Free speech vs… assholes with bike locks

I’m pissed off.

Chained by his neck to two female protesters, University of Waterloo doctoral student Dan Kellar was nevertheless in control of the situation at a campus lecture hall last week, as he sat on stage and chanted slogans to prevent journalist and author Christie Blatchford from speaking about her new book on the native protests at Caledonia, Ont.

I’m not just pissed off because the asshole in question is from my alma mater.

Ms. Blatchford, the Governor-General’s literary award-winning writer of Fifteen Days, was slightly delayed by traffic on Friday, and as university spokesman Michael Strickland announced this to the small audience, he was shouted down with calls of “racist, racist, racist.”

I’m not just pissed off because this asshole is trying to advocate a position that I consider similar to my own, or that I will be lumped in with his assholery.

I’m not just pissed off (although I am mightily pissed off) that free speech is being run over roughshod by a dick, using the principle itself to deny another person the right to speak.

No, all of that would be tolerable. I could deal with these insults and more. The reason I’m really pissed off?

Bike lock, $28
Rent-a-protest, $150 pizza bill
Suppressing the free speech of someone you don’t agree with, priceless.

This asshole has forced me to agree with Scary Fundamentalist. Come on, man! That’s beyond the pale. It’s like when the NAACP got all hot and bothered about Shirley Sherrod and I had to be on the same side as Glenn Beck. I had to take an extra-hot shower after that. Now I’m in the same camp as Scary? C’mon dude! Not cool.

I joke, of course. While pretty much everything that SF says makes me want to ragevomit all over my keyboard (I wear a bib when browsing his site), we are definitely allied on the cause of free speech. Free speech has nothing to do with left or right – it is the only way that a democratic society can work. Where we differ is on… well… everything else.

I don’t care what your position is, whether or not I agree with it, and I am absolutely not above criticizing the assholery of those who are on my end of the political spectrum. You don’t get to be a total douchehat and lock yourself to a podium to protest someone’s speech. Tearing down a building, maybe. Protesting against the government, sure. But to prevent someone from speaking? That’s bullshit.

Usually I’m a bit more articulate than this, but quite frankly, I’m too pissed off to be clever. I also try to have a pithy little signoff at the end of these things, but I can’t think of one, so here is a picture of Johnny Cash expressing exactly how I feel about Dan Kellar.

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Religious privilege writ large

When the Pope decried the “marginalization” of Christianity in Westminster Hall in England, I commented that this persecution complex that Christians have is simply based on their perspective; not a reflection of reality at all. Relativity teaches us that if you assume your frame of reference is fixed, it can appear as though you are moving toward something when in fact that thing is moving toward you – more specifically since Christianity sits high atop the heap (and has for a long time), the fact that it is moving toward the middle looks, to Christians, like they are being marginalized. It’s a phenomenon known in statistics as regression to the mean.

However, in sociology circles this phenomenon is known as privilege. This should not be confused with having privileges in the sense of freedoms to do stuff like leave your desk at work or the privilege of addressing an audience when giving an amazing speech. Privilege is what happens when you or your group have an undeserved level of power based not on your actual merits, but for historical reasons. There’s a lot of talk in anti-racist circles about white privilege – white people are at the top of the heap internationally because of the technological dominance of Europe in the colonial era, and since then have enjoyed a false assumed superiority over all other groups. In feminist circles, it is male privilege that is discussed – for reasons that I am not educated enough to speak on, men have dominated (and oppressed) women and have enjoyed a false assumed superiority over women.

One of the manifestations of privilege is the fact that the group in question is completely unaware that they enjoy it. Because these groups have built a system for themselves (through the selective interpretation of history, through in-group legislation, through behind-the-scenes social programs) that empowers its members from the moment of their birth. While you were reading that last sentence, you weren’t aware of the feeling of your pants/skirt against your legs; you weren’t aware of the background hum of fluorescent lights; you weren’t aware of the sound of your own breathing – when it’s there all the time, you don’t notice it’s there. Of course now that I’ve reminded you of these things, you may suddenly be aware of them. The other side of privilege is that those who have it are free to deny that it exists, and instead claim that those in the non-privileged groups are trying to rob the privileged of things that they deserve.

