Jack Charles v the Crown: a theatre review

Jack Charles v the Crown: a theatre review

by

Howard Adelman

Currently, a series of Australian plays is being performed at the Berkeley Theatre by Canadian Stage called, “Spotlight Australia.” We saw the first in that series entitled “Jack Charles v the Crown.” It is rare, for it is an autobiographical play with Jack Charles as the sole performer and co-writer (the other co-writer is John Romeril). The play is directed by Rachael Maza who, in real life, is Jack’s niece. She grew up in the shadow of this talented Australian actor and performer. [Jack along with Rachael’s father established Australia’s first Aboriginal Theatre Company in Melbourne in 1972.] Rachael was the director of that marvellous Australian film, Rabbit Proof Fence. Jack Charles is an older aboriginal Australian who hails from Boon Wurrung, the territory in East Victoria stretching from the Werribee River to Wilson Promontory. The Boon Wurrung people make up one of the five Kulin nations.

“Nation,” not tribe, as I shall elaborate in a future blog, is the proper term for that people. As the governments and civil society entities of Western settler states came to realize and finally acknowledge, those states have been constructed on land once owned and governed by aboriginal peoples. At Massey College, where I am currently a Senior Fellow, events open with a tribute paid to the aboriginal people on whose lands Massey College was built. This ritual is becoming widespread. For example, after students stand for “O Canada” in Etobicoke schools in Toronto, a statement is read as follows:

“In keeping with Indigenous protocol, I would like to acknowledge this school is situated upon traditional territories. The territories include the Wendat, Anishinabek Nation, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations, and the Métis Nation.”

“The treaty was signed for the particular parcel of land that is collectively referred to as The First Purchase and applies to lands west of Brown’s Line to Burlington Bay and north to Eglinton Avenue.

“I also recognize the enduring presence of Aboriginal Peoples on this land.”

I first encountered this ritual in New Zealand. There, for example, at Massey University (35,000 students) in Palmerston in North New Zealand, the university is even given a Māori name, Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa. For years, all events have been introduced with a tribute to the Māori people, the previous owners of the land on which the university was built. The ritual is now becoming more widespread in Canada. I will have more to say about this ritual in tomorrow’s blog, but suffice it for now to state simply that ritual is not about any action that changes the world, but about acknowledging and recognizing the world we live in and offering a path to negotiate our existence in the world through a process of creating community. Rituals establish a shared community.

The play at the Berkeley Theatre also opened with such a tribute, the same one that is read at the opening of events at Massey College in Toronto.  In this case, the relevance cannot be missed. For the drama is a story told by an older victim of state-sponsored political abuse of aboriginal peoples. In this case, Jack Charles was snatched from his parents at the age of only three months to be “civilized” as an Australian in a residential school.

The results were otherwise. Jack was sexually and physically abused and the results of his isolation from his family and the abuse to which he was subjected wreaked havoc on his life. This part of his life is told as backdrop drawn from his documentary, Bastardy, in which pictures of his heroin habit and self-injection as an addict (toy-yon – it) and voiceovers of his criminal record of thieving (nyeelam-but pinbullally – bul) taken from court records are read as the court documents are projected onto the screen. Jack spent years in prison, (Baambuth – al), one time serving a five year stretch. Though that is the backstory, it is not what the play is primarily about.

Jack is a talented actor (djilak-djirri – dha Jack) and singer (yinga-dha koolin Jack) and the performance is accompanied by a three-piece trio as backup to Jack when he sings and plays his guitar. There is also a potter’s wheel on stage. For a good part of the drama, Jack is sitting at the potter’s wheel molding clay bowls (marnang-bul Jack) as he tells his story to the audience. Clay and its molding are openly symbolic as well as true to his life, for Jack taught pottery when he was in prison. And the play is about clay and how we are molded like clay by social institutions and our own will to survive and thrive. The play is primarily about Jack as a proud Kulin man (dullally koolin) ready not only to tell his story, but to confront the criminals who abused and jailed him.

This is done with such humour and irony that the juxtaposition of the entertainment and the horrific nature of the tale make the autobiographical account all the more powerful as Jack sings and tells his life story (dhumba – dha ba yinga-dha weegan-dha Jack). The play, if it is a play, for it is as much performance as a drama put on stage, reaches what I would characterize as its climax when Jack stands confronting his judges and asks, not for his redemption from his crimes and misdemeanours, but for the redemption of the people who did what they did to a young aboriginal child. This is all done in a speech that is without bitterness, a speech that in fact has all the formality and politeness of the culture of English courts, but said with both irony and playfulness, “warm of heart” and “sharp of wit” as Rachael notes in her catalogue notes.

Jack owns up to the fact that he was a heroin addict and a thief to service his addiction and is willing to take responsibility for the crimes he committed. He stole jewels and money. He is fully aware that, through his acts, he created a sense of intrusion among his victims. But the white system of laws and government stole much more people and lives. Our state trafficked in cultural genocide. Jack asks the judges whether they are willing to acknowledge and account for their sins. In the process, he compares black and white systems of justice.

When an aboriginal in his own community commits an offence, he is either banished from his people for a specific time or metaphorically wounded in the heel by a spear. But then, after being punished, he returns to the community with his dignity intact as a full-fledged member of the nation. In contrast, in white justice, the person is given a record that follows him for the rest of his life and affects whether he can be employed. In America, as documented in 13th, a person convicted is deprived of his right to vote as a citizen. Further, as Jack wryly notes, when he was about to travel to Britain to receive an award, the British immigration department, five days before he was scheduled to depart, turned his request for a visa down because he had a criminal record.

As Jack “tickles” the consciences and consciousness of the members of the audience, and avoids self-righteous ranting and berating, the very performance becomes an act of redemption so appropriate for the Passover/Easter period. The result is not only the strengthening of the aboriginal community, but through empathy, strengthening the community of aboriginal and non-aboriginal community members as well as “the ties that bind” all of humanity as the play is given a world audience.

