Belgium identifies 500 abuse victims

I must confess to have taken some perverse pleasure in watching the Catholic Church crumble under the weight of its own evil. Any organization that has this much power, abuses its influence this egregiously, and then gets caught fills me with both an appreciation for hubris and a feeling of schadenfreude. This has definitely stopped being fun:

Hundreds of sex abuse victims have come forward in Belgium with harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy that reportedly led to at least 13 suicides and affected children as young as two, an independent Belgian commission said Friday. Prof. Peter Adriaenssens, chair of the commission, said the abuse in Belgium may have been even more rampant than the 200-page report suggests, because his panel’s work was interrupted and all its files seized in a June 24 raid by Belgian judicial authorities who are conducting their own probe.

All of a sudden the jokes about priests touching kids simply turn to ashes in my mouth. This is a level of evil certainly within the same ballpark of the slave trade or the atrocities of the Nazi party. There’s nothing particularly amusing about this:

Friday’s report lists 507 witnesses who came forward with stories of molestation at the hands of clergy over the past decades. It says those abused included children who were two, four, five and six years old.

Or this:

The number of those coming forward with their stories and testimonies, however, could be only a fraction of those actually abused, Adriaenssens said. “We saw how priests, called up by the commission and asked to help seek the truth, were willing to set up the list of 10, 15, 20 victims they abused during boarding school while the commission knew only of one.”

I am ultimately at a loss for words (which is bad news for a blogger) to describe both my deep revulsion at this systematic abuse, and my resulting bafflement at how it could be so widespread. Are there that many pedophiles in the population at large, failing to abuse children simply out of the lack of access? Does the priesthood provide a siren call to those who have a particular attraction to children? We know that power corrupts, but is it the power itself that causes otherwise normal people to become child-rapists? Are these forms of abuse simply the resurrected ghosts of old cases of abuse that these grown priests experienced as children?

These questions all have several broad implications – if there are pedophiles in the population at large, should we be more concerned about any organization (the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Boy Scouts/Girl Guides) that attracts adults to work closely with children? If the priesthood attracts pedophiles, should we be cracking down on seminarians (side note: I used to want to be a priest; am I a latent pedophile)? If it’s merely an issue of power and access, why are we not more concerned about CEOs and politicians? If this is the result of past abuse, don’t we owe a duty of care to the perpetrators as well?

The Belgian church is struggling with these questions as well:

The Belgian Roman Catholic church on Monday acknowledged widespread sexual abuse over years by its clergy and pleaded for time to set up a system to punish abusers and provide closure for victims. The comments were in response to a report Friday in which hundreds of sex abuse victims revealed harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy throughout the country over the past 50 years…

“The challenge is so big and touches on so many emotions, it seems impossible to us to present a new proposal in all its details [now],” (Archbishop) Leonard said of hotly anticipated church plans to go after the abusers and protect the victims. The church also called on all abusers to come forward.

In the face of the accusations, I am quickly losing both my taste for this story and my patience with the unremitting arrogance and disgusting lack of human decency being championed by the Vatican. Pope Ratzinger, upon arriving in England, decided to place the blame for society’s ills on the quasi-Nazi forces of secularism – a brazenly assholish move from a man who lived in Nazi Germany, and who subsequently helped orchestrate a major crime against humanity even before taking the reins of the corrupt organization he now leads. His ignorance, maleficence and utter disregard for his own hypocrisy anger me in ways I can barely describe.

It is a family tradition to attend Christmas mass, and I will be home with my family in December. I don’t think I can bring myself to accompany them this year, or ever again.

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Censorship: the first step toward tyranny

I said recently that there isn’t much point in having any rights if you don’t have free speech. Free speech is the one that allows you to fight for all of the other ones. What good is the right to free association, or the right not to be arbitrarily detained, if the government can punish you for speaking up when those rights are violated? I am born incredibly lucky to live in a country that, more or less, understands that censorship of unpopular ideas is not only impractical, but deleterious to the welfare of society as a whole. We take it for granted in this country that I can call Stephen Harper a helmet-headed pig-fucker on the steps of Parliament, and the only recourse he has is to call me an awkward, pudgy ignoramus (or better yet to simply ignore the crazy person).