As an anti-racist and feminist, it’s no stretch for the anti-theist in me to see the exact same phenomenon happening in religious groups:

In her affidavit, a 24-year-old woman from the fundamentalist Mormon enclave of Bountiful says attending Cranbrook’s College of the Rockies was “going into what I see as a wild and unstable world. Out there people were behaving in ways that are not in accord with my beliefs — fighting, impatient, yelling, dating and breaking up, drinking, using foul language.”

In another affidavit, a woman identified as Witness No. 2 complains that Revenue Canada has cut back child-tax benefits to some plural wives. It says they are living common-law and must claim the father of the child’s income, regardless of whether others are already claiming it. “This has been a real hardship,” she says.

It has all the hallmarks of privilege: other people’s behaviour is not in accordance with my beliefs, therefore I am persecuted; the tax code doesn’t make exemptions for my religion, therefore I am persecuted; I am not free to live outside the laws of the country I live in, therefore I am persecuted. These are people who don’t understand what persecution looks like. Persecution is what happens when you are not given rights that other people have based on your group affiliation. Persecution is what happens when you are repeatedly told that the way you are born makes you somehow deficient or unworthy. Persecution is what happens when you must work twice as hard to achieve half as much as someone else because of superficial qualities that are completely unrelated to your job.

Privilege is what allows you to ignore all of those things and cry ‘victim’ when you are told that you can no longer behave outside the law based on your entirely-voluntary beliefs.

Before someone starts a mindless rebuttal of this point, saying that I’m describing the “homosexualist agenda” or “Islamification” or something else stupid, re-read the paragraph:

Persecution is what happens when you are not given rights that other people have based on your group affiliation. Persecution is what happens when you are repeatedly told that the way you are born makes you somehow deficient or unworthy. Persecution is what happens when you must work twice as hard to achieve half as much as someone else because of superficial qualities that are completely unrelated to your job.

If you still think you have a point, congratulations – you’ve got privilege!

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Attention liberals: you’re racist too

I pride myself on being a liberal progressive. There’s a great line I heard in response to this Tea Party nonsense that’s been dominating the political scene recently:

Conservatives want their country back. Progressives want their country forward

I am proud to claim membership in a group that wants to adapt to the reality of the world we live in, rather than obstinately cling to ideology as a substitute for evidence. If the evidence says “privatize health care”, then we should do it; if it says “shut down welfare”, then we should do it; if it says “religion is a sufficient and useful basis upon which to build a society”, then by all means let’s have more of it. However, the evidence repeatedly comes down on the side of the progressive agenda, forcing conservatives to embrace positions that are more and more to the bizarre fringe.

However, liberals can be just as guilty of becoming mired in ideology. We’re not better people; we just have better ideas. However, occasionally we’ll do something so boneheadedly stupid as to make me question my allegience:

US broadcaster National Public Radio has fired news analyst Juan Williams for saying on Fox News that he gets nervous if he sees Muslims on a plane. Williams, who has written several books on the US civil rights movement, made the remarks last week on chat show The O’Reilly Factor. NPR said in a statement that Williams’s contract had been ended on Wednesday.

I’m sure some of you think that I’m referring to what Mr. Williams said as an example of liberals being racist. I’m not. It’s arch-liberal NPR that I’m disgusted by:

Williams: “But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said before Mr Williams was sacked that such commentary from a journalist about other racial, ethnic or religious minority groups would not be tolerated. In its statement, NPR said Mr Williams’s comments “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR”.

Here’s what I see – I see a guy who is openly and honestly recognizing his race biases and the prejudice that he sees within himself. I see a guy who is doing exactly what we are supposed to do, which is to confront our own privilege and investigate how much it plays into our decision making. I see a guy who said something impolitic, but in a self-reflective rather than hateful way.

What does NPR see? Someone saying something that isn’t puppies and rainbows about their interactions with a minority group! And as everyone knows, liberals aren’t racist at all. Therefore, he must be fired immediately.

The sad thing is not only the fact that a guy was fired in a Shirley Sherrod-like flurry of left-wing idiocy, it’s that the right (and particularly Fox News) is trumpeting to the skies that this is somehow some kind of vindication:

By midafternoon Thursday, more than 4,900 comments had been posted on, including many from people who said the media organization was bowing to political correctness and unfairly punishing Williams for expressing his personal opinions.

“In one arrogant move the NPR exposed itself for the leftist thought police they really are,” read one typical post. “After this November elections I hope one of the first things the new Congress does is to defund this poor excuse for public radio.”

