Catholic Schools, public funding and bigoty

•May 7, 2011 • 1 Comment

Anyone who reads the news, in Ontario, has probably at least heard in passing about the Catholic school boards and their treatment of LGBT students. The Church’s’ views on homosexuality are common knowledge, and is something they are adamant about. Though they have progressed to the point that being gay in and of itself isn’t a sin only intercourse is. It really goes without saying that this view is abhorrent, and I have no qualms with calling any educated, read not completely brainwashed, person who holds such views a bigot and not worthy of any, outside that which all people are entitled to, respect. So I guess that could be said to be my bias in this issue, an extreme hate of bigotry in any form.

But the recent issue between Ontario Catholic School Boards (OCS), not actually an organization each city or area has it’s own Board, and the LGBT community goes beyond this simple implicit bigotry. The OCS have of late been coming into conflict with student created gay straight alliances (GSA) and other similarly named groups. It would seem that the years it took the boards to actually accept the fact that they have gay students and can’t overtly discriminate against them, the discrimination from the institution itself is obviously still there, doesn’t translate to these students actually coming together in any way. As should be clear from how I’m framing all of this in simple terms what has been happening recently is certain OCS’ have been banning these GSAs and even going so far as to suspend students who organize them.

While by itself this is something than any rational person should condemn, it ties into another equally important issue; the public funding of Catholic school. A relic from confederation needed to appease the overwhelming catholic majority of lower Canada (Quebec), it is still in existence today and was even one of the major issues in Ontario’s last provincial election. It seems absurd that Catholicism holds such a special place in Ontario, with only around 35% of Ontario professing to be Catholic, and frankly it is. The concept of separation of church and state is an old one, and is one of the cornerstones of a proper democracy. This issue of GSAs highlights this fact extremely well.

One would think that being state funded discrimination such as this would violate students Charter rights. However there is a wonderful clause in section 15 (the section on equality) exempting religious schools. Sounds eerily similar to the lack of laws against discrimination in the Jim Crow era southern US.

Momentarily putting aside the state funding issue, which can’t really be divorced from this, there are other issues with discrimination like this in schools. Many say that since catholic schools are optional the church should be allowed to do what they see fit with the student body. However we are dealing with children, who have little power over their own school placement for much of their life. Many parents send their kids to Catholic school, leaving them little choice if they do turn out to be LGBT. There are also parents who wish their children to have a French language schooling, which in many cases is only available in Catholic schools. But here again we run into the state funded issue, since without removing public Catholic schools there will almost certainly never be secular French language schools.

There is nothing wrong with private religious schools, as long as there is some over site and insurances that children’s rights are not violated. Catholic schools would become no different than the many Jewish private schools in Ontario. So this isn’t so much an issue of Catholics being bigots, which they are, but of the state support of such bigotry.

It is also important to note that the cutting of such funding would lead to improvements of the secular school system. Without having to fund duplicate administrative structures there would be more money to actually spend on schools and education. This seems like a win-win situation to me, ending of a historical relic which promotes, and subjects helpless kids to, bigotry and more funds to improve education overall.

So this is something that people should care about, since not only do we have publicly funded religious schools, we allow these publicly funded schools to discriminate against students who don’t fit into their bigoted definition of what is moral.

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Thor: nothing much to see here

•May 6, 2011 • 2 Comments

Thor is another in the line of comic-book superheros getting a movie leading up to next years release of The Avengers. But it seems that Marvel has either lost their way or just given up caring. In comparison with Iron Man and the Hulk reboot Thor falls flat. There are certain things one would expect a superhero have, especially one that is a lead up to a huge film like The Avengers. Things like why are they a hero, some character development, and like any good superhero movie, some action.

Other than the first count we find very little of anything. Thor is a hero because he is essentially a god, so kinda hard to mess that up. As for any kind of progression in character, what little there is seems to come with no reason and completely out of nowhere. This is even with letting the movie get away with its extremely contrived plot. Out of nowhere we get Thor changing from a war mongering spoiled prince to someone who seems willing to die for those he tried to kill at the start of the film. Maybe he was changed by his interactions with Jane (Natalie Portman) during his stay on Earth, but not only is this not shown at all her character doesn’t even seem capable of eliciting a change like this.