People in Sri Lanka are rapidly losing that privilege:

Sri Lanka has impounded the latest edition of the Economist, which has an opinion piece critical of constitutional changes in the country. The magazine said last week’s charter revision granting the president sweeping powers and potentially unlimited terms was dangerous. Sri Lankan authorities now regularly confiscate or delay distribution of the news and business magazine.

You’ll remember from last week that Sri Lanka has just granted extraordinary constitutional powers to its president, contrary to any extant example of good governance.

What baffles me is the fact that anyone thinks that censorship works. Especially now in the days of the internet, where the barrier of censorship better resembles a sieve than a drumskin. Just in this last century we’ve seen the French underground using print media to undermine the rule of Nazi occupiers, counter-propaganda campaigns tear down both the tight fist of United States and British imperialism and the iron rule of Soviet communism, and Iranian government corruption being exposed by a bunch of kids with iPhones. Even the fabled Great Firewall of China is subject to periodic massive information leaks that the overwhelming power of the party cannot seem to plug. Scientology is coming apart at the seams thanks to a handful of bored internet users exposing their ridiculous doctrines. Julian Assange is baffling the largest intelligence network ever conceived.

Censorship doesn’t work.

The drive for free expression will always outpace the ability of power to suppress it. It’s like a dandelion that grows up through a crack in the concrete. I am seriously baffled why I, as a (relatively) young and (relatively) ignorant student of a handful of history seems to understand that better than political leaders all over the world. Especially when there are groups of intelligent, driven people all over the world working tirelessly to baffle the forces of censorship:

Software created to help Iranians escape government control of the web has been withdrawn over security fears. Haystack was designed to help people in the country communicate via the web without revealing their identity. However, independent tests showed that Haystack’s creators had little control over who was using the program.

On the face of it, the above seems like bad news I suppose. The important thing to remember is that there is a community of people who are committed to advancing the cause of free speech, who won’t stop until it is realized. The other thing to remember is that there’s an entire internet community that is also devoted to shutting down government filters just “for teh lulz”. If you want to stay in power, govern well.

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Interesting experiment in China

I’ve spent a decent number of words decrying the state of free speech in China. Any criticism of the government may be met with complete indifference or being imprisoned, beaten and executed by agents of the state. Anyone who has studied the psychological concept of operant conditioning knows that intermittent reward or punishment leads to the longest term adherence to conditioned behaviour. George Orwell knew it too – in 1984 the vid-screens are only sometimes switched on, but if the thought police happen to catch you, you’re effed.

However, in my occasional habit of (in the interest of appearing much more fair and balanced than I actually am) giving credit where credit is due, there is something interesting happening for free speech in China:

Thousands of Chinese people have posted comments on an internet forum that promised to send their messages direct to the government. Four days after the site was launched by the state-run People’s Daily, more than 27,000 messages had been posted.

Basically, the Chinese government has put up a giant “How Am I Driving?” billboard, and encouraged citizens to air their grievances. It’s hard for me to view this without deep suspicion of an ulterior motive, but it appears to be a genuine attempt to illicit feedback from the populace. In the field of program evaluation (somewhat tangentially related to my own field) there is a concept called ‘Needs Assessment’. The process is fairly self-explanatory, the goal of which is to, by various means, determine what the priority areas are for the population your program intends to serve. A group of fellow students and I went to a small community in Bolivia in the summer of 2007 to, among other things, conduct such an assessment. We learned a couple of important things during the process: 1) that it is much easier to ask questions than it is to address them, and 2) that even the process of explicitly listing priorities can spur the populace to take action.

There’s no larger point to be made from this story, except that a society in which the populace has access to its leaders is much healthier than one in which the voice of the populace is suppressed. I am holding out no great hope that the government will take any dramatic action to address the problems (point 1), but perhaps private enterprise can spur some development toward addressing the problems now that priorities have been made explicit (point 2).

It is interesting to see how the internet is changing the way that governments operate, even in oppressive regimes:

The popular Islam Today website, run by the Saudi cleric Salman al-Awdah, has closed a section that contains thousands of Islamic religious rulings, or fatwas. Several websites offering fatwas have recently been blocked, following a decree by King Abdullah. The decree was seen as an attempt to reduce controversial fatwas issued by minor or ultra-conservative clerics.

