Certainly uncertain

I’ve been using Twitter a lot recently. I was deeply cynical about the platform when I first learned about it. To be certain, some of my cynicism was justified: there are a lot of people who do seriously just post whatever pops into their heads. I am sad to say that I am quickly becoming one of ‘those people’ in a sense, especially when I spend my Sundays on quiet introspection and wandering around. The funny thing is, whether by coincidence or as a function of how people use social media, my number of subscribers has increased since I have become a more frequent Tweeter

If you look at my description, I describe myself as (among other things) an “anti-racist”. I came across that term rather recently. Before I began seriously delving into issues of race and trying to engage with other people, I didn’t bother with trying to classify what was going on inside my head. Racism was, like history and psychology and philosophy and any number of other things, something that I was interested in thinking about. Of course, it had the added component about being relevant to my own day-to-day experiences.

It wasn’t until I started talking about racism that I began to cast about for useful ways of cementing my scattered thoughts on race into relatable, recognizable forms. Such forms required terminology, and the people who I found whose viewpoints were close to my own called themselves “anti-racist”, so I decided to run with it. Due to the diversity of approaches I’ve seen with this label, I have given little thought to what that term “actually” means beyond a very superficial definition. Generally, it is a critical stance on race and racism… and it doesn’t approve. [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Bonus self-promotion

So this week I “rediscovered” the joys of performing at open mic nights. Back in my grad school days, solo open mic performance was one of my favourite leisure activities. Since moving to Vancouver, it has been a much more rare occasion to see me perform without the aid of my band-mates (even before Even Handed Odds formed, Stu and I used to hold down open mics as a duo). In an effort to boost the band, however, I went to a open mic this past Monday and was once again bitten by the bug. While I definitely prefer to play music with other people, there really is something about being up on that stage by yourself.

Anyway, this Wednesday I picked up my guitar and tromped to a local spot that does open mic. I had a buddy there, who filmed this song for me:

I was a little rusty – I’ll probably take a run at this again sometime. Once again, apologies for the sound quality. Here’s the original if you’ve been trapped under a rock for the past 15 or so years and haven’t heard it. Also, one of the greatest music videos of all time:

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Movie Friday: Clint Eastwood

So last week I mentioned that my band does a cover of ‘Clint Eastwood’ by the Gorillaz. The cool thing about this song is that it features the rhyming of Del tha Funkee Homosapien, so covering it gives me a chance to rap, and provides the audience with something you don’t often see at a pub night. I said I’d get a recording for ya, so here it is:

I wish I could do something about the sound, but the microphone on my mobile doesn’t handle noise too well. If anyone knows a ‘fix’ for that I’d greatly appreciate it. If you’d like to contrast my performance with the original, here it is:

The self-aggrandizement continues!

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Movie Friday: All About Vaccines

So last weekend you may recall that I was in Kelowna, acting as a guest moderator for a panel on vaccines, hosted by the Centre for Inquiry. I had a great time there, and the panel was very informative. It ran loooong though. I’m not sure what it is about having a PhD and/or MD that makes you unable to tell time, but most of the presentations went twice as long as allotted. However, if you were ever looking for authoritative information about vaccines, these videos provide a valuable resource.

The rest of them can be seen here.

I really enjoyed my time in Kelowna, and am looking forward to being invited there again. There’s also the possibility of being invited to the new branch in Nelson – CFI West Kootenays. Nelson is a beautiful place, and I’d love to visit sometime. Let me know how I did in the into and Q&A sections.

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Here come da judge…

This weekend this blog was visited by a rather unsavoury character who decided to take your humble narrator to school on why passing laws against black people isn’t racist. At first I was amused, much the way I would be watching a dog try to take a stick through the doggy door. It’s cute and entertaining in a pathetic sort of way, watching the poor thing struggle to achieve its goal. Unlike a friendly mutt, however, this particular commenter got progressively more unhinged as I refused to take him seriously, and he began lashing out. I quickly became bored, and left him to rage by himself in the dark.

One of the points that he was sure he had ‘got’ me on was the fact that black people are incarcerated at a much higher rate than white people. This proved, he asserted, that there was something wrong with black people that made them more likely to commit crimes. It’s just statistics, he claimed. The problem with his theory is that it is not supported by the evidence, or at least the evidence is not sufficient to justify the conclusions he draws. We know, for example, that racism often acts as a confounder in what appears to be a straight-line relationship. We also know that race can play an undue role in things like sentencing and presumed innocence, putting the weight of the judicial system disproportionately against defendants of colour.

This phenomenon is not necessarily because judges are ‘racists’ or because they have a grudge against black people or anything quite so simplistic. The issue is complicated, but one of the culprits is our inability to think critically about our own attitudes about race and racism. By making race a taboo subject, we have set up a situation where people would rather ignore it than discuss it. It happens to police, it happens to lawyers, it happens to judges, and it happens the next level up as well: [Read more…]

Help a sistah out

Long-time Cromrade Autumn is proposing an interesting experiment:

I hear all the time from Christians that they feel discriminated against in day to day life. I find myself skeptical. I pretended to be Christian for years to avoid discrimination and harassment. This lead me to an idea. I’m uncertain about it so I thought I would put it up here, while I was thinking about it. I propose to dress in a manner that visually links me to a particular faith (and/or denomination) and record how I am being treated. At the end of the experiment, I will compare my notes to see if there was any difference, and if so, what- in the way I was treated.

