A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for September 2004

[BRIEF NOTE] Yet Another Argument Against All-Hallowed Tradition

Via Jonathan Edelstein’s Head Heeb, I found this outline of the first testimony in the infamous sexual assault trials. The British ITV channel has two articles covering the first phase of the trials, the former hostile and the latter more friendly. The Scotsman goes into more detail:

“Even as a teenager, [current Mayor] Steve Christian was a prominent and influential figure within his peer group. He was the leader of the pack.

His alleged victim, speaking via a video link from the New Zealand city of Auckland, broke down several times during her testimony.

She said as a young girl, of 11 or 12 years, she was taunted on the island for being a “half-caste,” and that she had been targeted and raped by Christian on four occasions. During the first attack, she said she was being held down by the defendant and two other men.

The woman said there was no one she or her parents could turn to on the island after the rapes. Under cross examination she said it was the norm on Pitcairn to keep quiet. Defense lawyers suggested other witnesses would likely contradict the woman’s claims that she was bullied at school and that sex simulation games took place at island gatherings.

Just a handful of islanders sat in their community hall, that has been converted into a court complex, to watch the case.

“I think they sense that they want to kind of keep away from it a bit and not really be involved in all of the details,” Ray Coombe, a visiting pastor told TVNZ.

[. . .]

On Tuesday, a group of women residents on the island came to the defense of the seven charged men, claiming the cases had been blown out of proportion and that the victims may have been coerced into testifying.

The Head Heeb has an extensive archive related to the various legal battles waged by the Pitcairn Islanders to alternatively reject British authority over their island and pass off what happened as something both consensual and an integral part of island culture.

If these allegations are true–and I suspect that they are–what the whole affair surrounding Pitcairn Island sexual assault trials demonstrates, very clearly, is that tradition can and is enthusiastically used as an excuse for all manner of barbarisms. Unconditional respect for culture is not compatible with unconditional respect for individual people. If I have to choose, I’ll take the people every time.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2004 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Assorted

[BRIEF NOTE] The Ethics of Assisted Suicide for the Depressed

The recent death of Charles Fariala, a 36 year old Montrealer suffering from multiple sclerosis who committed suicide following a worsening of his disease, has focused attention on assisted suicide in Canada since his mother, Marielle Houle, has been charged with helping him kill himself. Fariala’s death has a certain measure of irony, given how he composed, with his former girlfriend Dulcinea Langfelder, the play Victoria, which had as its central theme the possibility of enjoying life even in extremity. In the Toronto Star, however, Langfelder is quoted as saying that Fariala’s decision to commit suicide wasn’t inconsistent with his philosophy.

“Charles himself was against legalizing euthanasia (the taking of a life without a patient’s consent),” she said. “He worked as an orderly, and he knew that if euthanasia was legal, scores of people would just disappear. But this was not euthanasia; it was his decision. If I was his mother, and he asked me to assist in his suicide, how could I not do that? I think it would actually be sadistic to refuse him.

“Victoria is about dying with grace,” she added. “That’s what Charles did. He wanted to die in his mother’s arms. He wanted to die peacefully. And that’s what he did.”

Michael Valpy, writing in The Globe and Mail, explored how common clinical depression is among many sufferers of degenerative diseases, including multiple sclerosis, and the possibility that this mental state can bias the decision-making process.

Deanna Groetzinger, a spokeswoman for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, said many people with the disease are severely disabled but “wonderfully active and wonderfully productive. The question I would raise is, was it MS that was affecting this person?”

There is, she said, a known link to depression. “But we know the depression can be treated.”

If Mr. Fariala was experiencing untreated depression, was he capable of giving rational consent to having help ending his life?

Of course, not all depressions are the same. More importantly, It’s quite possible, I’d think, to be depressed at learning that one has a medical condition which will progressively and unstoppably worsen over time, to strongly fear and resent the impact that this deterioration will have on your sense of comfort with your self, for this fear and resentment to be motivated by depression, and yet for the decision to end one’s life to be entirely sensible. In some circumstances, depression is an entirely natural outcome; it’s positively unnatural to expect people to be happy all of the time, least not with certainly grim outcomes.

And yet. In a critical survey of the Netherlands’ assisted suicide policy, Herbert Hendin discussed the disturbing case of Netty Boomsma, a depressed Dutchwoman who calmly and consistently her doctor to help her kill herself, after her younger son committed suicide some years following the accidental death of her elder son. He makes the good point that in a society where assisted suicide is accepted, people who face serious life challenges and are trapped in apparently intractable depression will be more likely than not to seek out assisted suicide, criticizing her psychologists for not considering alternative treatments for her profound depression apart from a head-on confrontation with her grief over the death of her children. Speaking from my own personal experiences, seemingly intractable personal issues are rarely solved by head-on confrontation; sometimes, things must unexpectedly impinge from the outside, or one’s own thoughts must undergo sudden phase shifts.

I won’t come to a conclusion on assisted suicide, in this post or in the next couple of years. One might as well ask me to come to a definitive conclusion on abortion. Case-by-case considerations must be made. It’s ad hoc, but what else can one conscientiously do?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2004 at 6:41 pm

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Protected: [NON BLOG] Personal Resolution

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Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2004 at 6:36 pm

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[NON BLOG] Idle Boast

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2004 at 6:35 pm

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Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2004 at 10:24 pm

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[NON BLOG] Recent Events

I really should think up better titles for my posts, shouldn’t I?

Regardless of my lack of creativity, little has been going on at my end. My pay came in Friday, allowing me to actually begin to pay off my debts. That’s a nice feeling. Of course, at minimum wage my progress is going to be limited, but even so.

I’ve picked up a couple of books at discount at work, both at a substantial employees-only discount. David Hare’s screenplay for The Hours ranks as a good adaptation of Cunningham’s original novel. I can’t help but remember the reviews of A Home at the End of the World, which mentioned both that the movie watched like a greatest-hits version of the original novel and that Cunningham adapted the book for the screen himself. Is this a case of Tom Clancy syndrome? One hopes not.

The other book is The Future is Wild by Dougal Dixon and John Adams. Dixon has a fascinating pastime of projecting evolutionary trends into the future, as a fascinating what-if. I still remember when I bought the hardcover edition of Man after Man on the last day of Grade 9, eagerly reading how Dixon projecting the speciation of homo sapiens sapiens after the destruction of human civilization, at least until post-human colonists from one of the interstellar colonies came and wrecked the surface and near-surface biospheres. The Future is Wild poses less of a challenge to the singularity of humantiy, contenting itself to study the evolution of fish into flying creatures and the development of land-dwelling cephalopods. It’s a very fun, and illustrated, read.

Apart from these books, little is going on. I think I’ll just stay in tonight, clean the communal kitchen, do my whites, and write. I think I really have to get out more, perhaps start volunteering. Since roosterbear‘s visit, NaNoWrimo appears like a good idea. Perhaps something vaguely science-fiction on the principles I’ve enunciated, perhaps as jdhorner suggested back in July on a marginal garden world?

Oh. Googling idly, I’ve been cited twice in the blogosphere, once as the source for an article on Bulgaria (PDF format), once as an example of the hostile reaction to Ralph Klein’s apparent plagiarism. That’s nice.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2004 at 8:59 pm

Posted in Assorted

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] The Real East German Problem?

eternityfan has made a couple of fascinating posts (1, 2) on the apparent growth of political extremism in the former East Germany, as länd elections gave the Party of Democratic Socialism (made up of former Communists) 30% of the vote in Brandenburg and the allegedly neo-Nazi National Democratic Party 10% of the vote in Saxony.

Cause for the growth of this political instability in the East has been ascribed to East Germany’s lagging economy, which remains consistently behind the more prosperous West, with higher rates of unemployment and poverty and lower levels of income and productivity and purportedly dim prospects. The American publication Business Week argues in the upcoming article “Germany: A Brighter Sun In The East” that by most standards East Germany’s economy since reunification has been a success.

What’s working?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 28, 2004 at 9:12 pm

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[QUIZ] How f***ing American am I?

From the creators of South Park.


Written by Randy McDonald

September 27, 2004 at 8:17 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] One Reason Why I’m Happy Not to be American

Via polonius, Belle Waring’s post on Crooked Timber linking to a multi-part series in the Washington Post (1, 2, parts 3 and 4 to come) describing the special hells experienced by those teenagers unfortunate enough to be a) non-heterosexual and b) born in the American heartland.

On a related note, the Catholic Church’s reaction to Spain’s impending legalization of same-sex marriage is unfortunate:

Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, spokesman for the Spanish Bishops Conference, said the church had nothing against homosexuals but feels a union of two people of the same sex is simply not a marriage.

Allowing this would create “a counterfeit currency in the body of society,” Martinez Camino said in an interview on Spanish National Television.

Such legislation, he said, is like “imposing a virus on society, something false that will have negative consequences for social life.”

I’d like to believe that the “virus” reference was made innocently. For the time being, I’ll echo Sinéad O’Connor and say that it’s time to fight the real enemy, whether in Oklahoma or Saudi Arabia.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 27, 2004 at 8:01 pm

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[NON BLOG] Meeting up with heraclitus

Brief synopsis:

I went out with heraclitus to see Shaun of the Dead, later heading in the direction of Church-Wellesley for drinks where we talked about sexual desire and I consoled him about a relationship’s end, followed by sundry misadventures which left me panting even as I boarded the westbound streetcar at a quarter past two.

There. That’s much more salacious than what actually happened, and yet I’m telling the truth. It’s interesting how selective reporting can bias perceptions of reality, isn’t it?

Now, what really happened.

* * *

As I mentioned previously, serod and I missed meeting up with heraclitus owing to unavoidable communications problems. heraclitus phoned me up in the middle of the Counterfactual Threats Assessment Group meeting Sunday afternoon, and we arranged to meet at the Bay-Bloor Cineplex Odeon to catch Shaun of the Dead, a rom-zom-com movie that has gotten rave reviews in the Torontonian press.

Yes, this time I got popcorn with actual butter.

Shaun of the Dead is a good movie. I won’t say surprisingly good, since it’s the sort of postmodern fusion (the aforementioned mixture of romantic comedy with zombie horror flicks, along with fairly typical critical social commentary) that works well these days with audiences. It works on multiple levels, as a film showcasing Shaun’s efforts to prove he’s worthy of Liz’s trust and his conflictual relationship with his mother and stepfather, as a horror film filled with plenty of gore, as a satire on the obliviousness of most people to what’s going on in the background. One thing to watch out for: Duran Duran’s cover of “White Lines.” I’d recommend it, though people with a low tolerance for gore should beware.

When the film ended just after 11 o’clock, we rambled down towards Church-Wellesley with the vague intent of stopping by one of heraclitus‘ friends, but we decided to cut it short and stop off at the Village Green for a couple of pitchers of beer. A variety of topics were discussed over a conversation fuelled by alcohol late into the night, including our work experiences of late, the writings of Robert Greene on the dynamics of power and seduction, various alternate histories and family backgrounds, the applicability of the secularization thesis (and with this question, wondering just what the hell the United States is doing with patterns of religious belief and practice more like Pakistan’s than Canada’s), and the gruesomely entertaining state of the world.

We intended to catch the last southbound subway to our respective destinations at Wellesley, just across the street. After we got inside the station, me swiping my MetroPass and heraclitus paying his fare, we found out that the last southbound subway had went rather earlier in the night. We decided to head down Yonge Street to our respective destinations instead, and continued the night’s conversation for a while longer.

Just as we got to the intersection of Yonge and Queen, I saw the streetcar coming. I didn’t want to miss it, since the next one wouldn’t arrive for another couple dozen minutes, so I bid adieu and raced west towards the nearest stop, waving as the streetcar inevitably caught up. I was despairing of catching it, but at the western edge of Nathan Phillips Square the streetcar slowed down to a stop. Boarding, I blessed the driver and his children; he replied by saying that he had to take pity on anyone running that quickly.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 27, 2004 at 6:49 pm

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