Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Freedom Defined

The word “Freedom” is tossed about in contemporary political rhetoric quite often and yet it is poorly understood. It is heavily loaded with both partisan and sentimental value for those who use the word, and it cannot be easily defined for it not only represents the foundation of what the United States was ostensibly founded upon, but it is the watchword for all “democratic” nations. “Freedom” is our aspiration; in its absence we are enslaved, in its presence we are jubilant ... but what does “freedom” really mean?

Understanding the concept of “freedom” is easier when you can comprehend what it means to live without freedom: to appreciate the lack of something permits us to better appreciate what it is like when it is made manifest in our presence. A perfect example of this can be found in 20th century history in the nation of South Africa and the tumultuous times of the Apartheid regime that imprisoned Nelson Mandela for 27 years. Nelson Mandela was only one of the political prisoners who lost his personal freedom in the battle for freedom for his people; that was the sacrifice that he made in order to see the hateful Apartheid system end, and for a nonracial system of government to come into being. The fruits of his freedom were manifested through the first “one-person-one-vote” elections in 1994, which marked the true end of apartheid. The subsequent establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was emblematic of this freedom as well. It was convened for the sake of creating a public record about what took place under the apartheid regime, to rehabilitate the nation after living through the ravages of the racist apartheid regime and, more importantly, to compensate those who had been abused under the old apartheid system rather than meting out revenge against those who had perpetrated the offences.

According to Nelson Mandela, freedom can only exist when everyone is free. In other words, freedom in not a personal issue, it pertains to the collective state of the people. Inequality is a great hindrance to true freedom as it creates distinct divisions (or classes) amongst the population that transcends traditional class structures. Having any class system in society, either according to job classification or based on religious belief, you will find that the issue of freedom is stunted by the idea that there is anything that differentiates one individual, or group of individuals, from others. One of the things that you discover by studying the situation that took place in South Africa, and the story of Nelson Mandela, is that freedom and racism are integrally related. When a man can have 3 decades of his life stolen from him because the state opposes the way he thinks, or his dream to live in a free state that does not treat him and his people like 2nd class citizens, that is when you know there is no freedom to be had. Freedom in South Africa, before the end of Apartheid, was an illusion for the simple reason that it was something that only white citizens were able to partake of, so long as they adhered to the barbaric laws of the apartheid regime.

When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years he was a free man, but he would not know true freedom until he had the opportunity to cast his vote in the first “one-person-one-vote” election in South Africa on April 26, 1994. Over the days that the polls were open nearly 20 million South Africans of all colours cast their votes for who would represent them in the first non-white-only government. The African National Congress won the majority of support with 62.6% of the vote and, on May 9, 1994, Nelson Mandela was unanimously elected President by the National Assembly. The days of the elections were so important to the people of South Africa that the 27th of April was declared a public holiday: Freedom Day.

As the president of the “new” South Africa it is likely that Nelson Mandela did not, at that point, feel very much like a free man for the simple reason that his time was not his own, something that every head of state would likely agree with were they asked the question of their own situation. In his book “Long Walk to Freedom” Nelson Mandela wrote that “a leader often sacrifices personal freedom in order for a leader to serve the needs of his people” (paraphrased). It is a variation of the idea that personal sacrifices must be made in order to help others. That is the essence of being a truly great leader, of being a truly great human: someone must be willing to give of themselves for the betterment of others. In answering the question, “am I my brother's keeper”, the response is “yes”, without hesitation, even if that costs something on a personal level.

True freedom, after this model, comes from the expression of an individual's interpretation of a rather esoteric ideal, an expression that is almost impossible to define in traditional terms as it encompasses so many definitions. People ultimately cobble together their own interpretation of the word, regardless of whether or not it is close to being an accurate definition. When it comes to an individual's idea concerning freedom there really is no “right answer”, and the truth is an altogether different and irrelevant point to those who believe that “freedom” is a “God-given right”, guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States (for those living in the United States ... Canadians have the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms”).

Alas, this is where the idea of “true freedom” enters the concept of relativistic or situational definitions. Some might argue that true freedom is an absolute that cannot be measured against perceived rights and “freedoms” that are conferred upon an individual by the state. At the same time, true freedom cannot be represented by anything that the state can confer upon a citizen for the simple reason that rights and freedoms conferred by the state can be taken away just as easily as they were granted; that does not make the idea of freedom very concrete if it is something that can be removed by a court decision or governmental decision, it makes it sound more like a vague concept that is “open to interpretation” rather than an entrenched right. Take, for example, the right of “Habeas Corpus”, which has been an important part of common law since before the Magna Carta (1215). This “right” was taken away from people in the United States, with the stroke of a pen, after President George W. Bush decided that terrorists did not deserve the same rights as those guaranteed under the constitution to all other defendants.

One of the main problems encountered by people attempting to formulate a concrete definition of the idea behind “freedom” comes when an individual's expression of their freedom impinges upon another person's ability to enjoy their life. The problem with individual freedom is that, for the most part, people do not live their lives in such isolated situations that make it possible to do anything they want without having to be concerned with the ramifications of their actions. True freedom does not necessarily mean doing anything you want, whenever you want; it means that you are free to make choices to do the right thing, those things being things that do not interfere with the lives and livelihoods of others. What is truly important is that we are given the ability to make the proper choices when it comes to the exercise of this freedom which is why education is one of the most important things in a “free” society. Without an educated population it is impossible to have a citizenry who understand what their responsibilities as citizens are and, subsequently, what their freedom represents.

Education is the cornerstone of a free society insomuch as it serves to provide a level playing field for every citizen, regardless of their position in society. Where there is an educational system that treats its students with dignity and respect you will find a citizenry that appreciates their freedoms without seeking to violate the rights of others; civility is as much an element of cultural decontamination as it is a part of the permissive nature of the society from which an individual is from. When people believe they are allowed to do anything because it is their “right” to do so, that they are exercising their freedom, the violation of the rights of others will take place more and more frequently for the simple reason that they will not care whether or not their actions have ramifications outside of the immediate moment in which they are operating. This is the great conundrum of freedom that may never be fully satisfied: is one individual's freedom more important than the freedom of all? What happens when your freedom interferes with another person's life? Is the pursuit of the one supposed to supersede the other or, are you to alter your plans to accommodate the society of which you are a member? Perhaps the definition of freedom has to include the word “sacrifice”.

