Tuesday, February 07, 2017

The Triumph of Apathy

I want to believe in people, that the human race is capable to taking care of itself and cleaning up after our own messes. I want to believe in democracy, or at least a responsible, representative government. It just seems now that the prevailing sentiment is "every man for himself". It's all about the individual, everyone looking out for No. 1. There seems to be this cynical, anti-government, arch-reactionary movement that seems to have taken over the conservative mindset, which would be tolerable if they hadn't elected someone like Donald Trump to the highest political office in the world.

Yes, the American Revolution is generally considered to be a conservative revolution, but their Founding Fathers had some ingenious ideas about how to keep government from becoming too powerful (keeping government branches separate and independent of each other being just two examples). Of course, there were times that different levels of government knowingly violated the Constitution, denied doing so, and tried to cover it up, but for over 200 years, law, order, and justice did prevail overall. The Republic is still standing; the biggest question now is:  for how much longer?

How did it come to this? How was it possible for a man like this to be elected president? The common thread that I can see is sheer stupidity. How did so many middle and working-class Americans become so stupid, so politically illiterate, and in effect, voting against their own interests, not even counting the interests of people abroad? (Please note:  there is plenty of stupidity to go around in the Western world, here in Canada, and England [cough: Brexit]) We have SO many people and things to blame for this (in no particular order).

  • Television (particularly so-called "reality TV")
  • neo-conservatives/neo-liberals
  • liberals
  • this medium

When I first saw the Robert Redford directed film "Quiz Show" about the TV game show fixes of the 1950s, John Tutorro's character Herb Stempel said something near the end about how television was "going to get us", I had no idea how that was possible. Yes, I know that that particular medium has made people stupider over time, and I even think I watched that movie just as "Survivor" became a thing (I only watched the second season in the Australian Outback just out of curiosity) and was somewhat aware that that and so-called "reality TV" in general is mostly fakery and as scripted as professional wrestling, but who could have foreseen that it would make everyone so much stupider and easier to deceive and mislead? This is what government and corporate interests have tried to do for so long, and it would appear that they have ultimately succeeded. And of course, the fact that just about everyone who has been around since the late 1980s and has had access to a TV knows who Donald Trump is.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks seemed to unleash a volcanic eruption of anger that had been building up for years among the American people. The conservative movement seemed to have had tempered their collective rage until then, and when George W. Bush and Tony Blair decided to invade Iraq, the conservative movement became hyper-defensive; they were finally raging back at all the America-bashing that had been going on throughout the world for decades, among allied countries as well as communist countries. This time though, the ruling American conservatives seemed so completely full of themselves like I had never seen before, and I had lived through the Reagan years. Their stated goals were to basically establish free-market liberal democracies all over the world starting in Iraq and Afghanistan, because the American way was the best way (not a direct quote, but that in a nutshell was the ethos they were operating under). Basically, it was 'freedom and capitalism for all races, religions and creeds, and if you disagree with us, you hate freedom and are guilty of the soft bigotry of lower expectations' (again, I'm paraphrasing). 

After the Iraq invasion, things did not go as the allies had hoped. Even though the U.S. and England overthrew a brutal dictator, the situation in Iraq did not improve overall in spite of some apparent turns of good fortune earlier on. Some have even said that the current situation is worse than it ever was under Saddam Hussein. The American Right has seemed to react in a sort of indignation towards helping anyone anymore. These days, they stress individualism and national sovereignty, and have a deep-seated loathing for government and all things political, taking to heart an extreme and new-fangled form of libertarianism where anyone who works for any level of government is automatically tainted with corruption. But people who run their own businesses, particularly if they're successful, are not nearly as bad; and some conservatives would rather be governed by them than actual politicians. In fact, one of the surest ways for anyone wanting to get elected to public office these days is if they express sheer contempt for not just the current administration, but for politics in general. It's like people want to vote people into office who will basically shut down the government altogether. The best thing to be for someone these days, who wants to run for President, is someone who had never run for public office before and is a "successful" businessman. Someone who is completely untainted by politics, and is a living testament to everything we can hope for in a capitalist society. The conservative movement, even those who profess to be religious, seem to have lowered their standards for people who run for office, just as long as they do not fit the current political mode, and wilfully overlook his blatant rudeness, thin-skin, and generally sleazy ways.

