Everyone drop what you’re doing and go read this

Greg Laden absolutely FRICASSEES an article that, if privilege was a liquid, would be dripping with it:

Much of this may be true. Certainly, libraries often do have computers and kids can have access to those computers. And so on and so forth. But, again, we need a reality check. There are three things you need to know. First, the Po Black Kids in the inner city already knew this. If you have ever gone to an inner city library you would know that they know it. If you go to the library in the inner city before it opens on the weekends you’ll see this line of Po Black Kids outside and around the block, regardless of weather, waiting to get into the library. There, they are herded into waiting areas by the library staff and eventually given access to the computers, several at once, for limited periods of time.

Reality one: They know this and are doing it. Reality two: The 1%, in all their wisdom, have worked the system so that libraries around the country are generally closing, not expanding. The anti-tax lobby has shut down library after library. There is more and more need for what you are telling the Po Black Kids to make use of, and less and less of those resources to go around. And Reality three: They have been using the free technology all along, and it has helped, but it is not enough.

I swear, I miss ONE LOUSY DAY and Greg scoops me on the juiciest privilege puff piece I could hope for. Luckily, he got to it before I did, because he did a much better and more patient job than I would have. Go read it. He’s good.

…and sometimes it’s not

Well THAT didn’t last long. My good mood from this morning has officially worn off. How could this have happened so quickly, you ask? Easy: because the people in charge are still unethical, scheming morons who legislate like cavemen and behave like schoolyard bullies.

Lethbridge MP makes shootout gesture during vote

A Conservative MP who made gunshot gestures as he voted to kill the long-gun registry last month says he meant no offence. A clip of Jim Hillyer miming a two-gun shoot-out as he voted was posted on YouTube on Tuesday, which was the anniversary of the Montreal massacre. Hillyer says if people were offended they should blame whoever posted the six-week-old video on the anniversary.


“No offence was intended. No one who sincerely looks at the video and the timing of the video would think for a second that I intended offence towards victims of violence. “The people who caused the association, the offence, are the people who connected the video at the wrong day. That is terrible.” [Read more…]

Sometimes it’s a good day

If there’s anyone in the Canadian political system who’s reading this and wants to make me an extremely happy guy, it’s really not that difficult. I’m a simple man who enjoys the finer things in life – a nice meal, a pint of good beer, a productive day at work, time spent with close friends… it doesn’t take a lot. What puts me over the moon is when politicians legislate like liberals and act like grown-ups.

Liberal ideas – promoting equality and long-term progress through evidence-based policy – are ideas that I can support. For reasons that surpass understanding, it is rare to see someone get tough with liberal ideas. Not tough in a macho, bullying kind of way, but tough in a “I believe in this, and am willing to fight for it” sort of way. Too often, perfectly defensible liberal ideas get bulldozed by threats of political ramifications or hurt feelings. However, there are rare moments when the planets align and politicians get tough on things I agree with, and those days make me happy.

Today is a very good day. [Read more…]

Politically INcorrect? As though that was a good thing…

Over the past couple of months I have become more active on Twitter. While at first I used it primarily as a secondary RSS feed, with automatic updates for these blog posts, after a while I began to use it as a way of getting politics updates and rapid news on the Arab Spring uprisings. From there, it was a slippery slope down to constant updates from various Occupy sites and recording artists I particularly like.

As I’ve become more active (and after moving from the outer realms of anonymity to FTB), I’ve been steadily picking up followers of my own. Most are atheist/skeptics who I assume follow me because of the consistent reminders I put at the bottom of each of these posts. Others have, I presume, seen my full-throated defenses of Occupy or election reform politicians in the United States, or caught me uttering a particularly clever bon mot and thought I was worth checking out in greater detail.

I was perusing my list of followers one afternoon when I came across one who described hirself as, among other things, “politically incorrect”. This struck me as sort of an unusual thing to brag about. I have, on occasion, been caught describing myself as an “asshole”, because while I am constantly dissecting my language, I very rarely mince words. This is not bragging about my lack of restraint, but is intended as more of a wry observation on our tendency to prioritize tone over substance when evaluating each other.