Okay, everyone write this down: Having idiots for opponents does not mean you are correct. Don’t get me wrong – it makes the process of demonstrating that your position is correct a hell of a lot easier, but you still have to explain why your ideas have validity. Yes, NPR was stupid, that doesn’t mean that Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have somehow magically become smarter.

This is how left-wing ideological obstinacy manifests itself – nobody can say anything that even sounds remotely racist. Ignore the point that he was trying to make – he said something that sounded mean, so he’s got to go. I would completely understand if they demanded that Williams clarify his position on air, as it is fraught with potential grounds for misinterpretation. They didn’t do that though, they fired him, driving him into the arms of Fox News and giving conservatives more ammunition to claim that the real racists are liberals.

Racism is a plague on both of our houses, folks. We just show our symptoms differently.

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Priestly abuse not unique to RCC

I sat on this story for a while, because I was hoping to find something to connect it to. Unfortunately, nothing appeared in the past couple of weeks, so I present it here on its own:

An archbishop who has held positions in a number of Canadian communities has stepped down amid allegations of sexual abuse involving pre-teen boys. In a statement released on the website of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), church officials said Archbishop Seraphim Storheim, 66, of Ottawa is on a leave of absence as police in Canada investigate abuse claims.

In my last post about this ongoing priestly abuse, I said there were some important questions to ask. One of those is whether or not it is a uniquely Catholic phenomenon, this practice of abuse and subsequent coverup. This story suggests to me that there is nothing in Roman Catholic doctrine that leads priests to abuse children. Instead, it suggests to me that when human beings are given positions of power, power that is by its very nature uncontrollable with no checks or balances against abuse, and when those same people are given a mechanism to suppress any evidence of wrongdoing, they will commit atrocities. We see it in government scandals, we see it with corporate financial illegalities, and we see it with the churches.

Clohessy charged that church officials have known about the abuse claims for years but were slow to act. The recent announcement of the internal probe and vow of co-operation with police comes as a relief, he said. Clohessy added he hopes people with any information pick up the phone and share what they know with authorities. He admitted being disappointed that Storheim was allowed to take a leave of absence instead of being removed.

And just like in the Roman Catholic Church, the coverups and shifting around of abusive priests happened in this case. The hypocrisy of claiming the moral authority of Christianity, while at the same time committing shocking crimes against humanity is dumbfounding. Or at least it should be. Sadly, it seems to be the rule rather than the exception that those who claim superiority without evidence are the smallest, meanest, and most morally bankrupt among us.

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Iran and the Catholic Church – not at all strange bedfellows

It never fails to amaze me how regularly religious groups fail to see that they are exactly the same. I saw a clip on The Colbert Report a few nights ago, where an evangelical Christian minister was warning people about how Islam was planning to take over America, and that we should all be worried. I had to do a double-take, as I realized that nobody called the guy out for being an evangelical Christian. By its very nature, evangelical anything means your stated mandate is to convert as many people as possible – this guy is just as guilty as those he’s accusing. Of course Islam has an interest in converting everyone, so does Christianity. Any religion that claims to be the “one true religion” is basically out-and-out stating its intention to bring the whole world under its thumb. To deflate the predictable protest from moderate Muslims and Christians who claim that their faith doesn’t mean they have to convert anyone, I’ll say that your particular version of belief is at odds with direct commandment from your scripture:

Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Matthew 24:12

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Luke 9:1-6

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.

That’s just a handful of passages, please trust that there’s a loooot more. And for the Muslims… well I suppose you can just read this list – YahwAlladdha’s not exactly cool with non-believers.

With both religions claiming to be “the right one”, and having very clear commandments to destroy, convert, or otherwise gain supremacy over those who believe anything differently, it’s hard to imagine that there could be any kind of dialogue between them at all. But of course there is, as long as it’s politically convenient:

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written to the Pope, thanking him for condemning an American pastor’s threat to burn the Koran last month. In his letter, Mr Ahmadinejad also called for closer co-operation between Iran and the Vatican.

I hope nobody is thinking “but the president of Iran isn’t a religious leader.” Iran is an Islamic theocracy, whose real power is wielded by the Ayatollahs. You can’t separate state power from church power – they’re the same thing.

At any rate, the hypocrisy of cozying up to an enemy when it’s convenient doesn’t surprise me, and shouldn’t surprise you. The thing that I found hilarious was this:

Mr Ahmadinejad also called for “a close co-operation of divine religions to restrict destructive moves such as ignoring of religious teachings, influencing people to be materialistic, which were eroding human societies”.