The very concept of freedom, from the beginning of modern history, is fluid as can be seen through the history of the United States and its Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration of Independence there are the famous words declaring that we are all endowed with the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. One may infer that “freedom” was on the tip of the tongue of the writers of the Declaration, even if it was not actually written down: the words chosen are all synonymous to freedom. However, it must also be remembered that the Declaration of Independence was aimed at a particular crowd: white, male landowners. Women and people who were not white were not considered in the same category as the landowners, nor were they given the right to vote or speak in government. Freedom was not for all; not then, or now.

The very idea behind the “pursuit of Happiness”, for example, can cause contention amongst those who do not share similar views of what that pursuit may actually entail. While one person may feel the pursuit of happiness includes the playing of drums in the middle of the night, their neighbours would likely feel somewhat differently about that expression of freedom and ask the drummer to change their schedule for the sake of community harmony. By playing their drums at another, more appropriate time of the day, it is possible for the drummer to have his pursuit of happiness – to have his expression of freedom – without having his neighbours want to burn down his house in the process.

Freedom is something that will be debated for generations, but the true definition is really not that difficult to find as it relates to the entire human condition; it must be seen as a relativistic term in regards to how we all live, or it holds little personal meaning: if one person thinks themselves to be free while their brothers or sisters are not, what is the value of their freedom? Unless we are all free, unless we are all endowed with the same rights and privileges that every citizen is entitled to enjoy, freedom will remain nothing but a concept to be discussed in university classes and high school civics classes.

When Nelson Mandela spoke to 120,000 supporters in the First National Bank Stadium in Soweto, South Africa, he addressed the fact that there had been problems with crime in the township. Crime had to end, Mandela pleaded, for “Freedom without civility, freedom without the ability to live in peace, was not true freedom at all.” In the end, freedom is more about the things we decide not to do than what we decide to do; it means we are free to live our lives in harmony with each other, regardless of colour or creed, in peace, because that is the way we should be living. It isn't about doing things that risk the lives of others so that we can have a fleeting thrill. Irresponsibility is not an expression of freedom, it is an expression of immaturity. Freedom is something that, after 27 years in prison for political beliefs, Nelson Mandela could say he understood by virtue of the fact that he could have a meal when he pleased and sleep when he wanted. The little things become precious when you have had everything stolen from you.

Ultimately freedom is what you make of it, it is the lifeblood of our democratic system: we are free to vote, to choose those who will represent us in government and ultimately shape the course that our nation takes in national and international affairs. Our greatest task as freedom loving citizens begins at the ballot box whenever there is an election: if we fail to vote we fail our nations. We abdicate the responsibility that our government expects from its citizens. If we do not vote, if we do not use our freedom to express our opinions at the polls, how can we be surprised when a reactionary political entity is elected that wants to curtail those personal rights and freedoms? Any right conferred by the state can be taken away: we must never allow this to happen. The only way to prevent it is by speaking through our votes. If we do not vote, if we allow apathy to overtake our love for freedom, the damage will have been done. Just remember, if you do not vote, you are entrusting your freedom to the people who do.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

On The Inside Looking Out

As I sat in the crowd at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre to hear a special announcement there was an air of expectation from those gathered to hear the guests who were there to speak for this auspicious event. While Canada tends to not get as caught up with the idea of the “First Family” as they do in the United States, it is still something of a big deal to have the wife of a former Prime Minister attend an event, particularly when that former PM is none other than Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and the wife is none other than Margaret Trudeau, a women who has become a strong advocate for mental health while waging her own battle with bipolar disorder in a somewhat public ordeal that culminated with a public confession of her condition several years ago, after having to enter the Royal Ottawa for help after the very public loss of her son in a tragic accident. What Margaret Trudeau could not hide from the public she has turned into a vehicle for dialogue to battle the stigma associated with mental illness. She has used her own pain to heal the wounds of others.

It was that help that Margaret Trudeau spoke of when she addressed those assembled on Monday, September 28. Hearing about her past, however, was not the reason we had gathered together; everyone was there to hear about the newly christened room next to where we were all assembled: a resource centre that was named in honour of the woman that had made it possible, Ottawa philanthropist Shirley E. Greenberg. Thanks to the single largest donation (to date) to the Royal Ottawa, a donation of $1.5 Million, the hospital has been able to create a much needed resource centre specifically aimed at the unique needs of women as they face the challenges of mental illnesses from the perspective of the female physiology. The Shirley E. Greenberg Resource Centre for Women will be the focal point for new programs aimed specifically at women seeking help, women seeking the tools to deal with their illnesses and to find resources that they may not be able to find under a traditional setting.

The entire point of the event was, of course, the announcement of the donation by Shirley E. Greenberg, and her short speech was well worth hearing, but that was not what caught my attention. Then again, I am somewhat crazy. From the perspective of one sitting on the inside, looking out, as one who is referred to as a “consumer” of the “services” provided by the hospital, there was a speaker at the ceremony that struck me as having a message that was quite interesting, if more for what she did not say than for what she did say. I am referring to the Honourable Laurel Broten, Minister Responsible for Women's Issues and the Minister of Children and Youth Services. Minister Broten made the usual political “boxed” speech about how wonderful it was to be a part of such a tremendous event, but then she turned down a different route: she decided that it would be a good idea to use Shirley Greenberg as an example.

While there is an absolute incontrovertible need for the Resource Centre for Women, and for research to be aimed specifically at the way mental illnesses effect women, what Minister Broten said that made me take notice was her assertion that this donation from Shirley Greenberg was an example of how well the private sector could work with the public sector in providing the services we commonly call Health Care in Ontario. She remarked that this gift was similar to that which was being given by Bell Canada, which had provided $1 Million to the Royal Ottawa for the tele-psychiatry program. Minister Broten expressed her opinion that this was a wonderful example of how well the partnership between the private sector and the public sector was working; we had this new building, and now we had these new funds to look forward to as well. The only problem is that this only serves to provide the government with the false impression that they do not need to maintain their current level of funding, that they can continue to cut the amount that they have been spending on mental health care with the false belief that “someone else” will pick up the slack.

With all due respect, the Honourable Minister is wrong. Philanthropy is not the answer to the health care crises facing this country and believing that it can be is, to quote a phrase, magical thinking.

