Friday, November 30, 2007

Faith, Hope, Charity meet Abortion, Sterilization, Telethons

One doesn't like to make too big a deal of these sorts of things, but they can't be ignored altogether either.

Last week we were told about Toni Vernelli, whose devotion to animals and the environment is such that, at the ripe age of 27, she had herself sterilized. (Not before she had an abortion though--and it's notable that the thought of what might have happened if she hadn't still makes her "shudder with horror.") She rationalizes her position thus: "Having children is selfish. It's all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet."

And today we learn of a Chilean prostitute, Maria Carolina, who "has auctioned 27 hours of sex to raise money for the country's largest charity during an annual fund-raising campaign." (It is not indicated how many abortions she has had, or, indeed, how much disease will need to be treated (and at what cost) as a consequence of those 27 hours.) She rationalizes her actions thus: "There are people who are going to be donating money that's a lot more questionable than mine."

As usual, I'll ask you to overlook the obvious problems here. (Like: how a childless animal-worshipper reckons that child-bearing (given that it leads inevitably to child-rearing) is in any sense selfish; or where a woman--whose professional responsibilities likely top-out at doing it from behind--is getting this scandalous information that, apparently, serious criminals are donating bucket-loads of their misbegotten cash to a charity for goddamn disabled children.) To the extent that these women's actions aren't typical, there's no point in going after the particular manifestations of their convictions.

Rather, I should prefer to focus on this:

I don't deny that there has always been a fringe element in society convinced of the righteousness of leaping head-first into the absurd. Hell, I'll even admit that--until the last century anyway--these descents were most often carried out by expressly religious fanatics. But what is so unsettling about the examples of these two women is that their absurdity, far from residing at the societal fringes, finds itself uncannily closely aligned with the mainstream. Where things like self-mortification and orgies were once the provenance of secret societies (or, at the very least, were kept extremely secret), they now find themselves openly serving such popular missions as the reduction of carbon footprints, and providing for children's charity telethons.

It's all very scary stuff, for the usual wing-nut conservative reasons, i.e. the more these sorts of behaviour are considered to be normal (that is, insofar as they are not commonly recognized as abnormal), the less acceptable becomes any insistence that having children or, say, performing intimate acts within a context of intimacy, are actually goods in themselves.

... I'm pretty much convinced that we've already reached the point where the will to live has become a crazy, right-wing thing. Never thought I'd be saying the same thing of the will to love, though. I thought the LGBTs had that one sewn up.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

All Is Vanity Plates

In spite of my post title, we're going to overlook the grating irony of Reverend Joanne Sorrill's upset over the Ministry of Transportation's refusal to permit her the renewal of her beloved vanity license plates ("REV JO" they read).

Indeed, such is my lack of ambition today that I won't even address the woman's bizarre protest that this is "Political correctness to the extreme." Except to point out that political correctness is, of itself, extreme; that to complain of too much lawfully imposed social engineering is to complain of a whitewash being too white.

No, rather, what really caught my attention in this story was this:
Personalized plates can be rejected for references to drugs, alcohol, religion, sex and racism, ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols said.
Please say you hear it too. A little voice singing a little song deep in the recesses of your head:

One of these things is not like the other things.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Progress from the Bouchard-Taylor Commission

There was some concern that the Reasonable Accommodation Commission should amount to nothing more than so much navel gazing.

But I see that it's nose picking that they're up to. And that they're nearly there! Though, as ever, Charles Taylor has fallen into a classic trap. (Stuck between right and left--or, if you like, between solitudes.)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Conservatives Aren't Getting It

Lorne Gunter writes a commendable piece in today's National Post, but one that seems a little shortsighted to me.

He says:
Turns out UN scientists have been using flawed methodology to estimate [AIDS] cases worldwide. And on top of that, Third World governments have been taking a grab bag of diseases and labelling them all AIDS because they learned a long time ago that politicians and NGOs in the developed world will open their wallets faster and wider for AIDS than bilharzias, cholera and schistosoma.
From which he infers that:

The lead UN scientists on any issue are often as interested in ideology and political change as sound science. Their conclusions are typically based on sound bites and pieces of research done by less cause-oriented scientists. It's in their wild extrapolations from those bits that their errors arise and their biases show.

So how come, given the UN's horrendous misuse of science on so many issues, so many people are prepared to give UN climate-change scientists so much credibility?

The question is rhetorical; Mr. Gunter would appear to be under the impression that, now that these ideological and political agendas have been exposed, it must follow that the general population will become sceptical of any of the UN's other causes célèbres.

It seems to me, though, that what Mr. Gunter is failing to notice is that the general population is far more likely to become indignant at the attempt to debunk AIDS and Climate Change science than it is to become indignant at ever having been misled in the first place. For the proof of this, I'll ask you only to tell me what the effect was of Judge William Osteen's comprehensive debunking of the EPA's landmark report that declared second-hand tobacco smoke a Class A carcinogen.

