Friday, September 29, 2006

Wreading, Writing And Writhmatic

On Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government axed $17.7 million from the human resources department's Adult Learning and Literacy Skills Program as part of a wave of spending cuts. Yesterday, Harper's wife Laureen was on the streets of Ottawa, promoting literacy. -Toronto Star

Let's hear it for responsible government.

God Bless Those Pagans

The event is believed to have begun as a pagan ritual

A 400-year-old flaming tar barrel tradition has come under threat because the Devon organisers cannot get insurance cover. Every year in November, burning barrels are rolled through the streets of Ottery St Mary, with some even carried on people's backs. Past events have raised thousands of pounds for charity. Organisers have not been able to obtain insurance this time because of a claim made after last year's event. With the claim being processed, the normal insurers will no longer provide public liability insurance which is needed should anything happen to an individual.

The tradition is believed to have originated from pagan rituals to ward off evil spirits...

Uhhh... Henry VIII broke with Rome in the 1530s, something closer to 500 years ago. What kind of paganism was that again?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Meeting Of The Minds

The German government has met Muslim community leaders in Berlin amid a row over the cancellation of a Mozart opera deemed offensive to Muslims.

You know, for a group of people that believes a man who lived 1400 years ago is beyond reproach, these overly sensitive Muslims seem to be playing a real sharp game of "double standard." They are offended by a Mozart opera because it contains a scene with "the severed heads of the Prophet Muhammad, Jesus Christ and Buddha." Not only are they upset, but they expect the rest of us to feel their pain. Some Germans, however, aren't so easily frightened or pained...

Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned "self-censorship out of fear. We must take care that we do not retreat out of a fear of potentially violent radicals," she said. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble also attacked the opera company's decision as "crazy".

The Germans are sounding more and more like the French every day. Earlier this year it was reported that a group tried to have the French town of Saint-Genis-Pouilly close down a theatre performing one of Voltaire's plays. (Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet -- a play, it should be noted, that was shut down by the Catholic Church after only 3 performances for being a too thinly veiled attack on Rome. "Its main theme is the use of religion to promote and mask political ambition," according to the article linked below.) "This play ... constitutes an insult to the entire Muslim community," said a letter to the mayor. His response?

Mayor Hubert Bertrand called in police reinforcements to protect the theater. On the night of the December reading, a small riot broke out involving several dozen people and youths who set fire to a car and garbage cans. It was "the most excitement we've ever had down here," says the socialist mayor.

So in other words:

pre-modern Islamic ideas, critiques, norms and literature good...
pre-modern non-Islamic ideas, critiques, norms and literature bad... very, very bad.

Give it a rest.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It's Just Politics, My Boy, Just Politics

Nigerian troops chase angry mobs in a street in Onitsha, Nigeria. The sectarian violence was sparked by deadly weekend protests against cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. (AP Photo)

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many people continue to argue that when violence erupts we must blame politics, when it subsides we have religion to thank. The story linked to the above photo, from "Christian Today", for example, says:

Experts have pointed out that although on the surface the violence appear to be religiously motivated, many of the past "Christian-Muslim clashes" in Nigeria were linked to ethnic, economic, and political conflicts with religious overtones...

Those Canadians identifying themselves as having "no religion" come to nearly 17 per cent of the total population according to the 2001 census.

Of particular interest, however, is the fact that the scheduled release of information from the 2006 census gives no indication whatsoever as to when we can expect the most recent religious demographics, despite the fact that it's listed as one of the categories on the Census Data page. (Could it be that the 43 per cent increase in the number of those checking off "no religion" from 1991 to 2001 is scaring the hell out of the religious right?) Maybe there's been some mysterious, unobserved mass-teleporting and we're all really living in France...

Quelle horreur!!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hope Amid Horror

Acquittals of five men accused of raping Ms Mai have been overturned pending retrial. -BBC

Pakistan rape victim Mukhtar Mai has been in the international spotlight as a result of her campaign to seek justice for herself and other women in Pakistan. She has been writing a blog for the BBC's Urdu website with the assistance of the BBC's Nadeem Saeed. Here is the first in a series of extracts.

It's heartening to learn that Mukhtar hasn't lost her attitude. Thanks to Vanessa over at feministing for the heads up. Some of the other news coming out of Pakistan isn't as good, however.

A YOUNG Pakistani woman has been kidnapped, raped and beaten by a gang of high-caste villagers because her uncle eloped with one of their relatives. She was chosen for punishment because she had recently gained a degree and was the pride of her low-caste family.

