Shuffling feet: a black man’s view on Schroedinger’s Rapist

This morning I made a reference to the fact that men are often assumed to be potential rapists as an example of how sexism negatively affects men as well as women. The argument, commonly referred to as “Schroedinger’s Rapist”, goes something like this: because you can’t know for sure if the stranger approaching you in a dark alley or other unsafe place is a rapist or not, it is generally a good idea to be on your guard. Men can enhance their interactions with women by being aware of this mindset, and adjusting their own behaviour accordingly.

I have often heard from people making an anti-feminist argument that Schroedinger’s Rapist is profoundly sexist and unfair. After all, most men do not rape – why should every man be treated like a rapist? Isn’t that discrimination? How can you claim to be opposed to sexism, yet promote a fundamentally sexually prejudicial idea? The next step is often to draw parallels to racism – is it fair to treat all black people as potential criminals simply because, statistically speaking, there are more black criminals than white ones? Isn’t that racist?

As much as I hate it when white people use anti-black racism as a cudgel with which to beat other people, I can understand the conundrum as it is expressed. The problem with it (and the reason why it’s so bothersome to hear white people talk about anti-black racism) is that it fails to address the question in a meaningful way. To demonstrate what I mean, I’d like to share a couple of personal anecdotes from my own life. I’ve never shared these stories with anyone before, and I’m not sure why because there’s nothing particularly embarrassing about them, and they’re extremely useful in this context. [Read more...]

Racism confounds us all

My academic background is in epidemiology and biostatistics. Briefly, epidemiology is the study of the interaction between potentially causal external factors and human health, usually at a population level. So, when someone tells you that BPA causes cancer, or that wind turbines or wi-fi signals don’t cause illness, they are speaking in terms of epidemiology. Because of the diffuse nature of many cause/effect relationships and the difficulty of measuring historical exposure, epidemiology is often looked at as a ‘soft science’, which is perhaps a fair charge – we do not deal in certainties; only probabilities.

One of the fundamental concepts that it is necessary to understand in epidemiology is the concept of ‘confounding’. Most of you are likely familiar with the maxim “correlation does not necessarily imply causation” or some permutation of that phrase. Many relationships that may seem causal are better explained by the involvement of a third variable. The classic example is coffee and lung cancer – there is a statistical relationship between frequency of coffee drinking and incidence of lung cancer. However, it would be wildly inaccurate to say that coffee causes lung cancer; what is actually happening is that many people have a cigarette with their coffee, and it is the smoking that causes the cancer. The presence of the third variable (smoking) explains the seeming relationship between the other two. [Read more...]

Kiva project: Loan update (January 13th, 2012)

Hey Cromrades,

I received this e-mail last night:

This is an update on your loan to Godeffroy Edgar in Benin.

Thanks to you and 36 other Kiva Lenders, the $1,000.00 loan request in Benin has been 100% funded.

This loan will be used for the purpose of: buy 3 batches of oil and other items.

Over the 12 months of this loan, Kiva’s Field Partner in Benin, Finadev Benin, will be collecting repayments from this entrepreneur and posting progress updates on the Kiva website.

Thanks for lending to the world’s working poor on Kiva!

Best Wishes,
Kiva Staff

Good work all around. We have helped, in our small way, to help someone get a hand up on financial independence. Let’s keep the momentum going next month!

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Movie Friday: Canada for President

So this week I was pretty hard on my home and native land. I really do love my country, and am proud to be Canadian (although certain things are beginning to make me question that). Regardless of our current government’s assholishness, Canada is a wonderful place that does wonderful things. Yes, we have our flaws and must always struggle to do better, but we have a lot to be proud of too.

I caught this tweet from PZ:


And it made me think of the following video:

C’mon Americans – we’re not perfect, but we’re a whole lot better than pretty much any of your current options. You’ve been working so hard – why not take a nap and let Canada drive the car for a while?

 Update: Canada has written everyone else a letter

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A “fruity” personal anecdote

Sometimes I worry that those of you who know me exclusively from the blog (who don’t, for example, follow me on Twitter – a medium on which I am exceedingly silly) think of me as a very serious, somber person. I try to balance my natural inclination toward jokes and frivolity with the fact that many of the topics I discuss here deserve a mature discussion. While I do my best to maintain a kind of balance, I am never sure how successful I am.

If you are interested in getting a better understanding of who I am outside the blog, I am going to relate an anecdote from my personal life. I keep a bowl of fruit on my desk at work because I get hungry and it helps break up the day. My favourite fruits are apples and bananas. Because I am a ridiculous creature of habit, I always have a banana in the morning and an apple in the afternoon (it’s nothing at all like OCD; it’s just a thing I do because I am borg and fear change). Usually I go shopping on a Monday and buy exactly enough of each to last me through ’til Friday.

What this means is that on Thursday afternoon there is always 1 banana and 2 apples in my fruit bowl. And every Thursday afternoon I position the apples on either side of the banana and LAUGH MY ASS OFF.

This is who I am. I am a giant 6 year-old making cock-’n’-ball sculptures out of my food.

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Whose revolution is it, anyway?

Anyone who has been paying close attention to the Occupy movement knows that “the 99%” is, in fact, several different groups. While it might make for good news reporting, #OWS is not a group with a unified message about corporate greed and income inequality. There is some truth to this narrative, but it is most certainly not the whole story. #OWS can more accurately be described as a collaboration between several different protest movements who have, for the moment, agreed to focus their attention on the overlap between politics and finance, because eliminating the problem will benefit all groups in some way.