The phrase ‘political correctness’ was common parlance in my upbringing during the late ’80s and early ’90s. By then, however, it had begun taking on a decidedly negative connotation – something akin to ‘thoughtcrime’. The spin on it was that whiny liberals were hopping up and down on semantics, getting hot under the collar over linguistic non-issues. Plain spoken folks were, as a result, forced to tiptoe across a minefield to make even the simplest of points. Political correctness was a muzzle that prevented the free exchange of ideas, and to buck the trend and declare oneself ‘politically incorrect’ was a bold and courageous move.

Even typing that made me feel ill. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Rick Perry on his ad

So by now I’m sure you’ve all seen Rick Perry’s absolutely terrifyingly boneheaded and bigoted campaign ad. In it, the governor decides to reveal a deep, dark secret about himself – he’s a Christian. Yep, it’s finally out there, and he’s not ashamed. What he is ashamed of, however, is the fact that gay people aren’t ashamed to serve in the military. He’s ashamed of the fact that other Christians can’t proselytize in government buildings. And he’s ashamed about a third things too, and it’s… uh… oops.

What you may not have seen is his follow-up act on CNN where he tries to defend that ad:

This is what journalists are supposed to do, and which Sarah Palin has apparently scared them away from. If someone leads with their chin as obviously as Perry does in his ‘defense’ of his bigotry, you’re supposed to oblige them and deliver the knockout punch. “The Israeli military’s pretty good, right?” is the question that every single person who defends “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be forced to answer.

And also there’s this:

But I’m intentionally avoiding reading anything into that.

So America, you seem to have a choice between the party that this knucklehead of a homophobic asshole represents, and then the other guys:

And the fact that this is actually a difficult choice for your country absolutely floors me.

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Classic Crommunist: Why science is better than religion

Office Christmas party, Skeptics in the Pub, and ordinary December blahs have conspired to rob me of the energy necessary to turn the random thoughts/news items of the day into 1000 coherent words. While I recuperate, please enjoy this classic post, written at a time when 99% of you weren’t readers yet.

There is a very stupid argument out there in the world of arguments. It goes something like this:

You have to believe in science, just like you have to believe in religion. Therefore, science is just another kind of religion.

On the surface, that appears to be a logical premise. It even managed to find its way into an episode of one of my favourite shows. However, that’s due to an unfortunate accident in the English language whereby “believe” has two meanings. I’m not going to go through the entire argument here, except to give a specific example. The statement “I believe in myself” means that you have confidence that you will be able to perform a task based on self-knowledge. It does not (or at least not usually) mean “I have faith that I exist as an entity” although Descartes would probably have a few things to say about that. At any rate, the word “believe” when it comes to reliance on facts and observation is quite distinct from “believe” when it comes to large, unfathomable concepts. I’ll let PZ Myers and xkcd talk about that for now, and perhaps come back to it later.

However, it doesn’t matter. Let’s, for the sake of argument, allow this line of reasoning. Let’s suspend logic in this particular case and grant that you have to believe in science in the same way you have to believe in religion (or God, or faeries, or gremlins, or whatever you believe in). Even if we make this concession, science is still far better than religion for one very important reason: [Read more…]

Health care by the numbers

Once again I feel the need to reiterate that my comments about health care are personal opinions only, and do not reflect anyone’s positions but my own.

Part of the reason I am so opposed to the private delivery of health care is that the market tends to work on a principle of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. The problem with this generally-sound skeptical principle when it is applied to health care is that people are not “buyers” of health care, nor can they said to be “consumers” in the same way as someone walking into a hardware store or restaurant. A hefty proportion of our interactions with the health care system are in times of crisis, meaning that it is unreasonable to expect us to do the kind of cold, rational calculus that one might expect of someone choosing a realtor or a bottle of fine scotch.

Congruent with this issue of need-based service consumption is the incredibly high bar of education required to understand how the health care system works. Most people are capable of understanding a basic supply chain, and can usually navigate the hoops needed to ensure they don’t get screwed on a car loan or a warranty on their stereo (although not always, which is why we have consumer advocacy and protection groups). The kind of education needed to understand health care is, to put it mildly, extensive. Regardless of which country you live in, health care systems are often fragmented and convoluted. Even those who work within the system have difficulties navigating it – how could a lay person possibly expect to do better? This question becomes more acutely important when you consider the fact that those laypeople are in crisis while trying to do it.

