Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The RCMP and the death of Robert Dziekanski

My cop friend in Penticton sent me this article tonight about the Robert Dziekanski incident. Dziekanski is the Polish man killed by police last month at the Vancouver airport, tasered at least twice, and subdued with a knee to the neck. The article, which is a Les MacPherson column from the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, is one of few to defend the RCMP in this case. However, whether these Mounties deserve defending or not, MacPherson's defence is poorly thought-out.

First, I must admit that I have not watched the video of Dziekanski's death. I saw Faces of Death in university and once was enough. For another thing, I've found it's best not to write in a state of moral outrage. So I am going only by media reports, and by what I've heard from people who have watched it. A former Vancouver policeman who watched the video told the CBC that the man made no threatening moves. The story that bothered me most was an interview on CBC Radio with the man who filmed the video, who said that Dziekanski seemed relieved to see the police, right up until they tasered up.

But, even then, there could be circumstances the video doesn't show, things that might reasonably have led the police to do what they did. I'm not second-guessing them, but I do say that they have to be called upon to explain themselves, and not just to other cops.

As long as police can use force to arrest people, a certain percentage of people getting arrested are going to get killed. That's force, and it's difficult to imagine a role for police who can't use it. But from all the media reports and from the description of the video, it is a fair question to ask whether the force was justified. Maybe it was, but how do we know unless there is a thorough investigation?

Also, there is a distinction between force and deadly force. Force is for people resisting arrest. Deadly force is for defending lives. I will leave it to the investigation and to better-informed people than I to determine whether this was supposed to be deadly force. Since the person who experienced the force is, in fact, now dead, I'd say the question should at least be on the table. But I've read no report that suggests any reason why the four cops who arrested Robert Dziekanski should have been in fear for their lives or the lives of others.

It's true that, as the newspaper article says, "For all (the police) knew at the time, he could have been high on illegal drugs, some of which are known to give a resistant suspect the strength of several men. For all they knew at the time, he could have had AIDS or hepatitis and a pocket full of needles."

But this one paragraph is the silliest in MacPherson's article. Because it's also true that, for all the police know, all those things could apply to everyone in the world. I have pockets. How do you know they're not full of AIDS-ridden needles? You don't. But you don't get to kill me because of the worst thing you can imagine might be in my pocket. You only get to kill me when I pull it out and try to stab you with it. Maybe that is a lot to ask for $60K a year. But that is, in fact, the job. The guns aren't just there to look cool.

The cops at that airport had to think a lot faster than I ever do, and I will feel sympathy for them if there's a proper investigation, not just a press statement from their superiors, that finally proves they did as they were supposed to. Actually, according to Wikipedia, which is never wrong, there are seven investigations going on right now, and two concluded. None of this scrutiny can be any fun for the policemen involved. But when people get killed in this country, scrutiny must follow. The police don't get the benefit of the doubt. Our perception of the police as just and upstanding cool-handed professionals is a distinctly first-world thing which depends on not giving them the benefit of the doubt.

We see cops as beneficial because we have rules that force them to be professionals. Sure, most of them don't need to be forced, but that's a result of rules too, rules about who gets to be a cop and who doesn't. I can understand how frustrating it must be to work under those rules and actually get anything done, but I'd still rather have the rules than just trust all cops to be good. Countries with that system end up with a payroll full of violent thugs. I think I've visited two or three. There are countries where people just wouldn't think of calling the police for any reason. If you've already got problems with one armed criminal, why call in eight more?

As much respect as I have for almost all the cops I know, I expect any police recruiter would agree that policing is a job to which violent thugs are drawn. Maybe they're not supposed to get in, but I bet most of my cop friends know one or two colleagues who slipped through the cracks. I'm not saying the four who killed Robert Dziekanski are such cops, but I am saying there needs to be a system to make sure they're not. However much of a pain in the ass that system is to them and to other cops, that's got to be part of the job too. If you want to imagine life without it, where cops are trusted to get the job done however they see fit, you have to think about places where that's the case, where nobody outside the government trusts cops, where people assume cops lie on the stand or just beat people for fun, and that few people arrested are actually guilty of anything.

- DB

Saturday, August 11, 2007

My hit-list

When I am elected emperor, the following things will be outlawed.

Baby-on-board signs. As if the knowledge that there is a baby on board will somehow give me the added strength I need on the brake pedal to avoid slamming into your SUV at the stoplight. But for a moment, let's assume that because everyone knows there's a baby in your SUV (and it's always an SUV), they actually try extra-hard not to crash into you. Do you take the sign down when there is not, in fact, a baby on board at that particular moment? No, you do not. So you're lying, at least half the time, and that makes me want to crash into you more. So really, what the sign should say is, "Look at me, I have successfully reproduced!"