It is hard to convey how powerful the play is with a total absence of self-pity. Self-pity is the dark side of sincerity and this drama avoids that pitfall totally. Instead of self-righteousness, the drama offers a source for us to reflect upon and determine how we ought to act as Jack asks the judges, not so much to pardon and set aside his sentences, but to acknowledge their own part in a criminal activity and to themselves seek redemption.

The play is more than a dramatization of a personal life, for it is a parable about the backs upon which modernity was developed and the absences from cognition, from acknowledgement, from recognition, to the presence of ever larger senses of community which at the apex recognize that we are all part of the same humanity. This is not simply a story about extreme abuse and suffering, but it tells a story about the costs of modernity that both stresses and facilitates redemption.

How appropriate to stress the performative, not as a sound bite or a thoughtless tweet, but as a repetitive act each evening to allow us all to become batter and part of a much-improved world more conscious of our common humanity. For our aboriginal peoples may have been among the groups most negatively affected by the process of modernity, but to a lesser degree victimization goes much further. We have transformed our world into a hyper-technical system without any grounding in redemption. Entertainment and performance have, in good part, become part of a system for abusing respect for sincerity, for truth and for others. Sea levels may be rising but see-levels have been declining precipitously. The liberal imagination may have delivered us a powerful foundation for individual freedom, but it has also come at a great cost that has left individuals increasingly isolated without sovereignty over themselves and the ability to determine their own destinies. Humans around the world, increasingly left to fend for themselves, provide a terrific opportunity for slippery soap salesmen to sell a fraudulent bill of political goods.

Thus, although Jack committed crimes, he was the greatest victim by far of his felonies, even as he openly acknowledged the discomfort, the sense of personal invasion, that robbery and theft of personal belongings instill. Though Jack’s survival never seemed to be in danger, his sanity was. Nothing came easy. He suffered from PTSD in the worst way. One song he performed was “No Son of Mine” that begins:

Well the key to my survival
was never in much doubt
the question was how I could keep sane
trying to find a way out.

Things were never easy for me
peace of mind was hard to find
and I needed a place where I could hide
somewhere I could call mine

I didn’t think much about it
til it started happening all the time
soon I was living with the fear everyday
of what might happen that night.

Though he once hid in booze and heroin, the play ends with a degree of recognition about society. Jack Charles sings, “Love Letters in the Sand.”

On a day like today
We passed the time away
Writing love letters in the sand

How you laughed when I cried
Each time I saw the tide
Take our love letters from the sand

Chorus
You made a vow that you would ever be true
But somehow that vow meant nothing to you

Now my broken heart aches
With every wave that breaks
Over love letters in the sand

Now my broken heart aches
With every wave that breaks
Over love letters in the sand.

Jack Charles lived a life of promises that had as much sincerity, depth and permanence as letters written in the sand. He grew up with a broken heart and a shattered soul. Yet he redeemed himself through performance and theatre making it possible for us to be redeemed as well.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Impressions of the Mike Pence/Tim Kaine Debate

Impressions of the Mike Pence/Tim Kaine Debate

by

Howard Adelman

Can you stand another missive from an American presidential race junkie? I watched the Mike Pence/Tim Kaine debate last evening. My general take was that Mike Pence won on style and Tim Kaine won on substance. But it wasn’t much of a victory from either side. The Pence strategy simply worked better because throughout he remained on message and was unflappable under attack. When Mike was clutched in the corner and the jabs kept coming at Pence’s waist, Mike pivoted very well by often throwing his presidential candidate, Trump, under the bus. Tim Kaine, on the other hand, threw himself under the bus for Hillary.

Kaine was mediocre to poor as an attack dog, interrupting too often at the beginning, repeating points too many times – on Donald Trump’s taxes – and took too long to find his stride and let the true Tim Kaine emerge – the nice polite guy with excellent principles and a substantive record. He had the opposite trajectory to Donald Trump in the latter’s first debate with Hillary; he improved enormously, with some fallbacks, as the debate wore on. Mike Pence, on the other hand, always remained smooth and unruffled, but in the last one-third began to reveal himself as a self-righteous moralistic schoolmarm rather than a politician capable of empathy and compromise.

As an aside, I thought that Elaine Quijano has been the best moderator if the three occasions are compared – last night’s debate with the presidential debate and the previous occasion when Trump and Hillary were on the same stage but were not debating. On the other hand, in spite of generally being an improvement, Elaine did not fact check, did not prevent the debaters from running on well over time, especially Mike Pence, allowed total pivoting away from her excellent questions and allowed far too much crosstalk that almost made it impossible to follow the discussion. Clearly, moderators are harpooned if they stand too far back and allow the debaters to confront one another but might be doubly harpooned if they actually tried to referee the debate, holding each of the candidates responsible when they lied and delivered low blows.

Most of all, I thought Tim Kaine missed a number of opportunities to undermine Mike Pence as he clearly delivered his over-rehearsed punch lines in executing the Democratic Party strategy decision to focus almost exclusively on Trump and letting Pence off the hook on a number of issues. Let me illustrate with the issues where he pinned Mike Pence on the ropes. Kaine did it best on the issue of abortion and, in the process, linked Trump with Pence’s reactionary policies. As Tim pointed out clearly and unequivocally, both he and Hillary were pro-choice candidates, even though he personally was a believing and practicing Catholic who was against abortion. Mike Pence, on the other hand, not only admitted but defended his belief (and Donald’s) that the state should interfere in the wombs of women who get pregnant and not only would not provide medical insurance for abortions, but prosecute women who sought an abortion. Kaine alluded to but did not exploit the fact that, as governor of Indiana, Pence signed a law this year which obligated women to have funerals or cremation for aborted foetuses. As well as he did, I thought Tim missed an opportunity to highlight this issue more, but it is easy enough for spectators to second guess political candidates.