Liberals themselves have little to be proud of. All they could offer against Trump was Hilary Clinton. Putting aside for a moment that she seems to embody everything wrong with politics, I like to think that if the Democrats had chosen anyone else who did not have all the baggage that Mrs. Clinton had, the world would be a much safer, saner place today. Liberals also need to heighten their standards as well. The fact that her husband Bill definitely had sexual relations with "that woman" while he was in office was not the worst part of that sordid affair, but the fact that he had lied to Congress about it under oath, and to the American people in a televised address as well. That was a major contributor to the cynicism we are seeing today for politics and politicians. Nobody's word is good for anything anymore. We expect people to swear to things up and down and know that they're lying. Also, there is the issue of "political correctness". It was a good idea at the time, but like any good idea, it was taken too far, and people were tainted with accusations of racism if they disagreed with liberals on certain points.Remember that old fable about the Boy Who Cried Wolf? It seems that these days, the wolves have come out of hiding and have taken control of the entire farm.

On a side note, you know liberal California? There seems to be some serious talk about them seceding from the Union, but how soon have we forgotten? They had elected their own non-politician as governor. You know, that guy who was a movie star (ok, it had worked before), who was foreign-born, but had married into the Kennedy family, and was an "alleged" serial groper? You had voted him in TWICE.

Then there is this:  the thing where you are most likely reading this post from. The Internet. Where people get most of their 'information' these days. You can pretty much look up anything that corresponds with your point of view, and find "proof" that it is true. First we had "alternative science", particularly when it comes to medicine, now we have "alternative facts". It's all there online, and you can find "proof" of just about anything you can imagine. If the official word is that thing you believe in is false, then it's some kind of conspiracy, either by government, Big Pharma, or George Soros. There are so many different interpretations of facts and outright disinformation out there, it seems impossible to know where to start. People these days seem to have given up on independent verification of facts, or even if anything is true. So we may as well elect that guy who was on TV because we are familiar with his face (particularly the hair).

As I said in the beginning, I want to believe that people en masse are able to take care of themselves; and I want to add that people do not need to be ruled by any kind of dictatorship or have everything we do regulated and monitored, and have all of our important decisions made for us by an unaccountable or possibly hidden body. For over 200 years, the United States of America has come as close as any nation ever has to achieving what I thought until recently were relatively modest goals. But when enough people have become so ill-educated and easily fooled, have given up on the search for truth and watch people tell blatant lies with total impunity, think that "no one's word is good for nothin'", and lose the ability to care about anything outside their own country, city, or even outside themselves:  life will turn into a survivalist Hobbesian free-for-all ruled by the stupid and ignorant. It seems to be happening throughout the Western world, civilization is crumbling at an accelerated pace. Is it too late for people to smarten up? It would be wonderful if there were actually a "cure for stupid".

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The power of denigration

I guess that many of you reading this weren't around during the Cold War, when the United States was the protector from communism we all loved to hate, although not entirely without reason. Yes, they were a  tad overbearing at times, I can remember the Reagan years, and being a teenager throughout most of that time, thought that the Americans were a bit too imperialistic.

Fast forward to now, I still think that they were a bit pushy then, but the rest of the world also said and did a lot of things about America and Americans that they should not have, and I believe that, going back ten years, it culminated in American foreign policy when they invaded Iraq and the toxic atmosphere in international relations that was created. The U.S. seemed to be reacting to all the trash-talk that it took from abroad for decades by returning all the insults it had previously seemed to take in stride, and much of the American conservative movement still seems to operate on this mindset, fighting a new Cold War against anyone who questions them, at home and abroad.