Ghazala Shaheen, 24, and her mother Mumtaz were abducted last month by men dressed in police uniforms from their home near Multan in southern Punjab.

Her shocking ordeal mirrors that of Mukhtaran Mai, 29, who became a symbol in the campaign for women’s rights in Pakistan after she was gang-raped because her 12-year-old brother had been seen with a higher-caste woman. Six men were found guilty but five later had their convictions overturned....

According to relatives, Shaheen had been selected as a kidnap target to maximise her family’s humiliation. She had been been the first in her family to gain a degree. This earned her a job as a local schoolteacher, but the offer was withdrawn after officials said they did not want to be associated with someone who had been raped.

Shaheen said she was determined to bring her kidnappers and rapists to justice. "My mission is to get all of them arrested and hanged, so they cannot do this to any other woman," she said.

Then again...

Roman Candle Burning [At Both Ends]

After lighting a fire under the Islamic world by referencing a "scholar" from the Middle Ages, the pope must now: envoys from Muslim nations in an attempt to defuse a crisis in relations between the Catholic Church and Islam. The talks will be held at the Pope's residence near Rome [and] envoys from Iran, Turkey and Morocco have all confirmed they will attend.

But while he's been busy putting out fires in the East, all has not been quiet on the Western front. Last week another hammer blow was delivered in the form of...

Chile's President Michelle Bachelet [who] said Thursday her decision to allow the government to distribute free morning-after contraception pills to girls as young as 14 was a matter of "equality" within Chilean society.

"Equality means that for a person who does not have choices, who does not have options, we have to give them these options," Bachelet told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines at the United Nations General Assembly.

The Chilean government's decision in early September to begin offering the morning-after pill free of charge in public health clinics triggered sharp criticism from the Catholic Church...

Guess you should have kept your big mouth shut, eh padre?

[Update Oct. 01]
Unless of course you figured that there's no point.
September 28: The Day to Decriminalize Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean
Across major cities in Argentina from Buenos Aires to Neuquen to Cordoba and La Plata, women marched to make their voices heard. The slogan contines to be, "Contraceptives to not have to abort! Abortion legalized so we don't die!" The movement to legalize abortion in Argentina has grown, as the economic pressures continued to spiral down. At the same time, women have become more confident and the women's movement which grew from women involved in the unemployed movement, has transfered to working women, professionals and college students.

Holding It In?

According to the Globe & Mail, we are in the midst of a "religious war on bottled water." According to an online article by Martin Mittelstaedt published yesterday:

Bottled water has never gone down smoothly with many environmentalists, who view it as an extravagantly wasteful way of quenching a thirst, but the product is facing criticism from an unexpected source — religious groups.

Some churches in Canada have started to urge congregants to boycott bottled water, citing ethical, theological and social justice reasons. Bottled water, they argue, is morally tainted and should be avoided....

"Water is seen increasingly as a saleable commodity, [being used] to make a profit," said David Hallman, a United Church official, "as opposed to our perspective of it being an element of life and good for all creation."

Concerns about bottled water in Canada's churches is just the latest controversy to erupt over a product that few people used a decade ago, but which is now almost ubiquitous....

Many environmentalists regard bottled water with a disdain usually reserved for the most egregious polluters.... The religious objection to bottled water extends beyond the excessive markup, however. Water is mentioned throughout the Bible and is an important sacramental item for religious rituals, such as baptism. That's why the objection to selling it can be intensely theological.

Is the phrase "product that few people used a decade ago, but which is now almost ubiquitous" referring to the bottled water or to the religious fundamentalism?

[As any devout Catholic can tell you, not even Holy water is free. See "Urban Oasis" on April 2, for more information on the subject of global water shortages.]

Something Fishy

The the most ridiculous angle in this story is:

(1) The fact that anglers are being tested for performance enhancing drugs?


(2) The fact that "The regime is part of a move to bring angling up to Olympic standards ahead of a bid to make it an official sport"?


And a "Man stabbed with fish" headline from the previous day?
Far out.

Atheists Don’t Get It

They sure don't, according to Heather Mallick on the CBC website.

For I am an atheist and I am out of my depth. I watch the news about religion with a puzzled stare, unable to fathom the motives of the ultra-religious...

Devoid of religious belief or interest, I don’t have the faintest idea what people are angry about.
Atheists don’t get it.

Mallick makes an elegant and cogent argument. But that's no surprise -- click here for a cache of her previous articles.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Time For Another Tsunami?

