On atheist smugness and geopolitics

If you’ve been following the news at all, you’ve heard about rampant anti-US protests happening across western Asia and North Africa in response to a video trailer for a movie that supposedly mocks Muhammad, the central religious figure in Islam:

Rioting demonstrators battled with police outside a U.S. military base in Afghanistan and the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia Monday as violent protests over an anti-Islam film spread to Asia after a week of unrest in Muslim countries worldwide. In an appeal that could stoke more fury, the leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah called for sustained protests in a rare public appearance at a rally in Beirut.

The turmoil surrounding the low-budget movie that denigrates the Prophet Muhammad shows no sign of ebbing nearly a week after protesters first swarmed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya in the eastern city of Benghazi. At least 10 protesters have died in the riots, and the targeting of American missions has forced Washington to ramp up security in several countries.

Protests against the movie turned violent for the first time in Afghanistan on Monday as hundreds of people burned cars and threw rocks at a U.S. military base in the capital, Kabul. Many in the crowd shouted “Death to America!” and “Death to those people who have made a film and insulted our prophet.” They also spiraled out of control in Indonesia and Pakistan, while several in the Middle East were calm. [Read more...]

Suicide of an entirely different form

The Catholic Church says that they’re opposed to suicide. They say they’re very angry about it and those advocating it should cut it the fuck out:

The Catholic archbishop of Vancouver is calling on the provincial government to appeal a landmark B.C. Supreme Court decision Friday that struck down the law that makes physician-assisted death illegal in Canada. Friday’s decision to strike down the law against euthanasia “sadly reflects a distorted view of equality rights that emphasizes autonomy over human dignity and the value of life,” said Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Michael Miller, in a statement.

“True liberty means the freedom to live one’s life secure in the knowledge that those who care for us are in dedicated to the service of life, not the taking of life.” Miller then urged the government to appeal what he called an “extremely flawed and dangerous ruling.”

As a side note, we should definitely explore the feasibility of attaching some sort of dynamo to George Orwell’s grave, because the “Freedom is Slavery” line from a repressive organization like the Roman Catholic Church trying to dictate to the rest of us what “true liberty” means could probably inspire enough spins out of the old boy to generate a few million megawatt hours.

But back to the topic at hand. I don’t think the Catholic Church is actually opposed to suicide. I’m not talking about their fetishization of martyrs – the apologetics that allows them to side-step that bit of seeming hypocrisy is not exactly that difficult to figure out. No, I think the Catholic Church is opposed to everyone’s suicide except their own: [Read more...]

Less relevant by the minute

Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved stories. Even as an adult, I am drawn to the narrative arc – the pacing, the twists and turns of a good plot, the art of a well-crafted climax – these have always been like magic to me. In my younger days though, I was drawn to Greek mythology in a big way. It wasn’t just the fanciful tales, although I liked that aspect a lot – it was the fact that each story was attached to some kind of lesson. They weren’t just stories told for amusement – they were expositions of human foibles and an accounting of how ancient peoples saw the world.

While Aesop’s Fables are not, strictly speaking, Greek mythology, they are perhaps the best exemplar of that type of morality and psychology as taught through story that we have. While Jesus of Nazareth (supposedly) taught in parables, it can often be an arduous exercise to pick out the nuggets of useful knowledge from the heaps of nonsense (what kind of shepherd abandons an entire flock to search for a single lost sheep? A bad one, I’d imagine). The fables attributed to Aesop are far clearer and more real-to-life.

One of the most famous, at least among the secular community, is the Emperor’s New Clothes. The reason it’s famous in our clique is because it so perfectly mirrors the public perception of religion – everyone is told how important and meaningful and significant it is, but as soon as someone takes a critical look at it the whole edifice quickly unravels to reveal one naked fallacy after another. However, turned on its head, there’s another valuable lesson contained in that story. One about the vanity and blindness that accompanies unchecked power and how it can lead people into situations where they completely fucking embarrass themselves: [Read more...]

Manufacturing a martyr

One of the valuable lessons that the atheist community has learned in the last little while is that it is possible to provoke a controversy where one didn’t exist before. The formula is pretty simple – make some largely innocuous public statement about atheism, wait for the predictable overreaction from a group of religious folks who just can’t seem to help themselves, and then enjoy as people fall all over themselves to try to shut the atheists up without violating the law. Every time an atheist bus campaign or billboard goes up, we see the same cycle of provocation, backlash, and blowup. It is an extremely useful method of sparking conversation in circles that weren’t talking before.