During this time, it was the Europeans, the French in particular, who took the brunt of the Americans' seemingly hostile new attitude toward anyone who did not support whatever they did. Whatever France's reasons were for not entering into the second Gulf War (most likely Jacques Chirac's general loathing of all things English-speaking), overnight, they were America's newest enemies, all things French are bad and needed to be changed (remember 'Freedom Fries'?), and their war record in the past century was cited over and over again, accusing them of cowardice in battle (surrendered to the Nazis after five days as one example).

Back to the present, France seems to have picked up the slack that the U.S. has left in being "the world's policeman" (which they seem very unwilling or unable to do at the moment), taking the lead on things like the ouster of Col. Khdaffy as one example. I do believe that this is a direct response to all the bashing that it took due to the Iraq invasion and they are trying to prove them wrong at every turn. It's quite understandable, as was the Americans' hyperdefensiveness during that war. It seemed that the entire American conservative movement was reacting to being beaten and held down for so long, but they have yet to get it entirely out of their system.

Some lessons here:
  1. People are fickle. For example, one day everyone's hating on the Americans, now they're not.
  2. National pride can be a fragile thing, even a superpower like the United States.
  3. Trash-talk in politics (particularly at the international level) ultimately leads to irrational decision-making and festering ill-feeling, even if it's delayed. 

This is a link I was looking for, just found it now. Apparently the U.S. is not disengaging from the world, and frankly I'm glad they're not. I do believe that the U.S. and what it stands for is a force for good in the world, but the Iraq war just exemplified doing it the wrong way with the wrong attitude.

Monday, January 13, 2014

These are the good old days

I keep hearing about economic inequality, I guess that is only here in the West. In most (but certainly not all) other places, things are getting better. Nations that we refer to as 'developing' are becoming 'developed', and more people are being lifted out of extreme poverty. According to a British magazine called the Spectator, rising international trade increased wealth and community-based programs are the reasons for it, not government programs. It also mentions UN Millenium Goals (without bashing the UN, pleasant surprise) being met and exceeded.

Someone else drawing much of the same conclusions, but from a liberal perspective.

What do we have to look forward to this year? Worldwide hunger is being halved, more people around the world are literate, and certain diseases are being eliminated, largely because more people are getting vaccinated. Again, UN Development goals are being met. Not that it was the UN's doing necessarily, but they set the goals, and I was, quite frankly, skeptical of any of them being met.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

How should we treat our rogues?

So Ronnie Biggs has just been buried (one of those people you did not realize was still alive). I first heard about him when they showed the weekly kids' half-hour news show "What's New?" which my Grade 5 teacher Mrs. Roblee gave up half an hour of teaching time to show us. Perhaps a small part of me was happy for him for winning a real-life version of 'Cops and Robbers'. It may have been a somewhat popular sentiment off-and-on while I was growing up, but these days we have little tolerance for people like him from reading the 'peanut gallery' in those links.

Just recently, I was reading a story from the book 'My Canada' by Pierre Berton about William 'Bill' Johnstone, the 'Pirate of the St. Lawrence'. He was born in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec in 1782 but grew up to despise Canada and fought for the American cause. He had a few successful raids from which he profited quite handsomely, and the few times he was imprisoned, he was a talented escape artist, and he had friends on the American side who helped to grant him a presidential pardon (by William Henry Harrison, who lasted only a month in office before dying of pneumonia).

Today, there is a famous (at least in Quebec) cricket club called 'The Pirates of the St. Lawrence' presumably in his honour. And they actually made a bronze plaque of him 120 years after he sacked and burned the 'Sir Robert Peel', in the country he despised, in 1958 in Ontario, and his memory was celebrated by local dignitaries at the time. As for Biggs, while it is highly unlikely his life will ever be commemorated in any way (at least not by public officials), what I read in the comments in some articles about his life basically call him a monster, or even a sociopath (that word does tend to get thrown around a lot), and I do not want do excuse or condone anything he did, but I do detect an air of increasing self-righteousness in people. Which may not be a bad thing in itself, but we should try to keep things in their proper perspective. Biggs was a petty criminal, nothing more, nothing less.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friends, family, everyone else; read carefully, take heed

I have often wondered why Bob and Suzanne Wright chose the name "Autism Speaks" when that so-called charitable organization was founded in 2005, the name would suggest that we are unable to speak for ourselves. Maybe it was not unintentional, but probably was the the core idea.

At this point, I do not want to judge anyone on the autism spectrum who does associate with or receive services from them (whatever those services are), but a long-running complaint against them was the lack of representation of actual autistic people, either employed by them or on their board of directors (even in an advisory role). Being someone who is currently (and proudly) the Nova Scotia representative of the Advisory Committee of the Autism Society of Canada, I did not want to put anyone on the spectrum in a "Catch 22" situation who is currently employed by Autism Speaks or any of their chapters (I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to steer them to a righteous path). As much as I disliked 'Autism Speaks' since their inception, I still held out some hope for them, that they would acknowledge their scientific and ethical mistakes and atone for them. (What's Wrong With Autism Speaks? Let her count the ways). But as of this week, I have abandoned all hope for them, they are dead to me.

While they do use some of their donations to fund scientific studies, their overall purpose seems to be to eradicate, or 'cure' autism, and funded medical studies towards that dubious end. But they have descended into a scientific and moral basement, when they gave an endorsement for the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts (brief wiki here). At an upcoming Walk Now for Autism function in Washington, D.C., they have listed the JRC as a 'service' and given them a booth at a resource fair planned for that day (explained at length by Autistic Hoya). As a result of this decision, John Elder Robison has announced his resignation from a couple of boards of Autism Speaks, and explains his decision quite thoroughly.

So in short, if you want to remain on my good side (and you know you do >:-), you should not give any acknowledgement to that particular outfit, and if you should run into a representative of Autism Speaks, tell them to take their puzzle pieces and shove 'em.

P.S. An acknowledgement of gratitude to Jenny McCarthy, from a 31 year-old woman with pertussis.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Happy (admittedly belated) Blasphemy Day!

One of the great things about living in Canada is that you can be accused of saying something blasphemous and not be arrested for it (a slight chance of getting assaulted if you insult the wrong religion, but still slight). I am not an atheist, but also not easily offended. I would like to think that most of the Western world is the same way, but if enough religious people get worked up enough, nowhere is safe, in what should be free societies.

I just stumbled onto something, Canada actually does have a blasphemy law. One can only assume that it is dated from around the time Canada became a country, maybe even before that. Most European countries likely had blasphemy laws dating back to the Middle Ages, were meant only for Christian religions, and may still have them on the books. However, like Canada, most of them have never gotten around to repealing them or saw any urgent need to do so. They all may want to consider doing so, because the people who want to prosecute others with these laws are not likely to be Christian anymore.

Back to my original point, this sort of thing needs to be dealt with clearly and resolutely. No minority (or non-minority) should assume that their own laws (religious laws particularly) apply abroad. I still like the idea of multiculturalism but it is one of those good ideas that ultimately goes too far. There should be some set boundaries as to what concessions we should make, and they should be expected to give up some things in their new country. The main idea behind it is "give and take" and not to move in and "try to take charge of the entire sandbox".

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

A Chronicle of Murder

From what I gathered without seeing it, it was like a documentary of a murder that you just knew was going to happen if you followed that horrible blog 'Age of Autism' like I used to. I used to follow it on Google Reader when I was working and researching for Autistics Aloud, but I stopped following 'AoA' and writing about the discredited 'vaccines cause autism' garbage because I believed that it would diminish and eventually become a non-issue if people like me stopped talking about it, and we could go on to more relevant issues. I was mistaken, it is still an issue because enough people still cling to it, and this pseudoscience may still be gaining wider acceptance among conspiracy theorists who allege a coverup with government and Big Pharma.