I thought Mike’s honesty and critical self-reflection came through best when he was asked about his most difficult choice when he had been governor of Virginia. He opposed the death penalty, as did his church, but the laws of Virginia mandated the death penalty. So when he could find no extenuating circumstances to remit the death penalty in a specific case, he allowed the execution to go ahead. Mike Pence, in contrast, seemed to pretend he was humble and torn in a case of justice, but came across as disingenuous. After all, he was not torn at all when he said, “I support the death penalty.”

At the end of September, Mike Pence stated that he would refuse to pardon Keith Cooper who had served 10 years of a 40-year sentence after eye witnesses recanted their testimony and there was proof that there was no Cooper DNA at the crime scene. Pence took this stand in spite of the unanimous recommendation of the Indiana parole board. Why? Because this wrongly accused and convicted man, in his view, had a duty, not only to prove he was innocent, but had to, at great personal expense, exhaust all other remedies before Governor Mike Pence would consider a pardon request. However, for legal reasons that sped up his release from jail, Cooper could not use the courts to win a pardon. Cooper was caught in a Cath-22 of Mike Pence’s making. Therefore, a felony conviction, remains on record limiting Cooper’s job prospects.

Where government financial relief should have been immediately forthcoming for the wrongfully convicted, Mike Pence threw this innocent man under the bus once again as he often did to Donald Trump in the debate. Mike Pence appears on the surface as a Trump loyalist, but Trump demands absolute loyalty and there is no sign that Mike Pence is willing to go down in flames with Donald Trump and instead is focused on his own campaign to be the Republican candidate for president in 2020.

There was a good debate on the justice system and policing in general, but the two explicitly differed on stop and frisk, a policy which Trump also promotes. Tim Kaine missed an opportunity to push Mike Pence on this issue. It was on the justice system issue on which Mike Pence appeared to be most self-reflective, but why did Tim Kaine not puncture Mike’s righteousness by pointing out how Pence as governor of Indiana refused to pardon an innocent man after he had unjustly been incarcerated for 10 years?

What was lost in the debate, except on the abortion issue, was the fact that Mike Pence is a religious troglodyte. He is homophobic and anti-LGBT, arguing not that a governor is there to enforce the law of the land, but to enforce his own personal moral code whatever the law. So he defended a bill to protect civil servants who, as a matter of conscience, refused to deliver state services in Indiana to same-sex couples. Can you imagine that if he happened to be a racist or anti-Semitic, he would defend the right of civil servants of the state to ignore their legal obligations and not provide services to Blacks or Jews if those acts assailed their consciences. But, of course, in Pence’s mind, being homophobic is ok, but anti-Semitism and racism are not.

Tim Kaine could have pointed out how such a stance was so antithetical to the American constitution in a much clearer and more forceful way if he was not determined to keep on script and focus almost exclusively on attacking Trump. So he also omitted to point out how Mike Pence’s policies led to declines in tourism, in cancellation of conventions in the state, a state that may have balanced its budget under his governorship, but a state which also ranked lowest in economic growth in the Midwest, a state where average wages dropped from $53,500 in 2000 to $46,900 in 2015. No wonder that he and Trump believe the economy has been driven into the ground. In Indiana, Pence’s trickle-down economics which he shares with Donald Trump, was a major contributor to that effect. Tim Kaine could have skewered Mike Pence on this specifically instead of just reiterating general criticisms of trickle-down economics. Kaine did succeed in pointing out repeatedly that Trump’s tax policies would benefit the rich like himself and punish the middle class, and at the same time, would add far more to the national debt that any of Hillary Clinton’s policies would.

Two other areas in which Mike Pence was very weak and got off the hook were issues on which Tim Kaine could have pierced both Pence and Trump with the same thrust. Both the Republican presidential and vice-presidential candidate do not, at heart, believe in science. Trump focuses on climate change as a liberal myth while Pence argues that climate has changed as a result of human activity. Tim Kaine could have had Mike Pence throw his boss under the bus on this as well as on the six issues in which he did. On the other hand, Tim Kaine could have gored Mike Pence on his stand on cigarette smoking while also revealing that he had been in the economic pocket of the tobacco industry from which he has received over $100,000 in campaign donations.

After all, did Pence not write an op-ed that said, “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill”? After all, “9 out of 10 smokers” he insisted, “do not get cancer.” In fact, the correlation is the exact reverse – in cases of lung cancer death, the death of 9 out of 10 men and women is caused by cigarette smoking. Smoking kills almost half a million Americans each year. SMOKING DOES KILL. Has Pence not consistently opposed legislation to retard tobacco use, even opposing an agreement to which the tobacco industry had signed on in a suit with opponents of big tobacco? Mike Pence said it was more government regulation and Tim Kaine missed an opportunity to impale Pence’s cool but rigidly Republican anti-regulation dogmas.

But what about the big issues like immigration, foreign and economic policy? On the latter, I have already referred to the fallacies of trickle-down economics which Tim Kaine pointed out, but without pinning the specific tail on Pence as the donkey. On foreign policy, Kaine held his own on getting rid of Iran’s nuclear stockpile, on Hillary’s dealings with Russia, on Hillary’s Middle East policies. But he repeated over and over again Trump’s possible ties to Russian economic interests. The issue is not, however, as Eric Trump pretended it was, Trump’s investments in Russia, but Russian oligarch loans to the Trump organization. Kaine focused on Trump’s and Pence’s praise for Putin as a strong leader contending that if Pence did not know the difference between good leadership and dictatorship, he was wearing blinkers. But on this issue, both Trump and Pence said that Putin was a strong, not a good, leader, so Kaine’s jabs missed their target even as Pence denied he (and Trump) explicitly admired Putin as a leader when both unequivocally did. Because Trump and Pence both believe in strong, not good leadership – and many Americans for some reason seem to be longing for a Turkey-like, for a Philippines-like – you name the country – for we are in an era where disastrous strong leaders but not good leaders are everywhere.

The exchange went as follows:
PENCE: “That is absolutely inaccurate. I said he’s been stronger on the world stage.”
KAINE: “No, you said leader.”
And Kaine was absolutely correct.

Mike Pence clearly came out as a hawk on Syria. but Kaine failed to explore the huge gap between the policies he advocated and the very restricted foreign policy involvement of Donald Trump, his boss.

Tim Laine did point out that Pence’s policies differed radically from Trump’s on six other different issues, but the format of the debate prevented him from expanding on that observation in any detail. After all, Pence may be ardently anti-abortion, but unlike Trump who has been pro-abortion and then converted to support the so-called pro-life position to advance his presidential candidacy, Pence does not come across as Trump does as guilty of misogyny. Pence refused to grab the bait and try to defend Trump’s absolutely scurrilous remarks on women. Kaine could also have pointed out that Trump’s misogyny extends to men who change diapers, for Trump openly mocked such behaviour by men.

Going to another aspect of foreign policy, Pence insisted it was Hillary’s fault in letting Russia get away with the invasion of Georgia and Kaine’s epée slipped off its mark when he correctly said that Russia’s invasion of Georgia took place in August 2008 under Dubbya Bush’s administration when Obama was running for president, but had not yet become president and had not yet named Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. But Kaine did not push back strongly on this issue. Kaine also did not point out how the Obama administration has rolled back ISIS significantly without the commitment of large numbers of American boots on the ground, but for some reason or other – and I cannot figure out why – Kaine’s defence of the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the failure to conclude a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government did not seem to register or disclose how badly Pence was misconstruing what had taken place.

On immigration, Pence managed to pivot away and obscure in a cloud of rhetoric Trump’s repeated assurances that he will deport not only 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., but 4.5 million native-born Americans whose parents were illegals. Pence managed that, not only by shifting from Trump’s revisionism that this is but the final stage of a longer term program, by simply wiping such a policy out of the discussion by side-stepping the attack. In another case of such deftness on the part of Pence, when Kaine repeatedly challenged Pence to defend Donald Trump’s not only abandonment of nuclear proliferation but its promotion, Pence simply lied and said that Trump never said that.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ignored. Turkey was ignored. Egypt was ignored. North Korea was brought up and Pence seemed to favour an attack, as did Kaine as well. But on this very important issue, they both came across as much more hawkish than Trump as well as Obama. I could go on. I generally appreciated the debate much more than the presidential encounter for it was far more serious, but the Democrats will have to sharpen their game strategy much further if Trump learns from his first debate failures and the way Mike Pence handled himself.

Making of a Murderer

To Be Accused Is To Be Condemned:

Making of a Murderer: a TV Series Review

by

Howard Adelman

This ten-part series (about ten hours; a distillation from almost 700 hours of videotape) first appeared on Netflix the week before Christmas. Netflix has posted all ten episodes of the series so you can binge watch it. We did so over two nights. This is a must see series. It is absolutely extraordinary! I never saw either Jinx or heard Serial, two crime dramas that preceded Making of a Murderer (MofM), but, not to make too fine a point about it, this series is much more of a courtroom drama about truth and justice rather than the actual commission of a crime. I suggest it is not a crime series as conventionally understood because there is never any exploration of the life of the victim and how a crime was committed, just the presentation of the evidence how two persons were convicted of a crime of rape and murder.

What is really on trial for the two documentalists, Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos, who collected and videotaped footage over ten years, is the justice system itself. Though there is some genuflecting to the possibility that the accused are actually guilty, almost all the evidence assembled and edited in the documentary point to a justice system that is on trial. This is accomplished by means of videotaping, acquiring actual videotapes of courtroom scenes and of interrogation sessions, editing and producing an outstanding piece of work. DO NOT watch it over ten weeks. Your stomach cannot endure such pain. Prepare to binge over two or three nights. It is more than worth it.

But first let me confess a bias. I begin, not with the series, but with an incident in the life of my family. The day after one Halloween when one of my sons was fourteen, he was arrested, handcuffed, taken to a police station for interrogation all night and then charged the next day with assault and robbery. We got him out on bail. He was accused of assaulting a boy his own age and stealing his candy.

My son knew the accuser. They had been together in grade school and had a fight about two years earlier. They had not been in contact for the last two years. The boy identified my son as the one who assaulted him. Though the description fit how my son looked two years earlier when he had been much shorter, the description of his height and haircut in no way resembled my son of the night of the alleged assault. But we only had access to that material much later in the proceedings of discovery. Further, my son had been wearing a costume that evening that did not resemble in any way the costume described by the accuser. Finally, my son had five witnesses, boys he was with who could and would testify that my son was nine blocks from the location of the alleged offence. But the police laid the charges without attending to the contradictions between the description of the alleged assailant and my son, without interviewing the boys who could testify that my son was nowhere near the scene of the alleged attack, and without even asking to see the costume my son had worn on Halloween night.

Several weeks later, the accuser was confronted by another friend of my son and the accuser confessed to him that he did not really know whether it was my son who assaulted him but he would not go to the police to tell that lest he get in trouble. Ten months later, four hearings later, and $10,000 in lawyer’s fees later, just before going to trial, the prosecution decided to withdraw the charges. There was never an apology for the false arrest. There was never an explanation of why the police charged my son when the description bore no resemblance to my son on the evening of the alleged assault. When we discussed with the defence attorney we had hired whether we should take the police to court for false arrest, we were advised to just forget it. Otherwise, we would bring our family into the headlights of the police and what could or possibly might follow was unpredictable.

What was lost that night and the following year by the accusation was not my son’s reputation. No one we knew gave any credence to the charges even before we ever heard the description of the alleged assailant given by the accuser to the police that never came close to matching that of my son. The casualties of those events were the psychological effect the whole episode had on my son and our whole family. Much more serious, we lost trust in the professionalism of either the police and, to a small degree, the court system. And, in contrast to what happens in this documentary, the charges against my son were dropped.

What happens to you if you spend eighteen years in prison until evidence finally emerges that pointed to another individual and completely exonerates you? What is worse, what happens when you launch a lawsuit against the police (in Wisconsin, it was the office of the sheriff) and the county for false arrest and imprisonment for $36 million? What happens when, three days after the initial depositions are heard in the suit, the very person who was exonerated, the very person who brought forth the suit, is arrested again and this time charged not only with rape but also with murder?

It is the initial exoneration and then the subsequent charges and court cases that are put in the eye of the camera. In this documentary, except when reporters are asking questions of the attorneys from both sides, the news reporters with their video-cameras are not treated very sympathetically much of the time. They are often portrayed as rude, insensitive and intrusive. In contrast, the filmmakers are of a totally different breed. In this documentary, the video is never staged. It never seems truncated to the size of a sound bite. The filmmakers never intrude. Their perspective comes across clearly and unequivocally through the editing.

Is the documentary biased? As structured, it reveals a police investigatory process in Manitowoc County in Wisconsin that is inadequate and incompetent. It reveals a legal system dedicated to getting a conviction and neither truth nor justice. It reveals a class system in which the good burghers of the town coalesce and effectively try, not just one person, or one person and his nephew, but a whole family from the other side of the tracks who speak and have a very inadequate comprehension of the English language. “They said what one the defendants said was inconsistent. What does that mean?” the son asks his mother.” “I dunno,” she replies.

The average viewer will become enraged watching the documentary. It is hard to imagine obtaining a conviction on the basis of such flimsy and very flawed evidence. It is hard to understand, not intellectually, but in reality, how the judge could have made many of the rulings that he did. It is hard to imagine the state-provided public defence attorney and an investigator who are so deeply in collusion, not necessarily overtly, with s determination to convict the accused rather than provide the best defence possible. However, it is not hard to imagine a system where the presumption of innocence is so easily discarded like the wrecked automobiles in the Avery Auto Body yard that plays such a prominent part in the documentary. Most of all, it is hard to understand why, after convicting someone for what he did not do and then exonerating him, trying him for another crime and then sending him back to prison without arousing significant suspicion about a miscarriage of justice in the second trial by the legislative authorities and those in charge of the system of justice.

In the court of public opinion, the whole system of justice in Wisconsin is put on trial. That system does not have a defence attorney. That system is not given the opportunity to examine and rebut the overwhelming evidence, mostly coming out of the mouths of those purportedly dedicated to defending the system as much if not more than prosecuting criminals. For it is their own words, the words of those in charge of the system itself, that indict that system. So in this trial by public opinion as viewed through the eyes of the filmmakers, we could be watching a total distortion, an exoneration through the process of film selection and editing. But according to the filmmakers, those who seemed to fail the system so badly, or, perhaps, and much more seriously, to serve a questionable system so well, were invited for interviews but declined.

There is a distinct possibility that the representatives of law enforcement and of the formal court system have been subjected to an unfair trial in the realm of wider public opinion. However, given the exposure to a fraction of what actually occurred in the investigation and the court case, the members of the sheriff’s office, the members of the district attorney’s office, especially the district attorney himself, in spite of their cool and collected presentations, or, perhaps because of them, come across as guilty as hell, guilty of incompetence, unfairness, tunnel vision and, one suspects, possibly much more.

The heroes are the different members of the subsequent defence teams, not because they win in the courtroom, but because of the way they conduct themselves. This is documentary, not a docudrama. I have never seen anything like it before as we watch everyone age over the ten years. Characters disappear from the narrative, but one understands taking flight from a system where there are so few real defences.

Over the holidays, we were invited to the house of a friend. There was a man at the table where I was having soup that was opining on how the Syrian refugees would arrive and kill Canadians, on how all Muslims cannot be trusted. Venom and hatred spewed forth from this man. When asked questions, he offered no evidence for what he said. He knew. Donald Trump was his hero. Because Trump pointed out what was true. Refugees were not his only target. Climate change exponents were accused of being a total fraud perpetrated because scientists were only interested in padding their own pockets. A medical doctor seemed to agree with this opinionated, ignorant and very rude man.

I left the event with a horrible taste in my mouth. Because the documentary we were watching was not just about the specifics of one case. The documentary seemed to be about how those presumably in charge of fairness and reasonable detachment, of justice and truth, have been part of a process now dedicated to the denial of truth and the subversion of justice. The infection of the supremacy of dogmatic conviction over impartiality, of intolerance over compassion, is much more widespread than suggested by the documentary. Otherwise, how does one explain Donald Trump becoming the leading contender of the Republican Party?

I fear we are in an era somehow much worse than the McCarthy period. I fear we are in an era where educated people, where supposedly trained professionals, not only abuse the oaths they were sworn to uphold, but do so with a righteousness and a hypocritical mien that belies who they are. In the documentary, just watch the statements of the very clean cut brother of the victim who was horribly killed and her body mutilated. He absolutely trusts the system. He absolutely trusts the prosecution. He absolutely trusts the officers in the sheriff’s department.

If this film has significantly distorted what happened – and we are bound to hear much more on this – then the filmmakers should be charged with a hate crime, for it is hard not to end up totally disgusted and upset with the upright burghers of Manitowoc County Wisconsin, with the establishment in charge of the police work, with the courts, with the purported system of justice in this part of the United States, with the way so-called “white trash” are treated in a way that you believed was totally unjustly reserved for parts of the Black community in some areas of the United States.

