2/9/13

Lisa Kristine Talks About Modern Slavery

Photojournalist Lisa Kristine had been studying indigenous cultures for nearly 30 years when she first began to realize that slavery and human trafficking occur all around her.

Of course she already knew the slave trade exists. Almost everyone knows that. It's the world's biggest open secret.

Kristine did not know, however, that over 27 million individuals worldwide are held captive and misused - that they are, sometimes for minor debts, enslaved in brutal conditions. I had no idea the trade was so pervasive, either - that the number of slaves working globally nearly equals the number of people who live here in Canada.

They are treated as disposable, of course, because for each one that dies another can easily be acquired.

We, as a people, tolerate the slave trade in part because many of the goods we enjoy - in particular, those that come cheaply - are the fruits of unpaid labor. We know that if slavery were to end, our economy and our relationships to other human beings would have to change drastically.

Nonetheless, this step must be taken if we, as a people united, are to continue in our quest for advancement. For so long as slavery and brutality endure as major fixtures of the global economy, we - all of us - are hobbled in our attempts to ensure a better future for our kids.

There are already so many people who have said, "Enough"; individuals who work as abolitionists. Hopefully their efforts will eventually bring the rest of us to a tipping point such that we boycott the goods being produced by known slave-owners.

May that time come soon.

2/8/13

Viktor Frankl: The power of believing the best in others

Treat a person as being better than he actually is, and perhaps that individual will land at the ethical point where he should be.

Most folks are perfectly capable of living down to others' expectations of them. That's easy. It's when people are called to over-reach what they believe of themselves that things become harder.

2/4/13

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir, and what we can learn from it

Grammy Award-winning composer Eric Whitacre, who earned a Masters Degree in Musical Composition from Juilliard, is now perhaps best known for what he calls ‘the virtual choir.’

He draws in thousands of videos, submitted from around the world by people who pick up various musical parts of his compositions, and he arranges them together such that an effective harmony is formed from all these diverse sources.

People who have never met – in fact, people who might be enemies in another context – are all incorporated into a single work of art. 

Whitacre’s projects are always forward-thinking and generally of high complexity, even despite the fact he had trouble reading music while working on his BA in Musical Education. He is now one of the best-selling classical composers of this generation, and will likely continue to be lauded for his work long after he dies.

One of his most recent virtual choir recordings, Virtual Choir 2.0, Sleep, involves over 2000 singers from 58 countries. His other projects have involved people from as many as 70 countries.

When listening to one of Whitacre’s virtual choir compositions, there is a sense that human cooperation may be possible in other ways as well. If something as ‘simple’ as music can draw so many individuals to involve themselves, as volunteers, in a single global venture, then there may yet be room for other endeavors – conversations, debates, construction projects.

Naturally such efforts would be more difficult because the people involved in them would actually have to interact with each other, whereas they essentially act alone in Whitacre’s choir - and yet his innovations have proved that people of good will can work together regardless of background; of differences in religion and in ethnicity.

Whitacre’s efforts do not erase the dividing line between cultures, but they do demonstrate just how permeable that line can be when people are drawn to a common goal. These efforts also demonstrate that, in contrast to other periods of history, the common goal need not be to defeat a formidable enemy or a scapegoat. It can also be to build a better world – one we would be proud to leave to our progeny.

1/23/12

They'll Be Back

I was so pleased to learn that, because of international protests (including the day-long blackouts of Wikipedia, Reddit, and a number of other sites), SOPA has been shelved “indefinitely.”

Here's a just fate for such an awful piece of legislation: Even the House Republicans who had initially supported this trashy law were forced to recant – although I'm sure their original motives for supporting a gut of the First Amendment were totally altruistic as well.

Well, today I saw a YouTube clip of Bill Maher talking about this on what I presume to be his show.

I don't think he has ever made himself look more stupid than with his support for SOPA.

He came across as shallow, of course, but his error here goes deeper: Maher had, by his own admission, made very little effort to understand the bill and its incredible scope. He didn't know, for example – and he didn't seem to care when a panellist warned him -- that SOPA would have given complainants of any sort the unprecedented ability to have a site shut down merely by saying – not proving in court, mind you, but just by claiming -- that some kind of copyright infringement had taken place there.

These claims could be true, or false, or based on a misunderstanding of FAIR USE. No matter: They would all be treated the same. With SOPA, the burden of proving innocence would fall on site creators and users - some of whom might have to endure court costs merely to defend rights they should already have.

