The Ultimate Responsibility

November 19, 2013

I am not a parent. It’s not that I didn’t want to be, I love children, and they seem to tolerate me well enough; events in my life have thus far prevented me from being a father. Which, of course, does not preclude it from happening in the future, and as time marches on, I have come to realize that I will in all likelihood become a ‘step’ to an older child or children, perhaps even adult children. I look forward to whatever life brings in that regard – I feel like I would have something to offer in terms of support, love, and guidance should the opportunity present itself.

I have great admiration for my close friends who are parents – you know who you are, and you know I admire you for persevering when times inevitably got tough and for producing incredibly intelligent and just thoroughly fantastic kids. Some of you have faced incredible hardship and adversity and still managed to bring up some resilient and loving children. You are the reason I feel like the future is in safe hands – your children will grow up to be independent, thoughtful adults who grew up to be just like you. Take that, Harry Chapin.

As proud as I am to know some amazing parents, and I know there are many more, I am still incredibly pained to hear of incidents like this. It is completely heartbreaking that parents would follow the pseudo-religious, Spanish Inquisition-like parenting style described in this abhorrent book.

book cover

As the article describes, some of the techniques advocated include:

  • Using plastic tubing to beat children, since it hurts a lot but leaves fewer marks to alert authorities
  • Wearing the plastic tubing around the parent’s neck as a constant reminder to obey
  • “Swatting” babies as young as six months old with instruments such as “a 12-inch willowy branch,” thinner plastic tubing or a wooden spoon
  • “Blanket training” babies by hitting them with an instrument if they try to crawl off a blanket on the floor
  • Beating older children with rulers, paddles, belts and larger tree branches
  • “Training” children with pain before they even disobey, in order to teach total obedience
  • Giving cold water baths, putting children outside in cold weather and withholding meals as discipline
  • Hosing off children who have potty training accidents
  • Inflicting punishment until a child is “without breath to complain.”

That children have died is horrifying, although frankly not surprising. A childhood should be a time of joy and learning about the world, it should never resemble a reign of terror. Any “parent” who decides this type of parenting is acceptable is not fit to lead a child into the world.

The fact that it is couched in religious overtones is not in the least surprising. Not only do some of the faithful adhere to the above child torture techniques (I’m the first to admit that not all do, however), some will also refuse medical treatment for their children on religious grounds. The only way we have to prevent abuse like this is to remove faith-based exemptions based on religious belief when a child’s health is at stake. Prayer in all its forms and manifestations have never, ever been proven to be effective in treating illness of any kind, and medical science has been proven unequivocally effective in saving lives, preventing infant mortality, and relieving suffering. Some of the cases listed here are absolutely horrifying. There is no excuse that could justify denying a child a chance at life simply because a parent believes illness is a test or part of a divine plan. Listen up, sunshine, if there were a deity, he created doctors and health care professionals as well as your weak-willed, deluded self. Get in the internal-combustion tool of satan horseless carriage and get your unfortunate spawn to the hospital. If you are lucky, the child will live – if we’re lucky, you’ll never see them again.

I realize I am not going to change anyone’s mind if they choose to follow an abusive religious creed, but if enough of us express our outrage at these types of abuses, perhaps the ruling classes will dilute the opiate just enough to prevent this from happening – even once. Religion, as a phenomenon of human behaviour, should never play a role in determining social or legal responsibility for anything. Marriage is not a religious ceremony, it is a legal one sanctioned by the state – they just let guys in weird dresses officiate. Voting is not a religious duty, it is a social one. I have no objection to religious faith as a private expression of a need for security or a need to feel special or to feel part of a community; however, when you start making decisions on other people’s behalf – what they can or cannot do or say or wear or who they can love – then, I object in the strongest possible terms. This applies to the act of parenting as well. If we value our children and want them to be responsible adults, let them choose to follow or not follow whatever creed works for them. When it comes to a child’s heath, however, your duty as a caregiver always supersedes any doctrine; the need to keep a child alive and to ease their suffering and seek a cure from sources that are proven to be effective is and always should be the moral imperative, not service to some imaginary, insecure dictator.

Religion be damned, if you’ll pardon the expression.


The Ford Follies

October 31, 2013

As most people in the free world are by now aware, the Mayor of our beloved T’ranna, Rob (Are You Gonna Finish That?) Ford has been bullying his way through scandal after potential scandal on pure bluster and the careful construction of a facade of fiscal responsibility. While I will admit he has had some positive financial effect on the expenditures of the city, a few – shall we say, cracks – have now begun showing in his facade.

