I attend an #IdleNoMore rally

The Friday before Christmas I took part in a rally/demonstration that started at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of the #IdleNoMore movement. I arrived to a small group of people with drums, tobacco, and more than a little resolve. That group would grow in size as the demonstration continued.

A view of the early crowd in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery

It was interesting for me to note that while it has become more or less de rigeur to start ceremonies of great import in the city of Vancouver by acknowledging that the city is built on land that was not ceded through treaty by the Coast Salish people who still live here, this was the first time I had ever been at an event where those words had been uttered by a person who identified hirself as Coast Salish. This particular gathering was dominated by aboriginal people, an experience that was novel for me. Growing up where I did, a native person was like a puffin: I knew of their existence, I knew they were somewhere relatively nearby, I generally wished them well, but I never expected to see one up close. [Read more…]

Why I will be #IdleNoMore

I was born in 1984 in a hospital in a city called Vancouver. I was told that Vancouver was a part of a country called Canada. I was issued a birth certificate that entitled me (and my mother) to free health care, education, clean water, national defense, voting rights, and a whole host of other privileges that are difficult to innumerate by virtue of both their great number and the fact that most of them are largely invisible to me (as nobody has ever tried to deprive me of them). As you have undoubtedly gleaned from my previous writings, my Canadian identity is something that is both profoundly important and a source of immense pride to me. I love my country of citizenship and birth, and I want to see it prosper and grow.

My mother was born under similar geographic circumstances to parents who were of Irish descent and of German descent. My father was born in a British colony called Guyana, and was told that he was Guyanese. Guyana was purchased from the Dutch, who didn’t own the land to begin with but who had simply settled there are created a colony by force. The thing that allowed the Dutch (and later the English) to hold a claim to the land they called Guyana was the same thing that brought my father’s ancestors to that land: slavery. We don’t know where my father’s people are from originally, and we may never know.

Canada is the only home I have ever known. It is the only place that I could possibly call ‘home’ – I find it deeply unlikely that I would be accepted as Irish or German (as divorced as I am from its history, culture, and ethnic majority), and am no more Guyanese than I am English or Dutch. It was only recently that I learned that, by virtue of the fact that Vancouver is built on territory that was not granted to the English by the people who originally settled her, that while I may be culturally Canadian, legally speaking I am… something else entirely. [Read more…]

Some random thoughts on blogging

A bit of a brag here: this blog just passed the million hits mark at FTB (technically, I got a million cumulative hits a few months back), and insofar as that makes this a “successful blog” or something, this advice may be helpful.

Freethought blogs has just gone through its third round of a formal screening and recruitment process, a process that I have had a role in designing and implementing. One of the common questions I see asked when we’ve announced that this blog or that blog has been invited to join us is a (usually friendly) inquiry into how blogs get chosen. This usually takes the form of “I sure would have liked to be selected. What do you have to do to get the attention of _________?” I have fielded a couple of times, and I know other people get this more often, questions from people who want to know how to make their blog successful or how to ‘get hits’ or whatever. What follows is a handful of opinions on blogging that I’ve developed over the past couple of years.

Before I start, I want to caution anyone looking to cite me as an expert that I am, in fact, no such thing. I have run two blogs in my life, only one of which went anywhere outside of my immediate circle of friends. The one that ‘made it’ (insofar as being on FTB is ‘making it’, which is arguable) is still not anything like a runaway success. Even within the small pool of FTBers, I am hardly the top when it comes to traffic or name recognition. However, having talked to other bloggers who are more well-trafficked and having listened to what they say, I don’t think my advice is too far outside the apparent consensus.

Okay… [Read more…]

Vanity Thursday: Don’t Look Back in Anger

Around this time of year, television stations are flooded with “Year in Review” features. My personal favourite year-in-review things are created by a rapper called Skillz who does a yearly feature called “The Rap-Up” (although this year’s version is pretty… meh). My personal practice is to reflect on the past year around my birthday rather than at the turn of the calendar, but since this is a time where many people try to make sense of the last 12 months, it’s my hope that you will be able to find some joy and satisfaction in some of the things that happened this year, and use them to propel you into more joy in 2013.