The practical results of SOPA would have been as follows:

**** The US Government, which should be upholding the Constitution, would instead create an office - a legal organ - that exists not to serve The People and protect their rights, but rather to cater to various recording industry pressure groups. In that office, all those who have been accused of copyright violation online would be treated as guilty until proven innocent.

**** The US Government could, under pretext of having its “copyright” violated, pull down sites like Wikileaks – you know, the one with footage of an Apache Helicopter crew firing on unarmed civilians, including a couple of kids.

**** It would piss off the international community even more. The US has squandered pretty much every ounce of sympathy or good will the world once had for it. If the government were to build an Iron Curtain around the internet, that would destroy the businesses of local content providers and ensure the rest of the world leaves America in the cold: The international net would simply route around the damage and stop using US servers or domain names or services.

**** SOPA would violate the First Amendment.

The United States already has copyright laws, as well as a legal process by which a wronged party can sue whomever misused his intellectual property.

At best, then, SOPA was superfluous. At worst – and let's be honest; SOPA was “at worst” pretty much from the outset – it would violate US and international law, as well as encroach upon the legal sovereignty of any nation that permits net business to be done through the United States.

But Maher, like the honey badger, simply didn't give a shit. The way he saw it, SOPA would have helped him, and so therefore it was a good thing.

He complained online piracy had robbed him of this alleged income his movie 'Religulous” would surely have made if only people hadn't had a chance to watch it free before buying.

(Thing is, if Maher had put the movie online and permitted people to watch it for free, he would have made back his cost and more from the ad money as well as from the 'honor tip jar' some filmmakers use.)

I know plenty of people who have watched torrents only to go buy the actual DVD after. Since this usually happens only with good movies, however, then I can understand what worried Maher.

And so despite all he had learned from his guests, Maher's final comment - the last turdlet of that segment, anyway – was this: “People just like to steal.”

(Sez me: Oh, pull your head out of your ass, you dinosaur.)

SO NOW WHAT?

That bill, or something else like it, will be back.

You now know you have the power, if you all act together with a common goal, to stop bad legislation – not only SOPA and its ilk, but future versions of the Patriot Act as well.

As you have all seen, freedom is not free. It requires that people - the people - be willing to fight. We must be willing to fight in court, in the boardroom, through elected representatives, in the streets, and anywhere else we're called to defend free speech, free assembly, free conscience, and a free press; for the right to an attorney, to a fair trial, to humane treatment in custody.

Just because Maher forgot bad legislation also applies to him doesn't mean the rest of us should.

If all you can do is write a letter, do it. If all you can do is donate to a cause you believe in, do it.

Just don't do nothing.

1/18/12

SOPA is a broad attack on all free speech

Today, I sent the following letter to Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.

Dear Mr. Harper:

As you are likely aware, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is working its way through the US House of Representatives.

Although this bill is designed to stop piracy, its practical effect would be to chill all free speech – and in particular that which relies on Fair Dealing, such as satire – on any part of the internet in any way connected to the United States. This includes traffic passing through US servers from other countries, as well as Canadian users with domain names sold by US companies. (For more information on how this bill would affect Canadians, please look at the following website: http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-57329001-281/how-sopa-would-affect-you-faq/)

While I do agree with the need for copyright protection, I do not agree with much of anything that appears in SOPA, least of all its implicit attack on Canadian sovereignty by making those of us who provide web content subject to US copyright law despite our being citizens of another nation and our hosting content on Canadian or international servers.

SOPA also permits complainants to have an incredible amount of power, such that a site can be blocked or removed without notice to the content provider, and without any neutral third-party oversight that might be provided in a court of law.

This is not fear-mongering: It's fact.

SOPA is nothing less than a broad attack on the Freedom of Speech, and this attack extends to every country that allows users to access the global internet and upload content there.

If for no other reason than to protect our national sovereignty, it is imperative that the Government of Canada take a strong and unwavering stand against SOPA.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

A. Martin

Billboard destruction the act of petulant children



It has been about a month since the controversial, “Mary Is in the Pink,” billboard was ripped down by a group of angry protesters. This vandalism, led by a man named Arthur Skinner, was the result of religiously-fueled outrage at what some see as the sacrilegious portrayal of a revered figure:

"Even people who aren't Catholics know instinctively you don't attack the Blessed Virgin who gave us the savour of the world," said Skinner. (Quote courtesy TV NZ)

Skinner argued Mary wouldn't have needed a pregnancy test – that she knew she was pregnant and was absolutely ecstatic about it.

