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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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.

[youtube = “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIP38eq-ywc&feature=player_embedded”]

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.

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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Net Neutrality – definitely a free speech issue

The following clip was brought to my attention:

I don’t know much about Al Franken, except that people whose opinions I respect think he’s a good guy. Based on this speech here, he seems like someone I should be paying more attention to. Imagine for a moment what the world would be like if the Catholic Church had been in complete control of the printing press (although we don’t have to strain our imaginations too much – just read a history book). Science, philosophy, literacy, all of the hallmarks that took us out of the dark ages would have been completely lost. Medicines wouldn’t have been discovered (since prayer would be all you need), representative democracy would not have become the standard of government, ethicists like Hume, Kant, Rawls, and Nietzsche (especially him); authors like Dostoevsky, Twain, Hugo and Orwell would have published exactly nothing (but on the bright side, no Twilight novels either); Picasso, Dali, Hendrix, and Ginsberg would have been forbidden the political climate that spawned their works.

I’d really rather live in this world where public expression was the secular right of all people.

Senator Franken imagines a world in which large corporations, who have no responsibility aside from delivering money to their shareholders, are in control of the means of knowledge dissemination. We can look to China to see what happens when the government controls the means – they have a socialist fascist political system. Imagine then what a corporate fascist political system would look like. Or, sit back and do nothing, and we’ll find out.

Those of you in the United States should please feel free to sign this petition.

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Online anonymity – a free speech issue?

Can you force free speech on people? That is, is speech still ‘free’ when you have to speak? Certainly denying the rights of people to speak when they want to is wrong, but is it equally wrong to force someone to speak up? It’s a bizarre question, to be sure, but one that seems to be cropping up over and over.

I’ve spoken before about China’s tempestuous relationship with free speech; or maybe I should call it an abusive relationship, since it regularly treads on the speech rights of its citizens. However, there’s something happening right now in China that is making me sit up and take notice:

A leading Chinese internet regulator has vowed to reduce anonymity online, calling for rules to require people to use their real names when buying a mobile phone or going online, according to a human rights group.

The move would have two major implications. The first is that the days of internet trolling and flaming would be pretty much done. You’re going to be a lot less likely to call someone a ‘fagtard fuckstick’ if they can find out who you really are. The second is a bit more chilling though, since the government would also have access to your personal information. Given China’s record for cracking down on dissent of any kind, and the stated policy that “indicate a growing uneasiness toward the multitude of opinions found online.” I’m not so sure this information should be available, even given the problems China is having with its own regulation.

But that’s China’s problem, right? Over here in North America we don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff! Well, that’s not exactly the case:

The maker of the hugely popular World of Warcraft video game has reversed a previous plan that would have required users of its game forums to post under their real names.

I don’t play WoW, but I do have friends who do, and I am familiar with the kinds of abuse that happen on internet sites. I’m also acutely aware that many of the users are young people, for whom that kind of abuse can be truly scarring. In an effort to civilize the forums, Activision/Blizzard announced it would bring in measures to remove anonymity from its forums. The backlash was immediate, with users raising concerns (some legitimate) that publishing that information would make people targets of abuse. Many female gamers use the anonymity to avoid being sexually harassed, and the removal of that layer of protection would likely dissuade them from participation. Ditto for members of minority groups (with them ‘ethnic-sounding’ furriner names). Activision/Blizzard pulled the plug, but something tells me the issue hasn’t gone away. And it’s not just me who thinks so:

Two-thirds of 895 technology experts and stakeholders surveyed about the future of the internet believe the millennial generation, born mainly in the 1980s and 1990s, will make online sharing a lifelong habit, suggests a Pew Research Center and Elon University study released Friday.

