Movie Friday: W. Kamau Bell

A lot of the discussion about racism is nuanced and requires not so much a list of “dos and don’ts” but a general approach that requires consciousness raising about issues that may fall outside your personal experience. There will never be a specific pattern of behaviours that makes someone a ‘non-racist’ or is foolproof in making sure that you will never offend anybody. Anyone searching for something resembling that is on a Quixotic snark hunt.

Then again, there are some things that are pretty clear cut:

The comedian, W. Kamau Bell, is a recent discovery for me but I’m loving his approach to examining racial issues through insightful critique and pedagogy rather than the tried and true (but, in my opinion, played out) method of comparing the way that whites and blacks drive and dance. He has a new show on FX called “Totally Biased”, produced by another legend of comedy, Chris Rock. It’s set to debut in August, so keep an eye out for that.

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More that divides US than unites US

If you’re American (or particularly politically active), your Facebook page is probably littered with various reactions to the Supreme Court decision this morning. They likely fall into one of three categories:

  1. “Good news, because now people will be able to get health care!”
  2. “Bad news, because we could have done a lot better”

You may feel like the country is just getting more and more crazily polarized as people are seemingly unable to see political stories as anything besides good or the worst thing to ever happen ever. The United States constitution has been declared dead more times than Hosini Mubarak in the past few years, despite the fact that if the decision had gone the other way, exactly nobody who opposes the ACA would be lamenting the influence of “activist judges” or “judicial overreach”. That would be reserved for the proponents.

Well, apparently your instincts aren’t wrong: [Read more…]

Obamacare ruled constitutional

In case you somehow missed it, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that the Affordable Care Act (derisively dubbed ‘Obamacare’ by its opponents) does not violate the Constitution and will still carry the force of law.

For a rundown of the decision, check out Ezra Klein’s blog:

“The bottom line: the entire ACA is upheld”

That’s what SCOTUSBlog wrote moments after the Supreme Court announced its ruling on the health-care law. But it wasn’t upheld in the way most thought it would be. The decision was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the Court’s liberals, and Justice Anthony Kennedy casting his vote with the conservatives.

This will be covered, in many quarters, as a political story. It means President Obama — and Solicitor General Don Verrilli — are popping the champagne. It means that Mitt Romney and the Republicans who were fighting the health-care law have suffered a setback. It will be covered in other quarters as a legal story: It is likely to be central to Roberts’ legacy, and perhaps even to how we understand the divisions in the Court going forward.

To read the full decision for yourself (it’s only 193 pages – go nuts), click here.

For a simplified explanation of what the law does, and why people opposed it in the first place, check out this great thread on Reddit.

For my reaction, please consult the following .gif of Ron Swanson: [Read more…]

Racism, elections, and how we measure up

A while back, a writer I like got in trouble with a lot of people who would otherwise be fans over something she wrote:

In it, Dr. Harris-Perry (who I follow on Twitter) lays out an argument for why white voters, who supported Barack Obama in the first election, may be abandoning him now at a greater rate than they did President Clinton in the 90′s – despite the many political and situational similarities between the two. Given that so many of the ostensible reasons for withdrawing support are balanced between the two administrations, racism may explain, at least in part, any differences in voter support and approval. It’s hard to argue that race and racism have not played a role in this particular presidency far more than in others.

Because I liked both this article and a related one that more closely explored the racial attitudes of Bill Clinton more specifically and liberals more generally, I fired a quick message to Dr. Harris-Perry in support, because I knew that she was taking quite a bit of flack for her audacious temerity to suggest that liberals weren’t the immaculate paragons of fairness that we make ourselves out to be. Basically, just a “hey, I liked your piece in the Nation.”

The problem, of course, is that racism is notoriously difficult to pin down as a single causal factor. Because we’ve gotten so good at obfuscating it through clever language and self-inflicted racial blindness, it’s particularly challenging to detect positively. Usually you have to try and remove all other potential causal factors and then measure the size of a racial disparity and say “well this has to be racism, because what else could it be?” That is far less psychologically satisfying than being able to point at something definitively, objectively racist and say “look, there’s your monster”.

Which is why I find this a particularly fascinating exercise: [Read more…]

We can’t opt out

There is a contingent of the freethinking community, and I have no idea how large it is statistically, but a contingent nonetheless that believe the conversation about social justice lies well outside the list of things we should be talking about. Science, religion, skepticism – these are clearly part of the relevant topics for us to discuss. Why do people believe crazy things? How do we get them to stop? What is the evidence? Other things like racism, feminism, sexual expression and identity issues – these sorts of crazy beliefs and evidence are obviously not relevant to our group. These folks rankle and agitate any time any of these subjects are even broached, replete with admonishments to focus on the ‘real issues’, and to claim that people are ‘overreacting’.