The undisputed facts are that:

  • Steve Avery was charged with the crime of rape and served eighteen years in prison for a crime which he clearly and unequivocally did not commit, but from the evidence of some people in the justice system, they were unconvinced that they had the wrong man even though he was totally exonerated
  • Teresa Halbach who was supposedly brutally raped but without doubt murdered and her body burned, but was it really burned twenty feet from Steve Avery’s bedroom or did that occur elsewhere and the bone fragments transported to the fire pit?
  • Teresa Halbach’s car was found on the Avery lot, not crushed in the autocrusher machine, but intact behind some branches that did more to draw suspicion to the car than hide it
  • Brendan Dassey, Steve Avery’s nephew, had an IQ of 69, a mental age of a fourth year grade school pupil when he was in high school, and was not initially assigned an attorney dedicated to providing the best defence he could
  • Barb Tadych, Stephen Avery’s sister, who for a short period turns against her brother, but proves in the end to be a steadfast good and dedicated mother and sister
  • Allan and Delores Avery, Steve Avery’s long-suffering parents and the grandparents of Brendan Dassey, who are always steadfast, but whose lives are ruined by the whole process

This amazing documentary is a paean to criminal defence attorneys the world over, except for Len Kachinsky who comes across as an absolute sleaze ball with a supercilious and totally inappropriate laugh. Dean Strang and Jerry Buting, the two lawyers for Steve Avery, are presented as modest and highly professional heroes. So are the post-conviction lawyers. But the hero of the whole documentary is Steve Avery himself, the Job of the story, not an upright man who has suffered when “he di’n do nothin,” but just a young man with poor judgement and a more mature man able to keep his spirits up through a whole ordeal that would break most of us.

Other than Len Kachinsky, the biggest villain is Ken Kratz, the special prosecutor and district attorney for Calumet County, Wisconsin, who displaces Denis Vogel the original Manitowoc County District Attorney who prosecuted Steve Avery in the original miscarriage of justice. The prosecutors are followed closely by Judge Patrick Willis who was the trial judge in both the Steve Avery and Brendan Dassey trials. Perhaps, in the lineup of villains, the judge stood behind James Lenk and Andrew Colborn, respectively a Lieutenant and Sergeant with the Manitowoc County Sheriff’s Department, Tom Fassbinder, an investigator with the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation, and Mark Wiegart, a Sergeant with the Calumet County’s Sheriff’s Department. The latter two were perhaps only doing well what they were trained to do, but the documentary raises very serious questions about that training, for that form of education perhaps serves to obtain a conviction, but leaves little room for considerations of fairness, justice and a respect for truth and the importance of attempting to falsify one’s own beliefs if one is truly following the protocols of establishing evidence in either ordinary life or in science.

It is hard to see how the Manitowoc legal system will be able to recover from the indictment in this documentary. We will have to watch for the counter-attack to determine the fairness and truth-value of the documentary itself.

Survival and Slavery: Behar-Bechukotai – Leviticus 25:1-27:34.05.05.13

Survival and Slavery: Behar-Bechukotai – Leviticus 25:1-27:34 05.05.13

by

Howard Adelman

It is Sunday, May 5th. This parsha should have been sent out on Friday, May 3rd. However, Friday was a gorgeous day in Toronto with the sky clear and temperatures in the twenties centigrade. When I failed to complete the blog in the early morning, I was doomed. For after a long winter, there was so much clean up work to do outside. The day was so beautiful, that it was six o’clock and I had not even noticed the time fly. Such are the seductions of sun and sky and warmth, especially after the deprivations of a long and harsh winter. Maybe the experience is relevant to today’s subject matter – giving in to the seductions of slavery to the Ba’al Hadad, the lord or master in heaven who rules over the assembly of all the other natural deities or spirits. Today, Sunday, has been as beautiful a day as Friday and Ba’al no less enticing.

This section of Leviticus that was read yesterday in synagogue is largely about the jubilee year, the second sabbatical year after seven, that is, every 50 years. A number of principles of business ethics are set forth, largely a tribal rather than a universal ethic as when 24:14 advises: “when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, you shall not wrong one another.” It even has a strange formula on the price you should pay for a crop depending on the length of time between jubilee years. “The more [the remaining] years, you shall increase its purchase [price], and the fewer the [remaining] years, you shall decrease its purchase [price], because he is selling you a number of crops.” (24:16) Moral norms and not the invisible hand of the market were major factors in determining prices.

Beyond these admonitions to be fair, never wrong a fellow Jew and consideration for the destitute, what I find most interesting are the commandments concerning slavery in chapter 25. There are four kinds of slaves:
a) Jewish slaves of Jews;
b) Jewish slaves of non-Jews;
c) non-Jewish slaves of Jews;
d) non-Jewish slaves of non-Jews.
There are no prescriptions for the fourth category, reinforcing the principle that these ethical norms are tribal or national rather than universal.

Further, how you handle each of the first three categories reinforces this perspective. Jewish slaves of Jews have to be freed by the Jubilee year – or, according to Deuteronomy, in a sabbatical year. During the period of ownership, Jewish slaves cannot be worked with rigour. (25:46) Thirdly, there is no provision for making the children of Jewish slaves your slaves or bequeathing Jewish slaves as part of your inheritance to your children. In contrast, chapter 25 reads:
44. Your male slave or female slave whom you may have from the nations that are around you, from them you may acquire a male slave or a female slave.
45. And also from the children of the residents that live among you, from them you may acquire [slaves] and from their family that is with you whom they begot in your land, and they shall become your inheritance.
46. You shall hold onto them as an inheritance for your children after you, as acquired property, and may thus have them serve you forever. But as for your brethren, the children of Israel, a man shall not work his brother with rigor.

Jews have a duty to redeem other Jews from slavery to non-Jews. They have no such obligations to non-Jewish slaves of non-Jews. Further, their own non-Jewish slaves are an inheritance for their children. Jewish slaves have to be freed. The children of non-Jewish slaves become your indentured servants. These strictures vary between Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy and are quite different than the provisions of the Talmud which offers universal norms governing the treatment of any slave. But this is not a Talmudic but a Torah commentary, and only very incidentally a comparative Torah study.

How do slaves become slaves? They are captured in war. Or they are indigent and enter into slavery so they will not die. Or they enter into slavery to satisfy a debt. Slavery is a product of economic or physical coercion. Bondage to another is slavery. On the other hand, bondage to the Lord and God of the Israelites is chosen by a free person, by someone who stands upright and was freed by the Lord their God from slavery to a human master in Egypt. But is the contrast between the two forms of bondage so clear?