Much the way that the advent of the printing press, coupled with increased literacy, changed the way that governments related to the people following the Renaissance in Europe and the Middle East, the internet has become a force to contend with. As governments, citizens and corporations struggle to find out a way to adapt to the flood of access to information, it’s nice to see a couple of positive things come out of it, as opposed to regimes’ tendency to crack down on the means of access.

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Accommodation vs. Confrontation

I suppose I have been remiss in formally commenting on one of the major debates currently going on in the atheist/agnostic/secular movement. There is a camp of people that thinks that the pathway to achieving the goals of a secular world is to work hand-in-hand with religious groups, and avoid offending the sensibilities of the religious at all costs. This camp believes that the path to peace can only be achieved if atheists are perceived not as a threat, but as welcome allies in the struggle to achieve a more stable, democratic society.

The other camp wants the first camp to STFU and GTFO.

This debate has been colloquially referred to as “accommodationism” vs. “confrontationalism”. Accommodationists want to work with religious people and find ways to ally the goals of the atheist movement to those of the religious movement, being very respectful at all times of the beliefs of others. Confrontationalists think that the path to achieving the goals of the movement is to assertively articulate our position and push on both the legal system and the large unengaged middle to highlight the important issues and bring about large-scale change.

There is currently a dispute, some might call it a fight, over which of these approaches is the correct one. I have not yet, at least in print, expressed which camp I ally more closely with.

Before the “big reveal”, I want to talk about a similar situation that was happening during the Civil Rights movement in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. If I may be so grotesque a mangler of history, we can contrast the approaches of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as the “accommodationalist” and “confrontationalist” camps (respectively).

I will say at this point that Malcolm X began his political career as the mouthpiece of a fundamentalist Muslim who advocated mass conversion of black people, and complete segregation of those people from white America – essentially establishing a self-contained religious theocratic state within the USA. Martin Luther King Jr. was no saint either – he was happy to use segments of Christianity as justification for his struggle, without acknowledging the fact that it was that same philosophy that was used to justify the enslavement and systematic oppression of the very people he was fighting for. The two men were not really fighting toward the same goal, except insofar as they were both interested in increasing the autonomy and independence of black Americans. However, for the sake of convenience and familiarity, I hope you will allow my somewhat ahistorical comparison.

It was directly due to the influence of MLK that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed, granting equal protection and access under law to people regardless of their ethnicity. His doctrine of non-violent resistance and co-operation with white leaders and people, coupled with his amazing powers of public persuasion and charisma reached out to all corners of society, even those who might not otherwise agree with the aims of the movement.

As a contrast, Malcolm X was far more militant (in the literal sense, not this ridiculous pap of “militant atheism” that basically just means speaking your mind directly and unashamedly) and confrontational than his counterpart. He famously disdained the inclusion of white people in the black nationalist movement, referring to them (using the language of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad) as “white devils”. He galvanized his audience – disillusioned and disheartened black youth – by presenting them with a vision of black people as a group under oppression, rather than as a lesser race. He advocated disciplined uprising against the current socioracial system, albeit under theocratic direction.

What those who favour staunch accommodationism are suggesting is that the contribution of Malcolm X, namely the doctrine of black power (which I will take a moment to say should not be contrasted with “white power”, an entirely different concept), was not valuable and/or necessary to the civil rights movement – a claim which is far more ahistorical than my own admittedly crude analysis. The Nation of Islam and its confrontational doctrine accomplished two simultaneous goals. First, it unified and attracted black youth to a cause that was, to many, viewed as just more political posturing that would not improve the day-to-day reality of being black in America. Second, it terrified the white establishment out of its complacency and forced them to find alliances in the black community that would show their sympathy to the cause.

Failing to recognize the influence that black nationalism, which experienced several resurgences (most notably in the 1970s under the Black Panthers, the 1980s in the burgeoning hip-hop movement, and currently with the rise of anti-racism and afrocentric black intellectualism) played in the establishment of civil rights is painting a picture of history that is fundamentally doomed to repeat itself. This is happening currently within the atheist movement. Phil Plait, alongside Chris Mooney, Sam Harris, and other prominent atheists, seem to take an approach that accommodationism is the path toward mainstream acceptance, whereas confrontation is unwelcome and pushes the atheist movement backward.