One needn’t look much further than Facebook and Twitter (or even FourSquare, which makes even my millennial eyebrows raise in concern) to realize that privacy as it was known previously is on the way out. One also needn’t look much further than those sites to realize that there is huge potential for abuse, with employers firing or refusing to hire people based on their Facebook exploits. Canada’s privacy commissioner has been going round after round with Facebook to get better privacy measures installed. How long before those are a memory, and our whole lives are online? Let’s hope that we have at least a little while longer:

The owner of XY Magazine and its associated website – which catered for young homosexual boys – filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. XY’s creditors have applied for the firm’s one remaining valuable asset: its database of one million users.

This is the privacy nightmare. Not the loss of a job because you posted a drunk picture of you riding a pig, but you getting assaulted by a pig over information that you were told would be kept anonymous. There are many people who are privately gay and who are not prepared to come out in public. Being forced out would be traumatic enough, but to have that information up for sale to whoever wanted it would be disastrous.

So it seems the balance is, at least for now, that privacy does more good than harm. We don’t yet live in a society with sufficient privacy protections that would allow people to be themselves online. Why is this a problem for me? Because the same protections that gay kids and Chinese dissidents and female gamers get are extended to race bigots, Holocaust deniers, and religious zealots. If we have a code of rights to protect privacy, then it also covers the privacy of people whose opinions we don’t like. The goal of free speech is to have ideas out in the open, not cowering behind a shield of anonymity. Activision/Blizzard recognized that, but had to reverse its decision. This seems to be another downside to living in a free society – even assholes are granted freedom.

Why do I care about free speech?

I think it’s a fair question to ask: why do I care about free speech? I live a live of great privilege – I don’t have many unpopular political beliefs, I am not discriminated against in any major way, there are no great social causes that I have to fight for on a daily basis – what does it matter to me? My day-to-day life doesn’t really put me up against the forces of the police or the government (to the contrary, I actually get my paycheques from a government agency). This is, I suspect, the state of affairs for most of you reading this blog. Our lives are very rarely touched by infringements of our rights (save for those who were in Toronto during the G20 protests).

So why talk about it? Why do I care?

As I’ve said several times previously, free speech is one of the core principles of a free society. Freedom is important because it allows us to make decisions that benefit people, not simply ones that correspond to whatever the prevailing prejudice of the day is. Free speech allows unpopular ideas to flourish, and as we’ve seen throughout history, some unpopular ideas are the ones that are the most needed. Allowing all ideas to come to the table and receive equal scrutiny ensures that bad ideas can be abandoned and good ones adopted.

Cracking down on free speech only hurts the progress of society, as the people of Tibet are learning first-hand:

International observers have called for action following accusations that China has been arresting leading Tibetan writers, poets and musicians in a crackdown on cultural figures, as The World Tonight’s Paul Moss reports.

I am a musician, so I must declare my bias towards art and artists. As someone with a sprinkling of knowledge about the history of music, drama, art and world history, I know that you cannot separate the progress and change of a society without looking at its artistic expression. Art is not only used to capture the essence of what is happening in the current cultural landscape, but to express the things that the culture wants and strives for. It is also often used to express dissent against forces that are oppressing the artist, and by extension the society at large. All of these things are true for the artists of Tibet. Silencing artists accomplishes only one thing – takes away any access you might have to solve the problem.

This is why I want racists and bigots and Holocaust deniers to have a platform – not because I agree with their ideas, but because shutting them down doesn’t solve the underlying problems they represent, and only makes it harder to keep track of where unpopular ideas are coming from.

What’s interesting about this story is that apparently it is not the Chinese government (who, as you will recall, is no great fan of free speech) that is responsible for these jailings:

But despite clear challenges to Beijing’s authority, Robbie Barnett, director of Columbia University’s Modern Tibetan Studies programme, said the Chinese government itself may not be behind the arrests and prison sentences. He believes that over-zealous local officials were the more likely instigators: “Local officials make their own minds up about who they’re going to crack down on.”