While Skinner and his mob were wrong for damaging the billboard, their error here goes deeper: They assume Mary would have had an entirely inhuman reaction to the prospect of unwed motherhood in a situation where she could have been killed for it – especially given that she was betrothed at the time.

It doesn't matter that she consented; it's likely Mary would still be at least a little bit shocked to find that, yes indeed, she was a pregnant virgin.

The Bible records Joseph's initial reaction to the pregnancy: “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.” – Matthew 1:19

This was the situation Mary faced, however briefly: A broken betrothal and being driven back to her parents in shame, assuming they would have her.

(Here, in modernity, she might seek the help of a crisis pregnancy center – you know, where women tend to be shamed and treated like crap and subjected to hours of belligerent sermonizing before they can earn enough credits to get second-hand stuff at the 'baby shop.')

And within that nexus, where Mary may have sat alone by her lamp as Joseph lay dreaming elsewhere, she likely wondered at her fate: The prophets had suffered in serving God, and so might she.

The billboard raised all those questions and more, challenging modern folks to consider their own attitude towards pregnant girls, regardless of circumstance.

But Skinner, being afraid of questions or subtlety – they anger him – decided he had a right to destroy the billboard merely because he didn’t like it.

10/24/11

No, I don't “grieve for the mother”

In 2005, an Alberta woman killed her newborn son.

Katrina Effert, who was 19 at the time, strangled her child with a pair of thong underwear, waited a few hours, threw his corpse over a fence into the neighbor’s yard, lied to police (blaming the child's father), and then eventually confessed.

Two separate juries found Effert guilty of second-degree murder. The first had sentenced her to life in prison. That didn't matter, however, because Effert eventually managed to draw a sympathetic judge who overturned the previous convictions and replaced them with a conviction for infanticide. Queen's Bench Justice Joanne Veit compared the action of strangling an infant to abortion, arguing that because Canadians allow for the former then they surely must be sympathetic to a young mother who commits infanticide while under stress.

“Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother,” said Veit, “but Canadians also grieve for the mother.”

I'm a Canadian, and I don't grieve for the mother.

I understand post-partum stress can do strange things to a human mind. I can even see how that might translate into murder for someone who is especially young and psychologically unbalanced. Such cases usually lead to infant death through abandonment (such as in a trash bag either outside or hidden somewhere in the mother's house).

Effert's case is different, however, because a) she presumably could have gotten a first-trimester abortion but chose not to, b) she killed the child in an especially vicious and heartless manner, c) she disposed of the body by throwing it over a fence, demonstrating a callousness that must be intentional, and d) she tried to pin the murder on someone else, showing a consciousness of guilt.

She should be serving a long prison term, but for some reason that makes no sense to me, Effert will walk with a suspended sentence despite having been found guilty by two different juries.

Thanks a lot, “Justice” Veit, both for putting words in my mouth (I grieve? I think not) and for allowing a cold-blooded killer to go free without having done much time at all.

I do hope Effert recognizes this reprieve for the gift it is and decides to do good with the rest of her life. It's certainly possible that she might change for the better, thus at least partially mitigating the injustice of her freedom.

6/15/10

Should a woman end an ectopic pregnancy? Part 2

More from NLQ:

Oh but Cynthia, that's totally worth it: Those women would be dying for the greater glory of God, or something. Don't you get it? People aren't nearly as important as The Vision.

6/14/10

Should a woman end an ectopic pregnancy?

At No Longer Quivering, Vyckie Garrison recently posted an article on Doug Phillips’ stance concerning ectopic pregnancies. He believes it’s wrong to end them, and derisively refers to this medically necessary practice as “elective abortion.”

Anyone who has read this blog for awhile knows just how little respect I have for Doug Phillips as a religious leader. I’m already disinclined to take his opinions seriously, when I can just crack a Bible myself and then read exposition by actual theologians.

But this cruel, lethal stupidity is galling even for him.

Ending an ectopic pregnancy is, to put it crudely, a matter of maternal self-defense. An ectopic pregnancy is almost always lethal for the fetus – and, from what I understand, it is absolutely lethal when the fetus begins growing in a fallopian tube.

The fetus is not viable. It does not have any chance at survival. And if a woman continues with an ectopic pregnancy in a misguided attempt to carry it to term, she herself may die.

