So it’s goodnight from ‘im then.

Barker.jpg Ronnie Barker — the inimitable Fletcher, the unmistakable Arkwright — is dead at 76. Heart failure, with his wife of nearly forty years at his side.
*snif*
Together with Dave Allen, Barker formed much of my early ideas about comedy and is intrinsic to my personal definition of “funny”. He was by all accounts a rather private individual, and I certainly have very little impression of the man behind the comedy. I’m still going to miss him.
(I nicked the picture from Wikipedia. Fletch would’ve wanted it that way.)

Posted in woe

genocide IS news

From a recent addition to my blogroll, Thoughts from Kansas (“Progressive politics, neat biology, and whackings of wackos”, what could be better?), comes Be A Witness:

Genocide is the ultimate crime against humanity. And a government-backed genocide is unfolding in the Darfur region of the Sudan. As the horror in Darfur continues, our major television news networks are largely missing in action.
During June 2005, CNN, FOXNews, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur.
Whether it is coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s, the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s, or recent coverage of the tsunami, television news can help stop grave injustices and end human suffering. Increased television coverage of the genocide in Darfur has the power to spur the action required to stop a devastating crime against humanity.

There follows a web form with which you can send a letter to the major networks; a form letter is filled in but you can edit it. The site also includes a good brief background on the issue and plenty of links to more information and more actions you can take.
Here’s my letter:

According to beawitness.org, whose web form I am using to send you this letter, during June 2005 CNN, FOXNews, NBC/MSNBC, ABC, and CBS ran 50 times as many stories about Michael Jackson and 12 times as many stories about Tom Cruise as they did about the genocide in Darfur. The data are available for perusal on the beawitness.org homepage.
You are not asking yourself “what genocide?”, are you? You know what I’m talking about. The minimal coverage we have seen has reached as far as media professionals like you, who have decided NOT TO GIVE THE ISSUE ANY FURTHER COVERAGE.
Why? Why have you done this?
You don’t need me to tell you the power that broadcast media have to influence public opinion and political action, any more than you need me to tell you what’s happening in Darfur. And of all broadcast media, television is unquestionably the most powerful.
Why are you hiding from the responsibility that accompanies such power?
Are you truly more concerned to exercise that power in the pursuit of profit than in defense of innocent lives? Do you honestly believe you have no greater responsibility than to pander to the lowest common denominator?
What the fuck is wrong with you?

Astute readers will note some hypocrisy here: this is the first time I’ve mentioned Darfur. I can say “I can’t write about everything” and “I’m not a major media outlet”, but the fact remains that I do try to use this site to cover important events in human need and in politics, and I feel bad that I haven’t talked about Darfur by now. By way of easing my conscience, I’ll come back in a later post to the other actions that Be A Witness lists.

impossible courage

Linda LoaizaThere aren’t words to describe the courage of Linda Loaiza (warning: unutterably wrenching story, graphic images). I can hardly bear to read what happened to her, much less imagine surviving it and continuing to fight.

In July of 2001, 18-year-old Linda Loaiza was rescued by the Caracas police in Luis Carrera Almoina’s apartment. She had been repeatedly raped and brutally tortured for four months [horror elided]. After undergoing nine operations, Linda is still recovering. The lifelong physical effects of her ordeal include cataracts, impaired hearing, reduced movement, facial scarring and an inability to bear children.
The accused perpetrator, Luis Carrera Almoina, had been previously arrested for torturing his then partner in 1999. He is the son of Gustavo Carrera Damas, who at the time was president of a major university in Caracas. After being detained and put under house arrest, Carrera Almoina attempted to flee with the help of his father. He was captured the next day, and his father was later charged with obstructing judicial action.
Linda Loaiza’s case was deferred by the justice system 29 times and 59 judges declined to prosecute the man accused of torturing her. In August of 2004, nearly three years had passed since Carrera Almoina was charged with attempted homicide, rape and torture, and the case was approaching an expiration date, after which the accused would walk free of charges. In response, Loaiza staged a hunger strike on the steps of the Supreme Court. After 13 days on the steps, the media attention and social pressure Linda generated caused the Supreme Tribunal for Justice (the country’s highest judicial body) to call for a trial to begin.
In an attempt to exploit an outrageous piece of the Venezuelan Penal Code which calls for a reduced sentence for crimes against sex workers, Carrera Almoina’s defense claimed that Loaiza was part of a prostitution ring. If sentenced to jail time, Carrera Almoina would have only have had to serve a fifth of the normal sentence. No evidence was presented in support of these claims, and Loaiza has consistently denied them. Nevertheless, on October 21, 2004, the judge acquitted Carrera Almoina and his father of all charges, citing a “lack of evidence

Posted in woe

more bleedin’ stairs

comedian Dave Allen I interrupt my hiatus to report the sad news that Dave Allen is dead, much too soon at 68 (obit/brief bio here). This may not mean much to my fellow Americans — did y’all get Dave Allen At Large here? — but I grew up with Allen’s old school skits-and-monologues comedy, and he is a large part of what comes to my mind when I think “funny”. He was an atheist, so I will resist the urge to send him off with his own sign-off, which is reported differently in every different story but which I remember as “Thank you; goodnight; and may your God go with you”. Cheers, Dave.
(Picture swiped from the beeb, found the story at Chez Kaf; the title is a reference to a series of skits that was a favourite with my family.)

Posted in woe

Adventures in Good Living

KarlHaas.jpgI can’t count the number of lonely hours Karl Haas brightened for me with his radio program “Adventures in Good Music”. I spent most of my twenties in a haze of misery, and I used to drive around aimlessly for hours, sometimes every night for months on end. One of the few things guaranteed to make me feel better was “Adventures”; I remember with pleasure and gratitude the lift I always got from the opening notes of his theme, and then that gentle voice: “Hello, everyone.” He made me laugh, he taught me plenty, and he played me lots of good music; now he’s dead. Ninety-one is a pretty good innings, but I’m still very sad.
[Biographical information mostly from here and here; picture swiped from the CNN obit.]
Born in Speyer am Rhein in 1913, Haas began piano lessons at six and by twelve had formed his first piano trio. He studied at the Mannheim Conservatory and the University of Heidelberg before leaving Germany in 1936 ahead of the rising tide of Nazism. He moved to Detroit, studying at the Netzorg School of Music and commuting to New York to study with pianist Artur Schnabel. In 1950 he began working in radio, hosting a weekly preview of concerts by the Detroit Symphony. In the course of another series for the Canadian Broadasting Commission he began adding commentary to his program of piano recitals and chamber orchestra music, and in 1959 Detroit station WJR offered him a one-hour timeslot to do just that: talk about music. “Adventures in Good Music” was born, and for more than forty years, with never a script, Karl Haas spent an hour a day talking about music. The program is currently aired in over two hundred US cities and by four hundred stations of the American Armed Forces Network and 37 stations of the Australian Broadcasting Commision; Haas also recorded selected series in German and French for Suddeutscher Rundfunk and the Canadian Broadasting Commission, and translation into Spanish makes the Mexico City broadcast run 90 minutes.
“Adventures” was aimed at the casual listener; Haas chose a theme (“The Joy of Sax”; “Baroque and in Debt”; yes, they were often howlers) and illustrated it from his truly astounding encyclopaedic knowledge of music (think about it: more than 12,000 hours without a script). He played recordings, talked about the music, related anecdotes from his own experiences as performer and conductor, told stories from the history of music and illustrated his points on the studio piano. In addition to “Adventures”, Haas maintained a lively performance schedule as pianist and conductor as well as a variety of musical and diplomatic appointments (conducting the Boston Pops; consultant to the Ford Foundation; US delegate to congresses of the International Music Council of UNESCO; visiting faculty at universities all over America; and on and on). He won two Peabody Awards, a National Telemedia Council Award and the National Endowment for the Humanities Charles Frankel Prize, was WGBH‘s Person of the Year, received the first ever lifetime achievement award from Fine Arts Radio International, was appointed Officier d’Académie and awarded the Chevalier d’ordre des arts et lettres by the French goverment, received the First Class Order of Merit from the Federal Republic of Germany and eight honorary doctorates from American universities and colleges, released three best-selling CDs, wrote a book that is currently in its tenth printing and was the first classical music broadcaster inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. I’m sure I missed some, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have cared: it was the music that mattered.
Thank you, and — auf wiederhören, Dr Haas.

Posted in woe

Falloojeh

I haven’t written much about the war in Iraq because, really, what can I say? There are only so many synonyms for “horrific”. But now Mark Morford reminds me that there is one thing to say, one very important thing: this is what it’s like (WARNING: graphic images).

If you can’t handle seeing what really goes on in a war, maybe you don’t deserve to support it. If you can’t stomach the truths of what our soldiers are doing and how brutally and bloodily they’re dying and in just what manner they have to kill those innocent Iraqi civilians in the name of BushCo’s desperate lurch toward greed and power and Iraqi oil fields and empire, maybe you don’t have the right to stick that little flag on your oil-sucking SUV. Clear enough?

Damn straight. The link goes to Fallujah in Pictures (I follow River‘s spelling, and everyone should follow her blog), and I warn you again: it’s tough to look at. But if you still cling to some callow notion of the “glory of war” — if you still think there was or is any justification for this illegal, immoral invasion — if you have ever used the term “raghead” — if you believe or hope that there’s still a chance for the US to set things right on its own — if you can fool yourself for even a second that history will see this as anything but a vile stain on our permanent record — then you had better go look. It’s the very least you can do.

Posted in woe

a few notes on the death penalty

In looking for news about Frances Newton’s case, I came across three others with similarly pressing deadlines: Thomas Bowling‘s execution has been postponed to allow two related cases to clear, Charles Walker‘s stay of execution is being appealed, and George Banks‘ execution has been halted so that his competence can be assessed.
The three cases are instructive. Bowling’s IQ has been assessed at somewhere between 74 and 87, meaning I’ve eaten salads that were smarter than this guy; part of his case hinges on a numerical cutoff for execution eligibility, since KY law bans exections of persons with IQs of or below 70. This is patently ridiculous, since neither the concept of IQ nor the methods of assessing same allow for the kind of accuracy needed to impose such a cutoff. Bowling’s (profound lack of) intelligence is at issue not only because it is generally accepted that it is wrong to execute a person incapable of understanding their crime or its consequences, but because it has direct bearing on his case: there is reason to suspect that he may have been framed, and he would certainly be a prime target for such a setup. In addition to the case to decide whether Bowling is legally retarded (enough to avoid execution), there is the question of method. KY, like 36 other states, kills by lethal injection, and along with 28 of those states it uses Pavulon (pancuronium bromide), a paralytic, in combination with — in KY’s case — sodium pentothal (anaesthetic) and potassium chloride (which causes a massive heart attack). The second of the pending cases for which Bowling’s execution has been postponed concerns the constitutionality of this method: Pavulon does not affect awareness or pain, for which reason it has been banned in animal euthanasia. There is reason to believe that a person executed by this method could suffer terrible pain but be unable to convey their status to medical staff.
Banks’ guilt is not at issue and no one is suggesting that he should be set free, but his history of mental illness was not properly taken into account by the original jury, because of faulty instructions that have since been found to be unconstitutional.
Walker, in contrast, was found guilty of murder in the absence of a body or any physical evidence of a crime. The conviction was based solely on the testimony of co-defendants, all of whom plead guilty to 2nd degree or accessory charges and are now free or eligible for parole. The case is further complicated by Walker’s mental illness, which was not adequately presented to the jury; nor were the jury given the option of life without parole, which would now be available in a similar case. Walker refused the 2nd degree plea offered him, and his counsel argue that his mental illness was a primary factor in this decision. More background on Walker here (including a letter you can send to the Governor of North Carolina) from the National Coalition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
These three cases illustrate just some of the reasons why the death penalty is barbaric and unsupportable. There are plenty such, including: execution of juveniles and the mentally ill or otherwise incompetent; significant racial and socioeconomic bias in the application of the death penalty; prosecutorial discretion and variable state laws and standards resulting in wide geographic disparities in capital cases; life without parole being vastly cheaper for the state than the death penalty; strong evidence that the death penalty is no deterrent against serious crime; and the undisputed fact that innocent people have been executed and will continue to be executed so long as the death penalty remains a legal option.