Now, to be sure, there are often completely non-exploitative motives behind these campaigns as well. Considering the number of atheists out there in the wold who feel completely alone – as though they are a solitary island of sanity in a sea of faith. Letting them know that they more closely resemble an archipelago with other atheists is both comforting and liberating. There is value in bucking the status quo and forcing the majority to contend with the fact that not everyone shares their myths, and that not everyone thinks of their delusion as worthy of praise and deep, abiding respect. That being said, nobody is so strategy-blind as to think that there is no ulterior motive behind the pronouncement that belief is silly (despite occasional protestations to the contrary).

Well it turns out that we are not the only people capable of exploiting such human frailty: [Read more...]

Something… weird happened last week

Anyone who is at least passingly familiar with the political landscape of the United States right now knows that the Republican Party has declared open season on women’s reproductive rights. From the much-derided all-male hearing on women’s contraception (and the resulting Limbaugh clusterfuck) to the very serious breaches of both personal autonomy and medical ethics happening in various states, there seems to be a concerted effort to roll back women’s access to health care. Add to that the fact that the government was nearly shut down because Republicans refused to allow any federal funding to go to Planned Parenthood, their reluctance to recertify the Violence Against Women Act, and the picture becomes pretty clear: Republicans have decided that American women are on their own.

Of course we have our own version of the Republicans forming the government here in Canada. As I noted shortly after the election, the Republican North Party is actually a stiched-together and very uneasy coalition of actual legitimate fiscal conservatives and the backwoods knee-jerk reactionaries that exist in every country to some degree, and said this: [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.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter! [Read more...]

What kind of week has it been? Round 2

Once again, our esteemed federal government has handed us a veritable flood of exciting politics news. This isn’t the kind of excitement that I usually get happy about – it’s the type that makes the adage “may you live in interesting times” a curse rather than a blessing. We’ll skip my usual preamble and just get right to the good stuff.

Mom without medicare gives birth in hotel

A Scottish woman married to a Canadian wound up having their baby in a hotel room — across the street from a Vancouver hospital — after she couldn’t get provincial health-care coverage. “Luckily it all went OK and I was able to cope with the pain,” said Lynne Aitchison, who delivered baby Ziggy in the hotel bathtub, without medication or complications.

(snip)

However, the province told her she couldn’t have any medical coverage because she couldn’t get a letter from the federal Immigration Department verifying her application. She said Citizenship and Immigration refused to give her anything in writing because her application was sitting in a pile with thousands of others, unopened.

So first of all, I need to state unequivocally that I am opposed to naming your child ‘Ziggy’. No child, no matter how untimely, deserves to be stuck with that name. That being said, obviously the greater crime is that someone who, for the want of a letter from the government, was refused medical coverage and had to deliver Ziggy in the bathtub of a hotel overlooking the hospital. Perhaps all of the relevant information is contained within this graph: [Read more...]

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...]

Movie Friday: Bill O’Reilly makes sense

Not USUALLY, not GENERALLY, but in this clip he actually sounds like he’s payed attention to the arguments from the other side:

There are people out there who, despite having had something explained to them a metric fuckton of times, still profess not to understand the issue. I ran into this with Mallorie Nasrallah a few months ago, where she claimed to have read the criticisms of her obsequious love letter to the patriarchy, but couldn’t understand why people were so upset. I have devised a clever scheme for such circumstances: ask your opponent to summarize your argument, and offer to do the same in reverse. That way, the propensity to strawman can be identified early, and dealt with.

So it was with some surprise that I watched Bill O’Reilly offer what is a pretty cogent defense of the pro-gay-marriage position. So cogent, in fact, that he appears to stump faith-head Kirk Cameron, such that he (Kirk) has to derail his own line of ‘reasoning’ and claim not to have a position. Which, of course, raises the question of why Bill seems ever-eager to bring up the same canards when it suits him to do so. Then again, in order to be surprised by Bill O’Reilly being a hypocrite, you’d have to assume he’s a normal person with scruples.

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Have to laugh, or I’ll cry

Strictly speaking, there’s nothing funny about racism. The existence of racism in our society means that black people are paid less, have poorer health outcomes, are more likely to be harassed or murdered by law enforcement, are less likely to be educated or employed… the list goes on. None of that is a laughing matter, which is why I really don’t care for racist ‘jokes’ that make light of the issue. I think we can derive a lot of humour from pointing out racism, in the same way that we can find humour in pointing out hypocrisy or vice or any other folly of the human condition. It helps us learn about ourselves, and draws attention to issues we might otherwise ignore or misunderstand.

That being said, reading this story made me laugh my ass off:

Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull on Wednesday admitted to sending a racially charged email about President Barack Obama from his courthouse chambers. Cebull, of Billings, was nominated by former President George W. Bush and received his commission in 2001 and has served as chief judge for the District of Montana since 2008. The subject line of the email, which Cebull sent from his official courthouse email address on Feb. 20 at 3:42 p.m., reads: “A MOM’S MEMORY.”

The forwarded text reads as follows: [Read more...]