This would have to be one of the major issues with the film, the female lead isn’t much of a lead. Other than being the attractive character for Thor to fall in love with she doesn’t seem to be anything. All of her interactions with Thor are banal at best, with nothing more than loads of sexual tension. She seems to be nothing more than a way to drive Thor around New Mexico.

Thor (Chris Hemmsworth) seems decently well played, but being the odd newcomer to earth he is slightly off putting, though not necessarily in a bad way. But the best seems to be in the hands of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). Partly because of better development, in Loki’s case, and overall better portrayal, even with far less screen time than Thor. Anthony Hopkins works well as Odin, though it’s hard to tell it’s him, but his limited time gives little room to do much.

As for action, in a movie this long about a superhero, even one who lost his power, there is surprisingly little. Other than a major fight at the start, “human” Thors fight with SHIELD agents and the robot, which looks surprisingly like Gort from The Day the Earth Stood still. But other than the beginning each of these sections is rather short and simplistic.This would of course not normally be an issue, but with how poor the interactions between Thor and Jane are the fights are probably the highlight.

There is also the problem of it being produced in 3D, which isn’t really a problem with the movie in an of itself. But until some better way of doing 3D is implemented it’s nothing more than a gimmick which overall seems to detract from most watching experiences.  One hopes that the laughable CGI when Odin is giving his speech to Asgard, where the people look like paper cut outs, is due to the glasses and not the actual artists.

All in all it is definitely not the best Marvel movie, not by a long shot, and if it were completely stand alone Thor would probably suffer the fate of the first Hulk movie. Thankfully Portman’s character doesn’t seem to be in the Avengers, so there is hope that Thor may yet come into being a real character with real interactions with people.

Why I don’t vote

•April 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

In essence it is a question of reform, can we reform what we have now to bring us towards a better society. The system now clearly doesn’t work, here I’m not just talking about Canada, with growing wealth gaps both nationally and internationally, and corporate abuses just as prevalent, if not more so, now than ever. But that is a question, the failings of neo-liberalism, to be dealt with at another time. The question is whether voting is the course to change the system, if voting can change the beneficiaries of politics from businesses to people. The first thing to get out of the way is that there is nothing inherently democratic about voting. When there are no other options but the status quo, or a new face of the status quo, you don’t have a choice. This is important because in no way am I against democracy, I’m against what we parade around as democracy.

With the voting system we have now we have a choice between 3 parties, disregarding the Bloc, none of whom have any real interest in change. They all talk about change, their platforms are meant to explain to us how they will make Canada a better place for everyone. But none of them care about fundamental change, or dealing with anything actually game changing that is wrong. They are happy as it is, they don’t have to worry about living pay cheque to pay cheque and don’t have to care about those who do. Never mind the horrible environmental record and plans of all the major parties, or their complacency with the way our current system deals with the 3rd world. Even the NDP, who are supposed to be our hope for socialism, rarely talk about the poor. We always hear about how they will help the middle class which ,they say at least, every other party wants to hammer. No matter how self absorbed we feel the middle class isn’t all that matters.We’re always told that if we want to protest we should spoil our ballet, or vote for some obscure party. Thinking that showing the government that you are annoyed (which doesn’t really work in and of itself since spoiled ballets are all counted together no matter how they are spoiled) will cause them to want to listen is idealistic at best. The answer isn’t sending letters to MPs, it isn’t trying to vote in a different pro business party. It is to show the politicians that the people they don’t care about mean business. It’s about educating people, getting them to understand the problems with what we have now. We just need to look through history at some of the biggest changes to see what really makes a difference. It wasn’t voting that overthrew apartheid, and it wasn’t voting that ended segregation in the United States.

Nuclear Energy, is it really that bad?