It is for this reason that I care. Free speech is a fundamental right that is opposed not only to governmental tyranny, but the tyranny that average people inflict on each other. There are any number of people I disagree with, but even if I had the power to I would not silence them. However, because we live in a (comparatively) free society, we take our freedom for granted. It is this complacency that worries me, as I see people telling others that their ideas are better off not expressed. If an idea lacks validity, by all means demonstrate that. If someone has shown your idea to be incorrect, then maybe you should stop talking about it. But don’t ever let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t speak simply because your idea is unpopular. Free speech is something we should all care about, and it’s something I’m going to keep writing about.

MP called to resign after making anti-Israeli comments

I spend a lot of time picking on other countries, but since I’m on a roll in picking on my own country, I thought I’d bring up a free speech issue that’s happening right here at home:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on NDP MP Libby Davies to resign as her party’s deputy leader after she suggested Israel has been occupying territory since the country came into existence.

If any of my Jewish readers are still speaking to me, can someone please explain to me why saying that Israel has occupied territory belonging to Palestine is grounds for getting shitcanned? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with her assessment. The reason Israel has to exist is because there was a worldwide effort to deny Jewish people a homeland, and to essentially eliminate Jews. Historically, the establishment of Israel was an attempt to combat global anti-Semitism; however, like so many things done in the wake of World War II, a decision was made by European powers that completely ignored the needs of the indigenous peoples of the regions that were carved up into territories, and generations of conflict were the direct result.

Since then, Israel as a political entity has made several missteps – not because they’re Jewish, but because they’re human. Right now there is massive suffering and death happening in Gaza as a result of those missteps (as well as ongoing Jewish/Arab conflict). Ms. Davies made the observation that Israel has done some morally reprehensible things, and in many cases has behaved like an occupying force. She supports a two-state solution, rather than allowing the status quo to continue.

Apparently, according to Stephen Harper, that makes her an extremist:

“The deputy leader of the NDP knew full well what she was saying,” Harper said during the daily question period in the House of Commons. “She made statements that could have been made by Hamas, Hezbollah or anybody else with no repercussions from that party whatsoever.”

I’m not a fan of Stephen Harper. He has been the worst prime minister in terms of the environment, the democratic process, and the Canadian style of open governance that I can see. Far worse, for example, than Paul Martin was (for the 20 minutes he was PM before a completely unrelated scandal forced him out of politics). This despicable smear of an MP who said something impolitic as a terrorist is below reprehensible. Of course, Mr. Harper seems to do his best work in the sub-reprehensible region so it really shouldn’t come as a surprise. What does come as a surprise is that anyone would continue to support this man who cracks down on free speech and responsible government by pandering to the basest and meanest instincts in people.

If what I have said here is insensitive or incorrect, I’d really like to hear why. If there’s a good reason why Davies should be considered an anti-Semite or should be forced to resign, please let me know. All I can see so far is a slimy weasel trying to score points off the political misstep of an opponent, and casting a chill on the climate of free speech we enjoy here in Canada.

EDIT: Below is a video of the actual comments that MP Davies made. I confess my ignorance as to the history of the conflict, or of specific actions that Israel has taken over time. I do know, however, from doing a bit of reading about the story, that a two-state solution (which is what MP Davies seems to be suggesting) has been brought forward many times before. My anti-Semitism radar is pretty poor though, so if there’s stuff in here that is clearly offensive, please help me by pointing it out.

Reaction to the G8/G20 summit

I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. It’s interesting to get a perspective (albeit a fictional one) on what happens in the halls of government, to see how the sausage gets made. One of my favourite episodes involves a meeting by the Director of Communications with a group of youth protesting the World Trade Organization. Toby wryly observes that it’s like “protest summer camp”, as the protesters are poorly-organized, lack a coherent message, and do not seem capable of dealing with someone in a position to actually do something. He mocks them both under his breath and openly to their faces. At the end of the episode, he confides to one of his fellow senior-level staffers that if he wasn’t working for the White House, he’d be out on the picket lines with them.

That’s how I feel about this weekend’s G8/G20 clusterfuck.

