Okay so this is just awesome

This morning I decried the culture of police abuse that allows individual officers to flaunt their authority at the expense of civilians. I also warned, in soothsayer-like tones, of what happens when you lose the trust of the people you were ostensibly sworn to serve and protect. I didn’t really think I’d find such an awesomely direct example:

An elderly woman got the last word after locking a police officer in her basement, and later suing the police.  Venus Green, who was 87 when she was handcuffed, roughed up and injured by police, will receive $95,000 as part of a settlement with Baltimore City. The city chose to settle the case instead of taking a chance in front of a jury.

In July 2009, Green’s grandson, Tallie, was shot and wounded. Tallie said he was shot at a convenience store, but police insisted it happened inside Green’s house and that the shooter was either Tallie or Green. “Police kept questioning him. They wouldn’t let the ambulance attendant treat him,” Green said. “So, I got up and said, ‘Sir, would you please let the attendants treat him? He’s in pain,'” Green said.

Green said the officer said to her, “Oh, you did it, come on, let’s go inside. I’ll prove where that blood is. You did it.” Police wanted to go the basement, where Tallie lived, but Green refused on the basis that the police did not have a warrant. “I said, ‘No, you don’t have a warrant. You don’t go down in my house like that. He wasn’t shot in here.'” Green said the officer replied, “I’m going to find that gun. I’m going to prove that you did it.”

A struggle ensued between a male officer and Green. “He dragged me, threw me across the chair, put handcuffs on me and just started calling me the ‘b’ name. He ridiculed me,” Green said. An officer went into the basement and Green locked him inside.

Stewart and Colbert approve

So let this be a lesson to police everywhere: don’t fuck with old ladies from Baltimore. They’ll fuck with you right back.

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Something… weird happened last week

Anyone who is at least passingly familiar with the political landscape of the United States right now knows that the Republican Party has declared open season on women’s reproductive rights. From the much-derided all-male hearing on women’s contraception (and the resulting Limbaugh clusterfuck) to the very serious breaches of both personal autonomy and medical ethics happening in various states, there seems to be a concerted effort to roll back women’s access to health care. Add to that the fact that the government was nearly shut down because Republicans refused to allow any federal funding to go to Planned Parenthood, their reluctance to recertify the Violence Against Women Act, and the picture becomes pretty clear: Republicans have decided that American women are on their own.

Of course we have our own version of the Republicans forming the government here in Canada. As I noted shortly after the election, the Republican North Party is actually a stiched-together and very uneasy coalition of actual legitimate fiscal conservatives and the backwoods knee-jerk reactionaries that exist in every country to some degree, and said this: [Read more…]

God is dead, from natural causes

It will surprise nobody, I’m sure, to learn that I see myself as an anti-theist. Not content to merely disbelieve, I feel strongly that humans would be better off if nobody believed. Now usually when someone like me makes a statement like that, fingers begin a-waggin’, warning of the various dangers of forcing atheism on people. Folks begin sagely intoning the lessons learned from atheofascist regimes like Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and the anti-theist zeal of the French revolution. They say that we must ‘live and let live’, since waging a crusade against religion makes me just as bad as those who would wage one for religion.

The point would be a valid one if I had any designs on snatching religion out of people’s lives by force. The fact is, however, that while I think religion is unbelievably harmful, that does not give me the right to demand that people give it up. Freedom of conscience must remain absolutely inviolable if we are to have any kind of progressive, equitable, and just society. Even had I the means to lock up every Bible in existence and ban publication of the Bhagavad Gita, I would never use it. First, because it is wildly unethical to punish people for thought-crime; and second, because I don’t think it would work.

No, the war against religion must be a campaign of the mind, not of military might. The fact is that the strongest case that could ever be made against faith is simply an honest look at what faith is. When stripped of its undeservedly exalted position in public life, religion reveals itself to be its own worst enemy. In the “Rumble in the Jungle” of ideas, religion is George Forman: punch-drunk and completely gassed, seemingly inviting the champ, truth, to push it over and administer a crisp 10-count.