As though not enough religion was the thing eroding human societies. By my count, somewhere around 74 of the posts on this blog alone have been about religion, representing about 1/3 of my total output (including the 6 weeks I intentionally took off because I thought I was talking about religion too much). Iran is a country that is trying to bludgeon people to death with fucking rocks because of religion.

Anyone who thinks that the religions of the world will sit down at the table and play nice once they have unchallenged power over the countries of the world is delusionally ignorant of history and the mandates of religion. This is a match quite literally made in heaven – two oppressive religious theocratic forces attempting to enforce their small-minded agenda on everyone else have finally learned to team up, either out of expediency or necessity.

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Fox News North suffers a setback (hurray!)

Regular readers will remember that I have had a bee in my bonnet about Sun TV, perhaps better known as “Fox News North”. This is an attempt by Quebecor, a media company, to create a 24-hour news channel styled under Fox News. Critics, myself included, have pointed out the destructive influence that Fox News has on the political climate of the United States, pandering to the biases and prejudices of its funders and attempting to shape the political debate rather than report news honestly. Its craven disregard for journalistic ethics and unrelenting hypocrisy have earned it the deserved scorn of pretty much everyone outside the Republican party.

Despite declaring both my bias and the reasons why my bias was irrelevant to why this station was a bad idea, the conservative readers of this blog (both of them, I guess :P) have accused me of being opposed to any point of view that challenges the liberal monopoly on the media. It is accusations like this that make it extremely difficult for me to take conservatives seriously – I have, on this very blog, defended the free speech rights of anti-gay bigots, racists, theocrats, Holocaust deniers and anti-vaccine/alt-med lunatics. You think I draw the line at conservatives? There is no line, and your criticisms are completely without merit. My objection is to the standards of practice that I see evinced on a daily basis by the propaganda arm of the Republican party, and your attempts to equivocate the so-called (but utterly evidence-free) liberal media bias, a phrase invented by the Republican party, of Canadian media with the clear lack of ethics of Fox News do nothing to persuade me of anything other than the fact that you are anti-liberal.

Part of the Sun TV application was for what is known as a “must-carry” license. This would require all cable providers to include Sun TV as part of their regular programming, rather than making it something that people can opt in to, or out of. As much as supporters of Sun TV whinge that “if you don’t like it just don’t watch”, forcing me to pay for the channel so that they can achieve a fan base belies this trite claim. As a matter of principle, forcing opinions on others is a claim that conservatives are always leveling at liberals. As I suspected, and as evinced by Fox News, the kind of people who support Sun TV are perfectly happy to abandon their principles as soon as is convenient (which also explains many of the actions of our federal government). I don’t object to conservatism when it is honestly come by, but I can’t stomach hypocrisy.

Luckily, and at least in part to the public outcry of you good people who signed the petition, Sun TV has withdrawn its application for this special license:

Quebecor Inc. says it is no longer seeking a controversial special licence that would give the new right-leaning Sun TV 24-hour news channel a three-year boost in seeking out viewers. Chief executive Pierre Karl Péladeau told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday that he would likely drop his request for a must-carry exemption on his Category II licence application. The request was expected to be hotly contested, with rivals and many civic groups lining up to oppose the application. Last week, the advocacy group dropped off 10 boxes to the CRTC containing more than 21,000 letters from Canadians opposed to the special licence.

Now this is not all good news for me, since the withdrawal of the application means that there will likely be no public inquiry or hearing, and that the application to broadcast will likely be approved quickly. However, we live in a capitalist system, which means that if you have a product that you think there is a market for, you can certainly sell it. While I am completely opposed to even the existence of a Fox News-like channel, I have no legitimate grounds to protest its moving forward. If we can have pornography, MTV, reality shows and other things that I think are injurious to the public good (well, maybe pornography gets a pass), we can certainly have a channel where opinion is masked as news. I just won’t watch it.

While I’m sure there will be many more tricks pulled by the federal government to funnel support to a station that will be completely uncritical and unflappably supportive of its undemocratic agenda, at least it will live or die by whether or not it can convince anyone outside of Alberta to pay attention. We must be thankful for small victories, I suppose.

Pope demonstrates why the cake is a lie

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.”