That Mr. Gunter is in the right is, very sadly, well beside the point. Bad science is not the enemy of right thinking men now. Bad morality is. (I think we call it Charter Morality here; where even God and Death are held to account.) Against this, reason hasn't even a prayer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In Ingham's Image

Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, excels himself.

From the man who, independent of the entire Anglican Communion and in direct defiance of Church doctrine (and roughly two millennia's worth of tradition), gave his diocese the power to bless same-sex unions; from the man who declares that the Church has been wrong for centuries in matters of homosexuality, masturbation, and abortion, this:
Centuries of Christian tradition as well as many of the Church’s Canons (church bylaws) provide that there is just one bishop in charge in a diocese, he said. Otherwise the order of the church is undermined, confusion reigns, and the church can be diverted from its work of community outreach and care for parishioners.
(Remarks, it should be said, made over the prospect of ordinations being performed within his diocese that did not receive his permission.)

The gall of the heretic! Complaining of fleas after so much time lying with dogs. Did he himself not say that ''the word of God is a person not a text,'' that "Scripture [is not] a fax from heaven." Well hell, Mike, if Scripture isn't a fax from heaven then what can be said of Canon Law, except that in this case it's being faxed from your office ... Oh! I see!

Via Magic Statistics

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Crystal to L Tower: Reductio ad Absurdum

Way back in July, I lamented the largely positive reception (or, anyway, the not--as it absolutely should've been--negative reception) given Daniel Libeskind's Crystal. The prevailing reasoning, I groaned, seems to be that if a piece of architecture is sufficiently grotesque then it can be justified aesthetically on the condition that it draws considerable (even if largely disbelieving and disgusted) attention to itself. To illustrate the folly of this line of argument, I drew it out to what--I'll admit now--seemed even to me to be a rather overwrought conclusion. I said:
Presumably, this way, grizzly school bus accidents become a manner of success given the amount of gaping and double-takes they elicit from passersby. Indeed, it seems to me that Libeskind should have been very much more successful by this standard if he had just stacked a bunch of cubed units to spell out LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE BANK down the Bloor streetscape. Or, simply, FUCK YOU.
A bit much did you think? Well, get a load of this:

Yes, yes, yes. I hear you. Looks like a big dick to me. Eric at Diogenes Borealis sees this too. But he comes up with an even better interpretation which strikes me as being spang on:
Maybe it isn't a giant penis, but just a huge metaphorical middle finger raised to the citizens of Toronto.
There isn't a doubt in my mind that that's exactly what it is.

(Though, given that it looks as though the thing is facing south over Lake Ontario, I have this awful feeling that there'll be a lot of glib Torontonians strutting about crowing that the L Tower is symbolic of our attitude towards the United States. Dogs and their vomit, what what?)

via Small Dead Animals.

Diogenes also has some good stuff on the Crystal as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Seized by the Day

How many lower backs, shoulder blades, ankles, I wonder, have had the words "Carpe Diem" tattooed on them since the phrase's introduction to mass consumption in 1989?

How much petty theft and vandalism has been performed in its name; how many STDs spread and contracted? How many painful, tacky, entirely pointless gestures have been lamely justified thus, then regretted, then forgotten for all time?

Indeed, I wonder if Horace ever thought the slogan so inspired as we do that he'd really care that 2000 years later it should be substantively indistinguishable from calls to, say, Seize the Pizza Pocket!, or Seize the Game Boy!

More seized by the day than seizing.

But I thought poverty was the source of all the ills in the world ...

The Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted public opinion surveys in February 2004 in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey, involving about 1,000 respondents in each country. One of the questions asked was, “What about suicide bombing carried out against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq? Do you personally believe that this is justifiable or not justifiable?” Pew kindly provided me with tab­ulations of these data by respondents’ personal characteristics.

The clear finding was that people with a higher level of education are in general more likely to say that suicide attacks against Westerners in Iraq are justified. I have also broken this pattern down by income level. There is no indication that people with higher incomes are less likely to say that sui­cide-bombing attacks are justified.

Another source of opinion data is the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headquar­tered in Ramallah. The center collects data in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. One question, asked in December 2001 of 1,300 adults, addressed attitudes toward armed attacks on Israeli tar­gets. Options were “strongly support,” “support,” “oppose,” “strongly oppose,” or “no opinion.”

Support turned out to be stronger among those with a higher level of education. For exam­ple, while 26 percent of illiterates and 18 per­cent of those with only an elementary education opposed or strongly opposed armed attacks, the figure for those with a high school education was just 12 percent. The least supportive group turned out to be the unemployed, 74 percent of whom said they support or strongly back armed attacks. By comparison, the support level for merchants and professionals was 87 percent.

