Malaysian courts reach the 1980s

To be fair, lagging only 30 years behind is a pretty immense feat for a theocracy, especially one as messed up as Malaysia

There are two big news stories out of Malaysia that are making headlines:

1. Malaysia appoints first female Shariah court judges

Malaysia’s first women Islamic court judges are starting to hear cases this month after Shariah legal authorities gave them the same authority as their male colleagues, an official said Wednesday.

I can’t pretend to be thrilled that it’s a religious court that these women have been appointed to – the very idea of a religious court is a perversion of the concept of justice – but it is measurable progress insofar as it is an official recognition that women can wield equal legal authority to men. Consider that Canada appointed its first female Supreme Court justice in 1982 (for those of you who keep track of this sort of thing, that’s one year after Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor to the US Supreme Court). My most optimistic scenario here is that the presence of female judges will shift the balance toward equality for women in the courts. My least optimistic is that these women are either anti-feminist or will be so cowed by the religious authority that they will make even more sexist rulings.

Again, lest we feel too smug and superior about the west, Venice just licensed its first-ever female gondolier. Way to go, Italy.

2. Malaysian men denied clemency for poorly-constructed religious excuse

Both Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens delight in pointing out that religious people have very little to fear from atheists. A common tactic is to talk about how churches will be torn down or burned by atheist activists in their zeal to punish thoughtcrime – Dawkins/Hitchens rebut that the religious do a far better job of desecrating each other’s holy sites than atheists ever will. This story out of Malaysia is no exception to that:

The attack on the Metro Tabernacle Church in Kuala Lumpur was the first of a series of attacks on houses of worship following the “Allah” row. Eleven churches, one Sikh temple, three mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms became targets of arson and other incidents.

Non-Muslim churches are using the word ‘Allah’ in Malay as a placeholder for God (much in the same way I use ‘YahwAlladdha’, although without the associated mockery). Some Malaysian Muslims are incensed by the violation of their trademark, saying that Christians are hatching a devious plot to make Christianity look more like Islam in order to gain converts. People of Malaysia: your religious leaders think that you are functionally retarded. Recently, a number of sites of worship were torched as reprisal for the semantic issue. Two men caught and charged with setting the fires tried to plead out by saying they burned themselves at a barbecue.

Luckily, the judiciary appears to be a bit more sane than either the accused or the religious leaders, and charged the morons appropriately. Of course there’s a whole host of other religious nonsense underlying the issue (there always is), but at least the judges made the right decision.

I might have to revise my opinion of Malaysia based on this new information. Of course, it still remains a crime to convert from Islam to another religion (or, I’d imagine, no religion at all), and they’re still wildly homophobic, but Rome wasn’t built (and then converted and sodomized) in a day.

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Google discusses net neutrality

Those of you who have been clamoring for more information about the current net neutrality fight (who am I kidding… a total of 4 people read that post :P) will be happy to know that I’m not the only one talking about it. Our old friends at Google, after discussing the issue with Verizon, have tabled a proposal for net neutrality rules:

The two companies on Monday announced seven principles for U.S. regulators to use when crafting so-called net neutrality rules. The suggestions include the prohibition of wired broadband providers from discriminating between different kinds of internet traffic, a rule that would also prevent charging content providers extra fees for prioritized traffic.

They propose fines (which are too small, in my opinion, but it’s the right direction) for anyone violating the rules, and guidelines for transparency rules.

Sounds good, what’s the catch?

The new rules would not initially apply to the wireless internet in order to preserve the incentives for service providers to continue investing in what is a relatively new technology, the companies said. The companies also suggested the rules should not apply to specialized services that use the internet but are not actually a part of it, such as a specific gaming channel or a more secure banking service.

Now maybe I’m missing some relevant information here, but that seems completely reasonable. Wireless infrastructure has not had as long as wired internet to turn a profit for the companies who invested the capital to develop it. Allowing them to monetize wireless services will provide incentive for them to develop and market newer types of services; penalizing them for innovating will do the opposite. These are corporations, not charities – they are in it to make money, and in a capitalist framework that’s a good thing.

And yet, the critics are losing their shit:

[The above] two suggestions in particular, however, drew heavy criticism from consumer groups, technology bloggers and other internet companies.

