Friday, July 18, 2008

Conservatives predictable on Crime Stats

Sometimes you don't even have to construct a straw man. Your opponents just naturally make themselves in to one. The "God Hates Fags" people probably top that list, but our local Conservatives also hit the mark the odd time.

Stats Canada released the latest crime rates. Sure enough, there's less and less chance of being a crime victim every year for the last couple decades. No cause for alarm. Things are going well, right?

Of course not. As predictable as can be, the Conservatives - being short on real platform ideas - will go right on telling us about the horrible crime waves going on right now! Of course they're going to find every story they can and say, "Look! Scary Crime! Ignore those statistics!"

Look, here's a crime. Let's pretend per capita doesn't matter. Oh, look, two more crimes!

The crime rate is down. That means there's less chance of you involuntarily being involved in a crime. That's a good thing. Stop trying to frighten people with anecdotal evidence. It's really juvenile.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

What's wrong with interviewing Khadr?

I'm seeing a lot of these questions on the blogs, comments sections and other outlets of right wing frustration. "The agents weren't beating up Khadr. They were totally professional. Looked like a completely fair and just interview to me etc. etc."

It's not the nature of the interview that was the problem. That's ridiculous. Have these people ever heard of context? It's the fact that you have a 15 or 16-year-old boy, obviously a child soldier, obviously having been tortured and we as a nation were complicit in taking advantage of the situation.

Are these people honestly arguing that all you have do is turn your back on a torture victim while other parties beat and waterboard him and then you can go back to questioning him? "Hey, I didn't beat him up, I just asked questions in a totally professional manner."

Are we going to blame or punish these agents? Not likely. Much like soldiers in battle, they had their orders. It was a post-9/11 world and terrorists were apparently everywhere.

(If you torture people until they admit they are terrorists and then torture them some more until they tell you about other terrorists, you'll find that there a lot of terrorists. And when a 16-year-old boy starts telling you that he has no eyes or feet, maybe he's been tortured just a little too much.)

The question is this: although these agents have no responsibility, as they say here, to seek consular or welfare visits for people like Khadr, are they still bound - as human beings and agents of the Canadian government - to see to the Charter Rights of Canadian citizens?

Were they aware of what had been done to the boy and, once made aware, did their behaviour toward him change?

Our nation has an obligation, through treaties and commitment to human rights, to not take advantage of torture. Did we knowingly do this? Are we still doing it now?

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to Make more Atheists

I'm going to take it as a premise that rationality is better than ignorant bliss.

While there's pleasure to be had in appreciation of the natural world and the human beings in it, the religious strongly believe that they have the huge share of "bliss" based on those tingly, orgasmic feelings they get from parts of their beliefs. Based on happiness alone, I consider it self-evident that we can not defeat religion - especially the fundamentalist varieties - by convincing people that atheism will make them happier.

That's not to say I'm not happier as an atheist, but rather that the joy of it is a useless basis on which to encourage others to leave their irrationality behind.

I'm writing this because of the tactics I see many atheists using. Insults and degradation get us nowhere. Trust me, I've tried. When I was new to atheism, I was angry at my former beliefs and rejected them and all who espoused them with vitriol and fury. It never impressed anyone.

Patience and rationality, however, can be convincing if they are consistently used. Let the religious rail, calling us fools. Let the religious advocate gruesome treatments of other religious people. Let the religious froth at the mouth. Let them knock on doors and be the proselytizers. This is not our place and not our tactic.

As atheists, we are best to be calm. We advocate freedom of and from religion. We must never attempt to limit someone else's beliefs - only their ability to force them on the unwilling. We will tell the truth, calmly, over and over again until people start to listen. It's the long, hard path, indeed, but the only time I've ever been credited with helping someone (#1172 if it matters) shake off religion is from that kind of behaviour.

Cruelty and mockery will only ever benefit the religious, as they already have a nice, safe rationalization that says that atheists are angry, miserable, hateful people. We have to show them differently.

As I'm watching the powerful people in this world use religion to get people to kill each other, Crusader against Jihadi against fundamental Zionist* against ... I don't even know the word for a crusading Hindu or Sikh ... I'm convinced that we won't be safe until we get society to shake off the shackles and blinders of religion and embrace rationality.

Does atheism proof a society against despotism? Of course not. Atheists are still human beings and can therefore be just as immoral as anyone else. Atheism does, however, deprive leaders of the religious excuse for immorality. It deprives them of a ready handle to grab which lets them declare immoral acts to be righteous and cruelty to be acceptable behaviour. If atheism is enforced, as in Stalinist Russia or present day China, it can be just as bad as enforcing religion. It is important, therefore, to let people believe what they will and convince them without suppression to follow the path of logic.

No, it's not an easy road, but it's the best, healthiest path for our society to take and we have an obligation, as humans to other humans, to do our best to shepherd it along.

* - this seems to be a vague term. I refer here to those people supporting, among other things, the building of Jewish-only settlements outside of the U.N. recognized borders of Israel.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

He's a Boy. He's just a boy.

So they're releasing the Khadr recordings. We can now see, in all its glory, what it looks like to interrogate a 16-year-old boy who was first brainwashed by religion in childhood, then traumatized by combat at 15 and finally tortured at 16.

Tell me that's right. Tell me there isn't something wrong with humanity when you see that child crying for relief and all his interrogators can do is say, "tough luck".

Omar Khadr isn't a Muslim. He isn't a Christian or an atheist. He's not a Canadian or an Afghan.

He's a child, a human child.