Related findings have been around for a long time. Daniel Lerner, a professor at MIT at the time, published a book in 1958 called The Passing of Traditional Society in which he collected and analyzed data on extremism in six Middle Eastern countries. He concluded that “the data obviate the conventional assumption that the extremists are simply the have-nots. Poverty prevails only among the apolitical masses.”

Alan Krueger What Makes a Terrorist

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dalrymple on Communist Propaganda Writ Small

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One's standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Theodore Dalrymple in interview with FrontPage Magazine

Via Mapmaster at London Fog

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Afrocentrism (or I Had The Weirdest Dream)

The Toronto District School Board is set to debate the opening of an Afro- centric alternative school. Needless to say, reception of the idea has been mixed.

Dalton McGuinty is "not personally comfortable" with it, whereas Royson James--municipal affairs columnist at the Toronto Star--is under the impression that we have nothing to fear from the idea. TDSB trustee John Matlow thinks it "very dangerous," and Zanana Akande--the first black woman to serve as a Cabinet Minister in this country--is of a similar mind. But Donna Harrow and Angela Wilson--local community workers instrumental in the push for "black-focussed" education--believe that "whatever is being used in the system at this moment is failing a lot of [black] students," that "it's important to try something else."

You will, of course, have guessed that I myself am opposed to the idea. (Indeed, I hope that you might have gone even further and guessed that I was mortified to the point of nearly untreatable depression that any human being should ever have dreamt up anything so stupid in the first place.) But it should be said that my opposition does not spring from a fear that Afrocentric schools will encourage a trend toward racial segregation. Nor does it even from my belief that the idea has about a snowball's chance in hell of working even on its own terms. Strong cases can be made for both of these eventualities, sure, but neither of them touches on what should be of central concern to critics of so-called "black-focussed" education.

Refrain, gentle reader, from limiting yourself to after-the-fact questions like "what effect will the existence of alternative 'Afrocentric' schools have on the cohesion of the larger community?"--the only concern that the Premier or Royson James or anybody else seems able to come up with--and ask first and foremost: what the hell does "Afrocentric" mean?!

Honestly. Do you know?

Advocates of the new form of schooling insist that the Ontario curriculum would be retained, only that it would be "enriched" by a "black focus." However, if you know anything about Afrocentric pedagogy, you know that this is impossible--as, indeed, the very use of the term pedagogy here would seem to suggest. Either Afrocentrism is consonant with the Ontario curriculum--in which case the Ontario curriculum is already Afrocentric and there can be no conceivable need for new schools that would boast, what?, being Afrocentrickyer?--or it isn't. And let me tell you, it isn't.

Among the stronger voices pushing the Afrocentric schools agenda is OISE professor George Dei, author of the following:
Current practices in Canadian schools do not address satisfactorily the problem of students’ disengagement and dropping out. This problem may be alleviated by the development of an inclusive curriculum that promotes alternative, non-hegemonic ways of knowing and understanding our world. As an African-Canadian educator, I consider a non-hegemonic Afrocentric education (curriculum and pedagogy) as one means to address the educational needs of specifically (but not exclusively) Black/African-Canadian students. Following Asante (1991), I interpret “Afrocentricity” as the study of phenomena grounded in the perspectives and epistemological constructs of peoples of African descent.
Blogger Steve Janke has done a fair amount of research on this subject (from which the above was taken, and which should be given your careful attention, here, here, and here) and points out, re. the cited Asante, that:
"Asante" is Dr. Molefi Asante of Temple University, leading proponent of the Afrocentrism. The cornerstone of his particular version of Afrocentric history is that ancient Egypt (which he calls "Kemet") was black just as sub-Saharan Africa is black, is home to all the knowledge now attributed to the Greeks, and that the Greeks, and by extension all Western civilization, stole that knowledge from black Egypt. Thus "white" civilization is a fiction, and is indeed "black" civilization being run by interlopers.
... So the central problem facing the proposal of Afrocentric schools is not so much social as it is, simply, academic. That is: to the extent that the historical "facts" underpinning Afrocentrism cannot, by any rigourous academic standard, be proven to be anything but ludicrously false, then what can be said of an Afrocentric education? Other than that it is a contradiction in terms; that it is not an education at all?

But I'm forgetting, perhaps, that it is no longer the purpose of education to educate so much as it is "to bring people together" as Dalton McGuinty puts it ... Oh, how I wish I could say that, one day, our Premier--who, yes, very bravely lets it be known that he does not like the idea of Afrocentric schools, but who doesn't have the balls to do anything short of expressing his "personal" misgivings of it--I wish I could say that Dalton McGuinty will be made to eat those words. But it seems much more likely that he, and I, and you, will be eaten by them first.