“The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

George Orwell, 1984

There’s a concept in the sciences called “regression to the mean”. In statistics, regression to the mean is a phenomenon whereby as you add more observations to a sample, the values will tend to fall around the average (mean) value. In science, this effect is seen in the form of extreme observations moving toward the average the more frequently or longer they are observed. In medicine, we see this phenomenon in sick people who spontaneously improve in a non-intervention (or a placebo) control group.

This somewhat overlaps with the “relative frame of reference” idea from physics – that is, that a stationary object appears to be moving towards you at the same rate you move towards it. As such, spontaneous regression to the mean, seen from an outside perspective, appears to be a move either up or down toward the average. However, if your frame of reference is one that views things from the perspective of an observation that lies far above the mean, regression toward the mean appears to be a move downward.

I’ve also spoken before about the completely false picture of Christianity that some Christians like to paint – that of poor beleaguered misfits just trying to practice their own beliefs in peace. It’s a complete lie, and thanks to the Pope, I have evidence:

The Pope said: “I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalisation of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none.”

Yes, Mr. Ratzinger (which sounds, incidentally, like a really unpalatable flavour of tea), from your privileged perspective high atop the social ladder, it would appear that Christianity is being “marginalized”. However, you betray your own ridiculous level of special pleading in your own words. The advocacy of moving religion out of the public square into the private sphere is not marginalization. Nobody is forcing Christians to stop believing what they like – they’re just not allowed to make decisions on behalf of other people. And yes, the people who argue against Christmas have a point – namely, that a specific religious belief system is not representative of the population at large.

The reason for the Orwell quote at the top is that the Pope spends the first 7 minutes of his address talking about the need for freedom of religion and the separation of church and state. He then pivots (on the head of Sir Thomas Moore) to talk about how religion should be more involved in political life. It’s not hypocrisy to him, it’s doublethink. He holds the ideas of freedom of religion simultaneously with the idea of greater church control of public life.

He also pulls the ‘lack of moral fundamentals’ card, a personal favourite of mine (so brazen is its hypocrisy). He talks a good game about the need to use reason, but in true Catholic style, he makes the Augustinian provision that reason should be subject to religion. He actually encourages more religiosity in the body politic, as though places like Iran, Somalia, the USA and Malawi aren’t warning signs that religion is a lousy way to run a country.

It appears to be Ratzinger’s intent to smear secularism, asserting repeatedly that it is somehow comparable to fundamentalism. Please show me one fundamentalist secularist. I’d really be curious to see one.

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Belgium identifies 500 abuse victims

I must confess to have taken some perverse pleasure in watching the Catholic Church crumble under the weight of its own evil. Any organization that has this much power, abuses its influence this egregiously, and then gets caught fills me with both an appreciation for hubris and a feeling of schadenfreude. This has definitely stopped being fun:

Hundreds of sex abuse victims have come forward in Belgium with harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy that reportedly led to at least 13 suicides and affected children as young as two, an independent Belgian commission said Friday. Prof. Peter Adriaenssens, chair of the commission, said the abuse in Belgium may have been even more rampant than the 200-page report suggests, because his panel’s work was interrupted and all its files seized in a June 24 raid by Belgian judicial authorities who are conducting their own probe.

All of a sudden the jokes about priests touching kids simply turn to ashes in my mouth. This is a level of evil certainly within the same ballpark of the slave trade or the atrocities of the Nazi party. There’s nothing particularly amusing about this:

Friday’s report lists 507 witnesses who came forward with stories of molestation at the hands of clergy over the past decades. It says those abused included children who were two, four, five and six years old.

Or this:

The number of those coming forward with their stories and testimonies, however, could be only a fraction of those actually abused, Adriaenssens said. “We saw how priests, called up by the commission and asked to help seek the truth, were willing to set up the list of 10, 15, 20 victims they abused during boarding school while the commission knew only of one.”

I am ultimately at a loss for words (which is bad news for a blogger) to describe both my deep revulsion at this systematic abuse, and my resulting bafflement at how it could be so widespread. Are there that many pedophiles in the population at large, failing to abuse children simply out of the lack of access? Does the priesthood provide a siren call to those who have a particular attraction to children? We know that power corrupts, but is it the power itself that causes otherwise normal people to become child-rapists? Are these forms of abuse simply the resurrected ghosts of old cases of abuse that these grown priests experienced as children?

