Canada’s answer to Fox News actually gets something right!

So Cromrades from way back might remember when I kicked up a bit of a fuss over the impending launch of a right-wing corporate news network specifically designed to mimic the journalistic excellence that is the USA’s Fox News Channel. It wasn’t so much that it existed, which was bad enough, it’s that they were lobbying to force everyone to pay for it. CBC, which is our answer to NPR, does have a ‘must carry’ license, but CBC is non-partisan and actually has standards. Sun News Network (Fox News North’s real name) barely pretends to be anything other than a Republican North Party mouthpiece. To hear SNN describe it, the only things Canadians care about are oil jobs and lower tax rates (the second, BTW, is totally untrue).

But, much like the blind squirrel and the nut, the stopped clock that is the Sun News Network does occasionally get things right, and an opinion piece by Tom Brodbeck regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Gladue manages somehow to get something absolutely correct. Well… the title anyway. Everything after the title is a big steamy load: [Read more...]

Geraldo Rivera has a point

Right now you’re probably thinking “April Fool’s is over, dude”. I mean this in earnest: Geraldo Rivera was not completely wrong when he said that wearing a hooded sweatshirt contributed to Trayvon Martin’s murder. His thesis, that Trayvon therefore shares in some of the blame for choosing to wear a hoodie, is completely fucking wrong, but you really can’t expect someone who works for Fox News to make more than one cogent and/or accurate point in a single sitting.

I did my graduate degree at one of Canada’s most well-regarded institutions – whether or not it deserves its reputation is very much an open question, but we’ll let others delve into that. I mention it only to say that while I was there, I bought a zippered hoodie (the most versatile garment in the world, especially in spring/fall when dressing in layers is a life-saver) with the school logo emblazoned in large font on the front. The other day, I needed to run to the grocery store around the corner, so I threw on my hoodie. On my way out of the store, I noticed that it had begun to drizzle so I flipped up my hood to keep the rain off of my face.

As I bounded up the stairs to the front of my building, I caught my reflection in the glass doors and was caught momentarily off guard – I looked pretty intimidating. Despite the large block letters of the school on the front, and… y’know… the fact that it was my own reflection, even I was startled for a moment. I can certainly understand how someone might mistake my hands-in-pockets, hood-up stance as being reflective of some kind of ill intent, but I was just trying to stay dry. So was Trayvon. In fact, our missions were more or less the same. We are only separated by a few years, about 120 lbs, and a national border (and he’s quite a bit darker than I am, which is far from meaningless). [Read more...]

Domo Arigato, Mr. Robocallboto

Some of you may be following the “Fauxbocalls” scandal that is the latest offering in the Republican North Party’s campaign to demonstrate that they are no different from their southern ideological cousins. Essentially, voters in a number of ridings around the country (including mine, apparently) received calls from people claiming to be from the Liberal Party of Canada. These voters were then advised that their polling place had changed, which was an outright lie.

While it is usually my habit to comment on a political story of this magnitude, I am intentionally avoiding doing so. My primary reason for doing this is that we don’t have any answers yet about how widespread this practice is, or how much of it is simply anecdotal. What we do know is that more than 31,000 complaints were made to Elections Canada in this past election, which is more than 4 times the margin of victory for the Republicans in the last election. We also know that complaints in the previous election was in the area of hundreds, not tens of thousands. What we don’t know is whether or not anyone in the political wing of the Republican party knows anything whatsoever about this practice.

My official take: I believe them when they say they don’t know what happened. I think they’re a bunch of scumbags for basically out-and-out stating that they do know what happened, and that it was a tricky ploy by the Liberals to manufacture a controversy. I think that anyone who says this “isn’t a big deal” is talking complete nonsense (yes, I am looking directly at you, Rex Murphy). I think that any response other than “we need to determine who did this, and what their intent was” is unnecessarily bet-hedging or worse, an attempt to promulgate a fraud far worse than the one that toppled the previous Liberal government.

That being said, until I have more information (or a particularly slow news week), I am not going to comment beyond that. Below the fold are some articles that I have found interesting and/or useful in parsing this whole issue.

