upon their sentiments about he case.

What if Latimer, instead of fighting the courts all the way, had immediately agreed to plead guilty? What if he had said that he was willing to serve the sentence because that is how deeply he cared about his daughter Tracey and the suffering she was going through? What if he had understood that the law cannot make exceptions even under exceptional circumstances, when an issue like protection of the disabled is at stake?

I have a feeling that public sentiment would have been more uniformly on the side of compassion and clemency.

I don’t see Latimer as a bad man. I think he was simply wrong, and profoundly unfortunate.

The Beijing Olympics

Let me make clear, first of all, that I really don’t want Toronto to win it’s bid for the 2008 Olympics. I think the Olympics are a massive boondoggle, a gigantic monument to bureaucratic privilege, corruption, and pomposity.

They tell us that the homeless in Toronto will benefit from the new housing provided for the Olympics. If you can stop laughing long enough to read further… the Olympics will benefit those with vested property interests and corporate flags to fly, and their cronies in the legislature whose reward is to shake hands with celebrities and gratuitously shove their ugly mugs in front of tv cameras and make mind-numbingly boring speeches in front of privileged audiences. It will benefit union organizers who can hold the Olympics hostage to work delays, and contractors who can charge excessive amounts for minor alterations. It will benefit the cops who get to demand extravagant new funding of helicopters and anti-terrorist programs and equipment and who, afterwards, will never, ever downsize because the cops never ever announce that crime has gone down and therefore, less of them are needed.

So perhaps it is appropriate, after all, that the Olympics go to China. Beijing, we are told, wants them very badly. China wants to show the world that it is a modern, efficient, and important country. To ensure that the world gets the right impression, they are sure to lock up all the dissidents long before a single shot-putter lifts a single steel ball.

The logic of the Olympic Organizing Committee is that China should be invited to engage itself with the rest of the world. It should be given an opportunity to experience first hand the delights and rewards of crass consumerism. It should share in the spoils of commercial exploitation and greed.

All those aging intolerant dictatorial communist officials will immediately perceive the error of their ways and invite MacDonald’s to open several franchises.

The West salivates at the thought of a billion microwave-less consumers. The U.S. especially thinks the Chinese can be convinced of the virtues of television and cell-phones, designer running shoes and Mickey Mouse ears. Democracy can come later.

Historically, the Chinese have only invited Western companies in so they can absorb a new technology and then adapt the production methods for their own uses. They have never yet, allowed Western companies to set up their own branch plants and go into some serious production and sales. I frankly don’t know how likely it is that they will “see the light” on this issue. I don’t know why many Western politicians and corporate leaders think things have changed.

I don’t know why we should think it would be a good thing for China to just let big, Western corporations into the country to operate as freely as they do here.

But the idea of Beijing hosting the Olympics while continuing to torture, imprison, and murder political dissidents is offensive in the extreme. The real message, if they are given the 2008 Olympics, is that we in the West are cold-hearted pragmatists who only pretend to care about human rights and justice. They will absorb the lesson that when it comes to cold, hard, cash, freedom and democracy must take a back seat.

And one more key point. You will shortly hear a lot of blather about how the Olympics are not about politics– they are about international cooperation and the spirit of human achievement and athletics and grace and international harmony.

You will hear that phrase often: “not about politics”.

It is utter crap.

The Olympics are the worlds biggest stage, the biggest spectacle, the most prestigious sporting event in the known universe. The powers that be, as part of the deal, get to preside over the festivities. They get to put on huge displays. They get to make speeches. They get to meet celebrities. They get to be on TV. They get to tie in the splendiferous event with local events, at which they do have complete control. In other words, the Olympics are utterly political. They promote the status quo. They add to the prestige and– most importantly– legitimacy– of the regime in power. They promote consumer products and the values they embody. They promote competitiveness and hierarchical social values.

So don’t give me this crap about “not about politics”. It is not about the “wrong” politics, which is, democracy and human rights.

And maybe that is how it should be. Have you ever read about athlete’s lives? How they are utterly subject to the totalitarian whims and caprices of the authorities within the national Olympic bodies? After all, we send about three functionaries to the Olympics for every athlete we send. That’s where your money goes. That’s where Coke’s and Sony’s and Nikon’s and Kodak’s money goes.


The Computer Keyboard

All right– it’s just a little thing. It’s not like a war or the Olympics or Microsoft or GATT or the environment. But it bugs me a lot and it’s my web page, so I’m cutting lose. The subject of this week’s rant: the computer keyboard.

You see the orange circle? That’s where the left slash symbol is located. This is the symbol that any real computer geek knows is one of the most important keys on the keyboard. Why? Because when you really want to get things done on a system level at the keyboard, you go to the DOS prompt and start pecking away. And one of the things you type the most often is this simple little command:

cd \

Or any of a hundred variations.

Now you see the dark circle? That is pointing to the location where the dang “\” key SHOULD be. I even moved it there in the picture. That’s where it used to be on some IBM keyboards and, I believe, some early Northgate keyboards. But almost every keyboard made since then– even the legendary Northgate (much prized for it’s solid steel construction, it’s tactile response, and substantial weight)– puts the “\” key somewhere else, where you have to take your hand off the home row to reach it.

Now tell me, how often do you need the right slash (“/”) or a “[” or a “]” or a “{” or a “}”? Almost never, right? There’s already the perfectly useful “(” and “)” up there above the “i” and “o”, and those completely useless triangle brackets (“<>”) below the “k” and “l”. Why on earth do they put the most useful non-alphanumeric key in the most bizarre place?

Well, the same knucklehead who decided that directories could be named “program files” but only accessed with:


Good heavens! Not only do you have to reach way beyond the right home row to hit “\” (and try to avoid accidentally hitting the return key) but now you have to leave the left home row as well to try to get the tilde (“~”) way up there beside the “1”. Curly, Larry, and Moe are in charge of “innovations” at Microsoft.

And while I’m at it… have you seen those new idiotic keyboards with the row of blue buttons along the top? These buttons are dedicated to Internet functions. Instead of actually having to move a mouse pointer to a icon on your desktop, now all you have to do is press a button, and there you are: MSN, NBC, CNN, whatever.

I have always said that the goal of AOL, Microsoft, Compaq et al is to turn the Internet into television, where your choices are limited to what the corporate hacks think you should have. The entire idea of these buttons is revolting. The personal computer was, at one time, a force for personal liberation precisely because it was flexible and non-proprietary and controlled by the user. Ever since then, Corporate America has been trying to take it back. This is the latest step, along with all those obscene programs you get with every laptop to try to get you to subscribe to Genie or MSN or AOL or some other apparatchik-infested on-line service. The goal is to force you to watch their propaganda and advertising. The goal is to, once again, reduce the computer user to a computer viewer: passive, docile, mindless. The ultimate consumer. Just enter your charge card number…. Their worst nightmare is that you might one day once again seize control of your computer and choose where you get your information from.

It will have to go down in history as one of life’s great mysteries, along with these:

Why did cruddy Microsoft Windows outsell every other operating system in the world?

Why did mass audiences ever learn to accept the hideous vulgarity of television sitcom laugh-tracks?

Why did VHS defeat Beta in the market place?

Why was the 2000 election in the U.S. ever even close enough for George Bush Jr. to steal? Quick, list Dubbya’s accomplishments prior to his elevation to this lofty status.

Why did anyone ever buy a Vega or a Pinto?

Why do shriveled old bureaucrats present trophies at celebrated sporting events?

Who buys “extended warranties”? Why do these people think that salesmen would hustle them so avidly if they were a good deal for the customer?

Baptized Banality

The Banner, a magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, reports that a Christian screenwriter and a Christian actor have put together a company called “Act One” which is designed to provide Christians with training in screenwriting for Hollywood Movies. Barbara Nicolosi and David Schall are the two entrepreneurs– or missionaries– depending on your point of view.

Some of the teachers in this program have writing credits for shows like “Batman Forever”. I’m not kidding.

It only cost $1800 U.S. for one month, including room and board. That’s pretty steep, in my view. A red light goes off in my head. Aren’t there a lot of scams in Hollywood? So many people want so badly to become celebrated Hollywood writers, directors, actors…. there’s a lot of snakes out there quite eager to take advantage of them. This couldn’t be one of those scams, could it? Do Mr. Schell and Ms. Nicolosi give their students a realistic assessment of their chances of actually selling a script to a Hollywood producer?

And what are their chances? About a million to one?

The truth is, if you don’t know somebody in a key position at a studio in Hollywood, your chance of selling a script is almost nil.

Schell says, “I know Christians on the sets of several sit-coms and soap operas who make a positive difference in what is shown on the screen by creatively intervening in productions whose messages or stories are heading into areas that run counter to a Christian worldview.”

That’s the key right there. That tells you a lot about where Schell and Nicolosi are headed.

When, I asked myself, does a sitcom or soap opera begin to head into areas that are counter to a Christian worldview?

1) at the moment they insert advertising?

2) at the moment they promote their actors as “celebrities” who deserve our admiration and emulation because they are famous for being famous?

3) at the moment they engage in escapist fantasies that allow viewers to avoid confronting real life issues?

4) at the moment they pass off inane and repetitious formulaic plot devices stolen from “Mr. Ed” and “Gilligan’s Island” as “original” work?

5) at the moment they add a laugh track, to convince the audience that these tired mindless jokes are actually funny?

6) at the moment they eliminate every brand name, political party, identifiable religion, pop song, television show, social issue, and financial concerns from every episode of every show, in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator?

7) at the moment they select only actors who are physically beautiful or colorfully ethnic or comically fat?

Who knows?

Well, I suppose we do know. We know that what they mean is that when the script editors of a soap opera want to have two of the characters commit adultery with each other, the Christian on the set will pipe up with, “Whoa Nelly!” and put a stop to it immediately.

The main problem with Christians and the arts is that most Christians see art has having a function beyond the revelation of things seen and unseen. This function is propaganda. The trouble with most Christians who see themselves as more sophisticated than that is that they see art as having another potential function: to entertain and make money.

What we need are more Christians who, like Bruce Cockburn, see art as the revelation of things really seen and unseen– a very biblical standard that most great atheist artists and almost no Christian artists adhere to religiously.

And Another Wrongful Conviction, And Another…

Michael Ray Graham and Albert Ronnie Burrell just walked out of Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, with a $10 check and a denim jacket and couple of manila envelopes with all that is left of their worldly possessions.

At least they are alive. And that’s good, because, after waiting 14 years to be executed, they have been declared innocent of murder by the State of Louisiana.

Let’s see. That is eight this year alone. That is 92 since the death penalty was reinstated in 1973 in the U.S., according to the New York Times.

Wait for it. Come on, I know it’s there. Let me read a little further… aha! “With no physical evidence linking either to the crime, the two men were convicted largely on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, Olan Wayne Brantley, who a law enforcement official acknowledged was known as Lyin’ Wayne.”

The old jailhouse snitch! Again! From Guy Paul Morin to Michael Ray Graham, the jailhouse snitch has proved to be an indispensable tool of prosecutions and police everywhere. It is the most widely accepted “solution” for a simple lack of evidence.

Did the police really believe that Burrell and Graham were guilty? Were they afraid that guilty men would walk free just because they couldn’t find any proof? From my reading about wrongful convictions, that might well be the case. The police simply decided that these two “dun it”. They felt it in their bones. They were convinced, emotionally. Maybe they didn’t answer questions the right way. Maybe they sweated under questioning. Maybe they were stupid.

Maybe they should be on Oprah. [2011-03]

“The kind of prosecutorial misconduct in the cases of the two men is not unusual, said Mr. Graham’s lawyer, Ms. Fournet.” No, it’s not. And it’s probably the best reason why the death penalty should be abolished in the U.S., as it has been in Canada for twenty years.

What a time for the governor of the state that has been the most mindlessly efficient and enthusiastic about executions to have stolen the election to become president.

Which is not to say that Al Gore was exactly Mr. Courageously Righteous on the issue. It is clear that he adopted Clinton’s very pragmatic “go with it” attitude towards the death penalty. But my guess is that Gore might have been persuaded to lead a movement against the death penalty given the incredible number of wrongful convictions that have come to light in recent years.

Dubbya’s attitude? They must have done something wrong for the police to even have suspected them in the first place.

It looks like Bush is going to appoint John Ashcroft, the Senator who lost an election to a dead man, as the new attorney general. We are told that Ashcroft, as a devout Christian, is completely in favor of the death penalty.


I can’t help but wonder, “What would Jesus do?” about a jail-house snitch who put two innocent men on death row so he could get a lighter sentence for passing bad checks? What he do about the prosecutors who knowingly pressed the case, aware of the fact that there was no physical evidence against the two men, and that the key witness had a history of mental illness? What would he say to the prison officials who handed each of the men a $10 check, as compensation for losing 14 years of their lives?

What would he say to the judge who put a developmentally delayed man on death row?