He's a crying child begging for someone in authority to pull him out of the absolute bullshit in to which he was involuntarily delivered. He's suffered like this for six years, almost the maximum punishment Canada would ever give a child who committed a crime at the age of 15.

Go ahead, watch the video. Watch the uncaring interrogators trying to play good cop, bad cop. "Do you want a chocolate bar?" "Turn on the air conditioning" Watch them walk out because they can't bear to see him cry. Watch them walk out because they can't bear to see what's been done to this poor, pathetic wretch of a child.

Omar Khadr isn't alone, not even Gitmo is alone. Children are being drafted in to military service all over the world. They're being terrorized by governments, by armies, by paramilitaries the world over. And it's our greed that's doing it. Our greed, as we scrape the bottom of every barrel for every last vestige of oil, minerals and cheap labour, is what leads to children in these situations. We have more than enough power to stop all of it, but that power is rarely used for anything but making it worse.

Let's get this boy home. Let's demonstrate to the world that we're trying to make it a better place, a safer place for children. Let's take at least one god damned step in the right direction.

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I kissed a girl, and I liked it.

But then I'm a heterosexual male, so there's nothing surprising there.

I'd like to take a moment from my general political and religious ranting to rant a little more vaguely. There are a few things I'm upset about and they've been bothering me for a while. Basically, I've missed out on a few things.

First off, there was a lesbian kissing episode of Degrassi. Nobody told me about it. This indicates a general breakdown of a large communication network. I can get the CBC. I could have seen that episode. The only reason I found out was that I was looking around the youtube for the "I kissed a girl" video and found a Degrassi montage that someone had assembled and scored with the same song.

As well, my elementary and high schools didn't offer school buses for those students living as close as I did. So apparently I missed out on all of the oral sex that was happening on school buses. Maybe I should have gone to the local catholic school. My friends there seemed to be having more fun than I did in public school. Maybe I should have lived in "Beaver" County.

Apparently there was a Miss Universe pageant recently. While I'm glad to see that the world's love affair with dyed-blonde hair is over, I'm a little disappointed. Is it obvious enough now that the definition of beauty is getting really, really narrow? Isn't there already enough pressure on little girls to conform? Do we have to be such absolute jerks about it?

I'll get back to my regularly scheduled ranting ...

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Monday, July 14, 2008

When is it class warfare?

Class warfare simply means that people are choosing their sides in a fight based on how much money they have ... or at least how much money they think they have. It's probably important to note, before we begin, that most people have an inflated sense of their position in the economy. I'm reminded of a survey done a while ago in the United States showing that 39% of the population felt that they were in the top 1% of all annual incomes.

But equally well, we must remember that "class warfare" isn't generally declared when the rich want a larger share of the pie. If the upper class takes control of government, lowers personal and income taxes while cutting education and health care, this is not called "class warfare". This is called "economics", "modernization" and sometimes the "free market" or "economic freedom".

Rest assured that you have never heard Global Television or CBC in Canada, or Fox, CNN, ABC and NBC in the U.S., complain that what Mike Harris or George Bush did was in fact "class warfare". Even as these invoked regressive tax measures and cut government services and ran up huge deficits for future people to pay off, there was never a word of class warfare.

But just you try to increase taxes on the wealthy (Hint: you're not wealthy, not by these standards, or do you really think you're in the top 1%?) and the accusations of class warfare will fly.

Point out the latest stats from Stats Canada showing that income has risen most quickly for the rich and shrunken for the poor and the papers will be quick to excuse this on all sorts of flimsy grounds.

This guy wants you to believe that since "family incomes" have risen, everything is okay. Because working twice as many hours for slightly more money is great! He also excuses it because poor people have all of those pension plans and government transfers that StatsCan doesn't count. (Except StatsCan says quite specifically that they do count government transfers) Makes you wonder if rich people have RRSPs, stock options and tricky life insurance policies that don't count either. Maybe I'll just say that without substantiating it at all. That's apparently legitimate journalism.

This 2006 report from TD bank is pretty straightforward. Productivity gains in Canada resulted in huge amounts of generated wealth. 71% of that wealth went to the people who were already in the top quintile. Meanwhile the rest of us are waiting for all those "wait time" promises to come true at our nearest hospitals. Go ahead, grep the report for "class warfare". You won't see it anywhere in there.

You won't see it anywhere at all until people start fighting back. And then you'll hear about how bad "class warfare" is for the "economy".

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Top Soldier? How do you figure?

General Rick Hillier resigned his post as head of the Canadian Armed Forces and was replaced by General Walter Natynczyk. General Natynczyk tells us that the war in Afghanistan is going well, despite what everyone else thinks. That's not news. That's just his job. Even if he knows he's lying, he has to lie or he has to resign. That's how it goes. Nothing surprising.

My beef is with the term "top soldier".

Top soldier? No.

A soldier is an enlisted man or woman. An officer, being commissioned, is not a soldier. Yes, I know definitions can vary, but I also came to the realization that this is an attempt - even by a media that is now displaying criticism of the war in Afghanistan - to make the General look like one of the boys.

He's not one of the boys. He won't be expected to drive a Humvee down Kandahar streets every day. He won't see combat. He won't be dodging IEDs. His family won't get a letter or a phone call announcing his combat death. He's an officer and a senior ranking one at that, not a soldier.

While it may sound romantic and humble to call the Chief of Defence Staff a "soldier", it's nothing but pandering, deception and an attempt to spill over the respect we give to those who have volunteered to put their lives on the line.

As far as I can remember, the last "top soldier" who died in combat for Canada was Major General Sir Isaac Brock. Since then, "top soldiers" lead from the back and the term has no valid meaning.

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