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To have to have and to have to hold

I have more or less given up on expecting that religious folks will recognize the inherent contradictions between their secular morality and their religious instruction. We all have blinders about our own bad behaviours and illogical thoughts, but religion is particularly protected from introspective self-scrutiny. Matters religious are supposed to be believed “just ’cause”. Faith demands that we suppress our instinct to reject those things which are logically impossible or unsupported by evidence and simply accept a particular dogmatic instruction. Thus is a capacity for doublethink built, and with it a resistance to see hypocrisy as in any way problematic.

That being said, I am repeatedly fascinated by the way in which many “moral” principles that are described along religious lines come into conflict with secular moral principles that can be derived philosophically. Human beings use a variety of sources to determine right from wrong, and we’ve developed methods of decision-making when circumstances present us with a novel situation or a contradiction. How do we do the right thing in a circumstance we’ve never encountered before? Can we draw a parallel to something we’ve seen before? What happens when rule X and rule Y come into conflict? Do we discard one rule? Both? Is there some nuance we can find?

Such ethical wheeling and dealing is a necessary fact of life in a world that throws all kinds of challenges our way. Bound within certain ethical frameworks about the definition of ‘the good’, we can find ways to make decisions that satisfy our innate desire to feel good about ourselves. However, this kind of nuanced thinking is denied to us when we adhere to regulations that we see as inerrant. If we must follow the rules, we have no recourse when, for some reason or another, we find the rules in conflict with each other. [Read more...]

So high, so low

So I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: mandatory minimums are racist. When we finally strip away the facile understanding of ‘racism’ as an intentional discriminatory act by a bad person against someone else, we are able to recognize that people, institutions, and traditions can be racist. The lack of intentionality is immaterial with respect to whether or not an action is racist – a better yardstick to use is whether or not it has the same effect that an intentionally racist (or “really” racist) action would. Put another way – I can be racist without even trying, and so can a non-conscious entity such as an institution (or even a non-entity like a policy).

Judged by this metric (which is arguably far more useful and accurate than the one used to detect ‘classic racism’), mandatory minimums serve to exacerbate existing racial disparities by removing the capacity of the system to take societal factors into account. In other words, they’re racist:

The legislation, a medley of 10 bills on the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda, includes mandatory-minimum-sentencing rules that will curtail judges’ abilities to deal out alternative sentences. That could undo a decade-long effort to find culturally specific ways of diverting inmates such as Mr. Findlay away from serial engagements with the justice system. Native Canadians make up less than 4 per cent of the general population, but they account for 22 per cent of prison inmates. Many of those are young men who have grown up in poverty and high unemployment, and who have lower-than-average education levels.

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said recently that aboriginal children are more likely to go to jail than to graduate from high school. More will go to jail after C-10, and many will end up in the gangs that flourish in western and northern jails, where more than 70 per cent of inmates are aboriginal. “What we’re doing with C-10,” says Jonathan Rudin, program director of the ALST, “is to increase our reliance on things that don’t work.” [Read more...]

Beyond satire lies true fear

Anyone who is a regular reader of this blog knows that I am no fan of the sitting government. Frankly, I find them to be ruthlessly authoritarian and so blinded by ideology that they spend half of their time contradicting their own stated principles. Their chief strategy of governance seems to be the exploitation of bullying tactics and name-calling in the service of demonizing any opposition, which is done in the place of enacting any reasonable legislation.

I studied Shakespeare’s King Lear in high school. It is, briefly, the story of a king who gives land away to his children, and then goes mad as they betray him to seize power. While the character of Lear is compelling, I was particularly drawn to the personage of the Fool. In our critical analysis of the play, we learned a great deal about the role that the Fool or Court Jester played throughout history. While nobles and members of the court were fearful of criticizing the king’s decisions, part of the role of the Fool was to expose and satirize the folly of others, including the ruling class. The Fool walked a thin line between laughter and biting political commentary; between wisdom and, well, foolishness.

However, at some point there comes a time when the king is simply beyond satire. Where the actions of a ruler are so monstrous and horrifying that there can be no laughter levied in opposition. Wherever that point is, I can’t help but think that our current government is closing on it quickly. [Read more...]

Does stupidity make you racist?