These questions all have several broad implications – if there are pedophiles in the population at large, should we be more concerned about any organization (the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Boy Scouts/Girl Guides) that attracts adults to work closely with children? If the priesthood attracts pedophiles, should we be cracking down on seminarians (side note: I used to want to be a priest; am I a latent pedophile)? If it’s merely an issue of power and access, why are we not more concerned about CEOs and politicians? If this is the result of past abuse, don’t we owe a duty of care to the perpetrators as well?

The Belgian church is struggling with these questions as well:

The Belgian Roman Catholic church on Monday acknowledged widespread sexual abuse over years by its clergy and pleaded for time to set up a system to punish abusers and provide closure for victims. The comments were in response to a report Friday in which hundreds of sex abuse victims revealed harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy throughout the country over the past 50 years…

“The challenge is so big and touches on so many emotions, it seems impossible to us to present a new proposal in all its details [now],” (Archbishop) Leonard said of hotly anticipated church plans to go after the abusers and protect the victims. The church also called on all abusers to come forward.

In the face of the accusations, I am quickly losing both my taste for this story and my patience with the unremitting arrogance and disgusting lack of human decency being championed by the Vatican. Pope Ratzinger, upon arriving in England, decided to place the blame for society’s ills on the quasi-Nazi forces of secularism – a brazenly assholish move from a man who lived in Nazi Germany, and who subsequently helped orchestrate a major crime against humanity even before taking the reins of the corrupt organization he now leads. His ignorance, maleficence and utter disregard for his own hypocrisy anger me in ways I can barely describe.

It is a family tradition to attend Christmas mass, and I will be home with my family in December. I don’t think I can bring myself to accompany them this year, or ever again.

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The short answer is ‘yes’

I laughed my ass off when I saw this. That being said, obviously not everyone in the Tea Party is there because they are racist – smaller and more efficient government has nothing at all to do with race. However, due to its stubborn opposition to any program designed to level the playing field or correct for historical injustices, it tends to attract the racist fringe with open, monochromatic arms. In the same way that supporting a larger role for the federal government isn’t a gay thing, but homosexuals tend to fall on the left side of the political spectrum (because that’s where all the equal rights are).

A commenter pointed out something that didn’t occur to me right away: how racist do you have to be to print out signs and go looking for a black person? I’m trying to imagine their thought process:

“Okay, so we’re going to print out these signs and take them to the rally, right?”

“Yeah, that’ll show all those liberals that the Tea Party is about state’s rights and small government, not a thin veneer of politics hastily brushed over a rotten core of deep-seated xenophobia, unwarranted entitlement and good old-fashioned ignorance!”

“Wow, that was deep.”

“Thanks. I read the New York Times today, and just said the opposite of what was written there.”

“I wish I could read.”

“Hey Steve?”

“Yeah Larry?”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to just take these signs over to the houses of one of our many black friends and/or work colleagues and/or neighbours, rather than having to sleuth around at a rally to find the token fanny-pack-wearing dark-skinned guy at a rally of thousands of white people?”

“We don’t have any black friends and/or work colleagues and/or neighbours, Larry.”

“How come?”

“Uh… because of LIBERALS!”

“Yeah! Fuck those racist asshole liberal faggot commie Muslim terrorist Mexicans!”

“You said it, Steve.”

Madness? THIS… IS… well yes, this is madness

Sometimes something happens in the news that is so painfully stupid that it’s hard to hold out any kind of hope for the future of mankind. It’s like watching a slap-fight between two legless drunks – it would be funny if it weren’t so macabre.

Such is this “International Burn a Koran Day” bullshit. For those of you who haven’t been following the news, there is a tiny church group in Florida that decided it would have a book bonfire, in which they torch several copies of the Qu’ran. Thirty people down in Florida decide to burn a book they haven’t read, to protest a religion they don’t know anything about.

Big hairy deal, right?

Ah, but because it’s a religious thing, of course the whole world goes indiscriminately insane.

Muslims all over the world began protesting, burning effigies, American flags, and chanting “death to Christians.”

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Afghanistan over plans, now on hold, by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Koran. Three people were shot when a protest near a Nato base in the north-east of the country turned violent. President Hamid Karzai said the stunt had been an insult to Islam, while Indonesia’s president said it threatened world peace.

