When is a dagger a kirpan? Tuesday, Jan 25 2011 

    The recent debate over the refusal to allow Sikh daggers into the Quebec National Assembly has brought forth the usual distortions of meaning and logic in defense of the indefensible. The Globe and Mail, Jan.20/11, always in support of anything religious, regardless of its baselessness, clearly misstated the issue as banning four Sikhs from the National assembly. In fact four men were denied entry because they insisted on wearing hidden weapons – just as would have happened if anyone else tried to enter with the identical weapons. The men chose not to enter because they were denied the privilege of taking the daggers into the assembly, not because they were Sikhs.
    The sophistry of the “kirpan” not being a dagger, but a ceremonial item, is once again dragged out, and the advocate-sycophants senselessly embrace it in spite of the absurdity of trying to change the concept by renaming it. The present and historical concept and purpose of this thing is as a weapon. Airline security doesn’t accept this fatuous “ceremonial” argument, as my loss of a number of nail-clippers, shaving cream dispensers and one small knife, over the last few years of air travel can attest. Considering that neither I, nor my ilk, have a history of murdering newspaper editors, having furniture fights or bombing airplanes, I can claim that there is less likelihood of my attacking flight personnel with a nail file, than there is of a Sikh with a dagger. 
    Then, the bright lights will point out that there are potential weapons everywhere; ballpoint pens, belt buckles and pillows. Certainly, a resourceful psychopath may find a way to kill someone with a banana, but neither this or the forementioned are designed primarily as weapons. Indeed, all have served successfully as writing implements, clothing accessories and items of comfort, with only negligible, if any, incidence of aggression. Their social benefit far outweighs their potential detriments – which cannot be said for daggers. Advocates often appeal to reason in defending this religious privilege. The blade is “only” so long; it is blunt; it is concealed or constrained in a sheath… Well, my knife – used for smearing fois gras on bread in France – had a smaller blade than a kirpan; my nail files were blunter, and all were concealed and away from my body and easy access. Nevertheless, it is better to err on the side of safety, and I willingly relenquished these items in the interest of overall public safety. To allow anyone else, while forbidding me, to carry these things is a denial of my right to equal treatment.
    The singular excuse for this aberration is that its religious interest overrides rational interest. Atheists and secular people are denied the rights granted to the brainwashed, as well as the devious. This promotion by the state, for superstitious beliefs and practices unsupported by evidence, reflects the political power of religious groups at the expense of rationalism and critical thought. The right to believe whatever one chooses is not challenged – but the capacity to impose these beliefs on others should be opposed vigorously by reasonable people. No person should be demanded to “respect” ridiculous ideas of others. The absurdity of religions, all of which depend on the belief that their originator had a personal covenant with God, is an affront to the principal distinction of humanity – rational intelligence.
    Since the issue here is on Sikh demands for religious privilege, let’s look briefly at the origins of this belief system: In the 15th century, Nanak was bathing in a stream when he received a call from God. He disappeared for three days, came back with a lot of spiritual revelations, and that is the basis for a line of nine more gurus to lead followers to believe in a litany of rewards for Sikhs, including reincarnation. The final guru is Gobind Singh, reportedly astute in the arts of poetry and warfare. Sikhism is a relatively modern religion, and certainly aware of the effect of material acquisition and accumulation in keeping a self-identifying group together; gold is a big attraction, as is land. Sikhism’s militant history coincides with its political nature. Its current focus is control of the Punjab, the most productive area of India. But the most frightening aspect of this aggressive, militant cult with its requirements (of men) of socially-isolating eccentricities; bracelets, leather underwear, no haircutting ( the turban is an add-on to reinforce distinction from the rest of society), commandment to carry arms, and more, is that all this emanates from a guy, apparently under the influence of strong drugs, who said he spoke to God! What sane person would accept such bullshit? And we let them carry knives!

Olympic Ecstasy! Wednesday, Feb 17 2010 

I was beside myself with excitement, following the trail of the Olympic torch as it made its way across Canada. “My God!” I exclaimed, “It can’t get any better than this – various has-beens, coulda-beens and forgottens running a few metres in shapeless, baggy track suits, while locals cheered with passion and when interviewed, declared this to be the most important thing since confederation.” When it topped off with Wayne Gretzky solemnly lighting the cauldron, I bet a lot of people soiled themselves right there!

