Don’t Go In There!

Hmm… I still have access to the FtB server. Apparently the whole “plugging the security loopholes” lesson hasn’t quite been learned, given that you’re reading this post right now. Anyway, just thought I’d throw this out there, since it’s something that I did in January and is finally now seeing the light of day. This was originally posted earlier today at my personal blog (which, I’m sure it will disappoint you to learn, I am not posting at very much at all).

Horror films are a wonderful source of escapism, where we can feel the thrill of terror in the relative safety of our living rooms or a crowded movie theatre. One of the all-time classics within the horror genre is the zombie movie: hordes of shuffling, shambling atrocities hell-bent on devouring the flesh of the still-living. One of the iconic images of any good zombie movie is the panic-stricken victim of a zombie bite who is slowly turning from human into monster, as all morality and reason drains from their body while their comrades feverishly debate whether or not to put their erstwhile friend out of hir ‘misery’ courtesy of a well-timed shotgun blast to the face.

Cinema.

One of the things that has always struck me about the thrill and threat of the zombie subgenre is the idea that someone can walk around ‘infected’ without showing any outward signs of distress, but at that pivotal moment they ‘turn’ and lash out. Having watched enough zombie movies in my life, I know enough that I would be far more cautious about that ‘little scrape’ on my friend’s upper arm after a fight with a horde of the undead. I’ve seen enough movies to know that that ‘little scrape’ might mean the difference between life and un-death. I suspect that, if you’ve watched these movies too, you know as well as I do what the warning signs are – the eerie music, the mysterious noise, the unexplained ‘headache’.

Much like a zombie movie afficionado does, members of visible minority communities have spent years learning to read the warning signs of racial antipathy, even from those who don’t recognize that they’re ‘infected’ with the subtle biases that affect us all. They (we) have learned to spot the danger from a long way off, ensuring that we can take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves.

In the following presentation, given in January of 2013 in Kelowna, BC, I explore the parallels between zombie movies and anti-racism, with examples drawn from classic horror scenes. I discuss how we can learn to understand racism in a contemporary context, and understand the role our subconscious plays in our interactions, and how we can use this knowledge to avoid and combat racism in the same way we use it to avoid and combat zombies. I discuss how to have more productive conversations when you, as a member of the majority group, enter a minority space. Finally, I emphasize how anti-racism is a crucial and useful part of a skeptical toolchest, and how we can use this knowledge to grow the movement.

I hope you enjoy the talk, and please feel free to share it, as a whole or in part, wherever you like:

Part 1: Don’t Go In There!

Part 2: Fighting Racism, Zombie Style

Part 3: How Not to Get Your Head Blown Off

Part 4: Anti-Racism and the Skeptical Movement

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Clips from Dawn of the DeadZombielandShaun of the Dead, and Resident Evil claimed under Fair Use principles for educational purposes.

Movie Friday: Don’t Dream It’s Over

Part of the reason I haven’t been writing as much is because I have been playing more guitar. I recently bought a fancy new effects pedal from Line 6, and I have been learning to master it and incorporate it into my live performances. The options are virtually endless, and the going is slow. Here’s one of my favourite new things to do with it:

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Happy Easter!

Easter and the ‘Passion of Jesus’ is one of those things that makes way less sense the more you think about it. I remember being profoundly affected by the passion story as a child – a man making the ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of sins. It was a touching tale. Until I thought about it as an actual event, at which point it became a story about a street preacher getting tortured and killed by a brutal occupying force with the political support of a wealthy religious elite. Not exactly terribly inspiring or even unprecedented – sad, to be sure, but not particularly unique. And then there’s the whole “being a god” and “knowing he would return from the dead” thing that kind of takes the edge off the ‘sacrifice’ theme.

At any rate, maybe if they had showed this in Sunday school instead, I’d have had an easier time believing:

The payoff comes at around the 3-minute mark and is just non-stop hilarity right through to the end.

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Special Feature: Real Men Don’t Talk About Misogyny

This past weekend I convened an all-star panel to discuss a topic whose time has definitely come: masculinity and misogyny. Our discourse within the atheist community has hit a sticking point (for many) in the form of the role that feminism plays in understanding not only our own internal community dynamics, but the world around us in general. This ‘internal’ debate is happening alongside a similar discussion happening in our society at large, where the role that women play in our democracy and our day-to-day lives is under particular scrutiny.

The issue before the panel was the statement “Real men don’t talk about misogyny” – not a direct quotation, but certainly a paraphrase of a general dismissive attitude of feminism as something that only women can and should talk about or participate in. The discussion centred around 5 general questions:

  • What is a “real man”?
  • How can we define “misogyny”? How does misogyny manifest itself in online discussion?
  • What role does religion play in gender roles?
  • Is misogyny similar to or different from other forms of bigotry (racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.)? How?
  • Do parents have a role to play in the discussion?
  • What do/can/should men contribute to discussions of misogyny?

The discussion (which clocks in at just under 90 minutes), a description of the panelists, and some of my own thoughts are after the fold.

[Read more...]

Movie Friday: Empathy Boosters

This week we were treated to a bizarre bit of performance art by a commenter who decided to make no fewer than two threads completely about him and his “wisdom” about why victim blaming is okay (but when he does it, it’s not victim blaming). Y’all were way more patient with him than I would have been, but eventually I stepped in and moved him to moderation (GASP! Free speech! FTBullies! Feminazis!) because there seemed to be no bottom to his cluelessness.

Fun times.

Anyway, keeping with the theme of “Required Reading”, today’s video is perhaps best termed “Required Watching”:

[Read more...]