I can understand if there is a risk of a Trojan Horse ploy, by which consumer internet access is re-classified as “specialized services”, but that’s an issue that can readily be settled in the courts. What I can’t understand is why providing different levels of service to internet banking and gambling websites will in any way infringe upon the individual’s ability to speak freely.

You who who else doesn’t understand it? Google Vice-President and long term net neutrality advocate Vint Serf:

I viewed the discussions with Verizon as an experiment or an exploration of how two rather polarized views of net neutrality could ultimately end up reaching some sort of compromise that both parties would be equally unhappy with. In some ways this represents not a stake in the ground, but rather the exploration of common ground and what that common ground might look like. I see it as a kind of homework assignment that Verizon and Google have attempted to complete just to show what happens when you try to come to some kind of common perspective.”

I hope that I have established my credibility as someone who cares passionately about free speech. Net neutrality is vital to the grassroots development of ideas and entrepreneurial innovation – look how the internet has changed the way we look at the world and conduct our daily lives since it became widely available in the 1990s. Imagine what will happen in the next 20 years.

That being said, I don’t see these rules as being unreasonable. As Serf points out, there needs to be a compromise between doing the ideal thing and what is practical in business terms. Verizon (and Google) exist to make money. They do so by providing us with the means to access the internet. In order for this dynamic to be able to continue, we have to embrace the reality that everything changes. We must be willing to adapt to the political and business realities. Standing resolute on the spot and objecting over issues that harm nobody and are completely reasonable compromises doesn’t do anything to protect the consumers that these critics claim to represent.

Disagree? I want to hear why.

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Exciting new blog developments

Hello to all of my faithful readers, and also to those who just use me for a moment’s distraction and don’t call the next day. There are a couple of new things that have happened recently that I want to share with you.

First, I am thrilled to inform you that last week, this blog hit the 25,000 views milestone. Considering that this site is only 6 months old, and that I haven’t really done any significant or targeted marketing, this is well beyond my wildest expectations.

  • The site averages 133 hits a day (with a mode value of between 50-75 hits on a usual day)
  • The 5 highest-trafficked posts represent nearly 70% of total traffic
  • June 8th was the busiest day, with 4,672 hits
  • A total of 153 posts have gone up, with 387 comments between them

Obviously, this wouldn’t have been possible without you. I started writing without a clear plan, or an idea of the impact I might have. I still get a little weirded out when someone tells me they read my stuff. So I want to thank you for sticking around, reading, commenting, and telling your friends about the site.

Second, I am honored to accept an invitation from the national blog Canadian Atheist. This is a site with multiple commentary from a variety of authors across Canada. I will be sharing some of my thoughts on religion, civil and human rights on a regular basis on this site. My longer think-pieces, as well as my discussion of race and racial issues, will remain here at the Manifesto. There are a lot of great writers at Canadian Atheist, and I don’t think there’s a single one there with whose views I actually agree, so it’s a great chance for me to join a discussion. It’ll be a good chance for those of you interested in religious and secular issues to check out a variety of views, and see where your own feelings lie.

Finally (this one is the most exciting), my very first blog has been resurrected. Yes, friends, Porocrom’s Crappaper is once again disgracing the face of the intarwebz. This was a sort of catch-all site with movie and music reviews, commentary on pop culture, and lampooning interpersonal relationships. Poromenos and I plan on generating new content for the site soon, so feel free to poke around our archived posts for now. For fun, try to guess who wrote which item.

Anyway, that’s what’s new around here. Lots of stuff coming your way at this site over the next two weeks, including a post that I’ve been waiting to write for about 4 months (that’s coming on Monday). Enjoy!

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Oh good, Canada still uses slave labour

I don’t even know what to say about this one:

The B.C. government has terminated a contract with a Surrey forestry company after 25 workers – many of them immigrants from the Congo – were found living in substandard conditions near Golden in late July.

That’s not even the bad part; this is:

Most of the 25 workers had travelled from eastern Canada for jobs clearing brush near Golden. They were living in a bush camp and complained of a lack of food and inadequate facilities, a church worker in Golden told The Vancouver Sun. And the workers told government officials they were not fully paid and on the job seven days a week.