Doug Phillips’ advice isn’t based in reality; it’s based on hubris and on the assurance that he himself will never suffer an ectopic pregnancy. It’s not pro-life in the slightest, nor is this matter really a legitimate topic of debate (no matter how "irenic" and civil he wishes to be about needlessly risking the lives of women).

Phillips blathers on about the dangers of moral relativism without recognizing that this situation is completely black-and-white:
  • In a very few cases, where a fetus begins to develop outside the womb, but not in a fallopian tube, there is a tiny chance this could result in a living child. It’s understandable that a woman might wish to continue this sort of pregnancy, and hopefully her doctors will guardedly support her decision and give her the best care possible.
  • Ectopic pregnancies that grow within a fallopian tube are, even with today’s technology, always non-viable. A woman should end such a pregnancy because there is no chance the fetus will survive and a very significant risk of death for the woman. That is just a brute fact: an ectopic pregnancy of this sort is no more viable than a molar pregnancy.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Albert Schweitzer, a physician and humanitarian who expanded on how to demonstrate a practical reverence for all life even while recognizing the primacy of sentient human beings:
What does Reverence for Life say abut the relations between [humanity] and the animal world? Whenever I injury any kind of life I must be quite certain that it is necessary. I must never go beyond the unavoidable, not even in apparently insignificant things. The farmer who has mowed down a thousand flowers in his meadow in order to feed his cows must be careful on his way home not to strike the head off a single flower by the side of the road in idle amusement, for he thereby infringes on the law of life without being under the pressure of necessity.

4/17/10

Why Zsuzsanna Anderson Is Wrong – Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)

During the course of her post on the evils of federal taxation, Zsuzsanna wrote: “My husband has been out since 10 pm last night working not just to provide for our family, but to also finance every lazy whore who lives on welfare and expects my husband to pay for her bastard children she has with all different exes.”

Here's is a wonderful teaching opportunity for those who actually enjoy reading the Bible.

Zechariah 7:10 – “And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.”

Psalms 10:14 – “Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.”

I’m pretty sure I know how Zsuzsanna would tackle these verses: she might argue that she’s only obligated to help the fatherless and the needy who follow her personal convictions. BZZZZT! Wrong!

Luke 6:32-35 – “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.”

Those are the words of the Bible, plain and straight. They’re presented in their proper context here. She’d have better luck arguing that the sky is green than to say her duty isn’t clear, her own personal thoughts on those “whores” and “bastards” notwithstanding.

When several commenters pressed her on the matter, Zsuzsanna spewed and sputtered and spat but failed to produce anything useful concerning how those single mothers should provide for their own children. She doesn’t think women should work outside the home; and even if she did allow for working mothers, she abhors the very idea of daycare. She’s opposed to public schooling as well.

I guess the little bastards should just accept their lousy lot, underfed and poorly educated, because, “Everyone should not live equal. Some work harder than others, some have higher morals, some pray for God to bless them.”

Higher morals, eh?

Isaiah 64:6 – “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

Her husband, her children, her home, and her very life are all on loan from God. She owns none of these things. Even her morals are the result of a grace no human can access without first being called to it by God – and yet she dares to speak so ill of her fellow sinners because their morals aren’t as “high” as hers?

Zsuzsanna should be grateful that God doesn’t reward any of us according to desert, and she should be happy with what she has rather than begrudging the pittance “stolen” from the taxpayers by all those lowlife whores. (But she's not content. Her often spiteful, cruel posts suggest that she's a Gloomy Gus indeed.)

After being raked over the coals, Zsuzsanna added this charming caveat: “But I do not consider it an honest need if someone willfully put themselves in a bad position through their sinful choices.”

John 8:3-11

3) And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4) They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5) Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6) This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7) So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8) And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9) And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10) When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11) She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

She then continued: “It is wicked and wrong of the government to steal money from one family with certain values and morals and give it to someone else who lives a sinful, lascivious life financed by those same moral people they want to be nothing like.”

I’ve already dealt with how her stance on taxation is wrong, which leaves only one matter worth mentioning: She, her husband, and all her children had the sentence of death in themselves, but were granted a reprieve entirely as the result of someone else paying what the law demanded.

Without that, all her great morals would have availed her nothing – filthy rags.

(She responded to her detractors by complaining about how taxes are spent on warfare – a legitimate concern, were it not set up merely as a smoke-screen to cover her original comments which demonized the poor while saying nothing at all about military spending.)