Friday, August 08, 2008

Vincent Li and the Death Penalty

Vincent Li is alleged (do I still have to say alleged? Has he confessed?) to have committed one of the most horrific murders in Canada's history. In a bus full of sleeping people, he was witnessed to have drawn a knife, stabbed a fellow traveller to death, cut off his head and (apparently) begun to eat the deceased's flesh.

Yeah. That screams mentally unstable to me, and is only emphasized when you read about his behaviour days before the murder, sitting on a park bench at 3am staring at nothing.

Regardless, it was a horrific thing and it's left a lot of people with a deep-seated need to react, to do something. Many of those people are demanding the death penalty, or that the man be tortured to death. You can google "Vincent Li Death Penalty" if you want more examples.

I'm not going to try to argue about whether Vincent Li deserves to be put to death, or tortured, or beaten up. It may very well be true that what we have is an evil, selfish individual who takes pleasure in hurting people. Or maybe he's got a real mental problem brought on by who knows what. Whether or not he deserves the death penalty (not available in Canada regardless) depends on his mental fitness, culpability, awareness, intent and a number of other legal concepts.

I'm arguing that we shouldn't kill him, just as I argued some time ago that we shouldn't be torturing people. My argument wasn't about whether they deserve it, though I believe they don't, it's about what it does to us.

Every report from every soldier and psychologist I've ever read has taught me that the act of killing another human being changes you. The person you were before is not the person you are after. By taking that human life, you have devalued human life. Even if you were standing behind Vincent Li, reaching for a hammer as he raised his knife to kill Tim McLean in his sleep - even then - the act of killing a man to save an innocent would leave you changed forever.

Even paramedics who are saving lives are required to go through an evaluation the first time they lose a patient. Death leaves a mark. It's only reasonable that killing leaves a larger mark, no matter how justified it may be.

If we, as a society, are to believe that we are civilized and modern, then we can not go around killing people - even the people who deserve to die. If we permit our government to use the death penalty within our own society, then we are changing our society in to one which uses killing to maintain itself. That will change our society as surely as it changes the soldier who kills in battle.

And there's one thing we do know about killing: it gets easier every time.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Picketing Funerals ... Again?

So Freddy Phelps and his little cult are at it again, threatening to picket a funeral. In this case it's the funeral of the Tim McLean Jr, the man who was recently beheaded by a lunatic on a bus in Winnipeg.

I didn't think McLean was gay. I can't find any information to suggest this and I only wonder about it because protesting gay funerals is Phelps' stock in trade.

On the one hand this is probably getting close to the kind of hate speech that Canada's hate speech laws were meant to prevent. Additionally, it's just bloody classless to picket some guy's funeral.

On the other hand, there's freedom of speech. When this group of religious whackjobs came to Canada in 1999 with their "Queer Canada" signs, I supported their freedom of speech. The one thing they could certainly accomplish was to make both their religion look stupid and the gay rights movement look good. That's the best part of free speech: if your opponents are ignorant, hateful bigots, then getting them out in the open where we can point and laugh is the best medicine.

But it's a funeral and that's just morally wrong. People should be allowed their grief in solemnity, whatever their beliefs about life and death.

On another note, this serves to showcase how bad religion can be. Sure, a lot of people will tell you how great their faith is. It makes them happy, it makes them write songs and draw pictures and forces them to behave morally. Great. But everything that varies seems to come with a normal curve. On one side are varying degrees of commitment, from the Muslim who eats pork anyway to the Christian who spends all Sunday at his church. But at the extremes of that normal curve, at the extremes of the philosophy of surrendering your moral centre to a dogma, will come the people who picket funerals, slam planes in to buildings, burn witches and use meditation to (fail to) heal cancers.

Belief without evidence is dangerous. Not for everybody and not instantly, but eventually unquestioning, dogmatic adherence to the instructions of others will create a breeding ground for the jerks, terrorists and other destructive peoples of the world.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Owned by Paris? Time to Give Up.

I'm not saying Paris Hilton is stupid. I'm just saying that if a presidential candidate is thoroughly owned by Paris Hilton, it's probably time to call it quits. Never underestimate a woman scorned.

McCain started off by trashing Obama's "celebrity status" in this ad, comparing him to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. I guess he only thought he was insulting Obama. He didn't realize that negatively comparing Obama to other people is also insulting the other people by implication.

Unexpectedly (because who can ever predict Paris Hilton's behaviour?), this response ad appeared.


It reminds me of that very last episode of Family Ties, watching Mallory (the ditz of the show) explaining the meaning of life to Alex and their mother. Duh.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Dog Clones: "I know you"

Is this the state of scientific awareness in our society? A woman had her dog cloned for $50 000 and she makes the following statement to the the newborn pup:
“Yes, I know you! You know me, too!”

