A rare, happy moment

I spend a lot of time bashing our political system. It’s a formula that has yielded a fairly consistent source of not only blog fodder, but commenter agreement as well. After all, who doesn’t love complaining about politics? It gives us an opportunity to appear erudite and superior to those who would try to represent themselves as the “ruling class”. Plus we get to spread indiscriminate blame on all politicians as being morally deficient hucksters.

It brings me no personal satisfaction, however, to live in a country with crappy politics. As a liberal, I believe that government can be a force for good in the world. That as a representation of the collective will of the populace, we can do more as a group than we can as individuals pulling for our own selfish ends. That there is room for giving up a bit of personal liberty to gain a greater measure of mutual success.

It is not the failures of the body politic that make me happy. It is stories like this: [Read more…]

Look at it… it’s beauuutiful

The new banner is in place, and it looks splendid. Vacuumslayer was kind enough to do a couple of tweaks for me, and I am well pleased. A donation to Occupy Wall Street has been made in the artist’s name.

Thanks again to those who voted. To the artists responsible for the other finalists (T. Pilsner, Stephanie, Morby, and William), please do e-mail me with your addresses so I can send you a CD.

With my new (and certifiably badass) look, I have a renewed sense of purpose and drive that my bichromatic predecessor simply did not convey.

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And sometimes it’s just stupid

Racism is one of those tricky things. When we’re accustomed to the vision of racism as overt violent hatred, we’re beginning to wake up to the realization that racism has more wide-spread roots than lynch mobs and white hoods. It’s not an easy transition to make, especially if you don’t spend your life immersed in it. Those of us for whom it is a major contributing factor to our outlook on the world live in it every day – most others don’t give it a lot of thought unless we have to.

And when you grow up with that ‘classic’ vision of racism, sometimes you end up saying stupid things:

England and Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand says he is stunned by Sepp Blatter’s claim that football does not have on-field problems with racism.


Asked whether he thought racism on the pitch was a problem in modern-day football, Blatter told CNN World Sport: “I would deny it. There is no racism. There is maybe one of the players towards another – he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one. But the one who is affected by that, he should say that this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.”

And the palms hit the face. [Read more…]

Africentric school approved in Toronto

There are periodically – not often, mind you, but occasionally – points in race conversation when I am tempted to throw up my hands and say “you’re white, and you don’t get it! Just accept that I am right!” Oftentimes race issues require so much unpacking – privilege, history, demographics, sociology, the list goes on – that a seemingly innocuous topic or opinion actually takes a monumental effort to resolve.

Of course my “job”, as someone who blogs explicitly about race as I do, is to do such unpacking so that anyone can walk their way through the argument. Most of the time I am game for this, particularly if I can refer the person back to some article or another that I’ve written in the past. I recognize that the conversation doesn’t get completely explored in the span of a single blog post, and I get e-mails from people telling me that my work here has helped them change their minds about some race issue or other (those are really appreciated, by the way).

But there are periodically points in this conversation where I just want to cop out and say “because I’m black and I’m right, dammit!” One of those times has just reared its nuanced and complex head: [Read more…]

The results are in!

A couple weeks ago, I reached out to the Freethoughtosphere to ask for a new banner for this blog. The design I had was pretty boring, and I know that people are talented. What I didn’t realize is how talented y’all were, and I want to take a moment to thank everyone who contributed a banner image to this contest. It was a lot of fun for me to see all the different ideas people had.

I also want to thank everyone who voted for an idea, taking the difficult decision out of my hands. Without any further ado, I will present the results of the vote below the fold.

[Read more…]

My thoughts on the state of Occupy Vancouver

On Friday, Occupy Vancouver was handed a pretty significant setback in the form of an injunction granting the city of Vancouver the authority to begin dismantling the encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Immediately following the decision, I headed down to the VAG to see how people were reacting to the news. I expected anger or defiance, but what I found was melancholy.

It is not surprising to me, though it is obviously upsetting, that Vancouver’s Occupy branch has lost some of its steam. With a local press determined to undermine and ridicule the movement and its goals instead of even pretending at impartiality, and a mayor smart enough to know that sending in the police will only bolster the movement, there has been little popular support for Vancouver’s occupiers from the start.

I have had people tell me again and again that people in Canada, particularly Vancouver, have little cause to complain. My answer to them, time and again, has been “that’s true, unless you’re homeless, or Aboriginal, or want to buy a home.” These three issues are constant problems within the city, and OcVan became a method through which they could be addressed with an audience actually watching. [Read more…]

Counting down from infinity

I had an… interesting visit from what I assume was a creationist about a week ago. I like it when theists show up here. It gives me a chance to practice diplomacy as opposed to my usual unrestrained polemic, which I like to alternate with dismissive mockery when the occasion requires. At first he showed up in the comments of a post that had absolutely nothing to do with anything, so I redirected him to a more appropriate post.