At least, it seems that way up here: [Read more…]

A rare (and major) success for Canadian sex workers

So I have made my stance on sex work pretty clear – I see nothing inherently immoral about having sex with someone for money, provided both parties are reasonably informed of the risks inherent in any kind of casual sex and are capable of giving consent. That’s more or less the liberal boiler plate for sex work. I take it a step further than some do when I say that I also don’t see anything inherently tragic about sex work. Yeah, the most easily-retrievable meme about sex work is that of the street-walking hooker, desperate and starving and turning tricks to feed her smack habit. Rescue sex work exists, and drug addiction can be a serious problem in all low socio-economic status groups – the intersection of those two cannot be ignored or dismissed. However, that’s not a problem with sex work per se – there are a number of other factors, both personal and societal, that create those situations. They certainly do not comprise the entirety of the trade.

While I have expressed my reservations before about losing the focus of this blog, tilting at every windmill I come across, something happened this week that sort of blew the doors off that plan. I say ‘sort of’ because it involves Canada’s courts, and this is a ‘good news week’ (to try and balance out last week’s and Monday’s heaviness), and because fuck it, I want to. A few months ago, a group of sex workers and advocates challenged Canada’s laws on operating ‘a bawdy house’ – the language gives you a hint as to how old the law is. The law states that while prostitution is perfectly legal, it is illegal to make one’s living as a prostitute or to operate an indoor business for the purposes of prostitution. Which leaves… the street.

Scary shit happens out on the streets. When you have less control over your surroundings (and who your customers are), you are at greater risk of violence and/or exploitation. If sex work is how you pay your bills, then you’re trapped between a rock and a hard place when it comes to turning away customers or deciding to avoid the streets. One might argue that forcing prostitutes to the streets puts them in unnecessary danger that they wouldn’t face if they could practice their trade indoors. One in fact did argue that. One won: [Read more…]

White Power-less

Okay, so sometimes my country is just friggin’ awesome:

A white supremacist rally in Edmonton’s downtown lasted only minutes when the demonstrators fled into a subway stairwell after they were greeted by over 100 anti-racist counter-protesters. Police then blocked subway platform entrances until the roughly two dozen self described white pride demonstrators, most of them masked, were able to leave on a train.

Police spokesman Scott Pattison said at one point as the racist group was nearing the site near Edmonton City Hall, both sides clashed briefly, but police separated them quickly.

So a bunch of cowardly neo-Nazi shitheads decided to put on a “white pride” rally. I have no issue at all with white people showing pride in their accomplishments – there’s a lot of them. “White pride” as a movement, however, has always meant (and continues to mean) overt expressions of antipathy toward other groups. White supremacy is a pathetic and risible philosophy, not only because it is demonstrably untrue (there is no scientific correlation between things that code for phenotypic race and any yardstick by which we could demonstrate the ‘supremacy’ of one vs. another), but because it is often most strongly espoused by those who simply have nothing else about which to feel superior. [Read more…]

And you can bank on it

One of the things I am learning about poverty is how quickly and how easily you can get completely wiped out. I, for example, have a line of credit. If something happened to my job, I’d still have 8 or 9 months of rent that I could borrow (on top of Employment Insurance and the fact that I’m highly employable) to keep myself in my home and in groceries. That doesn’t happen by accident – I can borrow because I have a job based on my income. I have the job with my income because I was able to go to school, because my parents helped me, because they worked jobs with good income… and so it goes.

If I didn’t have all of those things – a personal history that puts me in this advantageous position – I’d be in major trouble if I lost my job. If I was living cheque to cheque, the slightest disruption to my income could result in me being out on the streets. I wouldn’t be able to borrow, except through credit cards with high fees that would put me deeper in debt the longer I relied on them. Trying to claw my way out of that debt would take an extraordinary and consistent string of good luck. Chances are, I’d end up bounced to the streets within 3 months.

Of course once I’m on the streets, things get rough. Without a permanent address, I can’t apply for a job. No job means no steady source of income which means my ass stays on the street. Then again, if there was some way for me to patch a small hole, cover the cost of a rent payment, a broken cell phone, any kind of financial emergency that might come up in the course of life, I’d be able to avoid losing my residence perhaps long enough to get something going for myself.