I have used a metaphor that is unfortunate in its level of violence, but apt in its ultimate meaning. Imagine a battlefield between two opposing forces, one force with both infantry and archers, arrayed against one that is purely infantry. As the two footsoldier contingents meet in the middle, the unbalanced force is cut to ribbons by the arrows of the archers, resulting in a trouncing. Similarly, one that is purely archers would be overrun by brutes wielding swords. However, two equal opposing forces are forced to use tactics and real strength to prevail. The hole in this analogy is, of course, that people die in war. Nobody is seriously proposing that atheists be killed, nor would any self-respecting secularist call for the violent removal of the faithful.

The point of this analogy is that different people are persuaded by different things, and to use only one tactic (either accommodation or confrontation) will result in the rapid trouncing of the atheist/secularist movement by the religious, who use a variety of methods to advance their points. However, when the opposing forces are balanced in their armaments, the battle is decided by that which remains – the evidence. In that case we win, because by definition the evidence is on the side of the skeptics.

We need the Malcolm X school to bring apathetic atheists out of the closet by pointing out the evils and influence of the religious establishment, and to put the fear of the godless in the believers. To balance that, we need the Martin Luther Kings of the movement to be reaching across the aisle to find mutual ground with the more moderate and freethinking elements within the theist camp. Saying that one group is counterproductive is short-sighted and foolish – buying into the fear and discomfiture of the oppressors to justify throwing your compatriots under the bus.

As a caveat to this diatribe (which has gone far beyond the TL/DR barrier, for which I apologize), it is important to recognize that even the two paragons of accommodation and confrontation recognized the need for balance. MLK often expressed his contempt for the philosophy of “gradualism” – the idea that human rights should be given out slowly over time, to protect the oh-so-sensitive feelings of racist whites. After his Hajj, and after leaving the tutelage of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm (at this time known as Malik El-Shabazz) began to reach out to non-black people who expressed a desire to advance the cause of black nationalism. Tragically of course, the fundamentalists on either side of the debate weren’t having that, and both men were assassinated.

The fact is that in the struggle for civil rights, there must be both a carrot and a stick; a voice that pulls dissenting groups together, and one that drives the points forward without fear. I was not alive at the time, but I can’t imagine that MLK didn’t have at least one (and likely hundreds) of conversations with concerned white people saying “that Malcolm X is driving the civil rights movement backward by alienating people!” We know from transcripts of his speeches that Malcolm had a great deal of contempt for those he viewed as selling out the Negro birthright to capitulate to the white man. The forces worked in opposition, but toward the same ultimate goal. How much more powerful would the atheist/secularist movement be if we stopped this petty (and meaningless) squabbling among our own ranks and instead marshalled our respective forces toward the ultimate goal of a society in which we are free to have our own opinions, regardless of dogmatic interference of any kind?

TL/DR: Much like Malcolm X’s confrontational style was a necessary balance to Martin Luther King’s accommodationalist style, the respective philosophies within the atheist/secularist movement are both required for the long-term progress towards civil rights. Failing to recognize this is a weakness within the movement.

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Movie Friday: Neil DeGrasse Tyson on UFOs

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is probably my favourite public figure in the sciences. No disrespect to Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Bill Nye, Lawrence Krauss, or any of the other multitude of famous scientists out there fighting the good fight for public education in science and skepticism, but I will always carry a torch for Neil. He’s a charismatic, animated, and engaging speaker who is happy to be in the limelight, without being so academic as to turn non-scientists away from the information.

Since I talked about the argument from ignorance earlier this week, I thought I’d share with you Dr. Tyson’s thoughts:

Whoops, wrong video… here it is:

This guy should be teaching science in every classroom in the world. He tears down the mystique about the scientific method and why it works better than the other ways we try to discern truth (divine revelation, hunches, common sense…).

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Tennis: 15-looooooove

I honestly couldn’t think of anything more clever than this for a title. I’ve failed you.

Back in June, I speculated on a potential side-benefit of the World Cup in South Africa. Because of its low-tech nature, it has achieved worldwide popularity (there’s no way it’s because it’s a fast-paced and exciting game. I fell asleep 3 times writing that first sentence). And because it’s played everywhere, it has the power to span border disputes and bring together groups that have deep historical animosities.

It appears that tennis can have the same effect:

Rohan Bopanna of India and his partner Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan say if they can be friends, so can their countries. Seeded 16th, the so-called “Indo-Pak Express” are up against favourites Bob and Mike Bryan of the US.