Mental illness has been steadily increasing as an issue, yet the level of spending has not kept up with the need. In 2008 only one Canadian province had a lower percentage of annual spending on mental health than Ontario: Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan designated 3.5% of its health care budget, or $146/person, while Ontario designated 4.3%, or $185/person. As a nation Canada also falls behind in spending when it comes to mental health as a part of the total budget. Falling short is really an understatement: when it comes to the allocation of spending on mental health Canada came in last, tied with Italy, spending nearly $6.6 Billion on this important matter, but that only represented 4.8% of our total health care budget or $197/person. On the other side of the spectrum, the nations that spent the most, as a portion of their total health care budget, were Britain (12.1%), Germany (10%), the Netherlands & Denmark (8%), the United States (7.5%), Ireland (6.8%) and Australia (6.7%).

The amount of money spent on a problem is obviously not the only determining factor as to the success of the programs in a nation; if it were the United States would not be experiencing the problems that they have in this area, but that has as much to do with the misallocation of funds and poor management rather than the actual available funds. In Canada, where our health care system is inexorably tied to the public money used to provide health care for everyone on an equal basis (in theory), there is an increasing inequity when it comes to the treatment and funding of mental illnesses. This inequity effects our society on two levels: first it has a direct bearing on the patients receiving treatment, making it increasingly difficult to gain access to the necessary services to maintain their health. On the second level it effects society directly as it must pay for the ramifications of a poorly maintained system that continues to allow individuals with potentially serious and, at times, life-threatening illnesses “fall through the cracks”. These individuals sometimes end up living on the streets, in a battle with more than their mental health issues, often with addictions to alcohol or illicit substances as well. The lack of appropriate primary mental health facilities – in other words, the lack of enough beds and staff that are equipped to deal with long term cases – has forced these individuals to rely on secondary health care providers such as over-extended clinics that are not prepared for transient psychiatric clients, family practitioners (if available) and emergency services when their health ultimately fails or their mental status requires a medical intervention of some sort.

The cost of mental illness to our society continues to increase yet the funding has not been keeping pace, putting a greater strain on the service providers of our society who are being forced to make due with less resources while provincial governments seek out ways to cut corners and save money by cutting funding to the mental health programs and abdicating their traditional responsibilities by partnering with businesses in order to “maximize” the profitability of the system. The problem with this mentality is that for as long as health care is considered a business, something through which profits can be generated, the people at the heart of the system – the patients – will be treated like “consumers” rather than individuals with specific needs that need to be addressed. “Consumers” purchase things; “patients” are treated for illnesses.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association the cost of treating mental illness in Canada in 1993 was $7.331 billion. That figure rose to $7.9 billion in 1998, breaking down to $4.7 billion in actual health care costs and $3.2 billion for the cost of disability and early death. There was an additional cost of $6.3 billion spent on services that are not covered by medical insurance and for time off work for distress or depression (or other mental illnesses) that were not treated within the health care system. There are many reasons why someone would not seek treatment for mental illness, not the least of which being the stigma associated with these illnesses. Some people would rather suffer in silence rather than risk having someone know that they are suffering from something that can be treated ... unfortunately, this fear of discovery can lead to tragic endings that may be worse than anything that some stigma might bring.

In February of this year it was revealed that the Royal Ottawa was facing a $2 million shortfall in its operating fund thanks to cuts in the Ontario Provincial Budget. The brand new building that the new Shirley E. Greenberg Resource Centre for Women is in is running on less than it requires to provide the essential services needed by the patients in this community, but Minister Broten is of the impression that all is well in the battle against a group of diseases that, according to the World Health Organization, is going to cost more to the economy than cancer and HIV/AIDS combined. Psychiatry was praised for how much it helped Margaret Trudeau, but what was not mentioned was that the program that had the best tools for individuals battling affective disorders – the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program – has been cancelled due to cutbacks. Praising that which your government is working actively at destroying is an obscenity.

While I join in thanking Shirley E. Greenberg for her generous gift to the Royal Ottawa, a gift that I am sure will help many women in desperate need of help, I must also question the climate that has necessitated such generosity. The first step in true health care reform, something that our system is unquestionably in need of, must include ending the profit-driven paradigm of our current health-care delivery system and turning instead toward a system that is truly patientcentric. We must stop thinking of those being treated for mental illnesses as “consumers” of a product but rather in realistic terms; we must return the dignity to the healing process and to individuals receiving care for illnesses as “patients” who are part of a healing process in which they play an active, informed role. When this is done we can begin to see positive change in the way mental illnesses are perceived and in so doing battle against the stigma associated with these illnesses. There is nothing wrong with the word “patient”, it is the attitude associated with the care being provided to them and with the person on the receiving end of that care that truly counts. The Shirley E. Greenberg Resource Centre for Women will go a long way in making it possible for many women to become empowered patients on the long road to recovery from mental illness. It is too bad the finances may not be there for everyone else in need in the community.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

First Amendment: Flynt v Falwell. No Heroes Here

In a discussion last night it was asserted by @AlejoEC that Larry Flynt, the long-time publisher of “Hustler” magazine, was a hero of the 1st Amendment as a result of the decision rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States (opinion rendered by Chief Justice Rehnquist) for having ruled in his favour against the ‘reverend’ Jerry Falwell. My feelings regarding the character of Jerry Falwell aside, I must state that the Court erred in their decision: the application of the First Amendment was never intended to trump the rights of the individual, regardless of whether or not that person is perceived as being a ‘public’ figure or not.

In the case Flynt v. Falwell the case is more complex than merely discussing the idea of a parody of an advertisement in a “men’s magazine”, it goes to the very nature of what our society views as acceptable satire and, more to the point, why we are willing to accept certain things as being acceptable forms of satire while other things are not acceptable. The First Amendment has long been heralded as an absolute conference of “free speech” but, in reality, that is not the case. There have been – and are – several instances in American law where the “freedom” to speak one’s mind is curtailed by the law. People simply are not aware of the restrictions that have been attached to their ‘liberties’ because nobody is challenging them. There is, for example, no freedom to openly libel people (though this is done regularly, it is illegal), and yet, what is the difference between the Flynt v. Falwell decision and openly libelling someone?

