Iran: equal opportunity oppressors

As you’ll see this week, I am at times very lucky to have a handful of countries, without whom my job would be a lot more difficult and would require me to actually WORK to produce material, rather than just commenting on stories in the news.

But, luckily for me, Iran is still going strong:

The imposition of headscarves is deeply resented by more liberal-minded women. Now the government is tightening up on men’s hair as well. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has published a guide to men’s hairstyles. Short, neat hair is approved; ponytails are definitely not.

You’ve got to hand it to religious authorities: they are consistent in their stupidity. After passing laws essentially requiring women to dress like the Paper Bag Princess, they decided that strictly controlling only half of their population wasn’t quite enough. After all, as everyone knows, haircuts lead to talking, talking leads to dancing, dancing leads to touching, and touching leads to earthquakes.

I am reminded of a fantastic ditty from the musical Hair:

The bizarre twist of this whole thing is that this abject moronity is not coming from the government:

Strangely, it is the hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has been arguing that it is not the government’s job to crack down on people’s style of dress. For this he has been criticised by various conservative ayatollahs and politicians, who thunder against “naked’ or “half-naked” women roaming the streets. Their version of naked usually means a headscarf slightly out of place.

I lived in Toronto around the time that a law was passed permitting women to be topless at beaches. We could have had literally half-naked women roaming the streets. Do you know what happened? You guessed it – not a hell of a lot. Some women went topless, most didn’t. Now and then when you go to the beach, you might spot an uncovered boob… no big deal. Strangely enough, like prohibition of alcohol, the more illicit and forbidden you make sex, the more alluring it becomes. Iran is spiralling into itself in its own obsession with sex.

I’ve written before about religion’s strange sexual fetish. Sex is part of the human experience – it’s a thing that we do. We are fortunate enough to be smart enough that we can have sex essentially whenever we want, and if we take the proper precautions it can be virtually risk-free. Provided that both parties (or all of the parties… whatever lifts your luggage) are consenting (and capable of consent, obviously) then we should feel free to boink the night away. Religion doesn’t like that – it wants control over every aspect of our lives: our thoughts, our actions, and even our most private moments with those we love (or those we’ll love until the sun comes up). At least the religious authorities in Iran aren’t simply picking on the women anymore. That’s equality!

What does it all mean?

I started writing short stories when I was a little kid – most of them were blatant rip-offs of movies or video games (or sometimes other books). As I got older, I became more interested in writing scripts for movies or (because I was involved in drama) plays. This interest matured into allegorical social commentary in my later years of high school. One of my favourite scripts (that I have since lost since my computer was stolen a couple years ago) was a pseudo-absurdist comedy based largely on Waiting For Godot and Clerks, in which the taboos of our attitudes towards male homosexuality were explored and derided. I was also occasionally featured on a now-defunct website called, which has since turned into a pro-Israeli personal blog.

Throughout the first few years of university, I partnered with an online friend to write Porocrom’s Crappaper, in which Poromenos and I highlighted and mocked social conventions and marketing. We had a decent 2-year run, in which I later expanded to do a little music criticism. About a year after we stopped contributing to Porocrom, I started chronicling the various vacations and things that I did on Facebook. When a news article caught my attention, or I had some particular issue or another on my mind, I’d dash off a quick essay about it.

Why is this relevant?

I started this blog back in February, and got into it seriously in March. I didn’t really have an overall theme for what I’d be writing about at the time. It was basically going to be a continuation of the essays I had written about various things, in an effort to consolidate my various personal interests and thoughts about issues into one coherent narrative. I looked at other blogs, and the ones I liked the most were the ones that are based around one central idea, with a handful of topics related to that idea making frequent appearances. I tried to adopt this idea, to talk about a few things that I thought were important: free speech, religion, and race. Because I am a proud Canadian, I wanted to highlight these things from a Canadian perspective.

So I have established my sub-topics, but my central idea seems somewhat more elusive. While I have tried before to tie the themes of race, religion and free speech together, there is much more overlap between religion and free speech than there is between race and anything else. More and more I’ve been bringing in issues of sex and gender, particularly related to gay men and the rights of women. Neither of these things are intrinsically linked to free speech, religion or race, but they seem to be coming up again and again.