Did no one explain this to her? When you make a clone, you are simply making a twin, a nearly identical sibling in genetic terms. The clone (the twin) in no sense has the memories of her former pet. Memory is not copied in to DNA to be spat our later.

I can't believe that this woman spent $50 000 to have her dog cloned and yet she clearly does not have an understanding of what it is she was buying. How can we hope to have an intelligent debate on the merits of cloning in scientific research if people are this ignorant of basic biological principles?

But maybe this explains it better:
“It's a miracle!” Ms. McKinney repeatedly shouted.

Yes. A miracle or, put more simply, magic. She doesn't understand what happened. She understands none of the science behind cloning. She didn't take a moment to comprehend cloning, DNA or any of the straightforward stuff that any layman or laywoman could easily grasp.

Nope, she wanted her dog back. They told her they could get her dog back. She has her dog back. Don't tell her any different, she'll just ignore you as she's ignored everybody else who has tried to tell her different.

I wonder how many people are represented, in terms of scientific illiteracy, by Ms. McKinney.

Updated: Yes, the ignorance is everywhere. This lady was surprised by a rainbow.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

Progressive Atheist Chicken Recipe

Take about 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
You need three dishes, one with flour, one for the egg batter, one with the seasoning.

The first dish is just flour.
The egg batter should have 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
The seasoning should be a whole lot of bread crumbs, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a bunch of black pepper, parsley, liberal amounts of paprika and parsley. It also does well to use something spicy (I just sprinkled some name brand "Cajun" seasoning in there).

Each chicken thigh gets a coat of flour, a soaking in the egg batter and a coating of the bread crumb seasoning.

12 minutes in the convection oven at 350 (no preheating) and another minute on grill.


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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Komagata Maru: Why Apologize?

The Sikh community in B.C. has been wanting an apology for some time now for an incident that happened in 1910. Apparently Canada had its own Jim Crow laws to prevent Asiatic people from immigrating to Canada.

A law was specifically written requiring people to immigrate to Canada directly from their home countries. Although the law didn't specifically mention people from India, the effect of it was to make it very difficult for Indians to immigrate to Canada. No one seems to argue the racist intent of the law. The argument is about what to do about an incident set up in protest to it.

The Komagata Maru was chartered from Hong Kong specifically to challenge this law. After sitting in dock for weeks, it was forced to return to India. Authorities there attempted to force it to return to Punjab although the passengers wanted to stay in Calcutta. A riot ensued in which some 20 people were killed.

And so Canada has apologized.

But the Sikh community (and you should know better than to trust anyone speaking on behalf of a "community") doesn't like the apology. Apparently the crux of the matter was that the apology was not delivered in the House of Commons. The writer of the article assumes this based on the following comment from a "Sikh community leader":
“We were expecting the prime minister of Canada to do the right thing. The right thing was … like the Chinese head tax,” said Mr. Toor.

Now I'll grant that it's possible that Mr. Toor was referring to the greater importance of an apology delivered in the House of Commons. Possibly. If that were the case I would think that, as a human being you wouldn't lead with, “The apology was unacceptable.” An appropriate response would be more polite than kicking a man who is apologizing to you. Something like, "We appreciate this apology and ask that it be repeated formally in the House of Commons".

That's what a human being might do and it's always possible that Mr. Toor had his remarks taken out of context.

There's another possibility because there's another difference between the apology for the Chinese Head Tax and this more recent apology: money.

When the government apologized to the Chinese who had suffered the Head Tax, it paid $20 000 to the few survivors or their surviving spouses. Is this what the Sikh community really wants? Is this what Mr. Toor meant?

I have bad news. That's not why we have apologies.

Apologies have three parts: saying it; attoning for it; making sure it doesn't happen again. In the legal arena, the "atoning for it" is meant to ensure that it doesn't happen again. In the human arena the apology is supposed to be done with sincerity such that the victims - and others like them - believe the offender is truly sorry.

The Chinese Head Tax was repaid symbolically, as an apology for - and a symbol of awareness of - our racist past. But since we no longer charge a Head Tax to Chinese people, the "making sure it doesn't happen again" part is already done. The same goes for those rejected for immigration in the Komagata Maru incident. It happened in 1910. Those people are all dead. There will be no compensation to any survivors or spouses. It was a sad, stupid thing, but it's not something anyone alive was responsible for or victimized by.

Hopefully Mr. Toor was simply misquoted to appear rude and he was not actually making the lack of payment (to descendants? to "community groups"?) an issue.

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