This would mean dressing with a devotional scapular and a crucifix to be “Catholic” or underclothes to mimic the look of the undergarments and a CTR ring or jewelry when being “LDS,” etc. An atheist t-shirt would be my atheist “test” and no visible signs of any religion would be my control.

She is looking for some feedback on both the research question and the ethics of deception. Go read over her proposal and see what you think. Feel free to cross-post your comments here as well. My own thoughts below the fold:

[Read more…]

First things first

One of the great truths about religion, at least contemporary religion in North America, is that it has largely shed the fundamentalism of its past and has evolved (perhaps a poor choice of words) into a much more tolerant and forward-thinking practice. Gone are the days of slavish adherence to obscure and backward dogmatic beliefs that were the hallmark of a time when such things were necessary to hold society together. Everyone knows that, aside from a few fringe groups, religious institutions are really more about building fellowship and fostering community service than anything else.

Of course, like all religious “truths”, that’s complete bullshit:

The Vatican has ordered a crackdown on a group of American nuns that it considers too radical. It says the group is undermining Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality and is promoting “feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith”. The Leadership Conference, which is based in Maryland, represents about 57,000 nuns and offers a wide range of services, from leadership training for women’s religious orders to advocacy on social justice issues.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the nuns’ organisation faced a “grave” doctrinal crisis. It said issues of “crucial importance” to the church, such as abortion and euthanasia, had been ignored. Vatican officials also castigated the group for making some public statements that “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops”, who are the church’s “authentic teachers of faith and morals.” [Read more…]

A Wildrose by any other name…

DISCLAIMER: I am going to do my absolute best not to make fun of Alberta in this post.

Those of you who do not follow Canadian politics news closely may be unaware that the province of Alberta recently had a provincial election. Alberta has often been (somewhat unfairly, but not entirely) characterized as the Texas of Canada. It is rich in oil wealth, and has long held itself out as the victim of a campaign of neglect by central Canada. At least partially as a result of this, and the entrenched conservatism that seems to accompany life on a frontier, Alberta has long been to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues. Of course, now that we have a Prime Minister from Alberta who is to the political ‘right’ of most Canadian issues, it’s a confusing time to be Albertan. What does it mean to your long-standing identity as the middle child of the Canadian family when one of your own is calling the shots?

In the wake of this confusion sprung the Wildrose Party, a provincial party that is even further to the right than the Progressive Conservative Party that has run Alberta for the past 40 years. Yes, you read that right – Alberta has been represented by a single party for 40 years, and it is called the “Progressive Conservative” party – Americans, sorry for blowing your minds with our weirdo Canuck ways. The Wildrose Party, branding itself as the populist conservative alternative to the staid, Tory leanings of the PC party, made a strong bid to unseat the reigning PCs in this latest election. Up until recently, political observers (plus everyone with a sense of civic duty) were gnawing their fingernails at the prospect of the right flank of the right wing seizing control – it was a real possibility.

Then… the wheels kind of came off: [Read more…]

God keeps our land glorious and… strange

Alternative title: God dammit, Canada!

A few weeks back I highlighted one of those quirky ‘statistical finding turned news story’ articles that showed how very secular Canada is (despite stupidly forgetting to analyse it from a racial perspective). I would never want anyone to get the impression that somehow religion doesn’t crop up in our public life. It absolutely does. It’s just that, usually, when it happens, it’s more bizarrely strange than anything else:

A case of what is being called possible demonic possession in Saskatoon has prompted local church officials to consider the need for an exorcist. CBC News spoke with a Catholic priest involved in the case, which arose in March, and agreed not to identify participants in order to protect their privacy. According to church officials, a priest was called to a Saskatoon home by a woman who said her uncle showed signs of being possessed by the devil. The woman believed a priest’s blessing could help the distraught man.

This. Actually. Happened. [Read more…]

Racism? Let them eat cake!

Sometimes stuff comes up in the news and I just don’t bother going after it. There are low-hanging news stories that are so silly or frivolous that I can’t think of anything worthwhile to say about them. Sometimes I file them away for a rainy day when I don’t have a lot of time or energy, or on the off chance that I’ll be able to link to it later in a more substantive piece. So when I read about Sweden’s “racist cake” incident, I figured it was worth taking a pass:

Sweden’s culture minister is facing calls to step down after she was photographed cutting a cake shaped in the form of a naked black woman. The incident involving Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth happened at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm. According to Radio Sweden, the museum said the cake was supposed to highlight the issue of female circumcision. But the Association for African Swedes said it was a crude racist caricature and called for Ms Liljeroth to resign.

A few people asked me to respond, but I thought it was a waste of time. After all, it’s a very silly story about an art installation that, as is often the case, was provocative and not in the greatest ‘taste’ (sorry for the pun). Avant garde art is, by definition, ahead of public opinion and designed to shock to prove a point. The involvement of the Swedish culture minister was a regrettable move on her part, but what would you do if asked to cut into a living cake at an art gallery? Staunchly refuse and launch into a tirade against the artist? It was the result of really shitty staff work and a questionable piece of art.

But damn if that confection didn’t have staying power. I guess it’s true – chocolate just doesn’t come out! So here’s a brief issue-by-issue breakdown of my thoughts. [Read more…]