What’s the theme here?

The very first post of this blog was called the Foundations of the Manifesto, in which I tried to define what I would be writing about as well as railing against. Not having the benefit of being able to look back on the past 4 months and see what seems to be important to me these days (a process called ‘revealed preference’ in economics) the post was pretty vague. The virtue of putting my ideas out in public is that it forces me to defend them against people who disagree with me. I’ve crossed swords with religious folks, conservative folks, and folks who apparently just plain don’t like me. In some of those cases I’ve had to retreat from a position; in some of those cases I’ve been able to successfully demonstrate my position. As this process continues, I’m sure I’ll have to write many more retractions or clarifications.

As my ideas become more refined and polished, a theme will become much more clear. As it is right now, I can point vaguely to the glimmer of a coherent central idea for this blog. Contrary to much propaganda, democracy is absolutely not the best political system for ensuring the long-term prosperity of a society. Democracy is, ostensibly, founded upon the idea that all people should have equal say in how decisions are made. By its very nature, democratic systems are slaves to the will of the majority. This wouldn’t be a problem if the majority was consistently correct; however, what history shows us again and again is that the majority  often makes horrendously evil decisions that benefit members of the majority, but cause undue suffering among the minority. I’m thinking specifically of slavery here, but it could equally apply to genocide, the treatment of women, or the exploitation of developing countries by colonial powers. The will of the largest group of people is not necessarily what is best, and most of the social victories we’ve achieved in North America over the past couple of hundred years have been when the will of the majority was flouted by a strong minority.

The “best” political system is one in which the right decision will always be made for the people in general. This is sometimes referred to as a “benign dictatorship”, in which one person has absolute power to enact laws for the betterment of society. Of course this is a completely impractical fiction. Every dictatorship we’ve ever seen has resulted in corruption and the exploitation of people. It is impossible to put any one person (or group of people) in absolute control – there will always be flaws and corruption that will ultimately result in suffering. However, we have established a system that attempts to approximate this benign dictatorship; we place authority in the courts to overturn the will of the majority if the will violates the spirit of the law. In that sense the will of the people is limited by the constraints of the law, such that it doesn’t matter how popular a thing might be, the laws must be made for the right reasons, reasons that are founded in logic and evidence.

Neither is democracy the best social system for the same reasons. The best social system is a meritocracy, in which the people who rise to power and prominence are those who, by virtue of hard work and natural talent are demonstrably higher achievers. Success in a meritocracy is predicated not on accidents of birth, or the affluence of your family group, but on an individual’s ability to produce and achieve. It is this kind of system that is modeled (albeit a bit overbearingly) in the writings of Ayn Rand; an author who, despite being reviled by pretty much everyone I know, actually had some excellent ideas. The heroes in Rand’s novels are people who have innate talent and drive to create and achieve, and who are set against a system that seems hell-bent on putting up roadblocks to progress (my point of divergence from Rand comes at this point, where she says that any attempt to level the playing field is evil).

What does this have to do with anything?

Similarly, my interest is in creating a system which prioritizes what is right over what is popular. 50 million Elvis fans can be wrong. An idea should be judged by its merits, not by how many people agree with it. Ditto for people. Advocating for the rights of women, the rights of homosexuals, the rights of racial minorities… these are all intrinsically linked to this idea that a meritocracy is to be desired. One should not be born into handicap simply because they are female, or gay, or black. Our system of laws should treat all people equally, and attempts to do so are laudable. Such attempts are only possible when the free speech of all citizens is protected. I am uncomfortable with banning racists or Holocaust deniers from speaking because the justification is that their speech is unpopular. Martin Luther King wasn’t popular in his day either. Do I agree with racists? Absolutely not. But any time we allow the government to arbitrarily decide that one group isn’t allowed to speak based on the fact that the majority of people don’t like it, we open up the possibility that such restrictions are possible on any unpopular speech. One such unpopular type of speech is criticism of religion, which is a fundamentally bad system of ideas. Being able to discuss, debate, and refute religious ideology is only possible when all speech is protected (except, of course, that speech which directly results in demonstrable harm to individuals).