In fact, police are now in possession of a video which purports to show the Pilsbury Dough Mayor smoking crack – a video that was the subject of a crackstarter Kickstarter campaign to raise money to purchase said video from certain unscrupulous types. Which, it must be said, seem to be Mayor Ford’s preferred choice of constituents.

This promises to be the most horrible Halloween the Ford family has ever seen. Seriously, there’s being a bit shady, then there is participating in criminal activity and associating with known criminals, as the evidence purports to show. Mayor Ford is an oaf and a bully and is poised to make Toronto even more of a laughingstock than it already is to the rest of the country.

He needs to resign immediately, but he won’t unless he is forced, because he is determined to retain power in his sweaty, pudgy hands by any means necessary. Soon, he’ll come out swinging, because despite his repeated “No comment” in the past few days, he doesn’t have the intelligence or sophistication to rein himself in for long. Soon the attacks will begin and the implications of a conspiracy against him will be made (The Toronto Star made me do it!); what will not happen is his taking responsibility for anything that has or will happen. Like any common thug, he will resort to bluster to obscure the truth.

Despite his limited but significant successes as Mayor, he deserves none of the support he currently enjoys. For such a big man, he’s an awfully small man – too small to be Mayor of Canada’s biggest city.

Image

As your Mayor, I feel strongly that… Wait, is that crack? 

Addendum: Oh boy, the fun has already started! 


G20, Canadians 0

June 27, 2010

I have been following, probably to a lesser degree than I might have, the protests surrounding the G20 summit in Toronto. What I find interesting is that the summit itself has been eclipsed by the violent clashes occurring outside the security perimeter – perfectly natural, after all, violence has always provided better ‘copy’ than negotiation and discussion. In that sense, the protesters have accomplished one mission: their messages are being covered, if only in a primarily negative fashion and only as a peripeheral story to their methods of propagating the message.

For what it’s worth, I wish to offer a few observations:

It is important for the general public to remember that all of the protesters are not violent, and all of those acting violently are not legitimate members of social activist groups – it is said by some that there is a cadre of ‘professional protesters’ who travel from event to event to cause disruption. I would certainly not want to see everyone painted with the same broad brush as ‘violent’ or ‘irresponsible’. Nor, as it happens, do I particularly like having all police portrayed as ‘jack-booted thugs’ or provocateurs. There is reportedly evidence that some covert provocation by undercover police has occurred in the past, however, in the age of YouTube and the ‘citizen journalist’, such actions are a clear liability. The police are paid to maintain order, and I have no doubt that they arrived on the front lines with the ideal of doing this job – that being said, police, first and foremost, are human beings, and human beings make mistakes; they lash out when attacked, due to fear (they are greatly outnumbered by shouting, angry protestors), or out of an over-developed sense of duty. The violent members of the police services, as with the protestors, are vastly outnumbered by those who do their jobs well, and with integrity. Remember that just because the violent individuals on both sides get the most attention, that does not make them representative of the whole.

Speaking of representation, I was interested and curious after reading some stories on the CBC as to whether or not many of the individuals, violent and otherwise, among the protesters are politically active in other ways, such as voting. A quick search revealed this study, which indicates that surveyed individuals in the 15 to 21 and 22 to 24 year-old age groups are the most active in “non-voting political behavior”, and the least active in actually voting (even allowing, of course, for the fact that the voting age is 18). While understanding that younger adults are cynical and disillusioned with the political process, I think we have done a poor job in educating younger people about the importance of voting – it is the acceptable democratic method of social change, as opposed to the proposed ‘violent revolution’. We already have the means to enact social change and ensure that the individuals who represent us truly have our best interests at heart – the organized, purposeful, collective casting of ballots. Demanding social change while declining to participate in any meaningful way in the process available seems dishonest, in my opinion. Call me naive if you must, but I’m an optimist – I believe if we truly want social change, if we want to replace the current regime, it is within out power collectively as Canadians to create the change – ‘be’ the change, in other words. Revolution worked in Russia in 1917, but is unlikely to have any meaningful effect beyond the disruption of the lives and livelihoods of individuals not even concerned with the protests – the small businessmen and so on. If you want justice, you have to be a full participant in the creation of the just society, become one of its builders, and not focus on the violent destruction of the old regime. Each of us, every day, in any given moment, create and maintain justice within society according to our moral codes – let that creation dominate through the political process rather than abetting wanton destruction.