Pennies, nickles and dimes. My hatred for them was honed to a sharp, bright, angry blade by this CBC story, from which I learned that when pennies were initially minted in 1870, their purchasing power was equal to 27 cents in 2005, and there has never been a coin worth less than one cent. Why, then, do we need coins worth 1/27, 1/5, and 2/5 the absolute mimimum value a person considered worth carrying in 1870? But we're still making over $8 million a year in pennies, because people aren't returning them to circulations, they're throwing them away.

Use of the words "I'm like," instead of "I said." Alright, when you say "I'm like, whatever," does that mean whatever is what you actually said? Or did you say something similar to whatever, such as wherever or what the hell? In which case your story makes no sense. Or did you not actually say whatever, but somehow pantomime it, and if so, how and why?

All commercial radio. My 2 GB Nano can carry enough songs to repeat less frequently than any commercial radio station in Calgary. And they get their music for free, don't they? (Not like me, I pay full retail price for every song I listen to, yes sir.) Get a few more CDs, why don't they? And when they get one, they ought to listen to the whole thing, rather than just play the one song on it that everyone knows until everyone hates it, and then cut to a Sleep Country Canada jingle.

Jingles. I'll start with Sleep Country Canada. Why buy a mattress anywhere else? I'll tell you why -- and I did tell them why, in an email to SCC president Christine McGee that I never did hear back from. Because your jingle makes me want to hang myself.

The towing of SUVs behind motorhomes with sattelite dishes. All three nouns in that gerund are offensive to me, but taken together, steaming down the highway towards the lovely natural beauty that they're wrecking, it's a bit too much. If I spot a baby-on-board sign in the SUV, violence will ensue.

The imperial system of measurement. For excessive stupidness. Now if you'll excuse me I have to go figure out my weight and height in metric.

Pictures of Olympic athletes biting their medals. I put up a graphic a few weeks ago at the local ski hill, showing a picture of a figure skater biting her medal in about 1922. That's a minimum age of this cliche. What are they doing, checking to see if it's real gold? They're not. They're gold-plated sterling silver. Going to give it back now? Or did you think it was chocolate? But it's not just the gold medals, it's silver and bronze too. I can imagine some prospector biting a rock to determine whether it's really gold or just iron pyrite, but I don't think it would for silver and bronze too.

Saying something is "out of this world" as a pun to coyly imply it has something to do with space. That phrase is always implying things have something to do with outer space. It never implies anything else. Therefore it's not a pun, nor is it coy. I issue a challenge. Find me a published instance of "out of this world" being used to do anything but coyly imply that something is spacey, and I will let you write a guest blog entry about how stupid or I am.

That's all I can think of right now, but I have a feeling that I'm going to add to this list from time to time, and I invite your suggestions.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A graphic fantasy

Once in a while something funny enough happens in graphics to be funny to people who have nothing to do with it.
I went to a factory this morning to put up some vinyl on an office window. It's something you see everywhere if you're looking, it makes the window look as if it's etched, and you can cut it into whatever shape you want. In this case, it's a grid-like pattern designed by my long-time friend, an old ski-club chum turned interior designer.
Anyway, I get to the office, which is at the top of a flight of stairs, meaning everyone on that floor walks past those doors going in or out. And when I walk up and look at the glass door, I get the evil eye from the two women sitting just inside. They're both young, hot and blonde, and sitting at desks doing nothing observable.
I stick my head in, and they see all the graphics and tools I've brought, and their icy glares melt.
"Oh, good," says girl A. "You're here to cover up our windows? I'm so sick of having everyone leer in on us all the time."
Sure, darling, I thought. The leering will be through, just as soon as I'm done. However, I, in my capacity as a graphic production artist, am required to just press my face up against the glass here for a few hours...
So I was working on the windows for most of the morning, enjoying the view and also marvelling at the absence of responsibility. They complained a bit about how you have to be 25 to rent a car now. Girl A didn't do anything at all that I could make out. Girl B took a bit of time trying to calculate her salary out loud, and made about three phone calls -- one to her mom.
The whole time I was working, people were passing by. Most of the women stopped and said how grateful the two girls in the front office were going to be. ('I wonder exactly how grateful,' said a small but Satanic voice from my left shoulder.) And a guy, outside the office and out of earshot, said, "Dude, you're blocking the view!"
I wonder, if there are any women reading, if they will want to reprimand me for thinking this is funny, or for assuming that these two girls don't do anything important simply because they are hot, and don't move, talk, or type.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Weddings after 30

Last post, trying to think of what I'd write about in this post, I said I might explain why weddings are no longer fun. Now one of three readers, Lucas, is steamed because he thinks I had a crappy time at his wedding. Bad though that already is, he also thinks it's because I wasn't drunk enough, which is not what I meant. I wasn't drunk enough, but that's my own fault for driving, and it's not what got me thinking about the subject. I guess I need to explain myself, and also mention to Lucas that his is one of five weddings I've got this summer.