So there it is, all threads tied together. The point of this blog is to advocate the promotion of good ideas that are based on evidence and critical thinking rather than just whatever seems popular at the moment. The point of this blog is to advocate such promotion because it will lead to an egalitarian meritocracy that is founded on principles of justice for all people. When and if my positions can be demonstrated to be either partially or wholly false, I will always do my best to adapt them to reflect that (you’ll have to forgive me if it takes me a while, nobody likes to be proven wrong). I value those who disagree with my positions – although it’s always nice to hear from those of you who think I’m right on.


TL;DR: The central idea of this blog is still evolving, but seems to be approaching advocacy of a position that promotes critical thinking and equal rights as a method to achieve a merit- and justice-based society rather than one in which whatever is popular rules.

Reaction to the G8/G20 summit

I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. It’s interesting to get a perspective (albeit a fictional one) on what happens in the halls of government, to see how the sausage gets made. One of my favourite episodes involves a meeting by the Director of Communications with a group of youth protesting the World Trade Organization. Toby wryly observes that it’s like “protest summer camp”, as the protesters are poorly-organized, lack a coherent message, and do not seem capable of dealing with someone in a position to actually do something. He mocks them both under his breath and openly to their faces. At the end of the episode, he confides to one of his fellow senior-level staffers that if he wasn’t working for the White House, he’d be out on the picket lines with them.

That’s how I feel about this weekend’s G8/G20 clusterfuck.

First off I want to say that, and I absolutely cannot stress this enough, VIOLENCE IS NOT SPEECH. The Charter protects the right of citizens to free expression. The goal of free speech is to have all ideas out in the open air, where they can be debated. The virtue of this approach is that ideas that are not necessarily popular cannot simply be shut down by the capricious whim of either the majority, or whoever happens to be in power at that moment. Of all of the rights that we have in this country, free speech/free expression is, in my mind, the most important one. It is what separates us from theocratic countries that use the power of the state to shut down political opposition and legitimate citizen movements.

Donning a black mask, running through the streets, smashing windows and setting fires, then abandoning those masks to avoid capture by police is the complete opposite of the idea of free speech. It is a violation of everything that is good about free speech protections. It is the face of a mass of cowardice and stupidity, and is an abject abuse of my rights as a citizen. If you think that smashing a window is a viable form of protest, then smash the shit out of the window – but stand by your actions. Smashing a window and then running tells the world nothing except that you are a selfish asshole who disregards the rights of others because it’s fun. Burning a cop car and then running tells the world that you are in no way willing to work with others to solve problems in society, you are just out for yourself in your infantile tantrum. Spraypainting “bomb the banks” and then running tells the world that you are a mindless anti-corporate bandwagon jumper who absolutely cannot be counted on to help make the world a better place.

I wish I was a better writer so that I could adequately express the complete and utter contempt in which I hold someone who hides behind a black mask and a gang in order to get away with trashing personal property. I am not a violent person, and I abhor the use of force to solve interpersonal problems, but if I was presented with a Black Bloc member and the opportunity to do so, I would beat the living snot out of the little over-entitled, pseudo-punk shits who ran like children when faced with the consequences of their actions. They are beneath contempt. Violent revolt is sometimes necessary in the development of a society, but it has to mean something. The violence this weekend was meaningless. It was a bunch of assholes who saw an opportunity for cheap laughs by burning property and assaulting people.

There are two great tragedies of this weekend’s events (aside from the abrogation of the rights of law-abiding citizens who were caught in police sweeps, having committed no crimes, which is an absolute tragedy in and of itself). The first is the fact that there were a number of people there who had legitimate cause to protest. They were exercising their rights as free citizens to voice opposition, and raise issues on the world stage. The acts of the black-clad assholes buried the efforts of legitimate protesters who were trying to make a positive difference in society. I may not agree with any number of the issues that the protesters wanted to bring up, but they were interested in presenting a principled stand and were willing to confront authority openly and courageously. The assholes ruined this opportunity, ensuring that nobody will ever hear the voice of the constructive. I commend Toronto mayor David Miller for accurately distinguishing between the protesters and the “thugs” (although I prefer the term assholes, he’s a politician and has to be a bit less colourful).