Slavery makes good economic sense. It’s even practicable – get people who have few options, take them away from any resource they’d have to achieve alternate employment, then bully and threaten them into accepting low wages (or no wages). When they have no other options, they’ll take whatever they can get. It’s the ultimate victory of free-market capitalism: get as much as you can for as little expenditure as possible.

But then of course, there’s the whole thing about being evil. Inconvenient, eh?

I try to make these posts have a bit more relevance than simply linking you to news items I find in the paper. There’s an underlying theme here that I think is interesting, but most of you probably won’t like. There’s a hip-hop artist called Ras Kass who released an amazing album back in 1996 featuring a song entitled The Nature of the Threat.

Warning: language and content advisory

Nature of the Threat is an interpretation of history whose thesis is essentially that white people are inherently evil – highlighting the atrocities perpetrated by whites throughout history. It’s quite a task to separate the fact from the fiction in the song, but there are a number of points that deserve exploration and discussion (Euro-centric teaching of history, the legacy of systemic racial discrimination at the hands of Europeans). I like the song, even though I disagree with many of the components, and doubt the validity of the thesis. The above story makes me think that slavery has nothing to do with the colour of people’s skin, merely a desire for power and the opportunity to exploit others. It is an unfortunate coincidence that many of the workers are black Africans, but the business owners are not white:

Khaira owner Khalid Bajwa said he has been treated unfairly by the ministry, who didn’t give him an opportunity to correct any camp deficiencies. “I don’t know why they are complaining. We never had problem with our camps. It is a bush camp. It is not a tourist camp,” he said. “We were setting up the camp. We had just moved there.”

Of course Mr. Bajwa’s story paints only part of the picture:

Quesnel native Christine Barker, 24, had worked in the woods for other companies for five years without incident. The single mother said Tuesday she has never dealt with abuse like what she experienced at Khaira…

“When we started the work refusal, that’s when the camp conditions got even worse – showers were denied. … We were refused food because we weren’t working for him at that time.” She said she witnessed a supervisor threaten to kill one of her Congolese co-workers and throw a knife at him.

Sounds like slavery to me.

The point is that while we can blame white Europeans for a lot of the problems in the world, we can’t do so based on the colour of their skin. There’s nothing genetically cruel or inhumane about white people, just as there is nothing genetically lazy or stupid about Africans. People are people, and given the right set of circumstances and motivations, they will commit the same atrocities, or acts of kindness, or feats of inspired genius. The situation we have now is merely a product of how things shook out in the world. We cannot rely on the inherent goodness or evilness of people, we must realize that the situation determines out behaviour better than we suspect, ensure that all people have equal access to protections under the law, and then work to ameliorate those situations that lead to destructive or oppressive behaviour.

I feel motivated at this point to make an unequivocal statement that I don’t have any particular animosity toward white people. As a sometimes student of history, I recognize that the story of our world has been filtered through a European lens, and that my white friends and family members are victims of the same system that I’ve been speaking out against. Those of you who know me personally will be able to attest to this. For those of you who don’t, you may read through the rest of my writings (particularly last Monday’s post) if you doubt my sincerity. If I have caused offense, please accept my apology (and tell me so in the comments).

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Being creative without a Creator

A friend sent me a link to a 20-minute talk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the novel Eat, Pray, Love. I’m not a big fan of the book (I got through about 25 eye-rolling pages before giving up and reaching for the remote), but I am a big fan of (my friend) Claire, so I gave it a chance. I was right with her up until 8:30 when she started in on “creative mystery” and an external, supernatural source for creativity, and then the rest was invocations of magic and self-indulgent privileged pap, the likes to which Jim Carrey would be a fervent subscriber.

I do not know if Claire’s intent was to murder my neurons; I doubt that she was trying to lobotomize me through the intarwebz. She did ask me to write about some of my thoughts on the creative process from the perspective of an atheist. I suppose I have some claims to qualifications in this regard, given that I do spend the non-science half of my life playing and creating music. I’d like to share some of my thoughts on this subject, but first I want to address some of the themes that came up in Ms. Gilbert’s talk, which is available below:

Is suffering necessary for creativity?