I’m not a particular fan of tennis. It’s not a boring or uninteresting sport, but it doesn’t do much for me. I remember watching the US Open with my stepmother for the couple of months between finishing my thesis and moving to Vancouver, but that’s pretty much it. That being said, I’ll give credit where credit is due, and recognize that these two men are true ambassadors for their sport.

“It is the beauty of sport that it’s above culture, politics and religion,” says Qureshi, who is from Lahore. “So by pairing together through our tennis we are trying to give a message of peace to people of India and Pakistan. It feels very good to see the Indian fans taking autographs from me and Pakistani fans taking Rohan’s autographs. They also cheer the same team. Rohan always points out that even if we change the minds of 3% or 4% of people, it’s worth it. And if we two can be friends together, then why can’t other Indians and Pakistanis be friends?”

I’ve said before that the borders we draw between “us” and “them” are largely immaterial, and are highly mutable (Dr. DiCarlo agrees). The way we self-identify changes based on circumstances, and the moment we start to see ourselves not as “Indian” or “Pakistani” but as “tennis players”, all of a sudden the ancient enmity becomes obsolete and irrelevant. This isn’t to say that we can’t derive real positive results from strong in-group identity – seeing myself as “a skeptic” or “black” is a source of comfort that I use to motivate myself from time to time. That being said, when these mutable self-identities are a source of discord, we should be willing to re-draw our boundaries rather than… oh I don’t know… murder each other.

My favourite part of the story is a continuation of last week’s article about reaching out to build bridges to enemies:

To underline the diplomatic significance of the pair playing together, India and Pakistan’s ambassadors to the United Nations sat together and cheered them on in the semi-finals. The players now want to stage an exhibition match at the Wagah border crossing between India and Pakistan. They have invited their presidents and prime ministers and are awaiting a response.

The very fact that serious international heavyweights are spurred into action by a couple of tennis players seems like one of those things that could only happen in a Disney movie, but it’s happening in India and Pakistan.

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Manitoba proves me right! Thanks guys!

One of the most daunting things about blogging like this is that I don’t consider myself an expert in very many topics. A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak for 40 minutes at a conference on a skeptical topic of my choosing. I was immediately paralyzed by indecision – I’m not an expert in skepticism; on the contrary, I’m actually quite a novice insofar as this movement is concerned. While I may be able to write and speak clearly, perhaps even convincingly, on a few topics that catch my interest, I’m not an authority on anything. Sure, there are things in my job that I have an above-average level of knowledge about, and I have a few opinions on things like free speech or race that are unique, but I would never consider myself so knowledgeable that I would imagine anyone should listen to me rant for 40 minutes.

And then something like this happens, and I feel much better:

Aboriginal leaders are calling for two Parks Canada employees in Manitoba to be fired after the pair were disciplined for circulating a racist joke by email. One employee forwarded the vulgarly worded email, which made fun of aboriginal and black people, to a colleague. That person then accidentally sent it to all 180 Parks Canada workers in the field unit at Riding Mountain National Park in western Manitoba.

Please don’t misinterpret my meaning – I am not at all happy that government employees think it’s appropriate to spread racist statements among each other. I’m not happy when anyone engages in acts of racism, regardless of their employer. But I do derive some small satisfaction of being able to shove this in the face of morons like Mindelle Jacobs and others who say that Canada doesn’t have a race problem. Racism exists beneath our thin veneer of “post-racial” assumption. The longer we purport to address racism by sticking our fingers in our ears and believing we can will ourselves to ignore centuries of sociological racialization through sheer strength of conviction, the deeper racism becomes entrenched in our psyche, and the harder it is to deal with.

For further evidence of this, scroll down on that news item and take a gander through the comments. It’s been 2 weeks since I saw this item, so I am writing this completely blind, but I’d be willing to wager that there are at least 10 comments in the first 10 pages that say something like “you shouldn’t be sending personal e-mails on government accounts anyway”, thus completely missing the point of the story. In fact, I’m willing to go so far as to say that anyone who takes that away as the message of this story is intentionally ignoring the racism aspect.

I spent about 5 minutes trying to track down the text of the e-mail, before I realized that it’s somewhat akin to entering a “World’s Ugliest Man” contest – even if I succeeded, I’d lose.