The second tragedy is one that is a bit more germane to the second topic of this blog: race. I took a look through photo galleries of the assholes, and played a game I like to play sometimes called “spot the black people”. The best part of the game is that among groups of people who are supposedly demonstrating on behalf of the poorest and most disenfranchised people on the planet, you’ll never spot those people among the group. You can’t talk about the victims of globalization and the global economy without talking about Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Look at the pictures – I challenge you to find a non-white face among the crowd. As difficult as it is to spot income, the group did not strike me as poorly-fed and impoverished people rising up against authority – they resembled a group of middle-class hypocrites who wear the trappings of poverty for street cred, while living off the largess of their parents. Here’s a hint: if you joined up with the Black Bloc because you got a Twitter Alert on your iPhone while you were serving cappuccinos at Starbucks, you aren’t fighting against the man. You’re just as responsible for the suffering of the poor as those who you claim to be demonstrating against – you are part of the system.

As Toronto recovers from this event, I cannot help but recall my own experience during the Vancouver Olympics this past February. I made a poor choice to walk down Georgia street on my way home, and was blocked by a massive protest march. For those of you not familiar with Vancouver, that would be like marching at Bay/Bloor. The streets were absolutely jammed with people shouting slogans and carrying signs. I immediately noticed the actions of police officers – they were there to ensure the safety of the marchers. They did not jeer, or harass/assault people who were exercising their rights to speech, even when it shut down the core of the city. Even when the protesters arrived at the blockades around the stadium, both sides kept their cool. It wasn’t until the next day when the assholes showed up and smashed the windows of the Bay at Georgia/Granville that any arrests or assaults took place. Vancouver had its own G8/G20 protest here this weekend. No arrests, no injuries, no problems. The few assholes who showed up to cause trouble were detained and identified, but no formal charges were laid (which is regrettable, but the cops don’t work for me).

I am deeply saddened and enraged by the actions of a cowardly bunch of callow fucks. There are real issues in the world to protest, real problems that need to be solved. If you want to fight against the forces of oppression, you have to be willing to stand up for your beliefs. Being a citizen comes with responsibilities, and when you smash shit with a mask on, not only do you abdicate those responsibilities, but you simultaneously abdicate any claim to the legitimacy of your position among reasonable people.

Racism is alive and well in Canada

I want to re-iterate something off the top of this post: I love my country. I love how we have managed to find a way to safeguard individual freedoms without sacrificing our sense of mutual custodianship to each other. I love the fact that we pride ourselves on separating religion from politics, and are, for the most part, very willing (perhaps sometimes too willing) to accommodate the cultural practices of others. I love that things like guns and gay marriage and abortion, things that are currently tearing the United States apart, are relatively foregone conclusions here – not to minimize the struggles of the past to get things this way, but they were much shorter and less divisive.

I love my country… and I fear for it.

I fear for it simply because we are happy to close our eyes and pretend that racism is not an issue here. I was all pumped to write a short post about a news item I saw in the paper:

Hate crimes increased 35% between 2007 and 2008, according to a report from Statistics Canada released on Monday, with Jewish and black people the most targeted groups for attacks. The data shows hate crimes are on the rise in each motivation grouping: race and ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

I was going to say that we’re clearly not out of the woods, and that even though much of the rise may be attributable to an increase in the number of reported cases as people become more willing to call a hate crime ‘a hate crime’, a 35% jump is not something to sweep under the carpet, as it may represent a real increase. I was particularly chilled by the fact that Vancouver, my home, was the city with the highest rate of attacks (I immediately thought of Courtenay, BC). It was just going to be a quick piece, reminding us not to be complacent.

