Vox populi, pox dei

Which, in my pidgin Latin, translates into “the voice of the people is the pox of god”.

One of the weird, seemingly counterintuitive things about Canada is that despite having no official segregation of church and state in our Charter, religion is more or less absent from the larger issues our government deals with. We don’t have national fights about crosses at memorials or references to God in our national anthem. References to a deity are more or less absent from our various Throne Speeches (commonwealth readers will understand this phrase – Yankees should think of the State of the Union), and doesn’t play a major role in our elections except in the most bizarre ways.

Which is why when a high-ranking federal minister appears in an article about the Vatican, it’s always an interesting story: [Read more…]

This is kind of cool

It has become a nearly incessant complaint to bemoan the disillusionment and lack of participation of young people in politics. It is certainly a statistical reality that voter turnout is at an all-time low. Aside from a small number of people who are involved in the skeptic movement, most of my friends are relatively apathetic when it comes to politics (although I no longer really qualify as ‘youth’). Most disturbing is the fact that uninvolved youth grow up and turn into uninvolved adults. Apathy is a poison pill for democracy, since only zealots remain to show up on election day.

Many hypotheses are thrown around – from cynicism borne by the state of the media, lack of knowledge about how the political system works, distrust in government altogether. It’s certainly a disturbing thought. Which is why I am happy when I read stuff like this: [Read more…]

To deceive and project

I spotted a pretty clever tweet a few weeks ago that went something like: “Police are beating you for slight or nonexistent legal transgressions? Wow… shocking!” – Black people. The joke being, of course, that the kind of ham-fisted tactics that police are turning against peaceful protesters have been leveled against black people, particularly young men, for decades with scarcely any comment from the majority.

That’s one of the galling facets of privilege – it completely skews what your view of ‘normal’ is. Faced with stories about cops brutally beating young black men, many people reacted with incredulity. “I’ve never seen an officer hit someone. Are you saying that all cops are racist? I find that hard to believe.” I had a similar conversation with a friend when we both saw a police officer pull over a young black man driving in a nice car with dealer plates. When I cynically observed that the driver’s first mistake was driving a nice car while being black, my buddy expressed his disbelief, saying that dealer plates come with certain restrictions, and that he didn’t see it being a case of racial profiling.

I can certainly understand the instinct to dismiss these kinds of stories as exceptional or delusional. Five years ago, if you had told me that police were infiltrating political groups to drum up phony charges against them, I’d have called you a lunatic. Then again, five years ago I wasn’t reading stories like this: [Read more…]

History debunks myths about Occupy

One of the things that has struck me most about the opposition to the Occupy movement is the ease with which people approach repeating the trite truisms about the occupiers. No matter how many professionals stand up in support of the protest, everyone reaches for the “unemployed bums” canard. Regardless of the number of specific problems highlighted by protests at each site, nobody seems to have any problem expressing their bewilderment at the lack of a cohesive message. Despite the amount of energy and time put into making the occupied sites more than just an urban camping trip, people throw around the term “lazy” like rice at a wedding.

The other aspect that particularly fascinates me is the tin ear for the lessons of history that these criticisms showcase. Every revolutionary protest movement looks like this, even the ones that we would otherwise support. It doesn’t take an encyclopedic knowledge of history to see the parallels between the occupation of public space and the non-violent resistance of Indians to British rule. Nor does one have to have a degree in the humanities to see the attempted demonization of Occupy’s “hippies” echoing the same condemnations from a generation ago in the person of the actual hippies of the Vietnam resistance movement.

But even if one isn’t well-attuned to those particular stories, it’s hard for me to look at the Occupiers and not see links to the civil rights movement of African-Americans in the mid-20th century. Now this is not to say that the problems of centuries of racism and the fight for human decency is on equivalent footing to corruption in financial and political institutions (which have become two sides of the same ill-gained coin); however, it is worth noting that many of the common bromides hurled at the Occupy movement are shown to be quite hollow by even a cursory examination of history. [Read more…]

I won’t “agree to disagree”

Last Sunday my friend “Sharon” came over to play some music. She is, in addition to being an excellent singer, a law student who is about to complete her studies. Resultantly, I enjoy her company because she is exceptionally witty, enjoys discussing things in depth, and knows her way around the finer points of a good argument. We hadn’t talked in a while, so before we started playing music we sat down to chat for a bit, and as I was telling her what was going on in my life, I mentioned this blog. She interrupted the conversation to ask what my definition of atheism was.

A few months ago, Sharon and I went out with some of her other friends to a bar, and she and I ended up getting in a very drunken debate over whether or not it was possible to know something to be true or not. My argument was that while absolute, unchanging truth may not be achievable, we could rely pretty well on provisional truth gleaned from examining evidence, and that while scientific truths were by definition mutable, it does not mean that some day all of science will be thrown out. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Eddie Izzard – Religion, Science and Atheism

Comedy is a marvelous thing. It has the unique ability to rob things of their power, particularly when that power is based on fear. By pointing out the bizarre aspects of things that frighten us, they are reduced to the level of mundane and even silly. There is perhaps nobody with a greater talent for finding the absurd in the commonplace than Eddie Izzard:

Sometimes ridicule can be used as a weapon. It can be used to disarm and expose the inconsistencies or irrational elements in an opponent’s argument. Other times, like in the above clip, it can be used simply as a tool to explain, in a way that appears tremendously effective. It’s hard to watch that and come away with any conclusion other than “there’s a lot of really stupid stuff in that religion.” I’d imagine the reaction would be similar even if that religion was yours.