Movie Friday: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Other America

There are few things that get me more irate than people who selectively quote Martin Luther King Jr. as their ‘trump card’ for their argument. While I think Dr. King had some fantastic ideas in his time, he was looking at reality through a theological lens without the benefit of scientific training; furthermore, the world he knew is now more than 50 years old. To suggest that disagreeing with Dr. King in 2013 means that your argument is incorrect is a naked appeal to authority that happens far too frequently.

Even beyond that though, most of the quoting I come across is sliced out of a single speech (the ‘Dream’ speech), without even the courtesy or intellectual rigour to quote the lines in context of the rest of the speech:

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

If someone wants to try and reconcile that passage with the idea that Dr. King was colour blind, they’re welcome to waste their time doing so. Also everyone is invited to evaluate whether or not the conditions that prompt that speech are radically or even meaningfully different than they were in 1963.

The fact is that Dr. King wrote more than one speech, and his beliefs went beyond simple platitudes of “colour of skin vs. content of character”. Failing to appreciate this not only gives us a skewed and wildly inaccurate view of both the man and his contribution to history, but it robs us of the wealth of thoughts he did contribute. So today I invite you to brew a cup of coffee, sit down somewhere comfortable, and watch the video linked here. [Read more...]

Movie Friday: Voices United for Mali

Music has been, and continues to be, an integral part of my life. I picked up my first musical instrument at age 6, and since then there hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t doing something musical in my free time. I went through private lessons, string ensembles, chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras, rock bands, solo gigs, string quartets… it’s been a huge part of not only how I live my life, but how I see myself.

So, at this moment in time, I am really glad I don’t live in Mali:

Musicians in Mali are defying militants in the North who have declared Shariah law and banned all music but the Islamic call to prayer.

(snip)

Strict Islamist militants imposing a version of Shariah law first seized control of major towns across northern Mali last March. They have since solidified their grip on the North and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.

(snip)

“It is strange for us to understand the extent to which it is impossible to listen or play music in the North. You can’t do it anymore. The only way you can play it is to drive miles out into the desert, where you are beyond the earshot of anyone.”

Before this recent outbreak of fundagelical religious tyrannical fascism, Mali sounds like a place I could be quite happy in. Music is woven into their cultural expression in much the same way it is woven into my life. And that makes the ban on music all the more shocking and deplorable.

Now I’m not going to comment on the rightness or wrongness of European/North American military intervention in Mali. Some analysts have pointed out that the crisis there was triggered as a result of NATO intervention in Libya – as mercenary groups fled post-Gaddhafi Libya, they moved west and eventually took over. I am not sure what is to be done there, since foreign involvement may have triggered the damn thing in the first place. What I do know is that the people who made this video are impressive as hell:

I can’t imagine what I would do if music was outlawed by threat of death. One thing I do know is that by standing up and resisting, the people of Mali are setting a powerful example for oppressed groups everywhere: resistance in the face of unjust persecution is human dignity at its height.

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Movie Friday: Where I Get it From

A year and a half ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue from my father, telling me that he had started learning the saxophone. Dad’s in a gradual state of growing retirement, meaning that he still works but on a purely opt-in basis. He does a number of things to fill his time, including a promising side-career as a photographer. Back in his youth, Dad played guitar in church choirs around the Caribbean – to hear him tell it, he was moderately famous. Since then he’s been singing in choirs and stuff, but the decision to acquire an entirely new musical instrument at the age of 60 was, I will confess, surprising.

Last Sunday, Dad did this:

A shocked reaction

I am crazy impressed with Dad here. I’ve heard him play a handful of times, and I knew he was pretty good, but I had no idea he was bringing game this hard. If you good folks would be so kind as to click through to the video, ‘like’ it, and leave complimentary comments, I know it would make his day.

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Movie Friday: My right-wing conspiracy theory

I am not one easily given to conspiracy theories. I usually assume that any major injustice or monumental political shift is due to an accumulation of human stupidity, rather than the genius machinations of a secret cabal. After all, as Karl Rove has taught us, most of the people who are rumoured to be political ‘geniuses’ are usually just lucky and have good PR. It’s usually safer to assume that the snake has no head, given how spectacularly bad human beings are at keeping secrets.

I do make two pet exceptions though. The first is for H1N1, which I think was seen as an opportunity to test our public health readiness infrastructure. We knew pretty early on that the disease wasn’t particularly fatal, but it was a good chance for us to see what would happen when a serious flu (like H5N1, for example) breaks out, in a natural experiment. This isn’t a nefarious conspiracy – I don’t think government labs ‘cooked up’ a fake disease or any nonsense like that – but I think they held back on telling the public that there really wasn’t anything to worry about.

The second conspiracy theory that’s been cooking in the back of my mind is that conservatives are secretly brilliant. That they’ve been playing at being buffoons as part of a trans-generational practical joke on liberals, who are just too slow/outraged to get the joke. How else do you explain the fact that Michelle Bachmann is sitting on the House Intelligence Committee? That kind of irony doesn’t just happen by accident – that’s satire on a grand scale.

The problem is that liberals still haven’t clued in after all these years, and they’re having to get more and more obvious in the hopes that we will catch on. For a recent example, we can turn to (where else?) Fox ‘News’: [Read more...]

SERIOUSLY?! Season 2, Episode 1

Xavier and I got together this weekend and hit the ‘restart’ button on our video podcast, after leaving it idle for the end of 2012.

As I mention at the end, we are going to try and get another episode up next week, but since I’m going to be in Kamloops and Kelowna this weekend, it might be a bit tricky.

Here’s a link to the story about the racist statue.

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