If you read the other FTBlogs (and you should), you may have noticed discussion of a study about cognitive ability, conservative ideology and outgroup prejudice. JT talked about it, and so did Jason. Basically, to read the coverage of the study, a team of psychologists from Brock University in Ontario have demonstrated that a lower level of cognitive ability is predictive of negative attitudes toward other races and gay people, but that political conservatism plays a significant role in that pathway. In a nutshell: conservatives are a bunch of hateful dummies, and now we can prove it!

While I would certainly love for that to be the case, I have spent far too much time wading in the muck of junk science about racism to hop so readily on board. I can certainly confess to my own non-trivial amount of outgroup antipathy toward ideological conservatives. Knowing what I know about confirmation bias and the difficulties associated with measuring intelligence (and how those exact same problems have been used to justifiably discredit studies of scientific racism), I suppressed my “nanna nanna boo boo” instinct and actually took my skeptical scalpel to the paper.

A link to the article, which may be behind a paywall for some of you, is provided here. [Read more...]

So what kind of week has it been?

Have you ever noticed that sometimes things seem to happen all at once? You know how it is – your boss compliments your work on the same day that you find a pair of jeans that fit perfectly on the same day that the radio plays all your favourite songs? Then a week later, your boss forgets your name, you spill bleach on the jeans, and your radio stabs you in the kidneys with a switchblade*.

You all know what I’m talking about, right?

Some times we have really good weeks, and some times we have terrible weeks. Most of the time it’s a mixed bag, but there’s those occasional periods where the scales seem to be tipped predominantly in one direction. So… what kind of week has it been?

Costly federal appointments office has nothing much to do

In the six years since the Harper government came to power, Canadian taxpayers have spent millions of dollars on supporting a federal appointments commission that doesn’t exist. The money has disappeared into a bureaucracy set up to support the commission — a bureaucracy that seems to have just about everything except a commission to support.

So you know the old trope about conservatives being in favour of ‘small government’ and cutting ‘wasteful’ spending (by which they mean things they are ideologically opposed to)? Yeah… it seems as though the evidence continues to mount that the supposed fiscal restraint associated with the right wing is as illusory as the moral superiority their base keeps talking about. This isn’t the only ghost department that the Harper government has created, mind you:

A federal agency created by the Harper government with great political fanfare in 2008 is costing millions of dollars to achieve pretty much nothing. The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board has just about everything a budding government agency could want.

So far, it has spent over $3.3 million for new offices, computers and furniture, well-paid executives and staff, travel budgets, expense accounts, board meetings, and lots of pricey consultants. All that’s missing is a reason for it to exist at all. [Read more...]

Movie Friday: In the Flesh

Since we talked about Republicans and their famous political strategy of demonizing minorities to gain the votes of the ignorant and bigoted, I’ve had this little ditty buzzing around my head:

Now I hope it is quite clear to everyone reading this that I do not consider the Republican party a violent white supremacist fascist group. They are not there yet, and I doubt they ever will be. As long as there can be free press and media in the United States, there will be enough people who can see through the darkest parts of the GOP (irony intentional in the word ‘darkest’, of course).

However, the threat of fascism to the USA will undoubtedly come from that party. For all their hysteria about “socialism” and fetishization of “small government”, it is the Republican party that has been committing the greatest crimes against democracy over the past decade, and who have been wielding government as a cudgel against those who don’t qualify as “real” Americans.

Anyway, I will try to find some happy things to write about next week.

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Republicans, Racism, Religion, and Revulsion

You may not find it odd that I haven’t yet said anything about the ongoing race for the GOP primary, but I do. After all, I talk about politics all the time, and every media outlet has something about the nomination fight up on an ongoing basis. I don’t know if there’s any particular reason I haven’t felt like writing about it – I’ve certainly been following it. If anyone’s curious about my thoughts on the whole situation, I’ll try to provide them to you briefly.

1. Everyone in the race is the worst human being I’ve ever seen

I have a strong dislike for conservative ideology. I have an even stronger dislike for whatever you call the Republican ideology. The Republican party resembles to me a wholly-owned subsidiary of feckless pandering to the worst and least informed instinct in all of us, and naked avarice. While it has become fashionable to say “well both parties are bought and paid for”, the fact is that the Republican party is far and away the most egregious sinner. [Read more...]