Beyond (and inextricably bound within) the political is the personal – how we act, what we do, whom we choose to help or hurt. Concern for our fellow citizens – the expression of justice, of tolerance and of lending assistance where possible – is the basis of democracy, particularly a democracy such as ours which is based on a pretty good (but not perfect) social safety net. Behind this altruism, however, is the single most important unit of society, the individual, who maintains (or breaks) the social covenant as she sees fit on a constant basis through interactions with others – society is not imposed from the top down, but is built and maintained, moment by moment, by the individuals, the ‘bricks’ that are its component parts. Humanity, however, is descended from animals (no matter what creationists may tell you), and the proof of this ascent lies in our behavior, in the actions between thoughts, in our instincts. One of the more fascinating parts of Social Psychology lies in the realm of Collective Behavior, as discussed with great clarity over the years by writers such as Eric Hoffer in The True Believer, and by Erich Goode in the excellent textbook Collective Behavior (who knew?). Human social interaction is by nature complex, but the behavior of crowds as they become mobs has been examined in great detail, and is, to some degree, predictable. The social dynamics of the crowd-to-mob transition rely on  particular elements to unfold: first, the ‘power’ granted to the individual by the collective – to put it another way, as individuals, we can be known quantities; as part of a collective, we are anonymous, and therefore more free to express ourselves physically and emotionally – witness on a small scale the strident nature of the anonymous message boards on the Internet, and keep in mind that each of these is a building block of a collective expression of order or disorder. Second, observation of crowds has proven the importance of leadership – one or more individuals, usually a small number, who define the ‘agenda’ for the collective. How they act sets the tone for the dynamics that follow. If, for example, the natural leaders from whom the collective takes their cues are peaceful by nature, the dynamic will remain a peaceful one – which is why all crowds, at concerts and sporting events, do not become mobs. On the other hand, if the leaders, being more expressive or lacking impulse control, are more violent or begin to destroy property, then the crowd’s transformation to a mob is virtually assured – in many cases, all it takes is one act of violence to transform the collective, empowered by the anonymity of numbers, into the anarchist army. Third, there must be that act – the violent action, the thrown brick or punch, that acts as the ‘tipping point’ in the collective mood, and unless the emotional impact of this act is diffused immediately, the transition is inevitable. It is for these reasons, despite complaints of excess on the part of police and security services, that motivates the array of precautions in Toronto. The police understand the potentially negative consequences of collective behavior, even if we or the protestors do not.

Finally, as time goes on, the patient observer will take note of the escalating rhetoric on the Internet, again motivated by anonymity and the protection it provides. The attacks will become more personal and the rhetoric more heated, until the faceless and inherently evil ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ Other becomes unworthy of respect or calm dialogue – in fact, as individuals, they are to be torn down and destroyed as effectively as are physical structures. Although not a physically ‘present’ collective, the concept of the tipping point still applies – the first one to ‘flame’ the opposition sets the tone for what follows, despite the efforts of some individuals to foster a more civil dialogue. The Other, meanwhile, becomes dehumanized, and the attacks become personal, until the level of vehemence approaches a point which would never be reached in a face-to-face confrontation on the same subject.

I make these observations with a goal in mind – not to bore you, as may well be the case, but hopefully to point out the imperfections of both sides in this ‘struggle’. I don’t pretend to be an expert in capitalism or colonialism, so I have deliberately left these issues out of the equation; ultimately, these are but ideologies which require human agency to exist.

And that’s the point, really – despite the perception of the monolith labeled ‘SOCIETY’ that we percieve, we, individuals, citizens, police and protesters, are society writ small. And, frankly, it is a little humbling, despite the accelerated growth of technology,  just how fragile our collective is, under the right conditions. In the building of a society, we are all keystones.

Note: Edited to reflect a quite accurate comment that I had stated an opinion as fact.


Congratulations to the Media…

March 4, 2010

… You are now officially complicit in Prime Monster Harper’s efforts to distract Canadians from what really matters by introducing a classic red herring – namely, the ‘sexist’ language in our national anthem.

Hey, Look over here!

So the government is concerned about women. Explain this to me in that context:

The (labour and women’s groups) coalition’s report points out the government’s decision to eliminate the phrase “gender equality” from the mandate of Status of Women Canada, the country’s primary institution responsible for gender equality. It also highlights the closing of 12 of 16 Status of Women offices and the elimination of funding to a program for court challenges related to equality rights.

Or this, from the Toronto Star:

As the federal government prepares to roll out a new budget on Thursday, a new study by a Queen’s University professor argues that men are seeing a disproportionate share of the benefits of Ottawa’s record spending over the past year.

According to Kathleen Lahey’s analysis, women have only received about 7 to 22 per cent of federal infrastructure spending, because they are under-represented in the construction, manufacturing and engineering industries.