•April 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This was an email I wrote to Socialist Worker in response to the dozens of articles they had online about the evils of nuclear power. They had emailed me back saying they would post it, but it seems I fail at using their site. This was written a month or so ago, and stands pretty much just as well now as it did then.

Since the ongoing disaster in Japan there has been a new upsurge in talk of ending nuclear power, due to it’s inherent risks. This position comes not just from the left, calling for an end to the ‘inherently capitalist’ nuclear power, and from the right, based on general safety concerns. As a devoted socialist it saddens me to see our camp so infiltrated with such baseless, and counter productive (not to mention counter-revolutionary) ideas. There is no denying that nuclear power has issues, this is true of every form of power generation, of every technology. Thus we can’t just throw it out so simply, we must examine the claims and we must look at the alternatives. In doing so we can see that not only are the calls to end nuclear power because it’s capitalist but the safety concerns are not as impeding as they seem at first glance.First off, without going to far in depth into how nuclear reactors work, it must be said that (as with most things) the claims in the mainstream media about the disaster at Fukushima are extremely exaggerated. It essentially boils down to this, the amount of radiation being put out even while the spent rods are burning, though dangerous, are not threatening to anyone outside of those working to fix it. This is not Chernobyl, and it is essentially impossible for it to become Chernobyl. So while Fukushima is in trouble, it’s nowhere near as bad as everyone seems to think. Even though this incident is what is bringing the question of nuclear power to light, and we can see that it is nowhere near as drastic as it appears, the issues that are brought up surrounding nuclear power can’t just be dismissed out of hand.

These concerns, as stated, seem to fall essentially into two catagories; saftey and for us socialists, the capitalism behind it. Since the most disconcerting thing to me is this view of nuclear power as inherently capitalist, I shall tackle this first. There is nothing inherent in the ideas behind nuclear power that is capitalist, the physics isn’t political. The forces which drive the innovation in nuclear generation at this point in time most certainly are capitalist, but this is no different than any other energy source. Without the investment of the German government, who are leaders in solar power, solar might not even be a viable energy source today. Just because the innovations are generated by capitalism doesn’t mean we must disregard it, and throw it away. This has nothing to do with the overthrow of the capitalist system, again the physics doesn’t take sides. Fukushima is an issue because of capitalism, but that is because of cost cutting which made safety a smaller concern than saving money. Nuclear power may even be a way out of not only the climate damage caused by fossil fuels, but the US imperialism dominated by oil concerns (since far less uranium needs to be mined than oil and coal). Until a viable source of energy, like solar, which doesn’t rely on mines is widely available, and effective enough, nuclear power is no more or less capitalist than fossil fuels. So disregarding nuclear power because it is capitalist would be the same as saying we should throw away all power generation technology, because it too is driven by capitalism.

With this out of the way we can question the safety concerns. Again, nuclear power is not completely safe but no other viable energy source is. Oil rigs explode (as we recently saw in the gulf of mexico), coal mines kill tens of thousands a year, and the emissions from fossil fuel plants are irrevocably destroying the planet. The main safety concerns with nuclear energy are, the threat of meltdown and the disposal of waste. With current technology meltdowns aren’t much of an issue, remember Fukushimas reactor was built in the 70s. We must also remember what happened to cause Japans disaster, one of the worst earthquakes in history. This is not going to happen in the United States, or in most of the world. A far more legitimate concern is that of nuclear waste, but even this isn’t all that hard to deal with. It would seem one of the best ways to deal with nuclear waste would be to store it in secure underground holding areas. This is not only not a difficult thing to do,relatively , but is clearly far safer than the emissions from fossil fuel plants which are driving global climate change.

So while nuclear power may not be the best option for ever, it is almost certainly the best option now. Moving towards lowering green house gas emission and reliance on fossil fuels is not only something we should think about doing, it is something we should be doing.