While it may go unnoticed, there are regular lawsuits filed against publications that publish false stories about celebrities (‘The Enquirer’ & ‘The Star’ being the most common offenders). Rather than publishing the lurid details of the stories what usually happens is that one or two lines are printed saying that a ‘settlement had been reached, for an undisclosed amount’, with the parties agreeing not to disclose the details. This is the fruit of “free speech” in America – or is it? This is the curtailing of intentional lies, when someone stands up for THEIR right not to have someone spread lies about them. Of course, the luxury of defending your personal honour is only possible when you can afford the legal actions necessary to prosecute the offender. Otherwise, the people printing and spreading the libelous rumors can rest comfortably in the knowledge that nobody will challenge them.

But it’s all in good fun, isn’t it? The papers would say that they were printing their stories just to ‘entertain’ people; nobody takes that stuff seriously, right? Wrong, and whether or not something is taken seriously is completely irrelevant. Is impugning the reputation of an individual NOT libel? What is libel? One definition of libel is “A false publication, such as might be found in writing, print, pictures, or signs, that may be damaging to an individual’s reputation” – which could be argued, and was argued by Flynt’s attorneys, was the same thing as ‘parody’ or ‘satire’ in their advertisement. Innocent fun? It’s all in innocent fun to have a laugh at the expense of someone else, right? That’s what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they drafted the First Amendment, isn’t it?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Well, let’s see, the part about ‘free speech’ is not a separate clause, it is connected to the part just before – the part having to do with religion. It is then connected, afterward, with the ‘freedom of the press’, but the abridgement of free speech (or a free press) is composed in dignified terms, not out of tawdry intent. The framers were not looking to open a floodgate of satirical attacks against people that capitalized on weaknesses, disabilities, and any other perceived things that the satirist viewed as being ‘open’ to attack.

This as much goes to the nature of what we view – or accept – as being funny to what satirists desire to lampoon. The question becomes, is it a situation of censorship or sensibility? Whether or not the First Amendment covers a parody of Jerry Falwell in Larry Flynt’s magazine, one must ask themselves the question as to whether society really benefits from the publication of the magazine in the first place. Without examining the monthly publication history of the magazine from its inception it is with some level of confidence that I can say that I don’t expect the world would be devastated by the loss of a magazine filled with porn. If Americans believe that their free speech is represented by a magazine that strips the dignity of women, exploiting them based on what their bodies look like, and taking cheap shots at public figures through satirical ‘parodies’ that lack both originality and humour, then it isn’t a ‘right’ worth a damn. It is, in itself, a parody.

A right that exists solely as a result of the suffering of others is not a right, it is an illusion. You may have the right to express yourself, but if in doing so you hurt someone else, how is that a freedom? You may be ‘free’ to do so, but is it a ‘good’ thing to do? Is it the ‘right’ thing to do? You may be within your legal right to do something, but are you within your moral right to? Rights and freedoms are more complex than what appear on the page, they affect real people, real feelings, real lives, and the exercise of those rights have ramifications that extend far beyond the printed word.

Within the First Amendment, with this ‘right’ to parody the sexual life of Jerry Falwell, for example, sits the absolute right of freedom of religion. Having that as the First Amendment one would think there would be absolutely no issue with staunch conservatives in regards to the building of an Islamic Community Center anywhere, let alone near (within a few blocks) the former site of the World Trade Center. Of course, that is not how this has played out. The ‘right’ has come out virally against the ‘Mosque’ at Ground Zero because it ‘insults’ the victims, and yet, it is the constitutional RIGHT of anyone – of any religion – to worship, without interference. The government cannot stop them.

At the same time, if you deliberately speak lies – libel someone – your ‘right’ to do so shall be curtailed by the law. In essence, what this means is that your ‘right’ to free speech is NOT as absolute as you may think it is. It is an illusion. The courts have ruled on this in the past and it has been upheld (see Gooding v. Wilson 405 U.S. 518 (1972) in which the use of epithets or personal abuse is not considered proper communication or a sharing of opinion under the protection of the Constitution and is punishable as a criminal act under that instrument.).

It is alright to disagree with someone and it is alright to joke about them, but to denigrate an individual solely for the purpose of getting a laugh? Why? What is funny about causing another person pain (aside from the German ideal of ‘schadenfreude’ in which we derive pleasure from watching the misfortunes of someone else, though it is not really meant as the observance of something as banal as the parodies discussed herein). The idea that another person’s suffering is something that we should be deriving joy from is, at its base, something that we should be outgrowing as a species. Even children learn that this type of humour is inappropriate, particularly when it is directed toward them. Cruelty is not funny, it is just that – it denigrates and tears people down when we should be doing things to build each other up and encourage individuals.

Free speech, if it is such a precious commodity, should be revered rather than used by a purveyor of smut to make a fortune by denigrating women and stamping on their rights. When does one right trump another? If you have the right to free speech does that over-rule the rights of women to not be portrayed as nothing more than sex objects? How are women to be seen as fully equal (something guaranteed them under the 14th Amendment) if the exercise of the 1st Amendment subjugates them and portrays them purely as sexual objects to be used and tossed away when they no longer have anything to offer.

An argument used by some to defend Larry Flynt and his victory over the use of indecent parody has to do with the ‘right’ to be expressive in their writing. As a writer living in Canada, one who does not have ‘First Amendment’ protection I do not have the luxuries of living with such broad freedoms; in Canada there are lines that cannot be crossed in the world of publication, as protected by our Charter of Rights, and they are lines that have been emplaced to protect others. We cannot write things that foment hatred against others, nor can we disparage other ethnic or religious groups, and there are some other things that are not relevant to this discussion. Suffice it to say, the ‘freedoms’ that may seem curtailed – to someone with ‘First Amendment’ protections are, in reality, truly protections against mindless attacks by people who are unable to make a reasoned argument and must therefore resort to personal attacks rather than facing specific issues.

I have written several times in defense of the Islamic Community Center in New York, not because I am a Muslim – I am not – I am a Christian. My motive has been purely out of the existence of the First Amendment and a hatred of hypocrisy. My feelings about Islam have been formed out of having taken a course (an “Introduction to Islam”) while I was a student in university that introduced us to the precepts of the religion. Not Islamic extremism, not fundamentalist Islam – the Islam that is practiced by nearly one Billion Muslims around the world and which stands as one of the three monotheistic religions of the world.