Thai leaders ban political action

Thailand's new leaders have banned all meetings and other activities by political parties, two days after taking power in a military coup.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Fool Me Twice, Shame On You

Tripoli - The elder son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has called on Pope Benedict XVI to convert to Islam immediately, dismissing last week's apology from the pontiff for offending Muslims.

"If this person were really someone reasonable, he would not agree to remain at his post one minute, but would convert to Islam immediately," Mohammed Gaddafi told an awards ceremony on Monday evening for an international competition to memorise the Qur'an.

If this person were really someone reasonable, he wouldn't buy into the whole "pope is infallible" hype.

...A Tough Day To Be In Charge

Somalia's interim government increases security around its base after an attempt to kill President Yusuf (-BBC).

Thailand's Prime Minister and now Somalia's president, on the same day? One more and we'll have the trifecta.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Les Zesty Thaïlandais

Des soldats encerclent, mardi 19 septembre, le siège du gouvernement, à Bangkok, après un coup d'Etat militaire visant à renverser le premier ministre, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Des militaires ont annoncé, mardi 19 septembre, avoir renversé le premier ministre thaïlandais, Thaksin Shinawatra – actuellement à New York pour l'Assemblée générale des Nations unies – et s'être emparés du pouvoir."Les forces armées thaïlandaises dirigées par le général Sonthi Boonyaratglin ont renversé le gouvernement du premier ministre Thaksin Shinawatra et imposé la loi martiale", a annoncé un général, ajoutant que la Constitution thaïlandaise de 1997 ainsi que le Parlement, le gouvernement et la Cour constitutionnelle ont été suspendus. (Le Monde)

Hot stuff, overthrowing a head of state off in another country delivering speeches.... So how did the Administrative Reform Group introduce themselves to the nation? "We apologise for the inconvenience."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Holy Crusades, Mr. Holiness!

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said recent remarks by the Pope on Islam were in line with what he called a "crusade" against Muslims, says the BBC.

The row began last week, when the Pope repeated criticism of the Prophet Muhammad by a medieval scholar. The speech sparked worldwide protests by Muslims. The Pope has apologised and said the views quoted were not his own.

Ayatollah Khamenei said the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI last Tuesday were the "latest link" in "the chain of a conspiracy to set in train a crusade". Other links, he added, included the cartoon satirising Muhammad and "the insulting remarks of some American and European politicians and newspapers about Islam".

Iran's supreme leader also said: "We do not expect anything from [US President George W] Bush, because he works for global, plundering companies and powers. "But these remarks are very much a cause for regret and surprise from a senior Christian official."

So... we can't publish cartoons, we can't quote Byzantine scholars, we can't argue with sharia law, we can't watch a play from 1741, we can't flush books down a toilet, we can't.... What exactly are we allowed to do that won't drive devout Muslims into raging frenzied, mobs to burn down buildings and issue death threats? Why are these rampaging people not held responsible for their own behaviour? They're only words. I'm no papist, belive me, but if you think what you're offering is any better I'm here to tell you - it ain't. It's the same superstition, cruelty and dogma that it was before Muhammad got here. Your god, his god, everybody's god. They're all the same so just calm down and get on with life. He's apologized twice already for Christ's I-don't-want-to-offend-anybody-sake!

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Eye Popping Record

Out of work Brazilian man Claudio Paulo Pinto is keeping his eyes out for a job. Pinto can pop his eyeballs at least seven millimetres out of their sockets - a national record for eye popping, according to RankBrasil.

That could put Pinto close to the record. The title of "furthest eyeball popper" in the Guinness Book of World Records currently belongs to Kim Goodman of Chicago, who can pop her eyeballs 11 mm out of her sockets.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Sensible Solution?

The pope's comments infuriated Muslims worldwide

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, however, said the pope's apology did not go far enough....

Why don't they just send a couple thousand of their more devout and offended brethren to the Vatican with bombs strapped to themselves?
That's the best way to convince people that, because your religious sensibilities have been offended, your religion is a peaceful code of beliefs... twice the logic for half the price.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Coping Skills

Kimveer Gill referred to himself as the 'angel of death' in an online diary. (Canadian Press)

Yet again my beloved Montréal is besieged by a rampaging gunman. At least this time the violence was more or less random, or so it seems at this early stage. It should not surprise anybody, however, that politicians are calling for gun registries, counselling and a host of other quick-or-bureaucratic fixes because, as a Lockheed Martin executive told Michael Moore in Bowling For Columbine when he was asked about the connection between the massacre at that school and the fact that L-M, Littleton's biggest employer, is also the largest weapons manufacturer in the world: "I guess I just don't see that connection." I guess not.