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Merry Whatever

Hey folks, just want to let you know that I am currently celebrating Christmas in Toronto with my family, which means that my traditional blogging vacation is on. I will have new stories for you in the new year, including an account of my experience at an #IdleNoMore rally, a first-ever (for the blog) book review, an audio book review, in addition to the usual thoughts and news stories you’re used to.

Whatever you’re doing over the next few days, I hope you are able to find some joy and laughter in it. You’ll have me back to join you in the new year!

As a gift, here is a video of an otter that I shot myself at the Vancouver Aquarium:

Here’s another one:

And here’s a picture of what I looked like when I saw the otters for the first time:

A picture of me with a wide-ass grin, excited to see otters for the first time ever!


Merry whatever, everyone!

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Mayans, Moral Panic, and the Narrative of the Apocalypse

photo 2

A couple of years ago, Harold Camping rocketed to infamy when he predicted that the end of the world would come via divine Revelation on May 21st, 2011. When the day came and went without incident, Camping retreated from public view for a time before re-emerging and claiming that, actually, May 21st was merely an ‘invisible judgement’, and that the real end would come five months later, on October 21st. Again, the date came and to the surprise of almost no one, the world did not end.  Camping was hardly unique in his predictions: throughout the history of the human species, countless millions of us have held deep, unwavering convictions that the end of the world would come in our lifetimes; clearly every single one of us has been wrong… so far…

A little more than a decade ago, those who believed in the coming end-times set their sights on the dawn of the new millennium, conveniently forgetting that according to the Chinese calendar, the year was 4697, and if we all measured time by the Jewish calendar, January 1st, 2000 would have been marked as the 23rd of Tevet, 5760. Nevertheless, I remember the anxiety that surrounded Y2K, not only because of the supposed collapse of global banking and communications systems, but because of the heightened millenarian fervor that surrounded that particular date. One way or another, some people believed, the world was going to end, and we had all best get right with God/Allah/Thor/the Universe.

We humans are funny creatures; we design arbitrary systems of timekeeping, and then affix deep symbolic meaning to particular points on in those systems. We invent a system of counting based, say, on the fact that we have 10 fingers, and then decide that measurements that are divisible by ten have some sort of divine meaning. We have evolved, so we are told, brains that include hardwired pattern-recognition systems yet apparently lack any sort of evolutionary safeguard to tell us when the patterns we see are illusory. We are strange, strange animals.

These sorts of social phenomena are extremely interesting, from a sociological point of view, for a number of reasons. One of the top reasons for me is that they serve as a handy point of focus for those who study the concept of moral panic. The reason for this is simple: for those who believe – fervently – in a given end-times scenario (Mayan prophecies, Y2K, Revelations, etc.), the end is often coming for a reason. Of course a purposeful annihilation isn’t always the case, but let’s consider some of the more common ‘theories’ about what the Mayan ‘prophecies’ mean. The world will end because of environmental collapse (brought about by rampant consumerism, reliance on fossil fuels, etc), or because of global thermonuclear holocaust (in some version of “The United States versus Nation X”); or maybe the world will end because of some sort of spiritual crisis or event, or because Jesus is angry or because Shiva has had enough already.

Behind each of these possible examples of how we’re all going to die is some explanatory narrative or another, which tells us why the environment is collapsing, or why Shiva is on the warpath, or why the Mayans foresaw this time and place as being the site of Armageddon. In other words, beneath the trappings of almost any millenarian belief you will find a laundry-list of things the believer is afraid of or disgusted by. Jesus is coming back to judge the living and the dead? You can be that he’s going to judge all of the people whose lifestyles you hate. Is the world too sinful/corrupt/consumerist/complacent, in your view? Well good news! Catastrophe ‘X’ is coming to wash it all away and let you and the other survivors begin anew.

There can often be a touch of fantasizing on the part of the believer too; since it’s their end-times belief, they will most likely count themselves among the survivors (if they’ve not been raptured away, that is), due to some learned or innate property that makes them ‘worthy’ of survival. They can watch all those ‘weaker’ or ‘inferior’ people vanish, and then they can build their perfect society on the ashes of the old.