Then the opening ceremonies proceeding from the drum dancing, that establishes aboriginal culture in perpetual stasis, to a bit of high culture by opera diva Measha Brueggergosman. I missed her, but it seems that Nelly Furtado bridged the gap by being hot.

You would expect that such a stunning opening might overshadow the actual games, but really, what can outdo competitions that are determined by judging rather than rules? The original games were all determined on the basis of rules: who got to the finish line first, who threw something farthest, jumped longer or higher… This bored the Greeks and led to poetry writing, debauchery and inventing philosophy. After a few millennia and the sharpening of the profit motive, the games began to include events with a view to packing the coliseums of the world and attracting sponsors.

Ice dancing and figure skating are great examples of the non-scientifically determined event. The enjoyment lies in trying to guess who the judges will award with medals. This is great fun because its subjectivity makes it easily subject to corruption and bargaining between the judges. The unscientific method has invaded lots of other sports, to allow for the inclusion of a lot of purely show-off events that wouldn’t normally lend themselves to competition – like mogul skiing, where the fastest skier can easily lose to one whom the judges believe looks better. Ski jumping no longer awards the longest jumper. Smartypants-longest-jumper can easily get a thumbs-down if his telemark landing isn’t up to the judges’ standard, or his elbow sticks out too far. This provides the uncertainty and apprehension that stimulates excitement for the audience.

Even those events still judged with objective rules can allow increased stimulation for the audience. Take the luge for example. The tragic death of the Georgian luger in a practice run was the result of organizers making the run too fast. The demand for faster runs is to set records and increase excitement in the event, not in inceasing the skill level. Let’s face it, how much real training is required for a sport that you do lying on your back? The most significant determinant is the vehicle – so why risk lives, put a bag of sand on the sled and it will be just as exciting. This applies to the skeleton and the bobsled as well. Have you noticed the commentator’s incredible attempts to create artificial excitement in a guy hurdling head first on a sleigh with no control to speak of? And what talent is involved in a bunch of guys hugging each other in a bobsled that does exactly the same thing that the last one did?

Speaking of those commentators – the experts who encourage our enthusiasm for watching repetitive activities – they display an intelligence equal to the banality of the sports they promote:

Commentator #1 “He was behind by 10 seconds, but not any more; it’s down to Five!”

Cmtr #2 (Pause for calculation) “He cut it in half!”

The biathlon is an event that combines two normally unrelated activities; shooting and nordic skiing – the former, mindlessly simplistic, the latter requiring superb conditioning and technique . These are combined because watching cross-country skiing, in spite of its athletic merits, is the equivalent of watching grass grow – the only exciting part is the sprint to the finish. The addition of the shooting feature doesn’t inject much more interest, in spite of the commentator’s efforts to convince us that watching a guy squinting through a sight is interesting. If they persist in this idiotic mismatch, the way to get our attention is to have the skiers shoot at each other!

Most games could benefit taking examples from figure skating where, along with choreography and the choice of music, costumes are often mentioned by the commentators. Attention to fetching wardrobes could add points to downhill skiers final scores, an alternative to the tiresome preoccupation with pure speed.

The introduction of new sports are always at the forefront of the Olympic organizers minds. What with the summer Olympics’ creative features like synchronized swimming, the impending ballroom dancing and the winter’s recent addition of curling, one wonders when the traditional sport of snowball throwing will make its entry. Sports gaining in popularity – like extreme fighting which has re-envigorated combat sports by allowing kicking, elbowing and attacking opponents when they’re down- are naturals for the summer Olympics. Monster truck competition maintains a persistent popularity easily at the level of many existing Olympic events. It’s not weather-dependent like skiing, and can be played at many levels unlike luge, bobsled and skeleton (although not by sandbags). The Olympic organizing committee should cast a broader net to bring in more fish – that’s what the sponsors are paying for.

Dashing Danny Williams Thursday, Feb 4 2010 

Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams has dashed off to the U.S. for heart surgery procedures not available to other Newfoundland/Labradorians – or presumably anyone else in Canada.

Response from the media and political opposition has been restrained. No mention of the obvious privilege taken by this crass millionaire whose popularity emanates from opportunistic promotion of Newfoundland’s insular “culture” of isloation and deprivation. While there is no doubt the media is trying to discover it, the location of Williams’ surgery remains a secret. This, along with the lack of criticism for availing himself of health services he has not championed for other Newfoundlanders, has met with unusual silence from the political opposition. The first reason is that heart surgery is serious, and in the case of the worst outcome, disapporval before the fact would still be perceived as criticism of the deceased after the fact. The second is the grovelling to Williams’  unreasonable  popularity among Newfoundland voters. As a result comment has been limited to “best wishes”.