But some people do. Like renegade journalist Greg Palast. In the UK Guardian last year Palast published an article that sums up the whole problem in a formula readily recognizable:

[(Video Games + Movies + Television) + (Guns)]


Free Market



Here's a sampling of the Palast perspective:

There are 200 million guns in civilian hands in the United States.... Gun companies dumped several million weapons into outlets in states with few curbs on purchases, super-saturating the legal market so that excess would flow up the "Iron Pipeline" to meet black market demand in New York and other big cities.... Like the company that sells cigarette rolling papers in quantities far outstripping sales of legal tobacco, gun manufacturers have a nod-and-wink understanding of where their products end up. Their market models cannot account for half the gun sales in loose-law states such as Georgia.... Several hundred lawyers - including the Costanza group, the combine of firms that mangled the tobacco industry - filed suits to make sure the gun industry feels our pain. New Orleans was the first of thirty cities in court demanding that gun purveyors pay the cost of gathering the wounded off the streets, and the cost of arming the municipal police force in self-defense. The legal profession might have finally accomplished what a cowering Congress dare not consider: shutting down firearms sales at source.

Is Vancouver's Dana Larsen offering young people an alternative method of coping with the madness they see going on around them every day? It's less violent, that's for sure.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Science, Meet Superstition

British Association for the Advancement of Science had its hands full last week, according to The Times.

SCIENTISTS claiming to have evidence of life after death and the powers of telepathy triggered a furious row at Britain’s premier science festival yesterday. Organisers of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (the BA) were accused of lending credibility to maverick theories on the paranormal by allowing the highly controversial research to be aired unchallenged.

Leading members of the science establishment criticised the BA’s decision to showcase papers purporting to demonstrate telepathy and the survival of human consciousness after someone dies. They said that such ideas, which are widely rejected by experts, had no place in the festival without challenge from sceptics.


Christians Calling A Story Nonsense..?

This world has always been a crazy kind of place. But something is really outta whack when you see stuff like this in the BBC :

A Japanese legend claims that Jesus escaped Jerusalem and made his way to Aomori in Japan where he became a rice farmer. Christians say the story is nonsense.

Scientology anybody?

It Was Only A Matter Of Time...

NAGASAKI, Japan, Sept. 9 (UPI)

Leave it to the enterprising Japanese to invent a wheelchair with a built-in handy-dandy toilet that cleans, dries and deodorizes the occupant's rear-end.

Québec Or Scripture, But Not Both Mr. Harper

After all the efforts the Conservatives put into the last election to win 10 measely seats in Québec (then again, they are not all that measely after being shut out since 1993), you'd think they would let sleeping dogs lie. But our PM is too sanctimonious for that. The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared last week on LifeSite, a web-site that "emphasizes the social worth of traditional Judeo-Christian principles but is also respectful of all authentic religions and cultures that esteem life, family and universal norms of morality" :

This June Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Canada that Parliament will re-open debate on same-sex "marriage" in its Fall session. Last year on June 28, Parliament passed Bill C-38, by a 158-133 margin, making Canada the fourth country to recognize same-sex "marriage", after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain.

The renewed debate over the fate of traditional marriage in Canada gives a perfect opportunity for an ad limina delegation led by Bishop Smith to show Pope Benedict XVI how seriously they take his words. Bishop Smith told the Toronto Star the Pope had reminded bishops from Canada’s eastern provinces that "Faced with the many social ills and moral ambiguities which follow in the wake of a secularist ideology, Canadians look to you to be men of hope, preaching and teaching with passion."

Prime Minister Harper has of course promised another vote in the House of Commons on the question of whether the definition of marriage should include same-sex couples. Never mind Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe telling him, in one of January's televised pre-election debates, that "we already had a vote on that." And it passed, 158 to 133 (13 MPs absent), with 4 BQs voting against the legislation and 43 voting for it. In 2003 the Bloc voted 28-0 in favour of bill C-250, which added "sexual orientation" as a class to be protected against hate propaganda. Lifesite's got all the stats here if you're interested.

But now this, from a CBC interview last week :

With support for Quebec's provincial Liberals falling, Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair has told Radio-Canada that he's ready to become Canada's first openly gay premier."I think I can contribute to changing the mentality," he said in French during an interview Tuesday morning. "All the better if people hear about my story and recognize themselves in it."