Of course, anyone who honestly agrees with any of that is hereby invited to fuck right off.

An animated .gif of Jeremy Piven (as Ari Gold) saying "Get the fuck out!" [Read more…]

Because I am an atheist: OleanderTea, a really, truly gumpy bunny

Today’s contribution was submitted as a comment by OleanderTea, a really, truly grumpy bunny

Because I am an atheist…

I know I won’t get to see my deceased spouse in a magical “someplace” after I die.

I honestly believe it to be true, but it is also heartbreaking.

My belief that there is no “eternal life” reminds me to be a useful, compassionate, kind, fun, wacky, helpful, and amusing person while I am here, so that my legacy is one that people remember fondly.

(Sorry about the rain on the parade. Umbrella, anyone?)

Consider submitting your own statement, by e-mail or as a comment!

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Blowing the dust off our language

I am not an entomologist. If I was, I’d know that the word I wanted to use there was ‘etymologist’. Also I’d be covered in ants or something.

At any rate, I have not made a careful study of language, and by no means am I up on the origins of the various aphorisms and slang phrases that we use in our day-to-day life. I do, however, remember quite well a scene in the movie Malcolm X where Red (the name that Malik el Shabazz had before he was called Malcolm X) was instructed to look up the words ‘white’ and ‘black’ in the dictionary:

[Read more…]

Putting your (thunder)foot in it

I haz a sad.

Look I’ll make it simple, the point of a bar isn’t to make everyone maximally safe (indeed if it were, they would ban bars, as it would be far safer if everyone just stayed at home and did nothing), it’s to let everyone have the most amount of fun.  The reason people don’t go to bars that are maximally safe, is because they are DULL, with folks always living in fear of crossing some random rule written by  some hypersensitive pencil-necked PC jockey.

Thus does my new blog-neighbour thunderf00t button his argument that sexual harassment policies at conferences are onerous and unnecessary. Apparently TF thinks that asking conferences to put in place clear policies about how sexual harassment and assault will be handled will deprive him of his favourite bar-night activity: eating the calves of strangers.

A picture of thunderf00t biting someone's leg

I wish I was making this up. I’m not.

[Read more…]

Because I’m an atheist: Adam Lee

Today’s contribution comes from Adam Lee, from Daylight Atheism

Because I am an atheist…

…I don’t have to spend my energy justifying the unjustifiable.

As I’ve written before, I can imagine how I could have been a religious person. A different roll of the dice, a few chance encounters that happened differently – there are possible worlds where I became a believer rather than an atheist. I could have become seriously interested in the Jewish heritage I inherited from one side of my family, or the Roman Catholic tradition I’m descended from on the other. I could imagine worlds where I became a member of a mainline Protestant denomination, or an evangelical Christian in the emerging church.

And the funny thing is, I like to think that it wouldn’t have made that much difference. I’m fairly certain that the religious me would still care about equality, would still value social justice, would still think of the world as spectacular and beautiful, would still want to bring about as much goodness as it was in his power to do. It would have taken a much harder shove, a much more improbable chain of coincidences, to send me down the path of one of those more distant possible worlds where I ended up as an anti-choice advocate, or a believer in the imminent apocalypse, or a young-earth creationist. [Read more…]

When the goggles come off

I have size 16 feet. They’re quite ridiculously large. I have to order my shoes from the internet, because if I try to buy them in a story I get laughed at (and then apologized to when they realize I’m not joking). I am not particularly eager to confirm or disconfirm the rumours about guys with big feet, but let it suffice to say that my feet are a rather hefty inconvenience. They pretty much preclude me from any activity that requires specialty footwear – rollerblading, skating, bowling – all of these have been off limits to me for about 12 years now.

One of the biggest losses, as far as I’m concerned, has been my ability to ski. When I was a kid, I was enrolled in a junior ski racing program at my local hill. I wasn’t great, but I had some serious promise. Then we moved to Ontario, my feet grew out of control, and the rest is history. It’s a true shame though, since I live within a pretty short drive of some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the world. And until I have a couple thousand dollars to blow on custom equipment, I’m going to have to forego the thrill of winter sports.

One of the things I remember most clearly about skiing is what would happen when, either at the end of a day or just one a break, I removed my ski goggles. In order to protect from glare, ski goggles are tinted orange. After an hour or so on the slopes, my eyes would adjust to the way the lens would filter colours. When the goggles came off, however, the full spectrum flooded in. In the relief, the world looked eerily blue and fluorescent. It would often take a few minutes for my eyes to return to normal. [Read more…]