Then I read this truly execrable word salad of an opinion column written by Mindelle Jacobs, a woman who, if she got paid anything for writing this piece, was grossly overpaid:

If you look under enough rocks, you’ll find the slimy underbelly of discrimination. But let’s not blow this study out of proportion. After all, this is not Kyrgyzstan, where hundreds of minority Uzbeks have been killed.

The vast majority of Canadians embrace a live-and-let-live philosophy, partly because Canada is wealthy, stable and rooted in inclusive Judeo-Christian principles and the rule of law and partly because we are a nation of immigrants fashioning a comparatively new country.

Gah! So much wrong in only two sentences (I count the first paragraph as one sentence – those periods are inappropriately placed). Let’s see, right off the top we’ve got a brainless downward comparison (oh goody! We’re not as bad as a genocidal country! Calloo Callay!), and an appeal to that shiny old lie that Canada is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Finally, after relating a completely off-topic story about a friend who wears a Star of David and fears being discriminated against, she ends with this gem:

Hate crimes constitute less than 1% of all our crimes. Yes, we have a few bigoted lunatics. But we have a powerful counter force — millions of Canadians without a discriminatory bone in their bodies.

“Don’t worry,” Ms. Jacobs says “everything is okay! You don’t have to worry about it! Only 1% of all crimes are hate crimes! And it’s only done by ‘those people’, not by good-hearted Canadians like you and me!”

Here’s a hint for Ms. Jacobs: if you’re going to write an article about race and race issues in Canada, it might help if you do… let’s say 5 minutes of reading on the topic before you publish an opinion piece with national circulation. This idiotic scribbling was picked up by dailies all over the country, spreading the pablum of “everything’s okay, we don’t have to make any changes because we’re not Kyrgyztan” to Canadians everywhere.

So this post is going to be just a little longer than it was supposed to be. Since we’ve already talked about Nova Scotia, both present and past, and of course Courtenay making the news, the particular challenges Canada faces with regard to race, and a number of recent examples of cultures clashing here, I thought I’d bring one more thing to the table.

Isn’t it great when, while the rest of the world is coming together to play soccer and set aside their differences, we here in Canada are happily tossing racist epithets at children? Yes Ms. Jacobs, there’s no race problem in Canada; well, unless you ask someone who isn’t white. This poor girl was not only the victim of comments from the other kids on the field, but by their parents as well. What kind of person do you have to be to insult a child… regardless of the nature of the insult. Hatred of Natives is widespread pretty much everywhere across Canada, and this incident is merely an obvious example of it. People here in Vancouver like to make insulting comments about Native people to my face, as though it’s okay to be racist against some people, because I’m not part of that group. I can only make assumptions about what kinds of things they say about black people when I’m not in the room.

So we’ve got racism coast to coast, and a columnist who seems to think it’s just a handful of isolated incidents. Ms. Jacobs asks if Edmonton and Calgary are hotbeds of racism, pooh-poohing the idea. This means that she has spent zero time talking to any black or Native people who live in these cities. She’s never bothered to look across the prairies and see how South Asians and Natives are treated by the communities there. She’s never seen the race divide and ghettoization of immigrants in Southern Ontario. She’s clearly never been to Surrey, or any Native reserve where white Canadians are distrusted and hated. No, Mindelle Jacobs clearly doesn’t know anything about race in Canada, happy to stick with the lies instead of poking her head out and seeing anything that challenges her rose-tinted view that Canada is a happy, Christian place where “only” 1% of our crimes are based on hate. I’d much rather live in the real Canada, which has its flaws, but where real progress can be made.

Movie Friday: Religion… not just INTELLECTUALLY bankrupt

I have a headache after watching this video:

No mention of the fact that the “Christian” United States and its ultra-capitalist system is what got the recession rolling in the first place. No mention of the complete contradiction inherent in the argument that people shouldn’t wait around for the government to help… they should just wait for God (who’s about 5000 years overdue – any day now though…). The only voice of reason got sandwiched in between the moron host and the more moronic priest who somehow manages to make arguments on both sides of his own point. The host’s final statement made me chuckle: they could have put something newsworthy on, but instead we talked to a priest who knows less about economics than he does about secularism (or Christianity, it seems – Jesus was definitely a socialist; “render unto Caesar” and all that…)

Secularism doesn’t make you poor, secularism makes you make decisions that are based on what is good for others rather than what it says in a religious tome. Can that socialist instinct take you too far? Absolutely. But right now we’re all living through what happens when capitalism allows to go unchecked.