One can study Islam in one of two ways, either with the benefit of a teacher who understands the religion and loves it or through the tainted gaze of the press, practicing their ‘freedom of speech’ in an attempt to formulate their own agenda, replete with graphics, pundits, and diverse experts opining about the dangers posed by the ‘devilish’ religion.

Free speech is only free when the rights of others are not impinged. If your free speech violates the rights of someone else, how is that freedom? The idea that ‘no man is an island’ exemplifies the idea as we see one person’s ‘rights’ cause suffering in someone else. This is not freedom, it is abusive.

If people want truly free speech they should first learn something about the respect of others and the dignity of humanity. We need an understanding of what equality means and that denigrating someone for your own monetary gain is being a mercenary, not an expresser of free speech.

As I said before, with all due respect to the Supreme Court, in the case of Flynt v. Falwell, they got the decision wrong. Flynt is not a hero of the First Amendment, he is just a sorry old purveyor of porn who should do the right thing and stop treating women like trash. Exploitation has nothing to do with freedom – it is antithetical to the ideal and stands in opposition to everything that freedom stands for. It is decidedly NOT free speech.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Composers in Discussion: #ccubed

On September 11th the first '#ccubed' discussion will take place on Twitter for the purpose of sharing ideas and information relating to the composition of contemporary classical music. The idea for this came about as a result of a request from Twitter follower @DTclarinet asking me if I would be interested in hosting a discussion on the topic of composition. This was a fortuitous request as I had only recently begun working with a young composer over the Internet and had become quite interested with the idea of sharing what I know about music through this electronic medium.

First, what does '#ccubed' stand for? On Twitter the use of the ‘#’ creates a searchable topic. The idea for 'ccubed' came from ‘Consortium of Contemporary Composers’. You don’t have to join a group or club to participate, but if you are a composer – if you create new music – you are already part of a very select group of individuals, a group that has chosen their own path (or, some would argue, that the path has chosen them). So, for the sake of the discussion taking place on September 11th, at 2pm Eastern Standard Time (6pm Greenwich Mean Time), all you have to do is follow the '#ccubed' (in regular Twitter enter that – with the ‘#’ – into the ‘search’ panel on the right column. In Hootsuite you can set up a new tab or simply add '#ccubed' as a new stream. On your BlackBerry use the ‘search’ function. Alas, I don’t know how to access these things in any other Twitter program).

What will we be doing in these “Consortium” discussions? Well, that all depends ... what do YOU want to discuss? My background is as a composer of contemporary classical music for diverse instruments, both as solo, duet, chamber and orchestra. What I would really love to see is an integration of the use of the services of SoundCloud, which allows composers to post their music for absolutely NO cost, so that we could audition pieces and discuss them in the group. Here’s how I see this working: '#ccubed' will be running all the time – if you want to have your piece critiqued for an upcoming group it will have to be posted to SoundCloud (or another publically available forum – no pay/download sites). Once I have a chance to listen to the piece I will let you know whether or not it is appropriate for the purposes of the discussion (it would be even better if a score were also available – I use Finale 2010). A piece might be rejected if I feel I have nothing constructive to say about it or if it is not in a genre that fits the group (a synthesized looped pad will not tell me anything about your technical ability or grasp of musical concepts).

People could also post ideas through #twitlonger with '#ccubed' at the beginning with idea proposals – or questions that they’d like answered/discussed. Again, given reasonable time, I would be open to this as well.

More than anything else, I want this to be an open, organic discussion about the composition of contemporary classical music. If that falls into the aesthetics of contemporary music – great – I could talk about that for days! If we talk about the techniques surrounding a particular instrument – well, that will be great to – but – there IS going to be a special discussion at some point on “All Things Clarinet” – specifically by request of @DTclarinet.

Above all else, participation is of paramount importance. While I’m sure that it would be possible for me to sit and tweet – non-stop – for one hour about one particular topic, that is not how this was conceived. It is meant to be a ‘call and response’ – an interactive DISCUSSION. So, PLEASE – when 2pm rolls around, don’t be afraid to throw your hat in the ring and have fun talking – tweeting – about the most expressive of the arts: composition.

After this discussion @DTclarinet will be hosting a discussion on a new breathing technique called ‘Flow Breathing and Suspension Support’. Find his discussion by following '#floB' at 3pm on Sept. 11th.

Future discussions on '#ccubed' will be ongoing, but I would like to host these
special groups on every 2nd Saturday of the month: Once a month, on the Second Saturday. So, the NEXT discussion, after September 11, will be on October 9, and then on November 13.

Follow '#ccubed' for updates, scheduling changes, and ongoing discussions relating to composition and the creation of new music.

Please follow the link in the sidebar to hear some of my pieces at my Soundcloud account.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taxation with Representation

One of the blogs I follow with some regularity is maintained by my father; the blog, 'Desertpeace', presents a variety of articles about the situation regarding the plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israelis. It is an anti-Zionist website that often presents political cartoons by associate bloggers, as well as other articles by journalists who regularly post to the site in an effort to share their views with as large an audience as possible. In a post that appeared on the 8th of August, a post that was a cartoon entitled the 'Boycott Toon of the Day' a comment was posted regarding the conviction of Sherry Jackson for failure to pay her taxes. While I read a few articles pertaining to the Jackson case, that is not what this post is about, nor am I claiming to be familiar with the particulars of the case. What compelled me to write this was a comment suggesting that no law exists in the United States compelling its citizens to pay taxes.

Many times people question the legality of taxation in the United States without realizing that there are, in fact, laws stipulating that it is legal – lawful – for the government to collect taxes from the citizens of the nation. First, ratified in 1913 is the 16th Amendment of the Constitution – an obscure, often unused document that is usually only used when Americans want to protect their ‘right’ to carry a firearm (without having to serve in a militia).

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” If that isn’t explicit enough, there’s more … but it will only upset you (it isn’t from the 16th …).

Title 26 of the US Code is also known as the Internal Revenue Code and contains the statutory tax laws of the land, including the tax rates according to level of income (which demonstrates that Americans are being taxed at the lowest rate since long before Ronnie Ray-Guns).

So, yes Virginia, it is lawful for Americans to ‘pay their fair share’, it is part of the law of the land to dig into your pocket and help pay for the roads others use and pay for the health care that someone else consumes – why – because that’s what makes a country great – that’s what allows a country to continue.