First off I want to say that, and I absolutely cannot stress this enough, VIOLENCE IS NOT SPEECH. The Charter protects the right of citizens to free expression. The goal of free speech is to have all ideas out in the open air, where they can be debated. The virtue of this approach is that ideas that are not necessarily popular cannot simply be shut down by the capricious whim of either the majority, or whoever happens to be in power at that moment. Of all of the rights that we have in this country, free speech/free expression is, in my mind, the most important one. It is what separates us from theocratic countries that use the power of the state to shut down political opposition and legitimate citizen movements.

Donning a black mask, running through the streets, smashing windows and setting fires, then abandoning those masks to avoid capture by police is the complete opposite of the idea of free speech. It is a violation of everything that is good about free speech protections. It is the face of a mass of cowardice and stupidity, and is an abject abuse of my rights as a citizen. If you think that smashing a window is a viable form of protest, then smash the shit out of the window – but stand by your actions. Smashing a window and then running tells the world nothing except that you are a selfish asshole who disregards the rights of others because it’s fun. Burning a cop car and then running tells the world that you are in no way willing to work with others to solve problems in society, you are just out for yourself in your infantile tantrum. Spraypainting “bomb the banks” and then running tells the world that you are a mindless anti-corporate bandwagon jumper who absolutely cannot be counted on to help make the world a better place.

I wish I was a better writer so that I could adequately express the complete and utter contempt in which I hold someone who hides behind a black mask and a gang in order to get away with trashing personal property. I am not a violent person, and I abhor the use of force to solve interpersonal problems, but if I was presented with a Black Bloc member and the opportunity to do so, I would beat the living snot out of the little over-entitled, pseudo-punk shits who ran like children when faced with the consequences of their actions. They are beneath contempt. Violent revolt is sometimes necessary in the development of a society, but it has to mean something. The violence this weekend was meaningless. It was a bunch of assholes who saw an opportunity for cheap laughs by burning property and assaulting people.

There are two great tragedies of this weekend’s events (aside from the abrogation of the rights of law-abiding citizens who were caught in police sweeps, having committed no crimes, which is an absolute tragedy in and of itself). The first is the fact that there were a number of people there who had legitimate cause to protest. They were exercising their rights as free citizens to voice opposition, and raise issues on the world stage. The acts of the black-clad assholes buried the efforts of legitimate protesters who were trying to make a positive difference in society. I may not agree with any number of the issues that the protesters wanted to bring up, but they were interested in presenting a principled stand and were willing to confront authority openly and courageously. The assholes ruined this opportunity, ensuring that nobody will ever hear the voice of the constructive. I commend Toronto mayor David Miller for accurately distinguishing between the protesters and the “thugs” (although I prefer the term assholes, he’s a politician and has to be a bit less colourful).

The second tragedy is one that is a bit more germane to the second topic of this blog: race. I took a look through photo galleries of the assholes, and played a game I like to play sometimes called “spot the black people”. The best part of the game is that among groups of people who are supposedly demonstrating on behalf of the poorest and most disenfranchised people on the planet, you’ll never spot those people among the group. You can’t talk about the victims of globalization and the global economy without talking about Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Look at the pictures – I challenge you to find a non-white face among the crowd. As difficult as it is to spot income, the group did not strike me as poorly-fed and impoverished people rising up against authority – they resembled a group of middle-class hypocrites who wear the trappings of poverty for street cred, while living off the largess of their parents. Here’s a hint: if you joined up with the Black Bloc because you got a Twitter Alert on your iPhone while you were serving cappuccinos at Starbucks, you aren’t fighting against the man. You’re just as responsible for the suffering of the poor as those who you claim to be demonstrating against – you are part of the system.