A commenter on my strangely-popular “I am not my ideas” post from a few months ago brought this up. Some of the greatest artists of all time (think Van Gogh, Beethoven, Vonnegut, the list goes on) have suffered, and from their suffering came their genius. The image of the tormented artist is so common as to have become almost completely cliché. Douglas Adams satirized this phenomenon in his Hitchhiker’s Guide series, in which time travel inadvertently robs the galaxy of one of its greatest works of art by making the artist happy. Of course, we have to remember that Douglas Adams was a creative genius, and was not particularly unhappy. Nor, by all accounts, were Bach, Shakespeare, da Vinci, John Lennon, this list goes on as well. While suffering can yield insight that can bring creativity forth (and in my experience it is much easier to write albums when you’re sad than when everything’s awesome – just ask Matthew Sweet), it is not necessary to suffer in order to bring forth great works.

Is the supernatural the source of creativity?

Ms. Gilbert spends some time talking about daemons or geniuses, supernatural embodiments of inspiration that are the conduits between the artist and the divine. As with all supernatural agents of causality, there’s no evidence for the existence of faeries (which, to her credit, Gilbert admits). Being a musician, I can testify that inspiration does seem to come from nowhere. I’m sure that other artists and musicians have a much more palpable experience of inspiration than I do (things kind of just pop into my head, rather than being overcome by a ghost that demands me to have a pencil in my hand). However, given the diversity of ways in which inspiration strikes people, and the fact that it hits some people more often than others, and that to all appearances it strikes at random, it’s safe to say that inspiration is not likely caused by a supernatural force for which there is no evidence.

Subjective experience vs. objective reality

Our brains make a fundamental error when it comes to subjective and psychosomatic experiences. Because we interpret the outside world through our senses, we confuse sensory experiences with reality. So when, after meditating for an hour, we feel connected to an external loving presence, that does not constitute evidence that that presence exists in reality. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of value in subjective experience. Feeling connected to the world, or to nature, or to your fellow human beings can bring you a sense of happiness and motivate you to be a better person. However, to make the leap from feeling something and then assuming that it exists requires non-subjective proof. To wit, just because artists feel an external force driving them to create doesn’t mean that there are muses or daemons or disembodied geniuses that explain it.

Gilbert would like us to return to the days of magical thinking, in which we attribute inspiration to outside ethereal forces. Reality is all well and good, she seems to say, but we’d feel a lot better if we pretended there were invisible spirits whispering in our ears. If we screw up, well it’s the fault of the spirits. When we succeed, attribution to the spirits will prevent us from getting swollen egos. Who cares if it’s all a lie if it makes us feel good? You can probably tell I’m not a big fan of self-deception, even when it’s practical. It might comfort us to lie to ourselves, but the truth is important. It enables us to deal with each other in a way that reflects the world around us, and prevents us from endangering each other through misinterpretations of reality.

So where do I think inspiration comes from?

There’s a common criticism of skeptics and scientific skepticism that we want to strip the majesty and beauty out of life. Apparently, to some people, understanding how something works makes it less beautiful. Of course, having no idea how something works makes you sound like a complete moron, but that may not be the worst thing in the world. That being said, I still reject the idea that familiarity breeds contempt. I’ve known that stars were inconceivably large nuclear reactions happening in space billions of kilometers away since I was a little kid – none of that makes a starlit night any less beautiful. I’ve known that music is caused by vibrations in air resonating tiny bones within the inner ear causing neuron activity since I was in elementary school – none of that makes me enjoy Beethoven’s 6th symphony any less. I’ve known that there are evolutionary roots for familial love since I was in university – none of that makes me love my parents any less. Understanding the processes behind the world around us can lead to deeper and more beautiful understanding of reality.

We know that the brain is incredibly complex. It adapts to novel stimuli, regulates an incredible number of processes simultaneously, all below the level of what it’s most famous for – conscious thought. It is entirely possible that the way some brains are wired permits a type of lateral thinking that pulls together disperse thought processes that come together to form music. The phenomenon known as synesthesia – wherein sensory input of one type is interpreted as another type (seeing sounds, hearing smells) – certainly supports this conjecture. Some brains might just be better-suited to creativity than others, and ‘inspiration’ may ‘strike’ these brains more often. The arrival of such a strike would be experienced in a variety of different ways. This would also explain why creativity is often (but not necessarily) associated with poor mental health – an atypical brain chemistry and structure will have broad-reaching effects.