When I was offered the chance to “go first” (a really really bad idea) as to why I thought there were no gods, I expressed my conclusion that, given the available evidence, I could not see anything in the universe that looked like design only explainable through an intelligent agent. Since any theistic belief is predicated on supernatural intervention, I can’t accept any of the downstream conclusions of theism.

I also asked him to agree to abide by some simple rules: don’t skip off when your arguments are refuted, don’t expect me to accept scripture as a reliable source of information, and finally don’t use articles of faith in place of reasoned argument. He agreed to abide by those rules (and I have the folks at The Atheist Experience to thank for that list), which was probably another tactical mistake for him, but he does get kudos from me for being plucky. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Benefits, Costs, and Occupy

This was a pretty crazy week for the Occupy Together movement – police beat and sprayed occupiers in New York, Seattle, Denver, and were going to descend on San Francisco as well before being scared off. That’s to say nothing of what happened to the students at Berkeley who were assaulted by police on the very steps where the free speech and anti-war movements of the mid-20th century were born.

I spent part of yesterday evening with Occupy Vancouver, on a march that went from Brookfield’s Vancouver office (the people who own Zuccotti Park and requested that the city tear down the OWS site) to a local branch of the Royal Bank, back to Brookfield, and returning ultimate to the foot of the Art Gallery. I was struck by the positive, upbeat attitude of the crowd and the (nearly) seamless communication of ideas.

What I was more struck by was the clear level of commitment, energy, and skill that had gone into making what was (when last I was there) a ramshackle affair into a cohesive, established site, that was offering a variety of services to the city of Vancouver.

I thought you might enjoy this video:

The Occupy movement, despite the idiotic, reactionary criticism it gets from people informed by a media that is not set up to understand a movement like this, is not a bunch of shiftless layabouts who would rather have a handout than push a broom. They are passionate, dedicated people who are willing to put themselves through quite a lot of suffering to make an important point about how our society is structured. In between making points, however, they’re also providing valuable services.

If I can speak as an economist for a moment, the video highlights something that doesn’t get spoken about much. I got into an absolutely one-sided “debate” with someone on Facebook who called the occupiers “losers”. Her position (rambling as it was) eventually settled on the fact that she didn’t want her hard-earned tax dollars paying for the electricity that Occupy Vancouver is getting from the city. The $0.00001 that she has contributed to the movement aside, that argument only works if you completely ignore the fact that Occupy Vancouver is housing and feeding people, providing medical care, and generating political advertising and awareness. Each of these things, provided without charge, is not only valuable, but takes pressure off of municipal services.

But again, this is the whole point of the Occupy movement: society is not living up to its promises to provide these services. If we want to see improvements, we have to become more proactive. What we should have is a system that places a greater emphasis on equality than quarter-to-quarter growth – the two are not independent entities. We should be using the wealth we generate to care for those who need help, so they can get up on their feet and begin generating wealth of their own. Instead, we reward a small number far beyond what their services are truly worth.

Anyway, if I’m not careful this will turn into a 2,000 word opinion piece on the philosophy of the occupiers. This is movie Friday – it’s supposed to be fun and relaxing. Here’s CROWN doing a Beatles tune:

Happy Friday!

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Breathing rarefied air

…or not, as the case may be.

So this morning I tilted my hand a bit, talking about lack of representation from visible minority groups in political circles, particularly at the municipal level. While serving in elected office is certainly an important way of contributing to society, it is not the only one.

As I mentioned, there are many potential explanatory factors for why members of visible minority groups might not run for office, not the least of which is the possibility that they may simply be uninterested in politics, but are instead focused on their careers. If it’s simply the case that the best and brightest are pursuing success in the business world, then we should see (assuming that the disparity is caused by factors other than racism) correspondingly high levels of business success. After all, these elite-level people who are eschewing a life in public service are still in the job market, and the kinds of personal skills and savvy that make for successful politicians also makes for successful CEOs. Those who aren’t running for city council must be running things from a board room, right? [Read more…]

When should we stop?

I occasionally discuss the topics on this blog among my friends. Most of the time, out in meatspace, people aren’t too keen to dive into discussions of racism and social inequality (which I can understand, because most of the time we just want to have fun). One such conversation occurred between a friend and former roommate on the topic of affirmative action. She and I agreed on the value of affirmative action, but struggled to reconcile its utility with the fact that it is, at its core, a policy that discriminates based on race. The full case for and against affirmative action is too long to spell out here, but the gist of my take on it is more or less encapsulated by this comic:

That being said, if we grant that affirmative action-style programs work to reduce inequalities between majority groups and minority groups (in this particular case we are talking about race, but the principle can be extended elsewhere), and we extend the ‘preferential’ hiring practices indefinitely over time, we theoretically reach a point where affirmative action becomes discrimination against majority-group members.* One we reach that point, my friend argued, that should be the point at which we should abolish affirmative action legislation, so that everyone gets a fair shot, and race does not enter into the picture at all. [Read more…]