Williams is a rich, arrogant bully in a province noteable for having the lowest educational standards in Canada, an incompetent medical system and ineffecient social services. The Premier, who made millions by gouging Newfoundland workers through cable TV rates and other business ventures, maintains his political popularity by milking the provincial insularity. If you visit or, as I did twice, live in the province, you will notice a distinct hostility toward the rest of Canada. Everyone is quick to point out their frustration with the exploitation by the federal government. No specifics are offered, because Newfoundland and Labrador are the greatest beneficiaries of the equalization payment program. Nor are “outsiders” taking jobs from the locals – far more Newfies migrate to find work in other parts of Canada than the opposite. There is no doubt that living in virtual quarantine on a rock is an unpleasant experience. Along with the aforementioned social and economic conditions, there is the barely edible, unhealthy food, miserable weather, obsessive gambling, narrow range of all available goods and isolation.

But Williams has fostered the illusion that all the diprivations are the fault of the rest of the country which enjoys tremendous benefits by ripping off Newfoundland. Williams has created an image of himself that fits perfectly within the cultural mindset – he’s not afraid to stand up to the federal government to defend the impoverished underdogs he represents but is not part of. Grandstanding fights with federal government leaders and cheap gimmicks are the stuff of Williams’ popularity – such as removing the Canadian flags over offshore oil revenues, or his “Anything but Conservatives” campaign.

Williams’ political history ironically includes cuts to schools, health-care facilities in a system that has one of the longest wait times in the country, eliminating public service jobs and breaking campaign promises by imposing back-to-work legislation.

Williams’ supporters have tried to obscure the real issue, which is his lack of confidence in the N/L health care system, by repositioning it as a question of “privacy”. What has privacy got to do with it? Is the fact that Newfoundland health care services are not good enough for him, a privacy matter? The second, and equally inane, claim is that he is doing what anyone else would do under the circumstances. The inherent dishonesty in this claim is that the people who elect Williams are the poorest in the country, and couldn’t afford the choice!

Not only will going to the U.S. for private health care provide ammunition to the opposers of healthcare reform in the U.S., it has brought out the privtization lobby in Canada. Just this morning the CBC reported the clamor by the two-tier lobby for the “right” of the rich to quicker, better quality health care. That is the light in which “Danny Millions” heart surgery should be considered.

Wente in doubt Monday, Dec 21 2009 

Wente’s argument (When in doubt…), in the Dec. 19/09 Globe & Mail, for religion as an instinct, is a common device of the god-believers who grab at even the most flaccid straws when all real possibilities of survival are extinct. First of all, a contemporary child, not offered irrational explanations for the universe, and all that is in it, would not come to unscientific conclusions; irrational ideas are taught. Since the enlightenment, humans have the encouragement and opportunity to seek material explanations for phenomena. Since the more they understand, the more they realize how much more there is to be known, their real instinct is that of intellectual curiosity – not fairy tale answers.

Religionists have struggled since then to maintain the manipulative possibilities of belief without evidence. Whether true believers or charlatans, it is in their interest to defend the foolishness of irrational thought.  Wente’s objectives, while having no apparent material basis, are still suspect because of her use of sophistry to support the baseless claim that we are “hard-wired for faith”.

Wente’s sophistry is in the form of the claims she makes to prove a kind of innate witlessness in all human beings. Only the most soft-headed of us will fail to notice the exchange of form for content as she gives example after example of the contrived comforts of everyday religious practices. Let’s look at them in order.

First there is that tried and true instrument of the agenda-laden writer, a realistic personal anecdote that we can all relate to in a minute. She lost her faith, yep! Then she reads Bertrand Russell (and Ayn Rand!), and gosh, if she didn’t realize that religion was senseless and the cause of endless misery in the world. Well, now we know we’re in the company of a fellow rationalist, our guard is down, and we’re going to be told it as it is. And how is it? Well, we all like to get together with people we like, and hang around the fire getting drunk and not have anything to do tomorrow. Church music can be divorced from its mindless motivations and enjoyed abstractly, and we can even see how, while it doesn’t turn our crank, Wente is thrilled by the rituals of religion – even the Muslim call to prayer, Jewish seders and that old chestnut; the Christmas Eve church – going.