Without intending to, Elizabeth Gilbert has paralleled my idea of separating one’s ideas from his/her sense of self worth. I have written songs I’m proud of; I’ve written some stinkers that even I don’t like myself (sadly, far more of the latter than the former). I don’t beat myself up for writing crappy songs, or having crappy performances, in the same way I don’t get a swollen head when something I’ve written makes people cheer. It feels good, but I know that it’s not about me, it’s about the song. I don’t think the song was floating around in the ether, waiting for me to pull it in – that view, if anything, is more arrogant than being glad that my brain popped it into my head. I’m not my ideas in the same way that I’m not my songs – I’m just happy to be able to use my brain to say things in a way that people will listen.

So while I think Ms. Gilbert has the right conclusions in thinking that musicians shouldn’t live and die by their success, and that a rejection of the song or book or painting is not the passage of judgment on who the artist is as a person, she spuriously tries to invoke magic and daemons to make this happen. There are better, non-magical, non-woo-woo ways of accomplishing that goal.

TL;DR – Artistic inspiration can be explained through natural processes, and does not require appeals to woo-woo to exist. The non-magical nature of inspiration doesn’t make it any less wonderful or special.

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Movie Friday: Anotherآجر in the دیوار

I don’t often talk about my musical side (I actually had to create a new “music” tag for this post). I’ve been playing since I was a little kid, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t banging pots and pans, or singing, or doing something else musical. Music is, quite literally, an integral part of my entire life. I guess I’m lucky I don’t live in Iran, where rock music is banned (and for about a gojillion other reasons). Music isn’t just music. Anyone who knows about Dmitri Shostakovich, or Bob Dylan, or Chuck D knows that music can be, in addition to social commentary, fuel for a revolution. Hip-hop is being picked up by Inuit youth in Northern Canada as protest music against social injustices. Reggae, as many people forget, was equal parts smooth grooves and calls for uprising (think of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up or Desmond Dekker’s Israelites). As hip-hop is to disenfranchised North American youth, and reggae is to oppressed Caribbeans and Africans, rock and roll is to a generation of Middle-Eastern youth, growing up in a war zone they had no part in building.

Enter Blurred Vision, a Toronto band fronted by two Iranian brothers, who use rock to comment on what is happening in their homeland of Iran. Right now, a single of theirs (a re-imagining of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (pt. II), is reaching an international audience. Because this is right up my alley, I thought I’d share it with you.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it – it’s not Mozart. The thing that struck me about this song is that 30 years after The Wall was released, this song can be perfectly applied, almost unedited, to a country that didn’t exist (in its present, oppressive, theocratic form) at the time. There are themes in music that are timeless, and good music can reach out through the veil of history and resonate within our psyche. So to anyone who brands any type of music as “just noise” or “not really music”, remember that Philistines said the same thing about Pink Floyd back in 1979.

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US government stands up for free speech

Those of you who follow alt-med quackery and science-based-medicine skepticism will be familiar with the absolutely ridiculous jurisprudence that is England’s libel laws. In the US , it is up to the plaintiff in a libel suit to prove that the allegations made against them are false (i.e., if I accuse you of practicing quack medicine, you merely have to show that your standards of practice meet industry regulation to win your libel suit). In the UK, however, defendants must prove their allegations true (i.e., if I sue you for calling me a quack, you have to prove I am one). This may seem like a semantic distinction, or even a more fair system (e.g., you call me a pedophile, you’ve got to prove it or else it’s slander); however, it has repeatedly been used by medical charlatans to silence criticism by skeptics.

A famous example (at least among the health skeptic community) is the case of Simon Singh, a medical journalist who wrote a column critical of the wild claims being made by the British Chiropractic Association. For those of you who don’t know, chiropractic is, at its heart, the belief that all disease (yes, all disease) is caused by misalignments of the spine. Controlled scientific studies of chiropractic have shown that it can be effective for treatment of back pain (as can physiotherapy and massage), but that other claims of being able to cure infectious disease or chronic conditions like asthma are unsubstantiated and false. Simon Singh said as much in his column, and was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association.