And that’s where the city comes in: [Read more…]

Watch for flying pigs

Shit’s been heavy recently. I think it’s maybe time to lighten things up with another ‘good news’ week.

I’ve talked before about my crush on Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin. I really don’t want that to be construed in a disrespectful way, but there simply is no other way to express my fanboy admiration for pretty much every aspect of her legal mind. If I could, I would take her brain out for a nice dinner, maybe go dancing, walk it to the door, shake hands and walk home feeling really good about myself. I have never made a study of the law, but I do have a pretty clear idea of what fairness and justice look like, and every decision I’ve seen come from Justice McLachlin’s court have been more or less in lockstep with those ideas.

Those of you who read last month’s series on Black History know that the central thesis of my exploration of the facts of history was that we can and should use those facts to essentially chart a forward course. We can avoid repeating mistakes and learn from our failures as much as our successes in planning immigration and social policy, and in dealing with each other as countrymen who do not necessarily share a land of origin. The principle is equally valid in understanding not only broad social phenomena, but personal and interpersonal issues as well. At least I think so.

And so, apparently, does the McLachlin Supreme Court: [Read more…]

Today’s policy boner

So I have a shameful secret to divulge: I get viscerally, enthusiastically, quasi-orgasmically happy about evidence-based policy. Some people get a little thrill in their nether regions when their favourite celebrity is on TV, or when their sports team wins an important game, or when their favourite band announces a new album. All of those, to me, pale in comparison to the rock-hard excitement I get when someone does something really cool in policy research.

So (and he knows me personally, so please don’t repeat this or it’ll get weird) Dr. Aslam Anis, you’ve given me a boner:

Prescribing heroin instead of methadone is more effective and less costly in treating street drug addiction relapses, a new analysis suggests. It was a collaboration with UBC, the University of Montreal and the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

“We gave them option of trying methadone or diacetylmorphine [heroin] under medically supervised conditions, and we found people who were getting diacetylmorphine were retained in treatment much, much longer, so they had a much better outcome,” said study head Dr. Aslam Anis, director of the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.


“Our model indicated that diacetylmorphine would decrease societal costs, largely by reducing costs associated with crime, and would increase both the duration and quality of life of treatment recipients,” the study’s authors concluded. While the clinical trial was based on a year’s worth of data, the researchers considered different timeframes — such as one year, five years and over a lifetime— in their analysis. [Read more…]

Oh frabjous day!

Two kinda cool things happened recently.

First, remember that sex show in Abbottsford that got canceled a while back?

I mean really, I almost feel lazy writing about this story because it requires so little effort on my part. What could I possibly add to this story? Abbotsford was going to actually have some fun, until the religious folks caught wind of it, and like the proverbial dog in the manger, decided to uphold their reputation as the town from Footloose. Because, you know, drinking leads to touching, and touching leads to those funny feelings that the priest told me was the influence of Satan, possessing your wee-wee. And won’t somebody think of the children?

Yeah, I had a good time with that one. Well guess what – the show is back on! [Read more…]

Yesterday, tomorrow, today

The central thesis of my series on black history this year was focussed on the importance of understanding the whole truth of our history as a nation. This is not only relevant to Canada, mind you – it is universally true that understanding where we came from tells us how we got where we are. Furthermore, it gives us an indication of how we can move into the future intelligently, avoiding the same pitfalls that had waylaid us before. The reason why I thought black history was particularly useful for this task is that a) it has not been well-explored and is not well-understood, and b) it is a particularly egregiously bad slice of our history that we must learn to confront honestly if we are to glean anything from it.

That being said, Canada’s abysmal treatment of black people is far from the worst story we have to tell. For that, we have to turn to First Nations Canadians. The original settlers and inhabitants of the land were repeatedly exploited and conned into agreements that worked to their continual disadvantage. It is only recently that we have been willing to confront our national shame in anything other than an entirely token way, and many (myself included) would argue that we are still not doing enough to not simply make up for historical injustices, but to understand how we non-Aboriginal Canadians fit into their historical narrative.

Just as in the case of black history, learning the history of the Nation of Canada and the First Nations of Canada teaches us about ourselves, in ways that we may find uncomfortable but which are critical to moving forward: [Read more…]