I’m not smarter than these people because I’m an atheist; I’m an atheist because I’m smarter than these people.

How inaccurate Nazi comparisons fuel anti-Semitism

It will definitely not be among my most controversial statements to say that Adolf Hitler was a bad person. It will similarly be unobjectionable to say that Nazi-ism is and was a deplorable and horrifying philosophy and practice. No-one aside from the handful of anti-Semitic nutjobs who deny the Holocaust believe that Hitler or Nazis are a positive force in the world.

However, in colloquial parlance, Nazis and Hitler are bandied about so wildly inaccurately that we’ve lost sight of why they are bad. Let’s take a look at the philosophy of Nazi Germany under Hitler:

  • Totalitarian regime
  • Advocated the mass slaughter of Jews, Roma, homosexuals, Catholics, mentally and physically disabled
  • Practiced ghettoization of ‘undesirable’ members of society
  • Preached a doctrine of race chauvinism, with the intent of the destruction of all but the racially “pure”
  • Attempted to spread this doctrine by force across the entire world

This is not good stuff. Nothing on this list can be counted as a positive trait. Any movement that seeks the mass slaughter of people based on a doctrine of chauvinism and is spread by force of arms should rightly be compared to Hitler and the Nazis. It is absolutely right to draw comparisons between such practices and the horrors of the Holocaust.

You know where it’s not right? When talking about health care.

President Hitler signed a shockingly similar bill with similar tactics used to get it signed….threats,  harassment,  false promises,  intimidation, invented crises.  Gee….did Obama take lessons from Hitler?

Excuse me, WHAT? Dr. Laurie Roth seems to think that using unethical political tactics (and I’m not saying I agree even with this characterization) to sign policies into law is tantamount to being in league with Hitler.

First of all, understand Hitler was a brilliant, charismatic speaker who said things in style, lied through his teeth and manipulated whatever he had to, to get a vote and power…

Obama also seduced 60% of the nation, congress and most the media into not asking real questions and just believing his countless lies.

Hitler wore black socks. Obama has been photographed WEARING BLACK SOCKS! The similarities abound.

The question here that must be asked is as follows: is Obama similar to Hitler in any of the characteristics that are important? Namely, is he (openly or covertly) advocating the mass murder of a group of people based on ethnic or political affiliation? Is he declaring an expansionist war agenda in order to accomplish said mass murder? Is he jailing and shipping off political dissident groups to internment camps? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, then I think your trial separation with reality has gone on long enough and you should just file the divorce papers already. If you answered ‘no’, then the question becomes whether or not the comparison to Obama is a fair one, or if you’re just using the spectre of Hitler and the Holocaust as a cheap and frankly tactless way of manipulating the emotions of your audience.

And before we get too smug here on the left side of the aisle, shall I remind you of the anti-Iraq-war protests of only a few years ago? Ringo remembers.

It seems as though we’ve taken the above description of Hitler and the Nazis and boiled it down to the first bullet point: Nazi = totalitarian regime. While nobody would suggest that totalitarian regimes are good, that’s not the only reason why Nazi-ism was so horrible; it’s not even the primary reason why Nazi-ism was so horrible. Look down the list – forced imprisonment, genocide, unjust war-making, all fueled by an underlying racist doctrine. The atrocities committed by the Nazis under Hitler were the worst that the developed world had ever seen, and possibly the worst in all of history.

It does disservice to the memory of the millions of people who have died at the hands of the Nazi philosophy to trivialize its inherent ugliness as mere totalitarianism. Most feudal monarchies were totalitarian, but many positive things came out of them. There are admittedly few examples of totalitarian regimes that were good for the world, but much fewer are the examples that can be aptly compared to Nazi-ism – perhaps Russia under Stalin, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, the genocides in Rwanda and Sudan, and even these last few are not at the hands of totalitarian rule but of brutal military rule.