It is for this reason that we are best served when treatment decisions are made based on the evidence, as interpreted by people who are educated enough to understand it. While it seems unfair that your medical care might be guided by someone you’ve never met, it is far preferable than being pressured into decisions you don’t understand – particularly at a time when you are particularly vulnerable to either manipulation by outside agendas that may not have your best interest in mind, or when you are psychologically less able to make rational, informed choices. While patients must have the right to make the ultimate choice about their care, we are best served as individuals and as a system when the choices available to us are based on the best evidence rather than our own ‘best guesses’.

Well, maybe not if you ask this guy: [Read more…]

‘Couv team… ASSEMBLE! (Dec 7th, 2011)

For all my Cromrades in the Vancouver area, tonight we are having our monthly meetup at Vancouver’s Skeptics in the Pub in Kitsilano’s Billy Bishop Legion. More details are available here. It’s always a fun time hanging with the Vancouver group, and while I can’t make it every month I am pumped to be able to make it today. Not just because it’s fun, but because I’ve heard a rumour that SkepChick’s very own Natalie Reed may be in attendance for the first time. She has threatened to hug me when we meet. I should probably warn her that I may LOOK cuddly, but in real life I am extremely… fuck it I can’t keep up the pretense – I’m a champion-level hugger.

I should warn anyone planning to attend that this is a Canadian Legion, which means no hats. You’ll have to find another way to hide your atheist devil horns.

See you tonight!

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Health care dollars, health care sense

This will be one of my (rapidly becoming less) rare posts in which I discuss something I’m actually qualified to talk about – health care and economic allocation. The reason I do this so rarely is that I emphatically do not wish to have my blogging here confused with my day job. Nothing that I have written here should be seen as reflective of policies or attitudes endorsed by my employer, any university I have been or may become affiliated with, nor any person other than myself as a private individual. While I recognize that this kind of disclaimer carries no legal weight with it, I just want it to be as clear as possible that my comments on health care are as affiliated to my professional life as my comments on racism or religion are – not at all in any way.

With that out of the way, it’s not an accident that I landed in the line of work I am in. I am curious about science and always have been; however, I am also passionate about the idea of publicly-administrated health care and the need to fight for its sustainability. I strongly believe that not-for-profit health care delivery funded by the public sector is the best method of delivery, and that if we approach the challenges inherent in the idea (i.e., waiting lists, resource scarcity) through evidence-based decision making, then we will have far better outcomes than a privately-funded scheme.

To this end I have pursued (and achieved, to a certain extent) some measure of fancy book learnin’ on the subject of useful models for health care delivery and the issues surrounding the way we allocate health care resources. The problem with the way we (I am referring explicitly to Canada here – the American system is a whole other bag of stupid that I have attempted to tackle elsewhere) deliver care here is that it is based on a model that establishes hospitals as the best method of providing service. At the time the relevant legislation was passed, hospitals were where one would expect to go for the most common types of ailments. However, in the past few decades the burden of disease has shifted away from infectious and acute causes toward chronic and end-of-life ones. The system, which should have shifted along with it, did not.

Why is this a big deal? Because it means we are burning money: [Read more…]

Nation will rise against Nations

It is difficult to be Canadian sometimes. We pride ourselves (well, most of us at least) on being tolerant, forward-thinking people. Part of our national neurotic need to be seen as distinct from our American cousins pushes us to be more collective, more restrained, more self-effacing; a contrast to the stereotype of our indvidualistic, brash and assertive southern neighbours.

The reason this stance is difficult is because of the cognitive dissonance present in seeing ourselves as progressive and inclusive, and yet becoming increasingly aware of the abhorrent way we have treated our most-maligned minority group: First Nations and other aboriginal people. Whereas slavery is America’s admitted national shame, Canada has not yet donned the sackcloth and ash required to atone for our past (and current) sins. We saw a dramatic manifestation of those sins this morning.

It is not enough to simply allocate increased funding to First Nations communities, or to issue public apologies for past mistakes (although both of those are helpful in their own way). We need to instead change the narrative we have about the relationship between the nation of Canada and its First Nations across the country. High-profile discussions like this may yield some hope: [Read more…]