New Westminster still doing it right

Back in July, I applauded the city of New Westminster for taking positive, tangible steps to correct a history of racism against Chinese immigrants. I thought that it would stop there, but apparently they’re keeping the train of being smart people one step further:

New Westminster will be the first municipal government in Canada to offer a formal apology to Chinese Canadians for historic racism and discrimination. The apology, which will be offered in English and Chinese on September 20, is part of a continuing reconciliation initiative undertaken by the city of New Westminster.

Stuff like this happens so rarely, I thought it was a good idea to highlight it. There have been many apologies in the past – by the Canadian government, by various church groups, by corporations, the list goes on. The difference between a real apology and a fake one is that when you’re actually sorry about something, you take steps to fix it. The city of New Westminster is setting an example for the rest of Canada, showing that an apology doesn’t mean simply dragging yourself through the dirt and debasing yourself out of guilt. An apology can be, and in this case, a noble show of moral character and strength:

Acknowledging the difficult history is part of developing a healthy relationship based on historical truth and a sense of justice, said Chu. Mayor Wayne Wright said the city assigned senior staff to do historical research on Chinese history in the region. Historical facts came out,” said Wright. “The Chinese community helped build our region, and we found out some of the things that went on that weren’t so pleasant.” Wright said making a formal apology will be just one more step in the process of reconciliation and moving forward.

The truth, in this case, is that a rich and important part of the history of the region (and indeed, the entire province) was being systematically ignored. Chinese immigrants contributed generations of lives to the building of this beautiful place, and were repaid for their efforts by deeply-ingrained discrimination. Acknowledging the truth of this doesn’t diminish the city of New Westminster, nor does it oblige white people in British Columbia to don sackcloth and rub ashes in their hair. It is a formal recognition of the truth of the past, and it is coupled with an ongoing platform to correct for the mistakes of history.

I’m proud of New Westminster in this matter, and hope that their example is emulated by other municipalities.

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Sowing the seeds of tyranny

We take for granted that we live in a free society. The phrase “it’s a free country” has been repeated so often that it’s become a bottled phrase – a combination of words that are always put together in the same order without being examined on their own. Many could argue, validly, that our society could be a lot more free than it is – we are compelled by government to do a lot of things we don’t agree with, and many actions that do not harm others are still restricted by law. We can make our society much freer.

But, grading on a curve, we live in a free society; a society whose freedom far outstrips several other places. It is important that we safeguard our freedoms (God, I sound like a friggin’ Tea Partier), because it’s really easy to lose them.

Swaziland protesters arrested

Police in Swaziland have arrested about 50 people ahead of protests against sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarchy, activists say. Most of those detained were later freed and hundreds of people marched through Manzini, Swaziland’s commercial centre. Several South Africans trade unionists were prevented from taking part in the march and deported.

I am not going to pretend that I am knowledgeable about the internal struggles of Swaziland (a small country on the northeast border of South Africa, if Google Maps is to be believed). However, I don’t have to be an expert in, or even generally aware of the political situation in any country to recognize tyranny. King Mswati III is clearly a corrupt leader who would rather rule by locking up his opposition than by leading effectively, with the welfare of his people in mind.

I’m happy to criticize Stephen Harper, particularly his attitude toward the media. He runs a government that was elected partially on a platform of accountability and transparency, and yet has been less forthcoming and more obscurantist than his predecessors. However, Mr. Harper does not lock up dissidents or legally punish those who disagree with him (although he certainly tries to punish them, but anyone would). The advantage to the legal system we have here in Canada is that it accurately recognizes and predicts that those who have power will do whatever they can to keep and increase it. Legal clauses are put into place to limit the amount of power an individual politician has, precisely because it is for the benefit of the entire society that corrupt leaders can be removed.

Sri Lanka grants additional powers to President Rajapaksa

Sri Lankan MPs have approved proposals to let President Mahinda Rajapaksa seek an unlimited number of terms, in a move critics say could lead to dictatorship. The constitutional amendment also hugely boosts the president’s powers… The amendment also empowers him to appoint all the top judges and commissioners for elections, human rights and other affairs, unfettered by any legal veto.

Clearly the kind of foresight the framers of Canadian law had is not enjoyed by the members of Parliament in Sri Lanka. This move is so backward and nonsensical it’s tempting to think it’s a big joke being played on the rest of the world. While countries like Kenya are making positive steps to decentralize power from potentially (and historically) corrupt governments, Sri Lanka has made the decision to run screaming back into the past.

