Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Being forced to remove a headscarf

In a recent Canadian sexual assault case, a Muslim woman was forced to remove her headscarf while being questioned by the defense counsel.

The judge writes,

In investigating just how important a belief this was, it came down to her candid admissions that it was a matter of her being `more comfortable' and to me that really is not strong enough to fetter the accused's rights to make full answer and defence

The judge should be suspended, and the defense attorney should be debarred.

Even if it's not a purely religious belief, it's still very disturbing that a woman in such an uncomfortable situation would be forced to bear it in an even more uncomfortable manner. The judge was failing to observe that religion is not what the law is really designed to protect; it's customs and personal convictions. The defense attorney should have known better than to put a witness in this position.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Living Prodigies

I was chatting with some friends today about a few wartime prodigies such as Turing, Einstein, von Neumann, etc. and was curious about what broader society recognizes as its current (or soon-to-be) scientific legends. I did a Google search and found this one:

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird

I recently finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird. It's understandably a classic, as it was well written and evokes a vivid story.

The story depicts a family in a small Alabama town in the 1930's. The story is narrated by a sharp young girl who, despite her age, struggles to grasp what she is experiencing: she is able to sense that (even if she does not understand why) there are very core absurdities such as arbitrary social norms and widespread prejudice.

This character, Jean-Marie Finch, clearly grows more mature as she comes to terms with these ideas, which are made concrete by the story.

The title To Kill a Mockingbird refers to a quote by Jean-Marie's father, Atticus Finch, roughly halfway through the book; he tells his children,
"I'd rather you shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
(Spoiler alert)

The meaning of the quote lingers unsettled in the reader's mind for most of the book, never quite clear: it becomes evident that it symbolizes a young black man falsely charged with assaulting a trashy white girl, but the symbolism is not entirely clear. In the last few paragraphs of the story, its full meaning becomes clear not only to Jean Marie, but also her father (who, despite his good character, is shown to have this blindspot). The children are saved by their insular but good neighbor (also symbolizing the mockingbird), who kills the sociopathic father of the trashy girl (symbolizing much, but not everything, bad in the story) attempting to kill the kids. The sheriff covering the case decides to save this neighbor by reporting that the sociopath fell on his knife, to the moderate confusion of Atticus. The story ends with the reader aware that Jean-Marie's wisdom has finally reached a level comparable to her father and brother.