Taking a handful of characteristics, out of context, from the Nazis or Hitler, finding similarities to modern events and then forging specious equivalence between those events and the Nazi philosophy is belligerent intellectual dishonesty. Worse than that, however, is the fact that as the word “Nazi” gets applied to everything under the sun that one person or another doesn’t particularly like, the real meaning and context becomes diluted. The consequence of this is that we begin to forget the dark scourge of anti-Semitism that allowed such a philosophy to propagate on a global scale. As I showcased recently, anti-Semitism is still alive and well both internationally and here in Canada. It doesn’t need to be helped by down-playing the horror of its history.

It seems appropriate at this point to say something about anti-Semitism. I have no particular allegiance to any religious group; I find them all distasteful at best, and destructive at worst. I fully recognize that Jewish people, and the Jewish faith is no better or worse than any other, except insofar as its adherents tend to be less militantly violent and intolerant than Christians, Muslims, or Indian Hindus. I highlight this particular race chauvinism (anti-Semitism) not only because it’s topical but because it’s pervasive. I am not claiming that anti-Semitism is philosophically better or worse than any kind of racist philosophy (although it has the longest history and is perhaps the most widespread). I am opposed to the idea of group identification based on religion, since religious expression is highly varied and is almost entirely based on superstition and nonsense. However, I am more opposed to the idea of violently exterminating a group of people based on group identification or shared belief. I am also opposed to intellectual dishonesty and the degradation of history to serve the agenda of the forces of stupid.

So the next time you hear someone compare Obama or Bush to Hitler, or call someone else a ‘grammar Nazi’ or, in the case of one friend of mine, receive the fascist salute from a student because they don’t like your teaching style, I’d invite you to remind them that totalitarian as Nazi Germany was, that’s not the biggest criticism to be levied at them. I’d also invite you to offer to slaughter their families if they want their characterization to be more apt.

Measles outbreak in Vancouver

I’m sure some of you have been following this story:

The BC Centre for Disease Control asked health-care professionals and the public to be alert for measles on Tuesday after eight of the 14 cases were diagnosed in a single household with unvaccinated members. None of the cases identified to date had received two doses of the measles vaccine, which is needed for full protection, officials said in statement.

My stance on anti-vaccination groups has been stated quite unequivocally on a previous post. To put it briefly, they are prime examples of the Forces of Stupid, a group of people who seem to think that ignorance is a virtue and anyone with access to the internet is equally equipped to give an informed opinion, regardless of the process by which they arrived at their knowledge. Part of the reason I started writing this blog is to challenge the idea that everyone is entitled to an opinion. Some opinions, when left unchallenged, result in calamity. This measles outbreak is a prime example of what happens when we “leave well enough alone” and allow stupidity to take root.

Obviously, there should be robust debate about important issues. However, there is no room to debate facts. Facts are not subject to democratic approval. Something either is or it isn’t, regardless of whether or not we agree with it. If you disagree, find evidence to support your belief. The evidence needs to be stronger than the evidence that supports your opposition. That is how progress gets made.

Which is why it’s so painful to see articles like this one:

Unvaccinated students are being sent home from school because of the growing measles outbreak in Vancouver, and that has at least one parent concerned that the policy is unfair.

A student’s mother chose to refuse the measles vaccination for her daughter, citing fear of a reaction to egg albumin in the vaccine. That’s a completely reasonable stance to take if there’s legitimate concern over an allergic reaction. What isn’t reasonable though, is expecting everyone else to bend over backwards to accommodate her decision.

“I think every parent, whatever decision they make, it’s always because they love their kids, and they want to do what’s best. It’s not a right or wrong issue,” said Conley [the mother]. But Conley said the length of the quarantine is too long because she believes measles is only infectious for up to 14 days.