First of all, I should have said, "Weddings are less fun," not "Weddings are no longer fun." It's hard not to have a blast at a wedding. The booze is plentiful, sometimes cheap, and occasionally free. There are a million little reunions going on all over the place -- at Lucas's wedding I saw a lot of university friends I haven't spoken to for ten years, and it's hard to think of another occasion that will bring us all together again, until maybe we start in on the funerals. Plus, wearing a suit is fun for those of us who never have to.

What's missing these days, though, is the pickup scene. Cute single girls at weddings used to be as plentiful as fight scenes in Bruckheimer movies. I have an older cousin whose wedding I was there for about 15 years ago. It was the one time I've ever seen two girls fight over me, and I'll tell you, I could really get used to that. Something about the booze, the clothes, and the fairy-tale ending unfolding at the head table made them crazy. I actually went out with the victor a week later, but without the wedding to prop me up, the thrill was gone.

In the intervening years, though, just about everyone has gotten married. At my friend Sandy's wedding two weeks ago there was, so far as I was able to figure out, one other single person there over the age of 18, and it took me until last call to find her. At Lucas's wedding, the one other single person cancelled -- probably had a party to go to or something. Lucas nevertheless gets a special commendation for putting her at my table. But you can't just go out and order more single friends, and really, there are other things for brides and grooms to worry about.

Lucas pointed out in his speech how rare and wonderful it is to have everyone you care about in one room at one time. It's a poignant observation, more profound than anything I'm arguing here. On Saturday I have another cousin getting married, and I've been having a blast just hanging around with all the people in town for the wedding. I'm just saying, weddings used to be like that, plus picking up.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


When I was travelling, I wrote so much and with such joy that I just knew I'd come home and do it forever. Instead, I came home and, in the intervening five years, have written four times. It used to bother me when friends and family asked why I wasn't writing anymore. Now it bothers me that they don't.

But if you don't write, you can't say you're a writer. Writers write. So here, I'm writing, and it feels good to be doing this instead of just renting a movie or something. As a side incentive, Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that all writers, no matter how poor or otherwise objectionable, have pretty wives. We'll see about that one.

I abhor other people's blogs, because nobody's got anything to tell me. Actually I can't even say I abhore them, my sample's too small. I think I've read blogs three times. First time, I found out what somebody's cat did that day, or something. I cringed at the smileys, bad punctuation, and letter U instead of you. Second time, I read my dad's. It was actually pretty good, I wonder if he's still writing it. Third time, I found out my girlfriend was cheating on me. So my sample is too small to be representative, I am merely presuming other people's blogs 66 per cent abhorent, and I'm still not reading them.

But I am judging too harshly. Most of my writing has been either paid, or overseas. When you're traveling it's just too easy to write. My kind of thing is the straight-up narrative of personal experience. People thought I was a great writer, but it was because I was immersed in great stories. The stories did the work, I was just there to jot everything down. I got invited to a secret cult meeting in the mountains of Japan, and I went. Because I was hoping it was ninjas. But I also knew that any idiot would get a great story out of this.

Likewise, when you're a reporter, you're getting paid to be interesting, and you've got all day, and if at the end of the day you're still not very interesting, you've got editors who will force the issue. I'm not saying reporters have got it easy, they really don't. But they can't not be interesting, or they metamorphose into PR people.

But now I'm just a 9 to 5 schmoe like everybody else. I'm not saying my new life in the commercial graphics industry is boring, but I will not subject the public to a play-by-play of what I learned about printing today.

But what will I subject you to? As a rearmed writer, I think this will be my greatest challenge. Here are my goals for this blog.
  • Make something that is as interesting as I'd have written when I was either immersed in weirdness, or getting paid. OK, half as interesting. Starting next post.
  • Devote as much time to writing as to TV. All I watch is Battlestar Galactica, but that's still an hour a week. Goals should be lofty, but acheivable.

I think to accomplish these goals, I will have to not worry about whether what I say has been written elsewhere, and better. No problem, as I said, I'm not reading any of your blogs. So I will start with my next post, which is going to be about 1) the manipulative power of generosity, 2) stone cold stupid reviews of The God Delusion, 3) why weddings are no longer fun, or 4) some miraculous interesting thing that happens, maybe on the weekend or something, that saves me from writing about 1, 2 or 3.

- DB