There is an easily-drawn parallel between the affiliated causes of #OWS and the atheist/skeptic/freethought movement. They (we) are not a monolithic group with a singular goal – we are better described as a voluntary association of a number of disparate causes. There are freethinkers who wish to see the eventual disappearance of religion; there are others who simply wish religion was out of the public square. There are freethinkers who are activists because of the way religion treats women; there are others who fear for the security of the planet if fundamentalists control nuclear weapons. We do not have a single common goal, but we focus on religion (or, more generally, pseudoscience) because it is a common enemy.

The similarity does not end there, however. Just like religion does not harm all freethinkers equally – think of what an Iranian atheist faces compared to a Norwegian one – rising income inequality may be a universal problem, but there are some fractions within the 99% that, to put it bluntly, have more cause for concern: [Read more...]

Racism in Canada: the myth and the reality

One of the things I find particularly irksome about the stereotype that Canadians have about themselves (ourselves) is that we are a fundamentally “nice” people – so nice, in fact, that we don’t really have a problem with racism. It is the case that Canada’s history of racism is not as obvious as it is in, say, the United States. We do not have the descendants of slaves making up a significant portion of our population, and have managed to keep our national racist shame out of the headlines for the most part (at least until quite recently).

As a result, Canadians have managed to convince ourselves that racism is some else’s problem – that Canada is a bastion of inclusion and a safe haven for all people. Or if not so extreme as that, we at least believe that, deep down, racism isn’t that big of a deal here. The reason this is particularly frustrating for me is that, as someone who discusses race and race issues, I find myself having to run uphill to simply get someone to acknowledge that racism can exist here. Once that’s done, then comes the harder battle of convincing them that they have a role to play in addressing it.

Like any national myth – American exceptionalism, British imperialism, French superiority – the myth of Canadian racial benevolence is quickly shattered by even a cursory glance at the evidence: [Read more...]

Participation deserves more than a ribbon

When I first heard of the Occupy movement, I was overjoyed. “Finally,” I thought “some people who have been paying attention and have decided this shit is enough.” As someone who follows politics, it’s often disheartening to speak to my peers and realize that they are, far too often at least, completely clued out about what happening in our system. I can’t claim to be an expert, but I at least scan headlines to keep track of the major stories. Not so my friends.

It was encouraging, therefore, to see a group of people energized and passionate about not simply one issue, but the entire political process. They were gearing up to try and tackle the system as a whole, not simply agitate for the flavour of the month – be that pay increases or blocking a given legislation. As long as I’ve been following politics, it has begun to become abundantly clear to me that the problem with our political system is not the corruption of those who participate – it is the apathy of those who do not.

Democracy can only work to serve the people if those people are actively represented. In some cases, that representation comes from a heroically-benevolent elected official who understands and sympathizes with the issues facing hir constituents, even in those times when ze does not necessarily agree. Those kinds of examples are what people have come to expect, but because of the natural corrupting influence of power, they are rare. What is a much better system is to have full and rigorous scrutiny of the elected by the electorate. In order for that to happen, however, the electorate needs to be actively paying attention.

I am, thankfully, not the only person who thinks this: [Read more...]

Why we #Occupy

I realize I haven’t written about the Occupy movement in several weeks. Unfortunately I have fallen victim to the same syndrome that I criticize in the major media outlets: once the novelty wears off, it becomes more of a struggle to find interesting things to say. Of course, because I get most of my content from those same outlets, their lassitude becomes mine. In my defense, I am a blogger, not a newspaper or a cable network – I do not share the same level of responsibility in reporting what is going on in the world.

Feeble excuses aside, I have certainly not done my job in defending the Canadian incarnation of the Occupation. An Occupation, I hasten to point out, that has not disappeared simply because its camps were razed. The Occupation lives online and in small committees that periodically plan (and execute) acts of protest. While the physical occupation is gone, Occupy Canada is very much alive.

I’ve had more than a couple of discussions with people who claim not to understand why Canada needs an Occupy movement. After all, they say, many of the banking sector reforms demanded by the Wall Street Occupation are already in place here. Money doesn’t infiltrate politics to nearly the extent that it does south of the border. Unemployment is lower, our social safety net is more comprehensive, and our right-wing politicians are about where the American president (a.k.a the vanguard of creeping socialist extremism) is. What exactly do we have to complain about?

Well, maybe this for starters:

[Read more...]

Oh-so-phisticated

One of the most common complaints that “moderate” believers have about anti-theists is that we are criticizing a version of god that nobody actually believes in. The kind of sky-dwelling patriarch that visits wrath on his own imperfect creation is a convenient target for derision, but it is a straw deity argument. Theology has developed, through careful examination of the scripture (and, presumably, guidance from the holy spirit), a much more ‘sophisticated’ and nuanced understanding of what YahwAlladdha actually is. Atheists should be criticizing this new and supremely amorphous deity, since that’s what people are praying to for a cancer cure.

There is no shortage of reasons why this argument is completely false. First of all, outside the hallowed halls of theological academies, the average person is not taught, and does not believe in, a quasi-deistic benevolent creator who is an embodiment (but not a corporeal one) of all that is good in the universe. While people are quick to jump on the bandwagon of “I don’t recognize that god” whenever an atheist criticizes belief in the bloodthirsty Canaanite war god (an act that is amusingly similar to the apostle Peter), they are oddly ignorant of the legions of neo-Calvinist churches crowing with triumph every time an earthquake or a tsunami destroys some gay heathen mecca.

The list of reasons why the “sophisticated god” argument is nonsense abounds, but what doesn’t seem to filter into the discussion at all is how self-defeating it is. It is an argument that, if followed through to its logical conclusion, proves itself to be either false or insulting to the deity it is supposedly defending. [Read more...]