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Lux Aeterna… September 21, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Christianity, Human Rights, Music, Saving the World.
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Troy Davis was executed tonight. He was pronounced dead 10 minutes ago, at 11:08.

His last words, to those who killed him: “May God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls. Look deeper into this case so you can find the truth….. I am innocent.”

There is nothing more I could possibly say tonight except, in the words of a friend from Twitter: “Eternal rest grant him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.”

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On Trial in a Parallel Universe September 15, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Human Rights, Saving the World, Social Media, Through the Looking Glass, Truth is Stranger than Fiction.
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I imagine it just like a scene out of a movie – a courtroom movie.

Set in a parallel universe.

You’re sitting in the defendant’s box, your lawyer beside you. Gazing out at the room, the judge’s stern face, the weary expressions of the jury members, you try to look relaxed. Confident. Innocent.

After all, you know you’re not guilty. You left the scene long before any shots were fired. There’s nothing to connect you to the crime – no murder weapon, no fingerprints, no motive, nothing. In a few hours you’ll be free, and hopefully they’ll get back to tracking down the guy who really did it. Beside you, your defence lawyer is confident and smiling. This should be an easy case.

The prosecution calls their first witness in, and you blink, surprised. It’s a close friend of yours, a guy you’ve known for years. Why would the prosecution ask him to testify? That’s right, he was there the night the cop was shot – you vaguely remember seeing him before you took off. They must be desperate. Well, he’ll straighten them out soon enough.

Your friend’s being sworn in, and now the lawyer’s ready to ask the first question. He doesn’t waste time. Did he see the shooting?

Yes, your friend answers. He’s oddly nervous, casting twitchy glances around the room. He doesn’t meet your eyes.

And can he identify the murderer?

A pause. Then – “Yes,” your friend answers. Then he points right at you. “It was him. I saw him shoot the officer. He’s guilty.”

For a long moment, you can’t seem to make sense of his words. You must have misunderstood, he must have pointed somewhere else – maybe there’s another suspect on trial that day?

You stare at your friend pleadingly. He doesn’t look back.

The ground seems to lurch and spin beneath you.

And that’s just the start.

The next two hours seem to go by in slow motion as witness after witness comes to the stand. Some are your friends, some you just ran into on the street once or twice, one of them you got in a fight with a few years back. A couple of them you’ve never seen in your life. One of them – a guy who was always looking for trouble – had been there that night, and you’d actually wondered a couple times if he had shot the cop.

But they all agree on one thing as they point to you. “He did it. He shot the officer. Guilty.”

Guilty.

You stare at the judge’s severe, implacable face. You hardly dare to glance at the jury, but when you do you find them watching you coldly. You can tell what they’re thinking – you see it in their eyes. Murderer.

Even your defence lawyer is watching you, brow furrowed. You can practically see the thought written on his face – maybe he did it after all?

You’ve got to be dreaming. Please, let me wake up now. This is insane. This is madness. This can’t be happening. This is a court of justice, for God’s sake.

But as the parade of witnesses continues, and the mountain of evidence continues to grow, even you can’t help but start to wonder if you really are innocent.

*******

I don’t know exactly what it was like to be Troy Davis at his 1991 murder trial. But that’s how I imagine it when I read the evidence now available, from Amnesty International. Of the witnesses that testified against him, all but two later recanted their testimony, citing police coercion as their reason for testifying.

Their affidavits – recanting their testimony – are here, and they make heartbreaking reading. Most said the police wouldn’t stop asking questions, wouldn’t let them go, until they gave the answers they knew the police wanted to hear: that Troy Davis was guilty. Several were given pre-written statements to sign. One of these witnesses, totally illiterate, could not read the witness statement he put his name to.

This is the sort of story I’ve gotten used to hearing about from Iran. A country where torture and arbitrary imprisonment are the norm. A country where your guilt is all too often pre-determined and the security forces won’t stop until they get the answers they want. A country where the innocent are punished and it is the guilty who determine their sentence.

Not the United States of America. I’m not an American citizen but for me, as for so many across the world, the United States has always represented freedom, justice, hope. The world’s first modern democracy, where all are equal before the law. A place where people are always presumed innocent until proven guilty – “beyond the shadow of a doubt.”

What has gone wrong? How has the system failed so badly as to let something like this occur?

I’ve contacted both Gov. Nathan Deal (phone (404) 651-1776, fax (404) 657-7332, email here, web contact form here) and the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles (phone (404) 656-5651, fax (404) 651-8502) asking them to grant clemency on Monday – Troy Davis’ last hope. I urge every reader of this blog entry to do the same. Yes, every phone call, every fax, every e-mail matters.