Should the left support the NDP

•April 12, 2011 • 1 Comment

The NDP, a party of promises, a party of ideals, but should they really be the choice of a left wing vote? Luckily for them they have never had the chance to make a federal government, which gives them a wonderful position of not having any scandals or screw ups to have to hide or try and justify. This leads to a platform of ideas, promises of a better Canada, a Canada of democracy for the poor, the working class, and the small business owner, those that the other pro-business parties ignore or abandon. This lack of actual federal decision making gives supporters a hope, maybe they will be better, maybe they can make a change. This seems to be one of the major issues with supporters I have talked to, the naïve belief of a party’s stated positions. They will always lambast the Conservatives, and the Liberals, for broken promises, yet they turn to the NDP platform and say they support them because of all these wonderful things they will do when in power. This is the power of never having had to implement any of said promises; you appear to be the trustworthy ones. We all know the other two parties never implement, or when they do it’s ineffectual and poorly done, any of their promises for the working class, or the poor. However the NDP is one of the few parties where their provincial wings are an integrated part of the federal party, which can help give us a view into what an NDP government is.

It is important to note that this isn’t just a question of keeping to promises, there are many who understand that even their party of choice will never do everything they say, it is a question of principles. While many acknowledge that they might not do everything they say the NDP are still a socialist party who will work in the interests of all, not just that of big business. It is this which an examination of provincial parties can help with, looking into whether the NDP really do work for the people or if they are just another pro-business party. Not wanting this to be so long that no one will read it I will just look at some brief points from NDP provincial governments, and may possibly at a later date post some more in depth analysis. One major point would be the Social Contract of Bob Rae, an austerity measure to deal with the recession in Ontario during the 90s. Instead of imposing austerity measures on businesses, or taxing those who profit greatly from said business, Rae instead decided that the most prudent way to deal with deficit was to attack public workers. Forced unpaid days of leave, ‘Rae Days’, were implemented, along with wage freezes. A very socialist move, making the workers pay for the economic failure of the government and businesses. This lost Rae most of his support from unions, the main NDP supporters, and is a move from which the Ontario NDP has never recovered. If a clearly pro-business and anti-worker stance such as this is not enough to get them removed from the federal party, while the Quebec NDP supporting the people’s choice on sovereignty is I don’t see any way of claiming to be even remotely left-wing and supporting them. We also have had the BC NDP sending the police and army against Native protestors, again to which the federal party did nothing.

Jack Layton’s condemnation, more of a scolding, of the police handling of the G20 while good most certainly did not go far enough. As he did nothing of the sort when the BC government was treating Natives far worse, it would seem that this is nothing but a statement possible only because of his position away from power. There is also the question of the massive amount of union support for the NDP. This may not seem like a bad thing, and would seem to be a clear showing of the fact that the party really does care about workers, but on close examination it really isn’t. The unions which offer their support for Layton are nothing more than pro-business unions which due to their bureaucratic nature are separated from those they claim to represent (a topic about which I will soon make a post).

All in all it would seem that in practice the NDP while being ostensibly more left than the other major parties are still not the party of the people they say they are, with actions that would point to them being almost as pro-business as the Liberals. The NDP should not be the default vote for those from the left-wing; they are nothing but bureaucrats who work in the interest of other bureaucrats and bosses. Real change does not come from reformists like Layton, or the business pandering of the union heads who support him. As history has shown without mass action of people the government will never really take the interests of the masses into account, and will never do more than placate them with small changes.

Moderate Religion as emotional support

•January 27, 2011 • Leave a Comment

An important question for modern atheists is the extent and the way in which we should deal with religious people. If we should criticize all types of religion, or if some should be given a pass. This is a short response to one major point which is usually brought up, that of emotional support. It is more or less a direct response to the following response to criticism by PZ Myers. http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/01/stephen_asma_responds.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+scienceblogs/pharyngula+(Pharyngula)