One rationale for her argument is that she loves Renaissance art, and of course Renaissance art is loaded with religious imagery. Disregarding the historical reason for this, Wente tells us that we cannot dismiss the roots of this art as primitive superstition. Why not? That’s obviously what it is! But assuming our tacit acceptance, she barges on to declare that she was deeply moved by churches, synagogues and Mosques – as though that were relevant.

The urging of religious practice for non-believers continues with another heartwarming anecdote involving a “little picture-postcard church” in the country, where, after a Saturday Evening Post cover experience, she impulsively kneeled for communion, taking the wine and wafer. To keep the reader on side, we are assured that she “didn’t believe a word of it.” But that doesn’t matter, because she was so affected that she “could hardly speak.” This is where we find that it’s okay to feel uneasy about calling ourselves atheists – after all, we’ve agreed so far, so let’s opt for the fence-sitting “reluctant non-believer”. The only meaningful feature of this bit of ambiguity is that it is not atheism. And, of course, that is the point – anything but atheism.

Now that we’re not atheists any more, but still not adhering to the inanity of blind faith, we can go ahead and enjoy the abstracted pleasures of religious ritual and practice. The balance of Wente’s article consists of trying to associate responsible social behavior with religious dictates. Even civilization is made accountable to religious belief. Humanity would be an untamed social-Darwinesque jungle were it not for religion dictating our behaviour. Quoting Nicholas Wade’s The Faith Instinct, Wente tells us that religion’s role is to bind us together, making us “extraordinarily co-operative.” She doesn’t seem to notice the internecine slaughter of Muslim groups divided over whom is the real descendant of Mohammed, or Sikhs fighting one another over furniture in their places of worship. These conflicts are caused by religion, and much more killing has gone on in the name of religion against other faiths as well as non-believers.

Wente also argues that ignorance is bliss, when she makes the dubious claim that the religious are “happier, healthier and more emotionally secure than the rest of us” – underlining Marx’ famous quote about religion as an opiate. If fact, Wente’s claims can be summed up as “religion makes us feel good”. The singular quality that distinguishes us from other life forms is rational intelligence, and our happiness originates in the fulfillment of our humanity, not in the abstracted creature comforts that satisfy a cat. Wente’s argument is cited in Dawkins as “believing in belief” – the view that justifies manipulation against intelligence, and shows a disbelief in the capacity of humanity to function rationally on its own volition. It is not only a denial of the human condition but, more importantly, a hypocritical and sophistic attempt to reinforce religion through non-religious practice of religious ritual.

Hitchens’ equivocations Thursday, Nov 26 2009 

Frances Widdowson’s post, on her blog, regarding the BBC debate on the supposed social benefits of the Catholic Church, accurately sums up the inappropriateness of evaluating religion in terms of social benefit rather than rational credibility. The panel comprised two robust “public intellectuals” who easily exposed the moribundity of religious influence when an audience survey showed a huge swing over to their views, and two weak Catholic defenders – a female politician and an African bishop, who wilted under the weight of rational thought and practical reality.

Catholicism is an easy target; its beliefs of virgin birth, resurrection and miracles, expressed in cannibalistic rituals and unhealthy sexual abstinance supply plenty of fodder for the athiest argument, and the resulting perverse activities of its clergy underline the material result of its existance. So, Christopher Hitchens and actor/filmmaker, Stephen Fry come out swinging at this flimsy straw man, underlining the church’s ineffectual efforts to convince Africans to practice abstention rather than condom use in combatting AIDS, and its dipiction of homosexuality as a  sin. Catholicism cannot advocate any kind of sexual activity that avoids pregnancy; childbirth is, after all, God’s reason for giving us this powerful and exciting impulse. And it says right there in the bible, that homosexuality is wrong.  You don’t buy that? Well, nobody is forcing you to be a Catholic, either – simply reject this absurd belief system.