“So what?” you might be saying “Just go into court, show the judge the studies, no problem!” We are lulled by television into thinking that court cases are decided quickly and cheaply. Even open-and-shut cases can, if the legal teams are unscrupulous enough, drag on for months and cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Simon Singh doesn’t have that kind of money. What the BCA (and those of their ilk) hope when they file these suits is that the defendants will settle out of court and drop the suit because they cannot afford to pay the exorbitant fees (in North America we call such suits ‘Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation’ or SLAPP suits). There are anti-SLAPP laws on the books to prevent large companies from silencing poorer critics.

The UK, however, is a haven for such suits, allowing defendants to be placed on trial in British courts, and making non-Brits subject to the rulings of those courts. If the defendants do even the smallest amount of business in the UK, they can be sued under UK libel statutes.

Luckily, the US government has stepped in and made that a thing of the past:

President Barack Obama has signed into law new legislation protecting US writers from foreign libel judgements. The Speech Act, recently passed by Congress, makes foreign libel rulings virtually unenforceable in US courts. The act targets “libel tourists” who launch cases in countries whose legal systems are considered far more claimant-friendly, such as the UK.

This is good news for skeptics in the States who want to speak out against quacks in the UK. Canada has similar libel statutes to the UK (our entire judicial system is cribbed from England’s, so this should come as no surprise), but luckily the Supreme Court of Canada recently passed anti-SLAPP legislation, and Ontario appears poised to follow Quebec’s lead and enact provincial laws to do the same. Free speech shouldn’t be held up by spurious lawsuits designed to silence criticism. Of course, as Orac pointed out to me in an e-mail, this doesn’t protect US writers from being sued, nor does it prevent those judgments from being enforced in the UK (essentially barring convicted defendants from traveling anywhere in the UK). All it does is protect American courts from having to enforce the results of foreign libel suits.

It’s at least a step in the right direction.

Tim Wise – not just a name

I’m floored.

I’m stunned.

Flabbergasted am I.

Over the past couple of days, a debate has popped up on the comment thread of this Monday’s think-piece about my strategies to combat racism. In brief, I stated three concrete approaches that I think will, over time, markedly improve racial dialogue and equality. A commenter expressed his feeling that while he thought my overall outline was good, that the philosophy underpinning it was false and counter-productive:

“But when we have 3 generations of emotional, white guilt laden liberals dominating the debate with no end in sight, sadly this will never happen. The systemic views of those who believe we live in a hugely unjust world will not allow it.”

The commenter was very adamant in his position that the reason for racial disparities was the fault of liberal policies and the mindset that non-white people face systematic discrimination the puts them immediately behind the 8-ball from the get-go.

“Once you realize that most Conservatives couldn’t give a damn about what race you are, and dont see things through the blinders of race/gender/class, the sooner you’ll realize that we could be closer to a society with completely marginalized racism.”

Ah yes, the old “just ignore race and it will go away” canard that I’ve been railing against since I first started posting about race. Well aside from the fact that conservatives do give a damn (take a trip to any conservative-voting part of the country, you’ll see what I mean), even if they didn’t it wouldn’t matter. Racial prejudice is real, and it’s neither enlightened nor noble to pretend as though it’s not.

Why am I so surprised? Because that’s exactly what Tim Wise thinks:

After all, to deny that people of color face unequal opportunities in America—due either to the legacy of past racism, the persistence of racism today, or some other set of structural barriers—is to leave explanations for racial achievement gaps that are racist by definition. If black folks really do have equal opportunity and yet still don’t achieve at levels equal to their white counterparts, then there must be something wrong with them as black people. Either genetically or culturally they must be inferior to whites. There is no other possible explanation.

I can’t recommend to you enough that you take the time and read this article. If you have enjoyed reading any of my previous discussions on race and race issues, this guy hits all of the high points.