IMPORTANT: JUST IN (yes, literally as I write this blog entry!) – Please contact Chatham County (Savannah) District Attorney Larry Chisolm as well. He can support Troy Davis’ request for clemency for seeking to have the current death warrant withdrawn. You can contact DA Chisolm here.

If you’re like me, and making phone calls to people in government totally freaks you out, THAT’S OKAY! YOU CAN STILL HELP! Fax (especially) and e-mail are also effective.

The very real truth is that this is Troy’s last chance. If the Board rules against him on Monday, then – barring a miracle – he’ll be executed the following week. Put to death for a crime that, in all likelihood, he did not commit.

Please, let’s do everything we can to stop this atrocity from occurring.

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

Give Back their Childhood…for 7 Dollars January 11, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in Childhood, Human Rights, Saving the World, Social Media.
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How much does it cost to give a kid back their childhood? Just $7.

“I knew this boy from before. We were from the same village. I refused to kill him, and they told me they would shoot me. They pointed a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said I had no choice.” Susan, a 16-year old girl

“As a soldier, I had 24-hour sentry watches and was forced to keep alert. The days were abusively hot, and I often scoured the hillsides many miles for firewood, split the wood, and worked the farms.  The nights in the mountain winds were freezing. It was then that the reality of my life often hit me and I would lie awake and cry with no blanket and little hope.” Sanan, a 9-year old boy

“The soldiers found me and put me in jail for deserting. For three or four days, I couldn’t eat or sleep.  The food was horrid.  The smell was worse.  We slept in our own feces.  I cried and screamed for mercy.  During the days, we were slave laborers with no sleep at night…I had been in jail just a little over a month when one of the staff from Project: AK-47 came and negotiated my release.” Neso

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day (and to my delight “Trafficking Awareness” is currently a trending topic on Twitter!) One of the most horrific forms of human trafficking are the use of child soldiers, in which children as young as 5 are bought, lured or simply kidnapped into the army and forced to fight. Often young children, both boys and girls, are subjected to repeated rape and physical abuse. Those not forced to participate in armed combat (often younger children and girls) are assigned work in the army camps, forced to train in brutal conditions, or – considered expendable – sent to perform dangerous activities like spying or clearing mines. Their childhoods are stolen. It’s estimated that there are over 300,000 child soldiers active today.

Project AK-47 exists to give children like these their childhoods back. After negotiating their release from the army, they provide the children with housing, food, a quality education and a supportive, caring “family” to replace the one that they’ve lost. How much money does it cost to do this? Just $7 a month.

That’s right. $7 a month – less than the cost of two lattes – is the difference between an abused, terrified child forced to kill others and a happy, carefree child living a normal childhood. Though there are many worthy causes to support, that has got to be one of the best deals, in terms of results per dollar, that I can think of. (Which is why I’m sponsoring three – for the average cost of a single Chinese takeout meal a month.)

I urge everyone who reads this, and wants to do something real to combat human trafficking, to go to the Project AK-47 webpage and sponsor a child. Just do it. It’s probably one of the best investments you’ll ever make…and instead of one more killer, our world will have one more child who can live a normal childhood.

The Contrapuntal Platypus

Ten Reasons to Support Project AK-47

1. Maximum impact per dollar. When was the last time you could save, feed, house and educate a child for $7 a month?

2. There are over 300,000 child soldiers in our world today.

3. Project AK-47 negotiates child soldiers’ release, thus ensuring their safety after release and spreading awareness. (Often the army will freely let them go if they’ll be provided with education.)

4. Project AK-47 doesn’t move rescued children to another country, but rather gives them the tools they need to become the country’s next generation of leaders – putting an end to the cycles of violence responsible for child soldiers.

5. As child soldiers are often seen as expendable, they’ll be told to perform dangerous or lethal tasks such as mine clearance, spying or suicide attacks.

6. Project AK-47 doesn’t just rescue children from a life of combat and dangerous military duties, but from repeated physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

7. Though more people have become aware of human trafficking in recent years, few realize the extent to which children are used as soldiers in today’s world.

8. Buying and wearing a AK-47 dog tag inscribed with the name of a child soldier is an easy way you can help to raise awareness of this issue.