It’s absolutely shocking the complete lack of a sense of irony or proportion that religious groups have. “30 people burned the book of the religion of peace? Well then we will call for the indiscriminate murder of all Christians, and the President of the United States. Also we will burn objects sacred to you, because your actions threaten world peace!”

So the Islamic world did pretty much exactly what everyone thought it would do – go batshit nuts and renew the chant of “Death to America” or whatever. Ho hum, nothing to see here, move along folks. That should be the end of it, right?

No, let’s turn up the stupid, shall we? General Petraeus, what would you like to sing for us this evening?

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Gen Petraeus said in a statement to US media. “It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world, we are engaged with the Islamic community,” added Gen Petraeus, who heads a 150,000-strong Nato force against a Taliban-led insurgency.

Thirty people in Florida are about to do something stupid. What’s a proportional response? Let’s get the commander of NATO allied forces to comment directly on it, elevating it to an international incident! Well now it will absolutely cause danger to the troops, because it’s received national attention!

Hold the line, I believe we have a comment from Darth Helmet:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper added his voice to the global outcry against a U.S. church’s plan to burn 200 copies of the Qur’an on Saturday — the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. “I don’t speak very often about my own religion but let me be very clear: My God and my Christ is a tolerant God, and that’s what we want to see in this world,” he said. “I unequivocally condemn it,” he said. “We all enjoy freedom of religion and that freedom of religion comes from a tolerant spirit.”

Nothing like international attention to blow any sense of proportion far over the horizon. We now have international leaders lining up to condemn the actions of 30 morons in Florida. Are we going to make an international crisis out of every act of Islamophobia? Boy howdy!

Amazingly, the only voices of reason seem to be coming (from all places) Iran and Gaza:

Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said Mr Jones’ threat was an “expression of hatred of Islam” but called for restraint. “This disgraceful act contradicts the very duties of religious and spiritual leadership to enhance the value of peaceful coexistence and safeguard the rights and mutual respect among religions,” he said.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Mr Jones was a “crazy priest who reflects a crazy Western attitude toward Islam and the Muslim nation”.

When Iranian Ayatollahs and the head of Hamas are the islands of perspective in a sea of complete insanity, you know that the world has gone completely topsy-turvey.

There are two points to be made out of this absolute lack of cognitive processes. The first has to do with the power of religion. It’s almost completely incredible that the actions of 30 people in a backwater part of the Southern United States can set off an international crisis. We have roughly 30 regular volunteers here in Vancouver’s branch of CFI. If we stated burning copies of the Charter or The God Delusion or the Canadian flag (or all three at the same time), we’d get arrested for mischief without a news camera in sight. Why? Because atheists are boring! But put an equal number of Christian extremists around a pile of burning copies of a Muslim book, and watch as the entire world goes nuts. It’s 30 idiots in Florida. Take a deep breath.

The second point has to do with free speech (my favourite ^_^ <3 ). A number of countries have been demanding that the President directly intervene to stop 30 idiots in Florida from burning some books. Ignoring for a second the 8 or 9 levels of the chain of command that would skip (not to mention the fact that the President doesn’t have the authority to order private citizens to do anything), and also ignoring that it’s just 30 idiots in Florida, the United States constitution strictly forbids any kind of legal response to this – an act of free expression. The whole point of free speech is that you are free to say what you want. It’s hate speech, absolutely. I think it’s bigoted, I think it’s stupid, and I think it sends absolutely no worthwhile message other than “we are idiots, and we don’t understand anything about either Islam or our own religion.” But as I’ve said before, laws against hate speech are a really bad idea.

At the end of the whole debacle, the pastor decided to back down, an appropriately anti-climactic conclusion to a blisteringly-meaningless non-issue.

Of course the tragedy here (besides all of the people that will be killed and injured as a result of people being idiots) is that this pushes American Muslims further into the fringes, and closer into the arms of extremist groups that are the real problem. It’s not quite cutting off your nose to spite your face, it’s like cutting off your own hand and giving it to someone trying to choke you with it.

The correct response to this would for the governor of Florida to say “apparently some fundamentalist extremists have decided to do something stupid. I hope they vote for someone else in the next election. Floridians and Americans have more important things to do than worry about some backwash church led by a nutcase” and let that be the last word on it.

TL/DR:The response to the burning of Qu’rans is completely out of proportion to the act. Thirty idiots in Florida shouldn’t have the power to derail the entire world, and it’s only possible because of religion. Also, free speech ought to be absolute, even when it’s stupid.

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