Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Mother (or Father) of All Excuses

It seems obvious to me that any time someone murders someone else, there is at least some small bit of mental illness or incapacity involved. After all, the ability to take a life without hesitation should suggest that the murderer's brain chemistry is different that, say, mine. (Note here that I'm talking about murder, as opposed to self-defense, some aspects of warfare, accidentally running someone down with the car, and likely other ways of taking a life.)

The law, though, sets the bar pretty high in proving "mental disorder," and well they should. If everyone who killed got off light because their rafters weren't installed properly, we'd see even more murders. Do the crime, do the time, unless what ails you is so obvious and so egregious that the law can't help but notice and agree that psychiatric help is more appropriate.

It doesn't surprise me that Blair Donnelly got off with a finding of mental disorder. If you kill your teenage daughter and then insist that your god wanted you to do it, and if that excuse holds up under serious psychological scrutiny, it will raise enough eyebrows to bring on some serious doubts about your mental fitness.

The verdict does raise two questions in my mind, however, neither one of which I've seen in the (admittedly small cross-section of) news coverage I've seen. First, how is it that our society can see a visit by the Judeo-Christian god as - while not a valid excuse - a sign that someone is not thinking quite right and therefore as a get out of jail free card, but they can't see the demands made by a different culture (and, let's be honest, therefore religion) that tragically came to an almost identical result as anything other than a moment of legal guilt.

This is a double standard, although perhaps we should fault the defense lawyer in the earlier case for not playing up the demands that Sikh culture (tied inextricably to religion) make of its adherents. Certainly the vast majority of Sikhs do not lead their lives believing that they must murder their daughter if she crosses them, just as most Christians don't. But to set the standard for one and not the other shows just how far we haven't come from our supposed Christianist past.

Secondly, and this I think is even more interesting, does the Donnelly decision crack open the door to show that religious belief is indeed a mental disorder? If your god tells you to shoot dead an abortion provider or to blow yourself up in order to kill a couple dozen children from a competing sect, how does this differ from your god telling you to kill your child? Not a new story, by the way, the bible having given credence to that demand before.

Honestly, though, this crack will only show itself to people already leaning that way. The rest will blithely carry on, and perhaps even accuse Satan of having suckered Donnelly into committing his horrendous crime.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

My Own List of 10 Things I've Done You Probably Haven't

John Scalzi has posted his own such list and it got me to thinking about whether or not I could come up with ten of my own. Let me take it for a spin here and see if I can manage:

1. Did a bungee jump backwards with a camera in my hand, taking self-portraits along the way.
2. Was a ball boy for a game involving Pele. He spoke to me, too ("Gimme the ball! Gimme the ball!").
3. Had drinks with the guy who co-wrote Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz."
4. Got lost in the Australian Outback.
5. Paddled a self-bailing inflatable raft over a ten-foot waterfall. And then went back for more.
6. Rolled my car 1.5X into a deep ditch at 90 km/h.
7. Had sun in my eyes wake me at 3am and crawled out of my tent to be greeted by the sight of a rare orchid.
8. Been propositioned by a female Burger King employee while in a police car at 1 in the morning.
9. Been "adopted" by US Marines and Navy personnel while they were on shore leave in Thailand.
10. Skydived as the sun set.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Sudden, Haunting Feeling of Mortality Sinks In

I decided to grow back my beard this winter, and as usual it came in easily. Not as usual, and probably not surprisingly, considering the state of my goatee and hair, it came in quite gray. No, actually it came in very gray.

And so yesterday we were out for the boys to get their hair cut, and Jo and I were sitting and waiting when a woman brought her 20-month-old child past our gauntlet (we were sitting across from each other in a smallish space) to see her daddy. I smiled at the girl but she balked, and so I laughed and said that I would turn and look the other way, which made her feel safe enough to walk on by.

None of this bothered me. What cut, just a little, was when the mother smiled and thanked me and told me I must be a father or a grandfather.

If you'll excuse me, I'm off now to get me a glass of Metamucil.


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