We spend a lot of time learning to speak rationally. Maybe we should work instead on learning to be funny.

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Thoughts on the state of the occupation – update

So I’ll confess I sounded a bit maudlin on Monday when looking at how things were shaping up for the Occupy Vancouver movement. I don’t know that my mood has changed much since then, but I have some new insights.

As some of you know, the city was granted an unjunction to remove all persons and structures present on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery so that the city could ‘clean’. I put this in quotes because I sincerely doubt the city’s intention to remove anything other than protesters they don’t like. Antipathy toward the movement has been turned up as the movement has progressed. Some of the blame for this can probably be laid at the feet of the protesters themselves, who failed to articulate the reasons why the occupation itself was necessary. The majority of fingers, however, can be pointed at the ridiculously one-sided media coverage it has received.

There was no shortage of people capable of articulating the ideology of the occupation at the site. There were passionate, coherent, well-informed people running sound equipment, organizing marches, working at the library and info tents, plus volunteer medical staff always within earshot. What the media has done instead is consistently focussed on the more flamboyant members of the group. I am not so cynical as to consider this an intentional campaign of misinformation by a media that wishes to maintain the corporate status quo. At the same time, however, considering that this criticism is leveled at them regularly – to the point where protesters have stopped talking to the media at all – makes me think that they are either just really stubborn in their stupidity, or that there is indeed an element of intentionality: [Read more…]

What do Vancouverites have to complain about?

I don’t have the freedom, courage, or fortitude to actually sleep in a tent in the middle of downtown Vancouver. I don’t want to lose my job, and I’m a pretty big wimp when it comes to organized protest. That’s why I consider myself lucky that there are others out there who are willing to fight on my behalf in ways that I cannot. It behooves me, therefore, to join in the fight the best way I know how – by writing. In addition to the handful of posts on the Occupation I’ve posted here, I’ve been regularly taking to the walls of my Facebook friends and trying to counter the anti-occupation memes that crop up in seemingly-inexhaustable supply.

One such conversation (which appears to be ongoing) came from a former roommate of mine, who is one of the most erudite and knowledgable guys I know. Despite that fact (for reasons I am coming to understand much better), he is quite conservative and, resultingly, openly contemptuous of Occupy. His opening salvo was to tell everyone protesting in North America and Europe to “get over themselves”, which I didn’t quite understand. I asked him if only people from Sudan were allowed to protest, because there was always someone worse off somewhere else.

Nearly immediately he went on a wild tangent about how the tactics used by the protesters were illegal, about how they weren’t proposing concrete solutions, about how they did have concrete solutions but that he didn’t like them… basically everything except the original argument. I have heard many others express his bewilderment in other words, but consistently fail to provide anything but red herrings and straw men by way of explanation. This fact suggests to me that people’s opposition to Occupy has little to do with the actual movement, but a series of myths that have been cultivated about the system being protested.

Which is a shame, because even here in Vancouver there is plenty for them to be upset about: [Read more…]

Happy about this too, but for an entirely different reason

Somewhere along the line, being a liberal meant abandoning assertiveness. Liberal became synonymous with indecisive and weak. Part of that association, I’m sure, comes from the fact that liberals recognize that complex problems seldom have easy answers, and that the truth requires complex weighing of ideas that are often contradictory. That being said, liberals have values, and yet “values voters” are conservative. Liberals have families, and yet “family values” are conservative ones. Liberals love their countries enough to work hard to improve them, and yet “patriotism” has been reduced to the most banal flag-waving support of whatever conservative leader is in power.

Which is why, whenever I see someone take a spirited defense of liberalism, it makes me cheer a little. Especially when it is delivered so… directly:

New Democrat MP Pat Martin aired his frustrations with the Conservatives — and one online critic — with an expletive-filled tantrum on Twitter while he was sitting in the House of Commons.

“This is a f—ing disgrace . . . closure again. And on the Budget! There’s not a democracy in the world that would tolerate this jackboot s—,” Martin tweeted Wednesday night when Conservative MPs shut down parliamentary debate on the bill implementing the spring federal budget.

“F— you,” Martin (Winnipeg Centre) then replied to someone on Twitter who called him a socialist with a foul mouth.

The curse words travelled quickly through the Twitterverse on Wednesday night — making Martin’s name a trending topic for Canada on the social media site — but the MP told the Star on Thursday he would not delete or apologize for tweeting about his troubled feelings.

“I don’t apologize for that. I don’t retract it. It is a f—ing disgrace, what they’re doing,” Martin said of the multiple times Conservatives have limited debate on bills this fall. “They’re running roughshod over everything that is good and decent about our parliamentary democracy and Canadians should be outraged and their elected representatives on their behalf should be outraged.” [Read more…]

A disturbing turn

I’m a bit shaken by this.

After the Vancouver hockey riots (which weren’t about hockey, but whatever), I posted a video of a busker I saw downtown. He was really good, and encapsulated the mood of people working to rebuild the city after massive and unnecessary destruction.

A commenter has just brought the following to my attention:

Just wanted to let you know that the busker in your Video’s name is Randy Ponzio. He passed away this saturday. there is a memorial fund setup for his kids:  http://www.helprandyponzio.com

I had heard about Randy’s death in the newspaper, but I didn’t know anything about him to make the connection. A very weird coincidence. If anyone feels so moved, they could consider donating to the fund.