By Lahey’s calculations, women are also not getting as much as men out of the billions Ottawa has committed to corporate, GST and personal-income tax cuts. And though women represent around 50 per cent of the population, they’re only seeing roughly a third of the enhancements to the employment-insurance program, according to Lahey’s study.

Yep, feeling the love you have for women, Stevie boy.  Oh, and nice job appointing that begging-to-be-tasered meat puppet Helena Guergis to lead the march backward.

I have a suggestion. How about “By all thy scum’s command”? Certainly fits the circumstances, don’t it?


Another Disaster: Human Nature

January 14, 2010

As I was watching coverage of the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake this morning, absolutely gobsmacked by the level of devastation and agony that has resulted from the disaster, when a sudden, horribly pessimistic thought entered my mind:

Somewhere, someone is already planning to take advantage of this catastrophe and defraud people by exploiting their generosity and their willingness to help those in need.

Beware the scammers, dear readers. My advice to you is to proceed directly to the Red Cross and donate there – at least then you know your efforts to help will actually make a positive contribution on the ground. I encourage everyone to do so.


The Emerald Isle: Boldly Moving Forward into the 12th Century…

January 6, 2010

Let me preface these remarks by saying that if we were Irish nationals, both Kevvy and I would be criminals. Kevvy for his most recent post, and me for what I am about to write. Once more unto the breach, dear readers!

On January 1st, 2010, a new law came into effect in Ireland – the law is, according to legislators, primarily designed to modernise laws regarding defamation. Goodness knows, given the state of defamation laws in England, that area could use a bit of cleaning up in the Isles, so to speak. This, however, is not what is most troubling about this legislation. Contained within the law are provisions making blasphemy, the disparaging of religious beliefs which might offend practitioners of a given religion, illegal.  Of course, as one would expect, some, like Richard Dawkins, are speaking out against what is perceived to be a return to medieval thinking.

The Irish Constitution already contains provisions against blasphemy, however, Ireland and other countries which have similar laws or edicts have chosen largely to ignore them, given that they are impossible to define or enforce, and constitute an unreasonable restriction on free speech. Modern societies have largely recognized the importance of free speech and the benefits of the unrestricted flow of ideas. What is puzzling is that some commentators cannot even identify whose idea this was, or whether religious leaders of any denomination have pushed to have this law enacted.

Some will recall my post on the efforts of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to pass a United Nations resolution making disparagement of religion an offense around the world – even as a non-binding resolution, it is a terrifying prospect that such resolutions can even be seriously entertained in a global context.  This new law is an unreasonable and unwarranted attack on free speech and should not be tolerated. While we are turning our gaze toward Africa and threatening dire consequences if homosexuality is outlawed in Uganda, this type of petty, superstitious nonsense is actually happening in what is presumed to be the ‘civilized’ West. There are people around the world who are suffering unnecessary misery due to the efforts of supposedly well-meaning christians, and direct conflict between religious ideologies is killing hundreds, if not thousands of people a day in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Recently, a court in Malaysia decided it was acceptable for non-muslims to use the word ‘allah’, as long as it is not misused. Thousands are up in arms at what is seen as an insult to islam – never mind that the word ‘allah’ means ‘god’ in Arabic, and could conceivably come up in conversation in a respectful way – and this is just one of many instances where the rule of law has come up against the forces who encourage the growth of superstition and the suppression of competing ideas. The suppression of ideas, even ridiculous ones, is dangerous because it is a slippery slope from protecting one set of ideas from another to defining one idea, or ideology, as better or more worthy of promotion by a government.

Unless there are instances of demonstrable harm (such as are inherent in militant religions of any stripe), people should be permitted to share ideas and let the minds of others accept, debate or deny them as they see fit. It is the only way societies can grow and evolve – technology is great, but without ideas to determine its use, technology is just a tool. Moral ideas, divorced from the burden of religious dogma and developed to provide the greatest benefit for the greatest number, are the force that propels us forward as a race.

A restriction on speech is a restriction on thought, and any infringement on the right to think and speak freely is a violation of human rights, and should be regarded as a crime against humanity.


Desecration and Dismay

December 18, 2009

The iron sign over the gates of Auschwitz, bearing the legend “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work will set you free”, a cynical and disgusting sentiment no matter how you parse it), has been stolen.

To consider this disturbing and monumentally evil is to understate the point. I sincerely hope the words, as horrible a reference to an infamous period of world history they may be, are recovered quickly.

I am currently without further words myself.


I Have a Dream…

August 28, 2009

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_Washington

August 28, 1963.

MLKDream_64kb.m3u

This is an audio recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving the “I Have a Dream” speech during the Civil Rights rally on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Not much I can add, except that I urge everyone to keep the dream alive, every day.