Certainly, if the Israelites obey God, keep shabat, follow His commandments, do not worship idols and make God a centre of their lives, they will be rewarded with prosperous, secure and healthy lives with productive farms and freed from the scourge of their enemies. But, as chapter 26 makes abundantly clear, if the Israelites fail to let God live in their midst and if they break His commandments, then they will suffer from all manner of physical and psychological diseases, from tuberculosis to depression. Their enemies will smite them, wild animals will attack them, their livestock will die and their land will yield no crops. Buildings will collapse around them, the cities laid waste and the Israelites will be scattered among the nations. They will live in paranoid fear frightened even by the shaking of a leaf. If that were not enough, they will become cannibals and devour their own children.

It is a choice without an option. Israelites can either live as free men with secure and prosperous lives in bondage to their Lord or be destroyed as a nation and as healthy individuals. Slavery to another offers no positive inducements except survival. Bondage to the Lord freely undertaken offers enormous benefits. Not making that choice offers consequences far more dire than simply being enslaved by another human being.

It is important to link the bondage to the Lord in contrast to the bondage to other human beings to make clear that they are both forms of bondage, but with radically different outcomes. Further, the connection is important to discard all the Torah apologetics that, in the desire to portray Judaism as enlightened, want to rationalize slavery either as a concession to surrounding society until the ideal of emancipation could be realized while trying to be humane and limiting its injustices, or as a form of witnessing to a higher standard of ethical practice while engaged in slavery. The rationalizations are just so much hogwash. Jewish provisions for slavery may have been doctrinally much more moderate, but in behavioural terms, the treatment offered was just one variation among a wide spectrum of practices without any evidence that they offered the most enlightened form of servitude. Certainly Jews treated non-Jewish slaves somewhat differently for they were partially converted and, if freed by various routes, they could join the Jewish community as full citizens. Further, slaves could marry their masters. Ancient slavery, whether of Jews or non-Jews, was not based on a somatic racist presumption.

There were, nevertheless, other principles and conceptions that undermined the possibility of manumission than a somatic racist conception. Though Plato also did not have a racist view, and though slavery was a side consideration in his concerns, nevertheless, Plato depicted slavery as an intellectual deficiency. Slaves, in Gregory Vlastos’ depiction of Plato’s views, suffered from a deficiency of logos. A slave could comprehend and understand but only had doxa. Therefore, it was useless to reason with a slave. You merely issued orders and did not “spoil” them by admonitions or explanations. They were to be motivated by rewards and punishments, fair ones in each case, but through external pressures rather the any internal intellectual cultivation or intercourse.

This is not the view in Leviticus. Slaves from the surrounding tribes of Canaanites, even though treated differently than Jewish slaves, were regarded as fully human. They were not defined as inferior forms of being. Their situations, not their character as humans, differed. Aristotle, however he differed with Plato, and however more articulate his view of slaves, had a similar doctrine. In Book I, chapters ii-vii of his Politics and in Book VII of Nichomachean Ethics, slaves are depicted as slaves by nature fit only to be ruled and not rule. As men are to animals, so Greeks are towards Barbarians, those fit to rule and those fit to be ruled. Aristotle offered a more encompassing doctrine of slavery than simply a rule of treatment for those found to be slaves. The natural character of slaves determines their condition and not just their treatment. So obtaining a slave through war or economic destitution of the slave is not what provides any entitlement to own a slave. Rather, the relationship of the master to the slave is blamed on the nature of the slave.

In the second century BC, Cato the Elder offered a manual for how Romans should treat their slaves who probably constituted 30% of the population, a ratio akin to that of the upper south, such as the Virginias and the Carolinas, at the time of the American Civil War. They were to be given adequate provisions and clothing and drink to sustain life but not enough to support a family or to facilitate their reproduction, a situation very different from that described in Leviticus. On the other hand, Seneca, the Stoic, offered a perspective more akin to that of the ancient Israelites but even more “enlightened”. He not only considered slaves and free Romans to be equally human, but entitled to equal treatment. For all men, including Romans, were slaves. In Letter 47 to Lucilius, he wrote: “I am glad to learn…that you live on friendly terms with your slaves. This befits a sensible and well-educated man like yourself. ‘They are slaves,’ people declare. Nay, rather they are men. ‘Slaves!’ No, comrades. ‘Slaves!’ No, they are unpretentious friends. ‘Slaves!’ No, they are our fellow-slaves, if one reflects that Fortune has equal rights over slaves and free men alike. (my italics) That is why I smile at those who think it degrading for a man to dine with his slave.”
If we compare the position of Jews as slaves in Egypt to the position of Canaanite slaves in the Jewish community to the treatment by Jews of slaves in different parts of the modern world, we will perhaps understand the laws and ethical norms governing the ancient Israelites in a somewhat clearer light. For example, whereas slavery was very marginal to the economic life of American northerners in the nineteenth century who lived in a very racist society, it was not marginal to the Israelites but an integral part of their society.

In the Torah, 600,000 male heads of households purportedly conquered Canaan. For many, that figure seems implausible given that so many died of the plague before reaching the promised land and also contradicts other data, such as the actual census of first born and the number of men fit to do battle – about 40,000 according to Joshua (4:13). According to some commentators, the figure was only 600,000 if you count souls and not living men and include all the ancestors counting back to Abraham. The number of living returnees, including women and children, was likely about 120,000 rather than several million. On the other hand, if 600,000 represents all the living Israelites at the time of Exodus and, approximately the same number when they enter Canaan, then there were about 75,000 who could fight in battle but still not 600,000.

Whatever the absolute number, the Israelites outnumbered each of the Canaanite tribes including the Amorites, Hittites, Girgashites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites who, only when allied together, were larger than the numbers of Israelites. (Deuteronomy 7:1) The Israelites were in the same position as the Egyptians at the time of Exodus. Just as the tribes of Israel demographically threatened the Egyptians, the population indigenous to Canaan at the time the Israelites returned to the land threatened the population of Israelites, a situation not too dissimilar to the situation in Israel/Palestine/Jordan today.