As Toronto recovers from this event, I cannot help but recall my own experience during the Vancouver Olympics this past February. I made a poor choice to walk down Georgia street on my way home, and was blocked by a massive protest march. For those of you not familiar with Vancouver, that would be like marching at Bay/Bloor. The streets were absolutely jammed with people shouting slogans and carrying signs. I immediately noticed the actions of police officers – they were there to ensure the safety of the marchers. They did not jeer, or harass/assault people who were exercising their rights to speech, even when it shut down the core of the city. Even when the protesters arrived at the blockades around the stadium, both sides kept their cool. It wasn’t until the next day when the assholes showed up and smashed the windows of the Bay at Georgia/Granville that any arrests or assaults took place. Vancouver had its own G8/G20 protest here this weekend. No arrests, no injuries, no problems. The few assholes who showed up to cause trouble were detained and identified, but no formal charges were laid (which is regrettable, but the cops don’t work for me).

I am deeply saddened and enraged by the actions of a cowardly bunch of callow fucks. There are real issues in the world to protest, real problems that need to be solved. If you want to fight against the forces of oppression, you have to be willing to stand up for your beliefs. Being a citizen comes with responsibilities, and when you smash shit with a mask on, not only do you abdicate those responsibilities, but you simultaneously abdicate any claim to the legitimacy of your position among reasonable people.

I take an unpopular stance on Holocaust denial

I know that some of my readers are Jewish. I hope that I have established my bona fides in your eyes that I am not an anti-Semite, nor will I rush to defend Jews when they are wrong. I see Judaism and Jewish people in the same way I see all religions and religious people – not deserving of sainthood, but definitely not deserving of hatred and violence. I am not a Holocaust denier, I do not think the Holocaust was a cover-up or a lie – there are mountains of evidence, and I am satisfied that the truth is more-or-less represented accurately in the current narrative. I am aware that there is a community of deniers out in the world, and I try to stay as far away from them as possible.

Elie Weisel wants to make it a crime to deny the Holocaust:

Wiesel did disagree with (author Salman) Rushdie over whether Holocaust denial should be a crime, saying it should be outlawed everywhere except in the United States. That’s because the First Amendment in the U.S. guaranteeing freedom of expression is too important, Wiesel said. Rushdie, on the other hand, said prosecuting Holocaust deniers simply extended them a platform. The author said freedom of speech and the value of human rights were both topics that could not be discussed enough.

I agree with Rushdie, although for slightly different reasons. Many European countries have made it a crime to deny the Holocaust. My concern is not simply that making it a crime makes martyrs out of those who are arrested (although that will almost certainly be the case), my concern is that outlawing any speech is cause for pause. The unbelievably inconvenient thing about free speech is that you can’t pick and choose which speech should be free. It’s either free, or it isn’t free. If we’re not going to have free speech, then we need to establish reasonable criteria to infringe – we can’t simply arbitrarily decide that some things can be discussed and some can’t, no matter how horrible they might be. One of my favourite bloggers talked about this a couple weeks ago, and you can find me sprinkled all over the comments section. Orac had, among other things, this to say:

Quite frankly, Wiesel’s advocacy of a ban on Holocaust denial while championing free speech to criticize Islam doesn’t just look hypocritical. From my perspective, it is hypocritical. Why this one exception to free speech for Holocaust denial bans? Why not other exceptions to free speech–such as for criticizing religion or racist hate speech against others besides Jews?

At what point does some speech become “incorrect”, but similar speech is okay? Are blasphemy laws justified because it strikes at the very core of some people’s belief systems? Should all anti-religious speech be off-limits, even if it’s to criticize specific abhorrent practices that are done in the name of religion?

The other side of it, and perhaps the more compelling argument, is that banning speech doesn’t make the problem go away. It simply drives it underground, where it is allowed to grow and metastasize until it erupts and hurts people. We’ve seen a number of examples of that on this blog alone – where taking away the ability to talk about something only serves to make it worse. If the goal of the law is to eliminate the hate, then it must be done similarly to using surgery or radiation to treat a tumour – sometimes things have to get worse in order for them to get better. Once the hate is out in the open air, we can counter it with facts and demolish its support, finally putting it completely to rest. Or, as Orac puts it:

Let them have their free speech. Then bury them with refutations and ridicule.