The fact that the country’s taxes are also spent, unfortunately, on the machines of war is something that must be addressed by the influence of the public through the ballots they cast and the pressure they put on those who represent them in Washington. As soon as you say ‘nothing we do will make a difference’ you are right: nothing YOU do WILL make a difference with that attitude. Just remember, a ‘community organizer’ with ‘no experience’ managed to galvanize enough people when he shouldn’t have (according to the ‘experts’) and did what ‘shouldn’t’ have been possible.

As it was said at the beginning of the movie ‘Armageddon’: It happened before, it will happen again.

Americans have to come to the realization that they have been lied to by people too lazy to read the law: Taxation, with representation, is the law of the land. What must be addressed is the representation part – the taxes are necessary to make the nation function. Would you rather not have things like fire departments, schools, and other things funded with public monies? Who are you going to call if your house is burning or someone has had a heart attack and you need to access the 9-1-1 service? This is one of the great positions of Libertarians – it’s great to believe we can ‘do for ourselves’ and ‘stand on our own’, until you can’t – until you need the help of someone because you are in a position that requires assistance. That is the way of humanity. It is why we live in communities with other people – note the word ‘community’ – the root word being ‘commune’, people coming to live together for the ‘common good’ – sort of like ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’.

One of the functions of Government is to make the ‘community’ in which we live run smoothly, focusing on the needs of the people rather than the profits of a few select organizations. That is what we need to address. Stop the obscene spending on military expeditions that are unnecessary and inherently racist and focus on the needs of the people. But, if your income fits into one of the taxable brackets established in the tax code, pay your damn taxes – and raise the rates for the highest bracket to an appropriate level that is more in line with what is fair and proportional to what they are able to pay. That way there will be enough for everyone, especially if those with the most pay their fair share. If everyone would pay according to what they could afford it would be possible for everyone to have what they needed to live.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Christian 'Right' Isn't

Let's get something straight, once and for all: the 'Christian Right' isn't. They are neither Christian, or right. Let me explain.

First of all, before going any further, it should be 'Religious Right' not 'Christian Right'; they are motivated by a warped legalistic adherence to Christianity as a religion rather than applying the principals taught by Jesus to the political sphere in which they function. Is Christianity reconcilable with a 'right-wing' agenda? No, not at all. Jesus taught love and reconciliation, not condemnation and judgment. He dismissed and condemned the use of the death penalty in His day, and demonstrated that violence is never the answer to our problems. Taking these as only a small sample of the ideals espoused by the founder of our faith it seems incongruous to have a group calling itself 'Christian' that supports things like the death penalty, is opposed to programs that support the poor, the sick, the indigent, and supports wars against two nations that never committed an act of violence against the United States. How does that reflect a Christian ideal by any stretch of the imagination?

The recent roadblock by the GOP in the Senate against allowing for the provision of the benefits for the unemployed provides a crystal clear example of the perversion of this brand of 'Christianity' and how it has been warped beyond anything that resembles the truth presented by in the Gospels. Rather than doing something for the people that have lost their jobs, rather than stepping up and working for their constituents, the GOP Senators decided to vilify those individuals who had lost their jobs, blaming them for their misfortune and claiming that these benefits would encourage them to stay unemployed (rather than encouraging them to pay their bills and feed their families which is what most of the unemployed are looking forward to doing).

Regardless of the evidence that for every dollar spent on unemployment benefits more than $1.60 is returned to the economy (this money is NOT saved, it is SPENT - it STIMULATES the economy - always), the GOP would rather focus on Tax Cuts that ADD to the deficit. Interestingly enough, even Jesus understood that this was Voodoo economics: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. Jesus understood the principal that taxation was NECESSARY and that it was a lawful and good thing for a citizen to pay their taxes.

It's time for those on the 'right' to stop pretending to follow the teachings of Jesus when they know they have nothing in common with the seditious Jew that was sent to his death for posing a threat to the government of the day. Jesus - and His followers - were radicals - they taught that we have a power to change the world, that we are not to be conformed to the world, and that the world is enmity to the one to whom we owe our lives. We are also taught that true Christians are persecuted because they pose a threat to the status quo - how does that work for the 'Christian Right' - the were in power, weren't they? That doesn't exactly sound like a 'persecuted' class of believers, does it?

No, there is nothing 'Christian' about the 'Christian Right' - neither is there anything 'right' about them. Religious - absolutely - dogmatically so, but Christian? I'm afraid not, at least, not the Jesus I know. Just ask yourself the question as you look at the image of the two men depicted here: which do you imagine to be the Lord? Many will naturally select the 'well groomed' image that typifies western depictions of the Lord, but the reality of the matter was that Jesus - Yeshua (or Y'shua) would have not looked like a European, well coiffed, gentleman if he was born in Palestine around 3 BCE. The image of the darker skinned man with the kinky hair - the guy most white conservatives would walk past without giving a second look (the guy who would be pulled over in Arizona for looking 'foreign') is much closer to what the real Jesus probably looked like, and his features can still be found amongst the faces of those living in the war-torn land of His birth today.

Let that be the final word on the matter ... for now.

CrazyComposer - aka Peter Amsel
Peter Amsel has been a Christian for 21 years and an ordained minister for 11.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Much Ado about Helen

A tremendous amount has been made over the words uttered by Helen Thomas recently, words spoken on May 27th, interestingly enough four days before the attack by the Israeli Defence Forces against a flotilla of unarmed civilians bringing humanitarian aid to besieged refugees in Gaza. Nine innocent and unarmed civilians were slaughtered by the defenders of the Zionist state, but it’s not okay to criticize them, is that what we are hearing? I listened to what Helen Thomas said and listened carefully; she understands history and is more than capable of reporting her stories without bias.

When asked if she had anything to say about Israel she said, ‘tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.’ When asked if she had ‘anything better’ to say, Thomas continued, ‘remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land; it’s not German [sic], it’s not Poland.’ Having heard this answer Rabbi Nesenoff, the man conducting and filming the interview, proceeded to ask a loaded question that indicated he fully understood that Thomas was discussing contemporary immigrants, not Jews who had been born Israel.

When asked, ‘where should they [the Jews] go’, Thomas replied, ‘go home, Poland, Germany, and America, and everywhere else.’