Boisclair refused to do an interview with the English side of CBC News on the issues of his homosexuality and his admissions that he has used cocaine, but he told the broadcaster's French service that he believes Quebecers in search of an honest leader will appreciate his candour.

"Quebecers are looking for sincerity," he said.

I see another referendum on the horizon.

Friday, September 08, 2006

California? Dreaming? Yes. And No.

Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies come across a bizarre encounter at La Purisima Mission in Lompoc.

Around midnight they found a 69-year-old Huntington beach man naked and covered in oats. Deputies say the man had covered himself in olive oil, rolled around in oats and allowed the horses at the mission to lick him clean. He apparently told deputies this has always been a fantasy of his and drove up from the Los Angeles area to play it out. Alfred Thomas Steven was cited and released for trespassing, animal cruelty and sexually assaulting an animal.

But I'll bet he didn't go to bed hungry.

The High Life

98 Percent Of All Domestically Eradicated Marijuana Is "Ditchweed," DEA Admits

...and smoking the rest just before going on duty?

Hazards Of The Trade

...editor beheaded!!

Last year protesters clashed with police at Mr Taha's trial (Photo: AFP)

The beheaded body of a Sudanese newspaper editor has been found on the outskirts of the capital, Khartoum. Mohammed Taha ran the al-Wifaq paper and was taken from his home on Tuesday night by an unknown group of armed men.

Last year, he was put on trial for blasphemy after his pro-government paper reprinted an article questioning the parentage of the prophet Muhammad.

The charges were later dropped ...

Apparently they weren't.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And You Thought Cell-Phones Were Bad?

Keeping the rubber on the road isn't always easy and, as any Canadian driver can tell you, it can be especially difficult in winter. You'd think that Russian drivers would also want to give themselves every advantage in horrible driving conditions. But as it turns out,

According to the research, Russians do not use seatbelts, break speed-limits, drive through red lights, drive drunk and have sex while driving much more often than other Europeans do...

and the kicker..?

about 25 percent of Russians have had sex while driving...

Better stick to the subway to get to the Kremlin if you're ever sightseeing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hold That Blog

At Crooks and Liars, the following report

The California Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in San Francisco Tuesday [September 5] on whether someone who posts a defamatory comment by another person on the Internet can be sued for libel.

Two civil liberties groups say the court’s eventual ruling, due in three months, could have far-reaching implications for free speech on the Internet.

While the case before the court concerns individuals-a Canadian doctor seeking to sue a women’s health activist for posting a third person’s comment about him-the court’s ruling could also determine whether Internet service providers can be held liable when they knowingly allow defamatory remarks to be posted.

While the Court has agreed to hear this case on the very narrow, specific issue (whether the libelous statement is factually true is considered tangential to the issue before the Court), this could have an absolutely chilling effect on bloggers–to be held liable for libel for reposting a third party’s words–which is why the EFF, AOL, EBay and Amazon have submitted amicus briefs, defending the right of Internet service providers.

The Court’s decision should be handed down within 90 days.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Notre-Dame, Notre Critique

Des opposants avaient réussi à se faufiler dans les défenseurs de la place "Jean Paul II" sur le parvis de Notre-Dame à Paris, dimanche 3 septembre. (Photo: Reuters/CHARLES PLATIAU)

Selon Le Monde, voila ce qui s'est passer dimanche à cause du "défunt pape Jean Paul II" :

D'un côté, le maire de Paris Bertrand Delanöe, l'archevêque de Paris Mgr André Vingt-Trois et 3 000 personnes. De l'autre, des opposants dont les Verts, membres de la majorité municipale actuelle. Au milieu, le parvis de Notre-Dame qui s'appelle désormais également "place Jean Paul II", après la cérémonie dimanche.

Placée sous haute surveillance policière, la cérémonie, précédée d'une manifestation des Verts, d'Act Up et des Panthères roses scandant des slogans comme "Delanoë honore un assassin" ou encore "Delanoë a oublié, Sida 25 millions de morts", été brièvement troublée par une dizaine de personnes qui ont jeté des tracts hostiles à Jean Paul II. Une "cinquantaine de personnes ont été interpellées" au total, selon un responsable de la préfecture de police. "Cet hommage a pu heurter des sensibilités. Mais la laïcité, la séparation de l'Eglise et de l'Etat, auxquelles je suis profondément attaché, n'impliquent en rien l'ignorance réciproque", a déclaré M. Delanoë sous les applaudissements.

Évidemment beaucoup des parisiens et parisiennes n'ont toujours pas oublié leurs histoire avec l'Église catholique.