But none of this will happen – at least not right now. Today will come and go, and the world will remain. Civilization (by which we of course mean our civilization, the only one worth mentioning /sarcasm) will not have been destroyed; Christmas will come and go, then New Years after that. The people that believed in the Mayan end-times will continue to believe in a reckoning to come; only the date will change and maybe, if a cooler looking doomsday comes along, the form. Perhaps, once their disappointment or embarrassment over their end-time of choice failing to materialize abates, they’ll move on to embrace a new apocalypse; maybe they’ll start buying into Nibiru, or begin warning the world about the coming doom from the planet-killer asteroid Apophis. After all, Apophis is an Egyptian name, the name of a god – the god of dissolution, non-being, and the void; surely that means something, right?

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Some summary thoughts of my own about the SCC niqab decision

Earlier today, I wrote a quick summary of this morning’s Supreme Court of Canada majority decision that says judges may require witnesses to remove their niqab to testify in court. The majority laid out some specific issues that should be considered when making such a decision, including the broader social context of requiring victims of abuse to violate their religious beliefs in order to see justice, and the “chilling effect” that such a practice may have. In this post, I want to briefly touch on the two dissenting positions, and provide some of my own thoughts and concerns. [Read more…]

Supreme Court of Canada rules on niqab case

Back in the early days of this blog, I talked about an Ontario court case involving a woman who did not want to be compelled to remove her niqab (a Muslim face covering) in order to testify against two of her family members who she accused of sexually abusing her over a number of years. I thought it was an interesting case for those of us interested in how to properly build a secular society that respects personal expression but does not kowtow to every religious cause under the sun. I said this at the time:

For once, I don’t have a clear-cut answer of what the court should do. On the one hand, testifying would have deleterious effects on the plaintiff and possibly cause her to lose her family and social life; it would most certainly deter other abused women from coming forward after they see that the consequence of speaking up is social isolation (and possibly more abuse). On the other hand however, allowing her to wear the veil not only violates the right of the accused to confront their accuser face-to-face, but implicitly assents to the practice of veiling women.

The case found its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, who handed down their decision this morning. I have, on several occasions, expressed my deep respect and admiration for Canada’s Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who wrote for the majority in the 4-2-1* decision, finding that while the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (equivalent to the U.S. Bill of Rights) does explicitly defend a person’s right to freedom of religion, it also explicitly defends the rights of the accused. As such, the decision prescribes a series of test questions that must be satisfied before requiring a woman to remove her niqab to testify.

The full text of the decision is here, and my own summary and analysis of the decision follows below the fold. [Read more…]

Dos & Don’ts: Responding To Domestic Violence In Your Community

A post by Jamie

This past Wednesday, I experienced a repeat of an event that occurred in my natal home nearly 20 years ago. Only this time, it was with a man I had met just six weeks ago, whose only relationship to me was as my landlord. I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that he would like nothing more than for me to be quiet about what he did, as he responded to RCMP knocking on the front door with surprise and instant resentment. RCMP decided within a half an hour that they will be recommending charges, as I insisted that I will go to court if my presence is required to see that this incident follows him for the rest of his miserable life. A warning to fellow trauma survivors and people who have fled domestic violence and/or abuse: this post very likely contains triggering content, so it’s probably best for you to avoid it if you’re already having a really bad day. I am going to be referring to not just one, but two men, and they are both quite frankly terrible people who hate women and think that it’s acceptable to try to prove their “tolerance” for everyone else by constantly identifying people by the facet of their identity that leaves them socially marginalized (e.g., I’ve heard the phrase “My girlfriend’s a sex change” so often in the past six weeks, I’m temporarily liable to either instinctively hit the next person who says it, or just punch a hole in the wall immediately adjacent to their head.)

[Read more…]

Upcoming speaking gigs in January (Kamloops/Kelowna)

Hey all,

Just a quick note for any folks living in the British Columbia interior – next month I will be giving a pair of presentations in Kamloops and Kelowna on the 12th and 13th of January respectively.

The Kamloops crowd will be getting some info about the HPV vaccine and how to sift through some of the myths and conspiracy theories that you find on the internet. In Kelowna, I will be giving an expanded version of my Eschaton2012 talk. After both events, there will be some kind of social event where we can hang out and talk about whatever, so if you live in the region and you’re curious what I’m like in person (spoilers: less interesting than you’d think), you should mark those days on your calendar.

Both events are organized and sponsored by the local chapters of the Center For Inquiry. I will of course post reminders and any additional information I have as details become finalized.

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