But lest you and I on the left feel too smugly superior, Tim follows up with an absolutely brilliant examination of liberal racism (or what I term “polite racism”)

Beyond the personal biases that exist to some extent within all of us (including those who are progressive), liberals and those on the left operate within institutional spaces and even in our political activism in ways that contribute to systemic racial inequity. This we do through four primary mechanisms. The first is a well-intended but destructive form of colorblindness. The second is an equally destructive colormuteness. These mean, quite literally, a tendency among many on the white liberal-left to neither see nor give voice to race and racism as central issues in our communities and the institutions where we operate, or their connection to and interrelationship with other issues. Both liberal/left colorblindness and colormuteness perpetuate the marginalization of people of color and their concerns, in the larger society and within progressive formations for social change.

Tim expresses everything in these two articles that I’ll try to flesh out over the next however many years I can keep blogging. This is required reading, folks. If you’ve ever said “I want racism to go away” and meant it, these two articles are a great place to start. But of course… you should keep reading here too :P

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Singapore struggles with free speech

“Oh here’s Crommunist, harping on free speech again!”

Yes. Here I am. Harping on free speech. Again.

Despite the fact that it perhaps isn’t as sexy as racist beatings or mockeries of religion, I reassert my commitment to highlighting issues of free speech. I don’t talk about it because it brings a whole shit-ton of traffic my way (it really doesn’t) or because the ladies think that a man with an obsession with Charter rights is sexy (they really don’t), I do it because free speech is the cornerstone of free society. Without the ability to freely criticize the government or powerful non-governmental groups (churches, corporations, labour unions, etc.) we lose the ability to spur the kind of public support that can enact changes by these groups. Democracy is designed to be self-limiting – a sufficiently large group of people can create legislative changes to protect safety or preserve freedoms (or, in some cases, do some really stupid things, but that’s why we have courts). Without free speech, that’s the ballgame – no free society.

Singapore is learning this lesson:

“Once A Jolly Hangman – Singapore Justice in the Dock” is a critique of the way the death penalty is applied in the city state. It alleges double standards and a lack of impartiality. That has prompted Singapore’s attorney general to charge the 75-year-old Briton (author Alan Shadrake) with contempt, arguing that passages of the book “scandalise the Singapore judiciary” and “undermine the authority of the courts”.

Singapore is a rare success story in continental Asia. It has modern technology, cleaner streets than Canada, and a top-notch health care system (notable for being almost entirely private – a rare success story of this type). The country has achieved this at the price of civil liberties – police have broad powers, misdemeanor offenses are punishable by jail or whippings, and the government heavily censors dissent. Alan Shadrake is a high-profile (by virtue of being European) example of where free speech ranks on the priorities list in Singapore.

But critics say there is a price to be paid. People are expected to conform. It is as if there is an unspoken but clearly understood deal between citizen and state: the system will look after you, as long as you do not question it

There are few issues, it seems, that the political left and right can agree on (especially since the right’s position seems to be to undermine whatever the left thinks is important – must be nice not to have to bother with ‘principles’ or ‘justice’, just resort to ‘fuck the other guy’). However, we can all get together under the banner of free speech. Free speech is what allows gay rights activists to hold parades and rallies. Free speech is what lets Ann Coulter publish books. Free speech is what lets me go online and talk shit about Robert Mugabe (who, incidentally, masturbates to pictures of shirtless, hairy, obese men.

Not so in Singapore. In Singapore, criticism of the government lands you in jail. For the moment, it seems that the government is taking good care of its people – perhaps a benevolent dictatorship. The problem comes when the will of the people stands opposed to government interest, as it is for bloggers like Seelan Palay (featured in the story) and authors like Alan Shadrake. When you can be imprisoned, without trial, simply for the act of criticizing the ruling policy, it retards change and progress in your society. Abrogation of human rights is too high a price to pay for high-speed trains, hospitals and litter-free streets.

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UBC brings in biomass generator

No point to be made here, I just think this is a really cool thing:

The technology converts wood waste into a combustible gas called syngas, which is typically a mixture of carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and ash. That will be used to drive a gas engine made by General Electric to produce two megawatts of electricity. The waste heat will be used to produce steam that is expected to offset about 15 per cent of the natural gas currently used for heating at UBC.

I’m a sucker for technology. To me it embodies the idea that human diligence, careful consideration, and ingenuity can solve major problems. It’s what keeps me from looking at the state of the world and thinking “it’s all going to shit.” When we put our minds to work, we can do amazing things.

Huh… maybe there IS a point to be made here :P

Here’s a picture of an otter: