Oct 28, 2010
Oct 18, 2010
This is nothing short of wonderful: the best way to get people to abandon organized Christianity is to get a bishop of the state church and a Christian MP on TV to talk about their opinions. I definitely hope they attend more TV debates.
Of course, the more liberal Christian circles are upset, as they feel that these people are misrepresenting the church and its ideas. I'm not entirely sure that's the case. From a historical perspective, the Christian church is built on 2,000 years of an aggressive hatred of anything they consider deviant. I realize there are lots of Christians who want to turn their church in a different direction, but the fact remains that for the entirety of its history, the cross has stood for intolerance and repression. Even today, for every progressive theologian who wants the church to tolerate gays and lesbians, there are at least ten angry and intolerant conservatives who hate fags.
Another way of looking at the recent boom of church-quitting is that this really reveals just how Christian the Finnish people are. For the vast majority of Finland's independence, practically all Finnish children were baptised into the Church on birth, this author included. Not belonging to a religion was actually illegal until 1923, and laws on blasphemy are still in force today.
All this led to an atmosphere where it was assumed that everyone belonged to the church, but religion never played a large part in everyday life. Belonging to the church was just something one was expected to do. These days, the church can be openly criticized, and more and more people are actually facing the facts of what the church really stands for, and finding they don't actually believe it. So in a sense, the discussion on gay rights isn't so much causing people to become averse to the church as exposing that they didn't believe in what the church peddles in the first place.
On the whole, these are some of the best news we've had all year. It's a wonderful testament to how far tolerance and even a kind of liberalism have spread that the best way to do anti-church propaganda is to get its representatives to talk about themselves.
Oct 14, 2010
When I say model I mean nude and fetish model, so if anyone's really into latex porn, you can find her website here. You know, this stuff:
To be honest, latex really isn't my thing. Wikipedia still uses the traditional definition of fetishism:
Sexual fetishism, or erotic fetishism, is the sexual arousal a person receives from any physical thing (traditionally, an inanimate object) that is not normally considered sexual in nature.
As I understand it, going by the traditional sense of the word, for me to be a latex fetishist I'd have to be turned on by the latex, not the person wearing it. I fully realize that's an inadequate description of a fetish, but it's a starting point. Personally, I'm much more interested in the lady in question than in her clothes.
Oct 11, 2010
On New Year's Eve, 2009, the BART trains were packed, and at around 2 a.m. a fight broke out on one, involving a dozen people. Several BART police officers moved in to break it up.
What happened next is disputed, although there are a bunch of cell phone videos of the incident. As people were being cuffed, according to one witness, two police officers rushed a young man called Oscar Grant, and one of them punched him in the face. This officer, called Pirone, and officer Johannes Mehserle, wrestled Grant to the ground. Pirone stood over Grant and called him a "bitch-ass nigger" (SF Chronicle).
San Francisco Chronicle:
Video footage played repeatedly in court showed that as Mehserle raised his gun, Pirone had his left knee on Grant's neck. Pirone's left hand was pressing Grant's head into the platform, and Pirone's right hand was holding Grant's right arm - the same one Mehserle said he had struggled with - behind his back.
As Grant was lying on the ground, restrained by the two officers, Mehserle drew his service handgun and shot Grant in the back. Mehserle claims he was trying to use his taser, but confused his gun for the taser and shot Grant by accident. The jury in his case agreed, and he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
When the verdict was announced, several hundred people disagreed and rioted. Mehserle will be doing prison time, and resigned from the BART police after the shooting. Officer Pirone was fired, as was his partner, for the same incident.
This is the first post in a new series on police brutality. I thought I'd lead with the most recent example of totally excessive force, whatever the actual story behind it. More to the point, as the Oakbook points out, in the 12 months before Oscar Grant was killed, law enforcement officials killed 102 people in the state of California. Meaning that every three days, someone was shot by the police, just in California. What makes the Oscar Grant case unprecedented isn't that someone was shot, but that the police officer in question actually went to court for it, and was accused of murder.
Interestingly, the majority of the people shot by the police in California were Hispanic. As a European, I've always found "Hispanic" to be the most confusing "race" in the United States. The way they see it, when you cross the Pyrenees, you cross a racial boundary. I find that somewhat insane. Also, I was never able to understand whether Brazilians count as Hispanic or not. Hispanic obviously comes from Hispania, the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula, so it might include Portugal and Portuguese speakers.
Wikipedia tells me that in the US, Brazilians either are or aren't considered Hispanics. So, depending on which definition you like, I either have a good segue into a Hispanic getting shot on a train or not. If you don't accept that Brazilians are "Hispanic" by American standards, then you can read about an electrician getting shot here and segue from that.
Those of you that follow the news may remember that in July 2005, the British police shot a Brazilian electrician called Jean Charles de Menezes on the Tube. It's a scary story.
On July 22, 2005, the Metropolitan Police and various other arms of the British government were looking for the terrorists responsible for the previous day's failed bomb attack on the subway system (and a bus). Some of them were watching a block of flats where they suspected some of the terrorists, who were of Middle Eastern or African extraction, were staying. de Menezes was staying at the same block of flats with two of his cousins, and had just been called to fix a broken fire alarm at Kilburn.
Armed officers followed de Menezes from his flat to the subway station. The police were instructed to follow him and prevent him from entering the subway system, as he was believed to be a terrorist. It's worth noting at this stage that the only reason anyone thought he was a terrorist was that he lived in a block of flats that was under police surveillance, and looked foreign. Later, in an attempt to justify following de Menezes, the Met photoshopped a picture of him to make it look more like one of the terrorist suspects (Independent).
Being followed by the police, de Menezes made his way to Stockwell station and got on the subway. Some people may remember reports that he ran away from the police and vaulted a security barrier; those aren't true. The person who jumped over the turnstile was one of the officers. Similarly, reports that he was dressed "suspiciously" are untrue.
De Menezes boarded a train perfectly normally and took a seat. Just as he's sat down, several plainclothes police officers ran into the car, knocked him onto the ground and shot him in the head.
As the Telegraph reports, despite claims to the contrary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that the officers did not challenge de Menezes in any way or identify themselves.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report said police had given the Brazilian no instruction "that an innocent man would have understood".
IPCC Commissioner Naseem Malik said: "There is no action he could have consciously taken that would have saved him".
The revelations contradicted the Met's insistence that Mr de Menezes failed to obey a challenge by police at Stockwell Tube station.
What happened was that de Menezes was suddenly attacked by people in ordinary civilian clothes. One of them grabbed him, pinned his arms behind him and forced him down into his seat. While he was being restrained, the other officers shot him in the head seven times at point-blank range. One other bullet hit him in the shoulder, and three apparently missed. He died on the scene.
He was never challenged or even spoken to; he was simply grabbed by the police, restrained and executed. And they didn't even know who he was.
In the inquiries that followed, it emerged that the British police were operating under a policy known as "Operation Kratos". There is a report by the Metropolitan Police Authority on it here. One of the provisions of the policy is that if police are facing a suicide bomber, their only recourse is to shoot him in the head. The explosives most suicide bombers carry are so volatile that a gunshot to them would detonate them, say the police, and they believe that if a suicide bomber thinks he has been identified, he will detonate the explosives.
Whether that's reasonable or not, I'm not one to judge. The way it was implemented, though, is nothing short of shocking. The police had no evidence whatsoever that de Menezes was a suicide bomber, and, of course, he wasn't. Witnesses say de Menezes didn't react in any way to the police coming onto the train, and even as he was being restrained and had a gun held to his head, he appeared calm. Despite the fact that his arms were pinned back, totally restraining him, and that he wasn't wearing any kind of bomb, resisting arrest or behaving in a threatening way, the police officers executed him.
No charges were ever raised against any of the officers, and it was determined that they all acted properly and appropriately. The Metropolitan Police apologized for de Menezes's death, but as far as anyone knows, all the officers involved are still serving with the police.
One incident that also sprang to mind after the BART shooting was that of Wolfgang Grams, a member of Germany's Rote Armee Fraktion, a Communist terrorist organization. In 1993, Germany's antiterrorist police unit, GSG-9, was arresting Grams on the platform at Bad Kleinen station. Grams and the police exchanged fire, and he shot two officers, one of whom died.
According to the police, Grams then fell off the platform and shot himself in the head. He was airlifted to hospital but died of his injuries there. His death has always been controversial; the officers present maintain that he shot himself, while there are persistent rumors that he was executed by GSG-9. Ordinarily, I'd think "persistent rumors" like that are pure bunk, if it wasn't for the way some of his fellow terrorists died.
October, 1977. Four members of the Red Army Fraction are being held in maximum security solitary cells in Stammheim prison, in Stuttgart. Since September 6, all four had been denied any mail, telephone use or visits, because of allegations that they continued to direct terrorist activity from their cells. They were also forbidden from contacting each other.
On the 18th of October, Gudrun Esslin was found hanged in her cell. Jan-Carl Raspe was found dead by gunshot, as was Andreas Baader. The fourth RAF member in the high security wing, Irmgard Möller, was alive. She had allegedly stabbed herself in the chest four times.
Möller had since told the press that none of the deaths were suicides, and that she never attempted to kill herself. Certainly stabbing yourself in the chest four times is an unlikely suicide method, but it isn't even the least likely one. It's significant that both men died from gunshot wounds, while one of the women was hanged and the other stabbed. One of them, Jan-Carl Raspe, died from quite an unlikely gunshot, too.
There were no less than three bullet holes in Raspe's cell, but the most significant was the one in him. According to the autopsy, Raspe shot himself in the back of the neck. There was an exit wound in his forehead. Anybody reading this is welcome to try to work out how that's physically possible.
Raspe's suicide is only one of a series of unexplained details in the deaths. At least two of the dead terrorists had written to their lawyers that they suspected the prison authorities were planning to kill them. The official explanation is that when an operation that was partly planned to give them their freedom, the hijacking of a German airliner, went wrong, the prisoners decided to kill themselves. Irmgard Möller, though, maintains they didn't even know about what was going on in Mogadishu.
To be honest, I don't know what happened to any of the four people at Stammheim, or for that matter to Wolfgang Grams or Ulrike Meinhof, who also allegedly hanged herself at Stammheim. The reason I'm going through this is that the shooting of Oscar Grant powerfully reminded me of Wolfgang Grams's death.
But surely the idea of police officers, or whoever is supposed to have killed the RAF members, murdering people and getting away with it is ridiculous?
In September 1999, a 46-year old Scots decorator was making his way home to his Hackney flat. He'd been to the local pub, and was carrying a table leg that his brother had been restoring with him, wrapped in a plastic bag. For reasons of their own, someone at the pub called to police to report that a man with "an Irish accent" had just been there, carrying a gun in a plastic bag.
A Metropolitan Police armed response vehicle was directed to the site, and found the man, names Harry Stanley. As the officers challenged him, Stanley turned around to face them. As he turned, the officers shot him. He died on the scene.
After several inquests and deliberations, the officers were held to have acted in self-defence, and returned to duty without facing criminal charges. Why they needed to defend themselves against a non-threatening man armed with a table leg, and why they needed to kill him in the process, was a question the British justice system didn't see fit to answer.
Initially, though, the officers were suspended. In protest, over 100 armed police officers turned in their weapons, because they thought it was so unreasonable that their colleagues had been suspended for shooting an innocent, unarmed man.
To be fair, Stanley was carrying a table leg. In April 2009, 47-year-old newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson was on his way home from work during the G20 protests. As he walked past a police cordon, innocuously minding his own business, one of the riot police attacked him from behind, hitting him with a baton and knocking him to the ground. Tomlinson was injured and later died of a haemorrhage. An investigation was underway but nothing has been heard for almost a year.
Finally, any review of people killed by the Metropolitan Police would hardly be complete without mentioning Blair Peach. He was actually attending a demonstration in 1979, on behalf of the Anti-Nazi League. According to fourteen witnesses, Peach was hit over the head by a police officer. The blow broke his skull, and he later died in hospital. An internal inquiry by the Met concluded that Peach was killed by a police officer, but they couldn't identify the officer because none of the officers present would co-operate with the inquiry.
The Peach case is one of the most shocking examples of the blue wall of silence; the refusal of police officers to testify against one of their own, seemingly no matter what they've done. It continues to be universal policy in police forces around the world, even in the West.
The point of this rather long post is to introduce the reader to the idea that people are being killed by the police practically every day. According to statistics from the FBI, from 2004 to 2008 over three hundred people were killed by law enforcement in the United States. In four of those years at least one person was killed by the police every day.
Considering the population of the United States, that isn't really a lot. Then again, looking at spectacular cases like Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo, not to mention the ones I've talked about here, even one death like Jean Charles de Menezes's is too many.
From mistaking a taser for a gun to executing a Brazilian electrician on the subway, deaths are the most spectacular examples of police brutality. Overall, largely due to nationalist indoctrination, most citizens of Western countries have a ridiculously high level of trust in the police. I think that it's worth reminding everyone that it may not be justified. When de Menezes was executed, the reaction of many people was that he must have done something to deserve it. The idea that the police would murder an innocent person is so impossible to so many people that they'll grasp at any cognitive straw to avoid admitting that the police might do something wrong. This is how the totally false reports that de Menezes vaulted over a ticket barrier or was wearing suspiciously heavy clothes circulated: people wanted to believe that he must have done something.
In fact, he didn't do anything wrong. Neither did Ian Tomlinson or Blair Peach, neither of who even had any kind of criminal record. All of them were simply innocent, everyday people going about their daily lives until they were murdered by the police. And none of the police officers involved were even charged with anything.
So really, this is the most powerful reason to care about police brutality. No matter who you are, it could happen to you.
Oct 10, 2010
Oct 6, 2010
Salon.com: Obama argues his assassination program is a "state secret"
At this point, I didn't believe it was possible, but the Obama administration has just reached an all-new low in its abysmal civil liberties record. In response to the lawsuit filed by Anwar Awlaki's father asking a court to enjoin the President from assassinating his son, a U.S. citizen, without any due process, the administration late last night, according to The Washington Post, filed a brief asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit without hearing the merits of the claims. That's not surprising: both the Bush and Obama administrations have repeatedly insisted that their secret conduct is legal but nonetheless urge courts not to even rule on its legality. But what's most notable here is that one of the arguments the Obama DOJ raises to demand dismissal of this lawsuit is "state secrets": in other words, not only does the President have the right to sentence Americans to death with no due process or charges of any kind, but his decisions as to who will be killed and why he wants them dead are "state secrets," and thus no court may adjudicate their legality.
Radley Balko calls this tyranny over on his blog. I don't know what to call it. It's sick to even imagine that an American president, or for that matter the head of state of any Western country, would openly demand the right to have citizens of his country murdered.
Yet here Obama is, doing just that. I really don't know what to say.
Oct 4, 2010
It's a little too small to make out properly. Suffice to say that a police department in California recently warned parents about this dangerous "mascot".
While I was doing my post on Sheriff Joe of Maricopa, I remembered a particular image I'd seen floating around the Internet a while ago. To my great regret, it's fake, at least in the sense that if the vehicle exists, it's in private hands, not official use.
The picture is still awesome, as it contains more repressed homosexuality than I've ever seen in my life. If it's actually overt homosexuality, then it's just awesome.
On that topic, some nations have great newspapers. Here's Uganda's Red Pepper, with the most unreal and hysterically funny headline I've ever seen.
I wish we had headlines like that.
Oct 1, 2010
In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I'm about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.