9. Think back to your own childhood…what price tag would you put on it?

10. And last but not least: no kid should be a killer.

2011 Weekly Challenge: Write Year-Round for Human Rights! January 1, 2011

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Human Rights, Iranelection, Saving the World.
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Happy New Year! As I mentioned yesterday, today I’m unveiling my 2011 New Year’s Human Rights’ Challenge. Though I created it as a personal New Year’s Resolution, I invite others to join me!

A few months ago I featured this video on my blog:

For the past two years I’ve meant to participate in the Amnesty Write for Rights event (held Dec. 10) and Greeting Cards Campaign (Nov 1-Jan 31), but it’s a busy season for piano teachers, and this year in particular was…chaotic. I did consider about setting myself the goal of writing greeting cards to the 31 prisoners over the 31 days of January. However, these cases have already been widely publicized and by all accounts these 31 prisoners are getting enormous volumes of mail. What Amnesty needs, I suspect, is more people who will make an effort to consistently write appeal letters during the other 11 months of the year.

So my personal goal for 2011 is:

Once a week throughout 2011, I will pick an Amnesty Urgent Action, write and send an appeal letter, and feature the case here on my blog to help spread awareness.

Why this goal?

(1) I’ve known for a while now that I wanted to become more involved in fighting for human rights in a number of regions. I’ve been on Twitter’s #iranelection hashtag for a year and a half now and have sent dozens of Iran-related Urgent Action Appeals for prisoners suffering in Evin or on death row.

However, as my interest in human rights has deepened over the past year, I’ve become less and less content to simply focus on a single country. There are oppressed people worldwide who need our voices, both to demand their rights be respected and to spread awareness. Even if all those in prison in Iran were liberated today, the fight for human rights would go on in many other places…and until all of us are free, none of us truly are.

(2) One of the perennial challenges of blogging is, as a friend observed last night, getting started. If I’ve made a commitment to blog about a human rights case once a week to help spread awareness, this will definitely be a strong motivating factor for blogging in general. A popular #iranelection saying, “We are the media” – “we” being bloggers, tweeters and other social media users – is particularly applicable when it comes to human rights cases, which the mainstream media tend to neglect. If we don’t publicize these cases, nobody will.

(3) A great side benefit of following the current human rights issues in Iran is that I’ve come to know so much about Iran’s amazing history, culture, and language. But Iran’s “story” is only one of hundreds. There are so many other cultures and countries in the world that are equally fascinating. What better way to discover them than while fighting for human rights?

What this means is that I’ll be posting here about a new human rights case each week. At the very least I’ll repost Amnesty’s summary and instructions for writing an appeal letter. If time permits I’ll hopefully do a bit of digging and include some more background. (I may include some sample letters for particularly urgent cases, but Amnesty does encourage people to write appeals in their own words. And really, if it were my life in danger…would I want people sending “form letters” to the only person who could save me?)

Please do leave your responses, comments, questions…I would love to get feedback on this idea! (And if you’d like to participate, please do subscribe to my blog for weekly updates!)

– The Contrapuntal Platypus

A 2011 Teaser (Contrapuntal Platypus is Back!) December 31, 2010

Posted by contrapuntalplatypus in About Me, Human Rights, Saving the World, Social Media.
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Yes, I’m finally back…after a month of piano festival application/Christmas recital craziness, Rumikitty chaos (it seems he did eat the string and it is now, er, gradually reappearing) and a family-wide epidemic of Norovirus – aka stomach flu – perfectly timed for Christmas Eve. Yay! 😉

Thank goodness December is almost over (and I survived, if barely). Here’s to a more consistent* year of blogging!

Now for the 2011 Contrapuntal Platypus Teaser…

While thinking over my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions, I realized that I wanted to (1) post more blog entries and (2) do more for various human rights causes worldwide. So I decided to combine the two, and begin the year by posting a special Human Rights Challenge…for any who dare to take part 😀 All will be revealed tomorrow at midnight!

Until then…Happy New Year’s Eve!

– Contrapuntal Platypus

* On this topic, I was chatting with a friend online who’d been thinking of blogging for a while, but who told me he preferred to “finish what he’d started in 2010” first. (I’m bad about that too as you can probably tell if you’ve been following…)

At once this reminded me of a joke I’d seen floating around the Net:

“Dr. Neil proclaimed the way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started.  So I looked around my house to see things I had started and hadn’t finished; and, before leaving the house this morning, I finished off a bottle of Pinot Noir, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bottle of Baileys, a bottle of Kahlua, a packet of Penguins, the remainder of a bottle of Prozac, Valium prescriptions, the rest of the Cheesecake, and a box of chocolates.

You have no idea how good I feel.”