It would be foolish to say that religion doesn’t have an emotional effect on people; it does for most of the world. There are many people, as in the example Mr. Asma gives, who without some sort of emotional support wouldn’t be able to deal with things that happen in their lives. But a key point that he avoids is what kind of religion, what sort of beliefs, these people turn to for their emotional support. There are different types of religion, with different types of belief, which one could turn to. This is the real crux of the issue, since no one can deny that people need the support. It is of course easy for anyone who is an atheist to reject fundamentalist religion as the means of this support, because their beliefs, be it in creationism or literal interpretation of their holy book, preclude them from a rational discussion on the issue. We are then left with the divide that is present here with PZ and Mr. Asma, the divide between New Atheist and Accomodationist. That is, should the moderate religious people be free from the same sort of attacks that are laid out against fundamentalists, and should they be given a sort of free pass because of the function they perform for society.

This is a difficult question to deal with, because depending on what view is taken it can lead to the alienation of a large group of people who could be helpful in reaching some of the goals which most atheists strive for. The simple way, and the way I would say should be taken, to deal with that question is to let them help. Since this doesn’t really have much to do with the article we’ll just look at one example quickly and leave it be. In the case of secularization, which many moderate religious people are in favor of, we should by all means allow them to help, but that doesn’t mean they should be free from all criticism. You can still have them as an important part in campaigning for something that both groups believe in while criticizing them for their beliefs which are unfounded. This is of course not an uncontroversial view, but, for now at least, will be left at that.

The emotional needs of people can clearly be met in many different ways, be it through religion or through other ways. The problem with giving moderates a free pass because they help people is that it is just creating an arbitrary divide. A divide between what all, or at least almost all, atheist would denounce as wrong, the fundamentalists, and those who the New Atheists and Accommodationists disagree about. What is it that really makes a religious person a moderate? In many cases these so called moderates still hold many views which would be undesirable to most non-religious people.  These could range from moderate Catholics who while not believing in the bible as the inerrant word of God, which few Catholics actually do believe since church doctrine can supersede the bible, still hold views about sex education and gay rights which would make many people balk. You also have the moderates who only hold that certain parts of the bible are meant to be taken literally and some are meant to be taken allegorically. This discussion obviously holds for non-Christians as well as Christians, it is just easier to write about the bible and Christianity since it is the religion I probably know the most about. This is the view taken by many moderates, we are disregarding the complete arbitrary nature in which verses are chosen as Gods word since we aren’t discussing the truth of religious belief but the purpose, and unfortunately contains some issues.

The problem with holding some verses of the bible as truth is not only a very shaky rational position to hold it is one which leads to , for many of those who hold it, unseen consequences. By holding certain parts of the bible as truth they give credibility to those who would take the whole bible as true. They will agree that the parts explaining Gods composition as the Trinity are biblical truth, and this gives the fundamentalists something to hold on to. It is only through the massive base of Christianity and Christian beliefs that people who would read the bible as the true word of God can exist. They can see how many people believe at least some of the things, the basic foundational ideas, that they do and it gives them far more credibility among those they are trying to convert, and those who just follow the words of their preacher.  I’m of course not saying this is the intention of the moderates; almost all of them are just as appalled as I am about the actions that these fundamentalists take in the name of religion. By not taking the bible as the work of fiction that it almost certainly is they bolster those who take it to extremes, just as anti-vaccination activists who only say that some part of the vaccine is dangerous bolster those who believe that vaccines cause autism.

If that type of moderate by virtue of its existence lends credence to those who take religion to horrible ends, what then can be said about religious beliefs for dealing with emotions. This is where groups which do provide this emotional structure without holding a stance on the bible as Gods word. There exist groups like the Unitarian Universalists, who by not supporting any particular view on the bible as fiction or truth allow people to have their religious emotional help without the side effect of supporting fundamentalism. There are also many non-religious humanist groups which through different means provide this same kind of emotional base for people. So there can still exist religion which helps people, without the harm caused by even moderate believe in Christianity. Of course there is also the way that PZ himself defends his views, that “ “it makes me feel good” is inadequate support for a complex set of beliefs about the world”, but that is another question in and of itself.