This answer lies at the crux of the controversy causing many to label Helen Thomas as an Anti-Semite who is insensitive to history; even her colleague and co-author, Craig Crawford, has announced that he will no longer be working on future book projects with Thomas as a result of this comment, but is that an over-reaction? Was Helen wrong? Was she taken out of context?

Under the ‘Right of Return’ law Jews are allowed to become citizens of Israel by virtue of being Jewish, even if they were born in America. Someone born in the ‘Holy Land’ who is not of Jewish descent, on the other hand, is not allowed to live in the home of their ancestors as it has been stolen and turned into a ‘settlement’, all so the ‘Jewish State’ can reclaim its Biblical borders.

Thomas’ reply was not insensitive to history, it was correct in every way to the political realities of the warped ‘Right of Return’ law and how it discriminates against non-Jews living in the Holy Land. When asked, ‘where should they go’, she replied, ‘go home, Poland, Germany, and America, and everywhere else.’ She did not say they should be killed or expelled, which is something that Israel routinely does to the Palestinians living within the borders of the state, but that can be dismissed as an ‘inconvenient truth’ that nobody wants to discuss.

As a result of this honest answer the website that interviewed her, ‘Rabbilive’ asked the pointed question as to whether or not Helen Thomas could be trusted. They posted, at the end of her ‘interview’ that six million Jews ‘were killed at home … In Germany and Poland. Does Helen know that Jews have lived in Israel way before the Holocaust?’

Yes, I’m sure Helen knows this fact, however, does that mitigate the fact that Israel has been carrying on a war against their neighbours? That they have been using criminally devious tactics, including the use of White Phosphorus artillery shells, against civilians living in Gaza while stealing land in order to continue with the development of the settlements that have been condemned by many civilized nations on this planet?

The most outrageous part of this ridiculous episode has come from, of all places, the Administration of the United States President. Press Secretary Gibbs should have made no comment about Helen Thomas’ comment for the simple reason that she is NOT part of the Administration. Of course her comments are not a reflection of the official policy of the government; even after Israel murdered nine innocent civilians the government has sat on its hands as though it were afraid to say anything nasty, as though it might offend the mighty Jewish State and send them into a whirlwind of retaliation against the United States.

Excuse me, but when did the State of Israel become more powerful than the United States of America? I’m sorry, but I just don’t ascribe to that crap about the Jews controlling that much power: they control as much as you allow them to control. If you stop listening to the AIPAC lobby they have no power. AIPAC can only influence people when they are listened to; otherwise they are a Zionist tool that should be expelled for sedition. They serve the interests of a foreign state, not the United States.

President Obama may stand up and say that Israel should stop building settlements and that Jerusalem should be a city for all, but the truth of the matter is that the Zionist State of Israel is a nation guided by a policy of institutional racism. Anyone who has lived through the Civil Rights Movement in the United States or has studied the fall of Apartheid in South Africa, or has any inkling of the history behind the Holocaust should be able to see this as clearly as the rising of the sun in the morning and the rising of the moon at night.

What we must also understand is that it is NOT Anti-Semitism to criticize the policies of the State of Israel. To be against the ideals of Zionism is not to be against the Jew just as being a Democrat in the United States does not make you ‘unpatriotic’. The idea that this is so is one of the lies perpetuated by the Zionists to defend the indefensible; they know their policies lead to the deaths of innocent people so they hide behind the label of ‘Anti-Semitism’, knowing that anyone labeled with it will be stigmatized and will have to shrink away.

I am a Jew. My mother is a Jew and my father is a Jew … and my father lives in Jerusalem. Branches of my family went to the death camps during the Holocaust. Go ahead, call me an Anti-Semite; you won’t be the first.

As for Helen Thomas, BRAVA! It’s about time people in the press started speaking out against the atrocities being committed by the State of Israel … and just in case you missed it, her comments were made on May 27th; Israel attacked a flotilla carrying aid to Gaza on May 31, killing 9 unarmed civilians.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Legend Passes: Lena Horne, Dead at 92

Only a handful of artists can claim that they have influenced generations of performers, as well as having fought in the Civil Rights movement, and fighting to break down the barriers of racism against black artists in America even before that movement started: Lena Horne is one of those artists. She died on Sunday in New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

An obituary of Lena Horne can be found here.

Lena Horne biography from IMDB, the International Movie Database.

Lena Horne in the Encyclopedia of World Biography.

Monday, March 08, 2010

In Honour of International Women's Day

March 8 is the day we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day to honour and acknowledge the importance of the women in our lives and to reflect on the importance of those who, thanks to their selfless contributions, have made the world a much better place in which to live. This year the celebration falls on the first day of the work week, but that does not confer a day off for all of the working women of the world, it merely provides the day upon which the occasion is to be observed; alas, International Women’s Day does not – as of yet – command the same level of celebratory spirit as Thanksgiving Day or Memorial Day, though it is surely at least as important, particularly when you consider the significance of what is being celebrated.

If the importance of an event is tied to its historical background and what it commemorates then International Women’s Day should be held as one of the major observances on the calendar; it is a day that celebrates only a small sample of what women have strived to accomplish since its inception in the last century in their quest to preserve the species which could not exist without the pains of their labours. It is only through the anguish of women’s labour and the pains that they have endured throughout the ages that has allowed for the development of our modern society and continues to allow for the very existence of our lives today.
Without the struggles that women have endured, often at the risk of their very lives, we would be living in a society where civil rights was far from being the fulfilled dream that it has become in many parts of the world, and the struggle continues. Without the struggles of women, without the constant vigil that they keep at the eternal flame of hope for generations yet unborn, the chance of our civilization escaping the turmoil that has become its constant threat would be, at best, minimal. Women fight for civil and human rights for the simple reason that they understand that true equality only exists when everyone is treated with dignity and respect and are truly equal: anything less is the equivalent to the continued enslavement of all humanity, regardless of race, colour or creed. Without full equality for all men and women, without ensuring that all peoples are provided the opportunity to be self-determinate in the selection of who they shall be governed by, and without the right to access quality health care and education, the work of women and the symbol of what International Women’s Day is all about will continue to stand as a beacon of hope for the future.

The day shall come when the things these brave women struggle for becomes the cause of everyman for we shall realize that their struggle is our struggle; we shall recognize that what we call women’s issues are not that, they are things that men fought for in their unions at the turn of the twentieth century, but memories of labour solidarity are often precariously short, particularly when it is in the best interest of those in power to cultivate an atmosphere of amnesia. When the labour unions fought for their right to exist and to negotiate their first contracts they had to face the ‘scabs’ and strike-breakers who were sent in by management to break their will, to drive them back to work for less than what they had been making before they became ‘organized’, but that was not acceptable. By sticking together – by struggling for their rights as exploited employees – the unionized employees of the United States and Canada won such dramatic concessions from their bosses as the ‘right’ to have a forty-hour work week, the ‘right’ to have an un-paid coffee break (sometimes two) of fifteen minutes, the ‘right’ to have an unpaid lunch of thirty minutes, and sometimes the ‘right’ to even have a pension after working for twenty-five years or more.

In tribute to International Women’s Day I could easily create a list of a number of women whom I look up to and admire for their contributions to various fields of study, the arts, politics, and life in general, but such a list would fall pathetically short of fully expressing the breadth of the respect and appreciation that I feel for a group of people that I consider to be amongst the greatest to have lived. It is a list that, were I to produce it, would include several dead notables, not the least of whom would be Rosa Parks for the role she played as a young women in the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Alabama. No list would be complete without the inclusion of such extraordinary women as Clara Schumann, George Sands, and Marie Curie.

Of course, there is no way that this tribute could end without acknowledging the most important woman in the world: she is the woman from whose life mine own began. My mother marched on Washington with Martin Luther King, Jr., and was active in the civil rights movement in the United States before moving to Canada in 1967, the year before I was born. Her struggles for the advancement of ‘the cause’ did not end after marriage or becoming a mother; if anything, having a child made her all the more cognizant of the need for change. After the United Nations declared 1975 the International Year of the Woman my mother was a member of a grass-roots group called ‘Women Helping Women’ that took the ‘struggle’ to the street and sought out practical solutions to the issues facing women during bleak economic times.
The times have changed, thus the struggle continues.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Killing G.I. Joe

There is a movement afoot; a coordinated effort to convince Hasbro to kill G.I. Joe. This time I'm in favour of the killing for this is no mere soldier we are talking about: G.I. Joe is a tool to shape the minds of children as they practice the 'games' of war with the additional components that Joe has access to thanks to the clever folks at Hasbro. They provide more than a clear picture as to what Joe is going to be doing: this soldier is NOT going to Haiti do distribute humanitarian aid, this soldier is going to war. He's gonna' get some.

Is that really what children need to be playing with in a time when violence is only getting worse? In a time when there are real wars going on is it not reasonable to think that children should be engaged in activities of peace - activities that do not have anything to do with maiming and destroying the lives of others - if only as a 'game' or 'for pretend'. War is not 'for pretend', it is perhaps the most real experience that any individual will experience, if they are lucky enough to survive. We glorify the actions of 'war heroes' and veterans, but often fail to remind everyone - especially the youngest - that war is NOT glamerous: it violates the dignity of person and right of all, and condemns those involved to a nightmare that may never end. War is as real as it gets: there is no 'pretend' about it. G.I. Joe has no place as a toy for children.

It is not difficult to imagine that we become as adults what we practice as children. Those who spend their time with a violin in their hand or sitting patiently at a piano will often find themselves in a career in music or otherwise engaged in creative activities while some of the kids who were athletically inclined are now being watched by the world as they perform at the Vancouver Olympic Games, where the best of the winter athletes have gathered together for what is supposed to be the greatest peaceful exhibition of winter sports.

How difficult is it to imagine that there is a great deal to say here about the 'nurturing' environment and how it influences what happens to children involved in activities that aim the energies of the child into a more destructive direction? Can it be so hard to accept that the kids who grow up playing the violent games, particularly the video games that flood their consciousness with thousands of violent images every time they play their 'game' and 'role playing' games, where they pretend to be characters in the action, can often result in these children growing up to become anti-social adults who have difficulty relating to the rest of the world? Violence begets violence as surely as eating nothing but McDonald's will leave your body diseased and on the road to an early death (as demonstrated in the documentary by Morgan Spurlock).

If the saying 'you are what you eat' is true how much more the expression 'you are what you play'? Can you imagine what Gandhi did as a child? I can't believe that he played with guns and pretended to stage small wars with his toys. What about Nelson Mandela? While imprisoned for his desire to live as a free man in the nation he was born in he did not spend his time growing bitter or being consumed with hate; he read poetry, studied to improve himself, and - most importantly - perfected his ability to forgive and preach and teach his inspirational message of the importance of reconciliation for the future of South Africa. That doesn't sound like the type of guy who grew up playing with a G.I. Joe.

Children may want a toy because a friend of theirs has one or they have seen it on television, but parents have to realize that getting a child everything that they want is not necessarily the best way to make their child happy - and it certainly isn't the best thing for the child. Rather than succumbing to the pressures (from children and advertising) to purchase violent toys parents can take the first step by offering alternate venues for their children to exercise their playtime in creative, peaceful ways.

If enough people stop buying the G.I. Joe doll because it becomes something that no longer fits into the vision of what should be marketed to children then one thing will surely happen: Joe will not return from his last mission. He will be declared KIA and be pulled from the shelves. That day cannot come soon enough.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Stealing Babies for Jesus

Image © by Ben Heine
The tragedy of the January 12th earthquake in Haiti is still producing heart wrenching stories that challenge our very abilities to comprehend the most elemental components of human behaviour. The most recent story to raise the hackles of those who vigilant enough to care is that of a group ten Southern Baptists from Idaho who have been detained in Haiti after attempting to take 33 children into the Dominican Republic as ‘orphans’. The only problem was that the Americans not only didn’t have papers for any of the children, some of the children were not orphans; some being old enough to explicitly state for themselves that they were not in fact orphans, something that some might call a minor issue and which others might call the ‘illegal trafficking of children’.

Read the entire story here.

The thing that frightens me the most about this story is the casual disregard that these individuals have shown for the law of a land in turmoil. Rather than trying to work within the system – to use their talents and abilities to help rebuild the demolished Haitian system – they instead chose to circumvent it, believing that the easy route was the best route, without questioning the legality or the morality of their choice. They certainly weren’t concerned about the fact that some of the children that they assumed needed to be ‘rescued’ were, in essence, being kidnapped. If this is the state of contemporary Christian missionary work, God help those who are being ministered to; do they now have to be concerned about where their children are while the missionaries take them to school?