A few facts and figures from NCADP, ACLU, HRW, DPIC and AIUSA: There are eight other pending executions in the US right now, with deadlines extending to December next year, and more than 3500 people on death row. Since the reinstatement of capital punishment by the US Supreme Court in 1976, the US has executed 944 individuals. Only 12 States and the District of Columbia do not have death penalty statutes. The UN has resolved that execution of those 18 or younger at the time of the crime is “contrary to customary international law”, but at least 20 US states still have laws allowing for the execution of offenders as young as 16. In the past five years, the US has executed 13 juvenile offenders, while the rest of the world has recorded five such killings. Only the US and Somalia have yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in addition to the US only China, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Iran and Pakistan have openly executed juveniles since 2000. Although execution of persons with “substantial intellectual impairment” is now illegal in the US, some 40 retarded people were executed between 1977 and 2002. Despite international law prohibiting execution of the mentally ill, virtually universal adoption of corresponding national laws and strong agreement between these bodies of law and the US Constitution, the US continues to execute the insane, most recently Larry Robison (schizophrenia, 2000), Thomas Provenzano (delusional, 2000) and John Satterwhite (retarded and mentally ill, 2000). Although non-whites make up around a quarter of the US population, they constitute 55% of death row and represent 43% of those executed since 1976. Although whites account for 50% of murder victims, in 80% of capital cases the victim was white. More than 60% of juvenile offender death sentences since 1976 have been passed on Blacks or Latinos. Of all death row inmates, 95% cannot afford an attorney and must rely on underfunded state programs, most of which do not have meaningful competency standards. There is enormous geographic disparity and apparent arbitrariness in the death penalty: state and federal jurisdictions vary in the crimes for which the death penalty can be sought and the likelihood that prosecutors will in fact seek it, so that location is a primary determinant of an offender’s chances of facing death and the same crime is likely to receive different punishment in different courts; only about 1% of convicted murderers are executed. The death penalty is expensive, costing between $1 and $7 million per case as opposed to around $500-600,000 per case for life without parole. The death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Canada’s murder rate has dropped 40% since abolition of the death penalty in 1975, whereas the US rate was 6.2/100,000 in 1967, 10.2/100,000 in 1980 and 5.6/100,000 in 2003. The five non-death penalty countries with the highest murder rates average 21.6 murders per 100,000 people, whereas the five death penalty countries with the highest rates average 41.6/100,000. From 1980 to 2000, the homicide rate in states with the death penalty was 48-101% higher than in states without the death penalty, and 10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average.
Finally, and to me most compellingly, the death penalty takes innocent lives. Since 1973, 117 death row inmates have been exonerated, a rate of around one exoneration for every eight executions. A description of each case can be read here; unless I made an error, these inmates spent an average of 8.9 years in prison before being exonerated. This astonishing error rate alone should be enough to take death penalty statutes off the books.

Posted in woe

I call it Veteran’s Day now

In Australia, throughout the Commonwealth and in a few places in Europe, the eleventh day of the eleventh month is called Remembrance Day and is marked by, among other things, a two-minute silence at the eleventh hour. Here in my new home we call it Veteran’s Day, so I’ll do that, but there is no silence at 11 am. The two minutes of solemn remembrance has meant a great deal to me since I was a child, and I do not think it will hurt anything if I continue the custom. Today I put aside my troubles and remember the many dead of both World Wars — indeed, of all wars — for their sacrifice.
Lest we forget.
For The Fallen
(21st September, 1914)
WITH proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England