If we compare the situation of the ratio of whites to black slaves in the early nineteenth century, the only equivalent to the situation of the Israelites, who can barely hold their own in numbers to the surrounding population, is the situation in the deep southern United States on the eve of the Civil War where the ratio of whites to blacks was about 56% to 44%. In the upper south, Blacks made up about 24% of the population while in the rest of the United States, Blacks were a relatively small minority. In contrast, in most of the Caribbean, Blacks constituted a vast majority. In Brazil, Blacks were a minority and did not threaten the white domination of the country.

Though there was a demographic battle for supremacy after the return of the Israelites to Canaan, akin to the demographic battle in the southern United States, the battle was exacerbated by the strict requirements of what was needed to keep the Israelites versus the southern whites united. In the latter case, it was race and the one drop rule. If you were part Black genetically, you were fully Black socially. The Whites only managed to keep their superior standing by huge efforts of oppression to keep family formation among Blacks very limited. In ancient Israel, the Israelites also cohabited with the local Canaanites and often took Canaanite wives. But the differences were not racial and Canaanites could become Israelites and Israelites intermarried and became Canaanites. Benjamites seemed to be the exception for they were not only the most formidable fighting force among the twelve tribes, but also the most inhospitable and insular tribe wary of intermarriage not only with Canaanites but even with members of the other Hebrew tribes until they were decimated in the civil war against the rest of the Israelites and forced to take non-Israelite wives.

Recall that Judges 3.5-3.7 reads:
5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 6 They took the Canaanites’ daughters as wives and gave their daughters to the Canaanites; they worshiped their gods as well. 7 The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. They forgot the Lord their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs.

Integration and assimilation are not values held to be worthy. Quite the reverse, they are the dangers. In modern Israel, the danger of intermarriage with the competing population of Palestinians is minimized by ideological politics and religious affiliation rather than by race. Further, the only demographic group that exceeds the rate of reproduction of the Palestinians is that group which is most inhospitable to integration and intermarriage – the ultra-orthodox.

So if you do not decimate the surrounding population and do not engage in ethnic cleansing, and if you do not choose to oppress them in other ways by limiting their ability to procreate, then that surrounding population will pose a demographic danger, especially if your group is the superior and more powerful group but allows extensive intermarriage, then your inherited group faces an existential danger. The standard laws of sociological behaviour will come into play as outward intermarriage by the downwardly mobile will exceed in-migration by the upwardly mobile. More and more members of your group will either adhere to the cultural practices of the competing group or, at the very least, lose the strength of the adherence to their own precepts which provided unity and strength for the dominant group. It is the law of revenge of the bondsmen against their masters. The more you succeed in mastering the norms of the dominant culture, the more you endanger the particularist norms of your sub-culture.

What are the choices? You can try to remain insular and ill-disposed to even co-habiting with those less rigid in their methods of group survival. You can focus on both reproduction and physical strength, which is what the orthodox in Israel have done and what the Haredim are about to do now that they will be forced to serve in both the army and the economic work force. They will surrender to the force of numbers but through numbers and strict enforcement of group norms, will seek to turn the tables on their in-group masters.

Why will the secular and modern lose out? After all, with their military prowess and with the amazing reputation as the start-up nation par excellence, Israel is now an economic and technological as well as military powerhouse, even further ahead in the new knowledge economy because of the high proportion of investment in human capital. As a result of the Israeli success combined with the success of those in the diaspora, even Greek socialists now regard Israel as a model according to Anna Diamentopolou, the Greek Minister for Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs.

Nevertheless, these successful secular Israelis and the majority of Jews in the diaspora will lose out, not as individuals, but as a culture and society. Their minority sub-culture will become a minor variation is a spectrum of the modern world. Jews and Israelis will have become a nation like every other nation. When Israel finally makes peace with all their neighbours and are freed of any crushing physical danger, the threat from without will become even stronger because of the attractions of the enlightenment values of the dominant imperial culture and the gradual surrender of the norms that provide their insularity as a group. If they choose to treat those with whom they intermarry in an “enlightened” way, by inviting them in to join the group instead of strict prohibitions against, then, simply statistically, the norms ensuring group coherence and, thereby, survival will grow weaker.

The diaspora has already lost the linguistic mode of group survival with the loss of Yiddish or Ladino and without replacing it with Hebrew as the group’s subculture’s language. Israelis in the next generation will continue to keep Hebrew as the language of their sub-culture and as an in-group language as they increasingly use English as the language of the dominant culture and of the global economy, especially as they pursue success in that dominant culture. Of course, Israel will be led by the educated elites, but also by the street through the message of music which can even penetrate the Satmar sect as the Israeli movie, God’s Neighbours illustrates. Just as the dominant economic market place has an invisible hand, the cunning of reason will operate as a pincer movement from both above and below to threaten group survival and instil a bifurcation of values in both the educated elites and in the street culture of even those who take pride in their survival skills as a tribe.

What are the real choices? If the majority of the elite, first in the diaspora and then in Israel, choose success as the cost of spiritual self-exile and gradual absorption into the dominant imperial high culture, then the sub-culture dies even if it retains a patina of difference. If those groups with the highest rate of reproduction are forced into a world that esteems physical prowess as its culture is subverted through the music of the streets, then the sub-culture will survive but will eventually go to war with the dominant indigenous imperial culture and that civil war will make the war with the Palestinians seem like a piece of cake. For Civil Wars are the most cruel and ruthless.

This jeremiad as humankind is in the process of making its next greatest advance that inherently must entail the rejection of tradition and particularism, and that especially threatens the Jews as a sub-culture who sustained their identity by becoming a community of memory while also mastering the dominant culture, need not take place. But until the Jews in the diaspora and Israelis learn to become one at the same time as they develop a new form of dualism, a schizophrenia that allows them to be both moderns and a community of memory at one and the same time, neither Jews not Israelis will survive as a sub-culture. But whatever the fearsome prognostications facing Israelis, they will survive longer as a substantive sub-culture than the enlightened Jews of the diaspora.