Thursday, August 28, 2014

When Sun readers attack

The following is a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Sun, as submitted on August 27, 2014.

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Thank you for publishing my letter (Headline dishonest, August 23). I must say, however, that the online comments accompanying it demonstrated exactly the concern I was originally expressing. The letter itself was non-partisan, concerned as it was with merely criticizing an inappropriate headline. Nevertheless, the online reactionaries saw in my words the ghost of left wing authoritarianism past as well as the bogeyman of the self-serving labor movement. This is amusing, considering I wasn’t connected in any way to the event in question, nor am I even a union member.

While poking the hornet’s nest of right wing anger is as noble as it is gratifying, it is nevertheless concerning that Sun readers are so quick to let their bifocals fog up with Cold War paranoia, thus missing the point of what was essentially a politically-neutral critique. If your online commenters are any indication, right wing populism is breeding an unthinking horde of zombified Archie Bunkers.

James Deagle
Ottawa, ON

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Open letter to Marion County (Indiana) Prosecutor Terry Curry

Dear Mr. Curry,

I am writing this open letter for the purpose of suggesting that you reconsider pursuing the death penalty in your case against Major Davis Jr. in the shooting death of Officer Perry Renn. As you yourself have indicated, executing Mr. Davis probably won't deter further acts of violence and murder targeting police officers, a hunch borne out by FBI statistics showing that states with the death penalty experience a much higher rate of violent crime (by a margin as high as 46% in some years) than those without.

 (I should clarify that it does not appear that Mr. Davis was ‘targeting’ Officer Renn per se, as online reports indicate the officers on the scene fired first, and that Mr. Davis was simply firing back in what he may have believed was legitimate self-defense. Please correct me if my understanding on this is wrong.)

Therefore, if not serving as a deterrent, what reason could the state possibly have for ending a citizen’s life? If it is for the purpose of ensuring that justice is served, as you have also stated, I would ask that you clarify what you mean by ‘justice’.

If you mean ‘justice’ in the commonly misunderstood sense of “an eye for an eye”, you should think again, as this is revenge, justice’s hot-headed second cousin. While there may be some shared DNA between the two, one is not synonymous with the other. Revenge is an appeal to anger and emotionalism, rather than reason, and by setting such an example for your constituents, you infantilize them.

If you mean ‘justice’ in the dictionary sense, consistent with Merriam-Webster’s definition, “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals”, I would urge you to think again on this point as well. While Mr. Davis may deserve a sentence appropriate to the severity of his crime (if found guilty), the crime itself occurred within a milieu where a vastly disproportionate amount of violent crime is committed by young black men with limited prospects and a strong sense of alienation from mainstream society due to socioeconomic factors.

The extent to which these factors play a role in this case is for a jury to decide, though recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, as just one example, indicate that America has a racial disparity problem with serious public safety implications. As I’m sure you already know, Census Bureau figures show that an astounding 86% of those on Death Row are either black or latino. And given that death penalty states for the most part also happen to be ones that spend less on education than the others, it is evident that there are underlying social issues needing to be addressed beyond the personal guilt or innocence of someone like Mr. Davis.

By not addressing poverty and inequality, does the state do right by its citizens? What social costs are exacted in the name of austerity policies that reduce access to quality health services and education among those who happen to go on to commit the lion’s share of violent crime? And is it really fair to judge and punish Mr. Davis as if his alleged crime occurred in a societal vacuum, with something as final and brutal as the death penalty?

I’m not saying it’s up to you to rectify all of these social ills, as they are above and beyond your station as prosecutor. What you can do, however, is take a broader look at the situation and ask yourself if all of your constituents are truly being served by having yet another black man face state execution, an outcome you have already admitted will do nothing to save lives.

Sincerely,

James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada

Saturday, August 23, 2014

News headlines should not editorialize

The following is a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Sun, as submitted on August 22, 2014.

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Your relentless consistency in discouraging readers from making up their own minds about the issues of the day simply amazes. A case in point, for two different reasons, is the front page headline for August 22, which read "A PROTEST FOR ALL: 2,000 clog downtown streets to rally against this, that and the other thing".

Firstly, before the reader has a chance to read the story, you've told them what to think with a headline that rolls its eyes in disdain, and implies that the demonstration was a nuisance characterized by intellectual meandering.

Secondly, the headline is dishonest. While the event featured groups and speakers representing a wide range of concerns, it had a very singular focus. Those who took the time to read Kelly Roche's accompanying article would have been able to determine that much, at least, despite a front page headline that seemed to discourage the effort.

It is disrespectful to the reader and the reporter that you taint the article with front page editorializing, thus transforming responsible journalism into propaganda-by-association.

James Deagle
Ottawa, ON

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Presidents are not free to misrepresent their organizations

The following is a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Sun. I should note here that I have no vested interest in nor connection to the party in question, and that any sentiments here would apply to all political parties.

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Re: Green Party shows its true colours

Eric Duhaime does your readers no favours by presenting such a skewed take on the Green Party's reaction to their President's recent comments vis–à–vis the Israel-Palestine conflict. He would have us believe that the party is exhibiting an aversion to democracy, as well as its central pillar, freedom of speech, and that this points to the evil incarnate of...socialism! (Cue sinister music.)

Nowhere does he mention that when Paul Estrin is speaking in his capacity as President of the Green Party, his audience could reasonably assume he is representing his party's policies, as democratically arrived at via regular policy conventions. If Mr. Estrin is uncomfortable with his membership's policies on the Middle East or any other issue, then he should indeed take his leadership skills elsewhere, rather than misrepresent his organization.

What we really have here is a political party doing what it needs to do to control its message on behalf of its card-carrying members in order to uphold their democratic will.

Lastly, socialism itself isn't predicated on stifling expression or curtailing democracy - all political ideologies are susceptible to being corrupted by factions jockeying for power. Just because Josef Stalin twisted communism into a brutal form of left wing authoritarianism doesn't mean all schools of thought under the "socialism" umbrella are inherently prone to the same evils.

Your readers deserve more even-handed analysis, and less bumper sticker politics built on lies of omission.

James Deagle
Ottawa, ON

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Rochester from Afar: Lament for an Anchorman

Today I had a random "Whatever happened to...?" moment, and did a web search for Gabe Dalmath, whom I had grown up knowing as the anchorman for the six o'clock news on WHEC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Rochester, New York.



For the longest time, the American network affiliates beamed to Ottawa cable subscribers were from Rochester, except for the PBS station, which was out of Watertown, New York. For reasons that escape me now, WHEC was the American channel I tuned into most often. And although I didn't watch it's evening news on a regular basis, Gabe Dalmath was always turning up on my radar via promos for the day's top news stories during commercial breaks. (Local missing or murdered children always seemed to be the lead items.)

In this way, Gabe was my consular officer for Rochester specifically, and the journalistic United States of America in general, particularly in those days before our merciful God created CNN.

Thus it was through the cracked little window of WHEC that I viewed Rochester from afar, a world apart from my own presided over by Gabe Dalmath. When you factor in those crazed House of Guitars spots, it seemed to my pre-teen brain that he was presiding over a drug-addled fun house, albeit one where local children may not make it out the other end. (Film at eleven.)



Eventually, Ottawa's cable provider switched out the Rochester stations for ones from Detroit so we could derive the same haughty amusement from Motor City's crime woes as that enjoyed by residents of the Stepfordian enclaves of nearby Oakland County. So, aside from the occasional passing remembrance when I'd hear or read about his city, Gabe Dalmath fell out of my orbit.

The one time in the ensuing years I thought about him in any protracted sense was during the last major road trip through the U.S. my wife and I took in 2010, the year before we became parents. Traveling along the Interstate, we grazed Rochester's southern extremity, and I remember scanning the landscape, trying to get a sense of its Gabe Dalmathiness, but to no avail. All I saw was nondescript suburbia. We were far, far away from the downtown core and whatever je ne sais quoi Rochester has to offer. (Correction: we saw a sign for some kind of sports field, but weren't tempted to adore this wonder with our own eyes.)

Fast forward to earlier today, when I decided for no reason in particular to enter "Gabe Dalmath" into the Google search field, only to find out he passed away in 2006 from kidney cancer, and now has a foundation named in his honor. I had been expecting to find he was either still at the helm of WHEC news, had moved to a different market, or had simply retired, and experienced a momentary bummer at the idea of his death. And by this I don't mean the death of an actual person but of an abstract projection of him occupying a small corner of my inner universe, where "Gabe Dalmath" and "Rochester, New York" recursively cross-reference each other ad infinitum.




Long live Gabe Dalmath, he of the network-issued coif of yore, spirit of a city I can't really say I've been to.

Journal entry
August 1, 2014

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Matinee at the Imaginary Bijou

This afternoon I was introduced to William Grant Still's Poem for Orchestra while listening to KTEP, the NPR affiliate in El Paso, Texas. The piece evokes postwar Hollywood, and in response my brain projected a ten-and-a-half minute trailer on the inside of my head for some old black and white melodrama I've never seen, and only exists in the nostalgic vapors wafting up the nostrils of my imagination with each swell of music, complete with large captions like DANGER!, FOREIGN INTRIGUE!, and TRAGIC TEMPTATION WEARS A FEMALE MASK! splaying across the screen at visually-opportune moments.

In keeping with its silver screen aroma of yesteryear, Poem for Orchestra builds to a dark and cynical crescendo that cajoles my mind into seeing THE END in gigantic letters, with Filmed in Hollywood, U.S.A. in smaller script below, overlaying the final image depicting a denouement where most questions have been answered, and justice of a sort has been served, but with an evil little curl of smoke escaping from Pandora's Box before it is closed once again, portending moral accounts yet to be paid up.

Journal entry
July 31, 2014



Saturday, May 24, 2014

Art is a threat to established orders

The following is a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen.


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Re: Ottawa Jewish Federation condemns art exhibit at City Hall

Dear Editor,

Kudos to City Hall for standing behind the Invisible exhibit despite pressure from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa (JFO). While the official JFO complaint cites supposed "glorification" of Palestinian terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, I suspect the real source of discomfort is that the exhibit depicts the human cost of Israel's ongoing practice of settler colonialism in the occupied territories, and may leave viewers wondering about its unintended consequences, such as the radicalization of people like Mughrabi.

Art is dangerous because it allows the viewer to see past conventional wisdom to a larger truth, which is why it is a threat to established orders, and is something to be contained or even censored to those who feel they're being publicly unmasked by it. And for this reason, art is vital.

James Deagle,
Ottawa, ON