Good for her. What do people who know something believe? I couldn’t care less what some random lady thinks about a disease. Luckily, she’s not in any position to set policy and has been overruled by the school board, who cite the science dictating a 20-day possible incubation period. They are, reasonably, erring on the side of caution. Not only that, but in this case it is a “right or wrong issue”! You might be right to safeguard your kid, but the school board is more right to refuse to allow your decision to potentially infect hundreds or thousands of kids in BC and Quebec.

So why does this grind my gears? Because they put the mother’s testimony first. The opinion of a parent is not news. It’s certainly not a balance for scientific fact, and given that people tend to think of the top of the article as being more authoritative and informative, CBC seems to be suggesting that this random mom’s wacky opinion is superior to the science. It makes for a nice headline to the story: Brave Mom Fights for Child’s Rights. Here’s a better (or at least more accurate) headline: Mom Told to Live with the Consequences of Her Decision. You don’t vaccinate, you don’t get to participate.

Another thing I found interesting is that as soon as she was told there was a field trip at stake, she got her kid vaccinated right away. Where did the allergy concerns go?

Far be it from me to suggest that ideas are stupid a priori. The vaccination/autism link was certainly plausible when it first appeared on the scene. So what did we do? We tested the idea. Upon testing, we found no evidence to support it. We kept testing, trying to replicate the studies that trended positive. Again, we found no link. Once an idea has been shown to have no evidence supporting it, it then becomes stupid. Sticking to belief in a stupid idea isn’t admirable, it’s dangerous. Luckily, at least in this particular case, better-informed heads prevailed. I feel bad for the kid, but there are consequences to these decisions that the kid, and her mom, have to live with.

Gluten-free Jesus discs

Right straight out of the gate we’ve got some grade A crapitalism brewing in… where else… the Catholic Church.

The Canadian Celiac Association has expressed concern to the diocese of P.E.I. over the fact that communion wafers contain wheat gluten. This was, I gather, in between sessions of having real issues to spend their time on. People with celiac disease cannot process wheat gluten, so they have requested that the diocese replace their normal wafers with gluten-free ones.

The response?

Rev. Eric Dunn, chancellor of the diocese, said that under canon law, the host has to have some gluten in it.

It’s been a while since I was in church, but I still remember the fateful passage from Matthew 18:20;

Jesus said unto his disciples “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them. But verily I say unto you: if y’all aren’t packing the gluten, y’all can go fuck yourselves!”

And in a moment that shows the sensitive, forward-thinking and inclusive spirit we’ve come to expect from the Church, the bishop made it clear that anyone with celiac disease can feel free to forego the communion wafers and drink from the chalice instead. As if having a cracker make you shit yourself isn’t bad enough, you can now out yourself as diseased in front of the whole community! “Mommy, why don’t you take communion?” “Because Jesus hates my small intestine, honey.”

Maybe the church is an easy target and picking on them for making stupid mistakes is like beating a dead horse until it rises again on the third day, but I found this story particularly interesting. According to the same canon law, the host (the communion wafer), once consecrated, undergoes a process called transubstantiation wherein it becomes the living body of Jesus. This is a sacred miracle that is one of the cornerstones of Catholic mass. Far from being merely a symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice, the host is the body of Christ.

If this is true, then there should be no gluten present at all in a consecrated host, so people with celiac disease shouldn’t have anything to worry about. By admitting that people with celiac disease might need to avoid it, the church is saying either:

  1. Their priests are incompetent and incapable of calling down the bread-transformin’ powers of Almighty God,
  2. God refuses to perform the miracle because the followers of the Church (and by extension, the leaders) are lacking in some important way,
  3. God hates people with celiac disease, or
  4. It’s just a cracker, transubstantiation is a crock, and canon law is just a bunch of hokey superstition dressed up in funny clothes.

Unsurprisingly, the issue lit up the comments section (I can’t dive into those anymore, I get addicted) and the religious and anti-religious came out of the woodwork to pump their respective positions. If you want to explore just how deep the lack of critical thinking can go, just check out the flame war on any religious posting comments board.

Expect more brilliant insight from the Church, incidentally. Nobody’s told them it’s not the 1500s anymore, but when they find out, there’s gonna be a shiiiiit storm!