Source: Internet Archive.


Media Madness: A Recent Example

July 31, 2009

As a follow-up to my post regarding the sorry state of journalistic ‘ethics’, I wanted to provide a link to this commentary by Nancy L. Cohen in the Huffington Post. As usual, there is historical precedent that the journalistic community has chosen to ignore and are therefore doomed to repeat.


Affirmative Action… time to move to the next stage?

April 24, 2009

I realise I could be opening a casn of worms here, and laying myself open to a certain amount of cyber-abuse, but so be it. This article by Neil MacDonald has brought to mind a discussion I had not too long ago  with Kevin, the progenitor of this blog. 

The following quote:  ‘More than 30 years ago, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote a line that became the battle standard for affirmative action. “In order to treat some persons equally,” he said, “we must treat them differently.”It was an elegant, even poetic way of expressing an uncomfortable truth: that, sooner or later, promoting or admitting someone on the basis of race is going to involve shoving aside or passing over someone else for the same reason.’ describes what, I think, is the  endpoint to Affirmative Action if you blindly follow it to it’s logical conclusion.

Before I go too much further, I want to emphasize that I do NOT have a problem with equal rights for everyone regardless of race, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or any other quality used as a basis of bias by some parts of society.  The movement(s) that brought about Affirmative Action were necessary, and have done society-at-large a great good; by starting to erase boundaries that were neither justified, nor conducive to good and civilized society.

Two things bother me most about Affirmative action:  The first is that it seems to come down to filling a quota. While it increases the numbers of minority of people in the workforce, and therefore exposure to equally qualified individuals of all races and creeds…  It really stops short of actually changing the attitudes that made Affirmative Action necessary in the first place. Those who were likely to dismiss qualified individuals from positions on the basis of irrelevent racial or gender-based criteria, now simply have changed their tune to “You’re just here to fill a quota.”  The second is that ultimately, some people are being hired/ promoted over equally qualified people based on race, gender or creed, the very thing that Affirmative Action is supposed to combat. This seems to me to be somewhat oxymoronic, circular and self-replicating. It can never be a permanent solution – because it’s implementation ultimately produces new categories of under-represented and discriminated against people.

During the converstaion with Kevin, he argued, quite eloquently, that the current legislation(s) surrounding affirmative action does more than enough to provide avenues for individuals to compete on merit, and not on the basis of any other criteria. But does it really? If one person can be moved ahead by ticking the visible minority box, how  is that equal? Is opting? demanding? to be treated specially, and/or given special consideration not voluntary segregation (albeit priviledged segregation)?

 The example Kevin used was the hiring practices and workplace policies of the federal government of Canada. I couldn’t argue against that case, effectively, because they do sound reasonable, and it appears, ostensibly as if anyone can challenge them if they feel they’ve been dealt unfairly. Ok, perhaps he’s right in that specific case. Given ponderous governmental bureaucracy, I’m really not sure how effectively the issue is managed one way or the other. But, how about the private sector? Charges of discrimination are infinitely more difficult to prove there, as any number of trumped up deficiencies may be invented to cover why some was discriminated against, passed over for promotion, or unfairly dismissed.

I have to admit, that when pressed, I could come up with no better a solution than MORE legislation. I suggested legal culpability be spread from the organization to the offending individual personally, and also to the person responsible for supervising that individual personally, and so on up the ‘chain of command’. And I DO mean personally culpable, not professionally; as in the individuals themselves can be charged directly, as well as the organization as a whole. I’m not sure this would work either, as it punishes the problem of personal bias, but doesn’t do anything to alter it.

Bigots top my list of people who should be given a swift boot to the head, just to see if anything rattles around inside. Ideally, I’d like to see hiring procedures that are absolutely anonymous, and discrimination go by the wayside. Individual merit should not include/ or exclude anyone on the basis of gender, race or creed.

However, humans, by nature, seem to be overly ‘clanny’. Almost xenophobic in their attitudes towards those outside ‘the group’, those that are different.  Will there ever be a time when we don’t look at those we deem to be ‘others’ differently? When ones qualifications, social skill and work ethics are the only criteria for hiring/ promotion? I’ve heard it suggested many times that it is largely a generational thing, that once the bigotted dinosaurs have died out and/ or retired from positions of authority, things will be better. Then we will be able to relegate Affirmative Action to the legislative backroom, no longer needed. But I worry that this will never be the case, as intolerance can be taught as easily as tolerance, perhaps even easier.

So what do we do to completely erase bigotry?  I confess I really don’t know.

Graven


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