I now have more sympathy for the Tamils who are fleeing the country to come to Canada. If the Canadian parliament passed such a measure with such overwhelming support from even the opposition, I’d be on the first fishing trawler out of here. Apparently Europe is going to be overrun by niggers anyway, what’s one more?

Iran imprisons opposition lawyer

A prominent human rights lawyer in Iran, Nasrin Sotoudeh, has been detained by the authorities. She is accused of spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security, her lawyer has said. Ms Sotoudeh has represented Iranian opposition activists and politicians, and prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

Pointing out the corruption and complete lack of human decency present in the Iranian regime is so easy as to almost not be worth the time it takes to write it down, but I thought it was relevant to point this story out, considering the topic of this post.

Tyranny is not the drunken, half-cocked fantasy of overzealous libertarians. It still exists in many places in the world, and when it begins to encroach on our rights (does anyone remember the G8/G20?), we have to speak up. I have a great deal more confidence in our system than these other places though – our laws were designed to protect us from this exact thing from happening.

It may also be worthwhile noting that despite all the abuse I heap on the religious, none of the three above stories have anything to do with religion. These are the kinds of threats that could still happen in our post-religion secular socialist utopia. Sometimes we have to protect ourselves from ourselves.

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Gaddafi warns of a “black Europe”. Wow… just wow

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is a lunatic, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. However, it’s refreshing to know that he’s a racist asshole too:

Speaking on a visit to Italy, Col Gaddafi said Europe “could turn into Africa” as “there are millions of Africans who want to come in”.

Okay, sure. It’s absolutely justified to express concern over illegal immigration. I’m concerned about the recent (and continuing) influx of Sri Lankan refugees. Illegal immigration is both a threat to national security and unfair to the thousands of people who attempt to immigrate legally. That part isn’t where my objection lies.

This is:

“We don’t know what will happen, what will be the reaction of the white and Christian Europeans faced with this influx of starving and ignorant Africans,” Col Gaddafi said. “We don’t know if Europe will remain an advanced and united continent or if it will be destroyed, as happened with the barbarian invasions.”

Nice, Muammar. Europe used to be such a nice neighbourhood before all the damn niggers moved in and wrecked everything, eh?

There are serious problems happening in Africa. A great deal of them can be attributed to the effects of colonialization, with major foreign commercial interests exerting undue influence over the political system, with a vested interest in keeping Africans poor and economically shackled to those same commercial interests. The lack of a concerted effort to develop both physical and human resource infrastructure also plays a major role, as do the attitudes that spawn food as aid instead of making long-term investments. It’s a knotty problem that requires a multi-faceted approach to solution.

Building a fence around Europe to keep out the ‘barbarian nigger horde’ is a solution to exactly nothing. It’s in both Africa’s and Europe’s long-term interest to invest and develop to make the African countries thrive. Africa’s benefit is obvious – improved quality of life, decrease in disease and malnutrition, new products and services, a more educated populace, the list goes on. Europe, in turn, would gain a strong trading partner (with whom they might gain a position of privileged status for their help), would benefit from any technological developments made as a result (think agriculture and natural resource management, as a start), and would simultaneously decrease the risk of illegal immigration by poor, ignorant Africans because there would be fewer of them.

And in case you thought Gaddafi’s idiocy was confined to race bigotry…

Col Gaddafi’s visit to Rome was overshadowed by another controversial speech he made – to two groups of several hundred young Italian women, hired at a fee of 70 or 80 euros each from a local modelling agency. He told them that Islam should become the religion of Europe and gave them free copies of the Koran, after he had lectured them for an hour on the freedoms enjoyed by women in Libya.

Hmm… maybe this isn’t such a great time to be talking to European women about the virtues of an Islamic state:

On Tuesday, Kayhan, which acts as a mouthpiece for Iran’s conservative Islamic leadership, reiterated its attack, adding that the Italian-born French first lady deserved to die for supporting her. “This Italian prostitute’s indignation at Kayhan’s report came while she has had illegitimate relationships with different people before and after marrying [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy,” Kayhan said.

Ah yes, the religion of peace is at it again! Those crazy Iranian rascals…