Why did the BBC choose to specify Catholicism for its foray into the question of the role of religion? Why are the two other “great religions” exempt from this scrutiny? While the dictates of Catholicism weight on no one but those who choose to follow it, Muslims, by comparison, consider Islam a cultural inheretance, and those who would abandon it apostates, an indiscretion punishable by death according to the Koran. Conversely, Judaism determines its adherents through maternal bloodline; if your mother was a Jew, you’re a Jew – like it or not. Islamic teachings are at the root of the mindless slaughters of innocent people by suicide bombers who expect a reward in paradise with the accompanying harem of virgins. Jews have uprooted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians because the land they lived on for millennia was given to certain tribes of Jews chosen by God. The Zionist rationale for this act of overt colonialism, is not, of course, the biblical argument, but the holocaust. Nobody wants to oppose the victims of that autrocity, so the state of Israel is unquestionably accepted. Murder is the primary threat of Islam against those to whom Muslims choose to take offence. Confronting Israel or Jewish religion will surely bring the powerful Jewish lobby into action; accusations of hate crime and the inevitable anathema, anti-Semitism will silence all but the most daring or foolhardy. The fatwa against Salman Rushdi, the murder of Theo Van Gogh, and the despicable cartoon riots explicate any apprehension of criticizing Islam. But Judaism enjoys immunity on a far more subtle and ubiquitous level.

In the debate’s question period, as Frances mentions, Hitchens was asked precisely whether he opposes all religions, or just Catholicism, wherepon he hypocritically reinterprets the question into that of being opposed to all Christian religions, which he then declared were equal in his distain. Thus, Hitchens avoided negatively referencing both Islam and Judaism, but in his book, god is not Great, vigourously trashes Muslims while characterizing Jews as victims of other religious oppressions, so it’s really Judaism that was exempted. This is an important factor in the ongoing discussion of religion in books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris as well as Hitchens. All robustly attack the irrationality and social distress of Islam and Christianity as well as some of the easier and even more inane, lunatic-fringe targets like Mormonism and Janism, but all tread lightly on Judaism.

Both Hitchens and Harris have Jewish mothers, which justifies nothing, but can be an explainable factor. (I wish to point out here that the noted anti-religionist of an earlier generation, Bertrand Russell, was also silent on the Jewish question while railing against Christianity.) However, none can justify their reference to Jews simply as victims while evading a scientific analysis of the effects of Judaism on the broader society. Both Christianity and Islam seek to convert the unbelievers, but Judaism is an exclusive religion with rules for dealing with the goyem, but not for converting them. Real Jews are the descendants of the twelve tribes chosen for a higher moral order, and are expected to be perpetually separate from all others. Might this be a contributing factor to the, apparently perpetual, social conflict and “prejudice” against Jews?

Through the most effective public relations campaign ever initiated, Jews have rationalized positions of profit-taking, privilege, disproportunate political influence and exclusivity, into a brand of victimization. Laws are altered and exercised according to the pressures on governments by the many Jewish organizations that operate as one-client PR firms in favour of maintaining Jewish exclusivity and in the acceptance of Israel. Jewish organizations initiated the odious concept of Hate Crime which, under the guise of anti-racism advocacy, protects Israel and Judaism from rational opposition. This amazing brainwashing process has made  Judaism immune to the criticism levelled at other religions and cultures; it is beyond imagination that it remains exempt from serious analysis, even by self-identifying iconoclasts, like Hitchens et al.

Notably, the most unrestrained exploration of the Jewish question has come from Jews. Both Marx and Trotsky called for Jews to simply stop being Jews, advocating eventual assimilation. Daniel Freeman-Maloy, the student who was suspended from York University for his role in a demonstration around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, explained that while Jews are too small in population (2%) to influence political parties through votes, their money is the factor that allows such influence on policy. Currently, Israeli academic Shlomo Sand has challenged the tribal identity that lies at the root of Jewish exclusivity.

It’s time for everyone to take a rational approach to the effects of religion on our lives – and no religion should be exempt from that truth-seeking endeavour.

Why blog? Thursday, Nov 19 2009 

I’ve long observed bloggers with disdain, as self-interested egotists, desparately in need of attention. And now, in seeming contradiction to my customary modesty, here I am trying to explain why I have created this “blogsite”, hoping someone (well, lots of people, actually) will read it. My motives are that many things piss me off, and I want, not just to share them but, possibly engage others in dialogue about my concerns. I don’t suffer from the illusion that anyone really cares about what I think or do, but I hope to tickle a few imaginations.

As well as my own observations and opinions, I occasionally get calls from my aunt Rita who rails against all manner of perceived lunacy and injustice. I’ll post some of her more printable messages and, occasionally, our dialogue.

While I have your attention, I want to alert you to Frances’ blog which is accessible at “Frances Widdowson’s Blog Offended by Offence”. Her’s has a lot of interesting stuff on it.