But most of all, it is an issue because a young man is dead. His name is Alex Spourdalakis, fourteen years old, and he was murdered by his mother and godmother. On the surface, it could appear to be a case of 'caregiver fatigue', not that it would be an excuse by any means. He was a non-verbal autistic boy, and it turned out that he was being treated with 'alternative medicine', or 'autism biomed' in an attempt to 'cure' him of autism. He was sick, and apparently getting sicker, but it was because of the side effects of the medical quackery that was trying to 'cure' him of autism.

They had all kinds of help with their 'alternative medicine' from people like CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, who recently made a report (video available as of this writing) and herself has had a history of unethical reporting and advocating for bad science. In this case, the report gets too close to the subject matter (tries to make you feel sorry for the caregivers) and advertises a website on YouTube called "The Autism Media Channel" which is run by anti-autism advocate Polly Tommey and frequently features Andrew Wakefield and his junk science.

I could make a case about the deplorable state of journalism here in Canada and the U.S., but that would be more appropriate for another post. The bottom line here is that a boy is dead, and was killed by a lethal combination of bad medicine and ableism. His mother and godmother thought basically that he was better off dead than autistic. This was documented over a period of time, and we can only hope that it adds up to a conviction of first-degree murder and all that entails.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

W(h)ither Blossom?

Say it ain't so, Mayim. It seems that this woman who plays an ├╝ber-geek in one of the few TV shows I watch faithfully anymore, (unlike her fellow actors, it's not really 'acting' for her) is betraying science. This article at skepticalraptor.com makes some fascinating comparisons with her and Jenny McCarthy, who will be able to spread her deadly anti-vaccination quackery to a much wider audience on ABC's 'The View'.

Except in Bialik's case, she does have a PhD. and is a scientist in real life, which gives her some real credibility, but her scientific credibility flies south with her apparent embracing of McCarthy's anti-vaccination stance and homeopathy.

It's hard to say what's worse, someone with no scientific credentials spouting junk science to a wide audience, or an actual scientist who has done great work giving credibility to the same junk science who has a smaller following of intelligent, educated people who ought to know better but a few of whom might fall for this dangerous way of thinking, and spread it to other people as well.

Still on the subject of bad science, here is a listing of the 10 worst anti-science websites from another 'skeptical' website. Some of which you may well be familiar with (the Huffington Post makes no. 10), some you may dismiss at the outset as conspiracy mongering (911truth dot org for one), and others that dismiss science (Answers in Genesis). The list covers left and right on the political spectrum, so no one should feel left out.

Got Oranges?

I just can't imagine life without them. From what I've seen of this years crop, there is something seriously wrong. This may make you want to consider using genetically-modified organisms. Mainstream science does accept them, even if there are no long-term studies because this is relatively new science.

Now before anyone screams 'MONSANTO!!!', let me assure you that I am no fan of theirs either. If there should be any labeling, they should say whether they have been in any way processed by any product made my Monsanto, GMO or not. The hysteria around 'frankenfoods' may well have been overhyped, but we will not know for sure unless we try, or spend the rest of our lives without O.J. with our breakfast.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Stick to what you know

First of all, I like rap. I also like country music. I like most genres of music that I have heard, but I don't think that I have a favourite. There is a lot of great music which I will never hear, or like. That's just me and my personal tastes. I bought a rap record second hand in the late '80s, 'Raising Hell' by Run-DMC, because it had the version of 'Walk This Way' that I had become more familiar with, and ended up liking it better than the original (the entire album, pretty good). Having established that, I could never get into 'gangsta' rap, with its violent, misogynistic lyrics, and the near-constant ingratiating (is that the right word?) references to themselves by name and all the 'bling' they have. 

As for the recent controversy with Drake, I did not hear the song, I just read the lyrics. Yes, I was taken aback, but I did not take it personally. Ignorance abounds, I have long accepted that. Not to be politically correct here, but this sort of thing should be nipped in the bud early, because this could contribute to problems already experienced by people with disabilities, or start a dangerous new trend (I have always thought that that episode of "South Park" which had 'Kick a Ginger Day' unwittingly did just that). 

His and J Cole's apology does not change my opinion of him (If you feel the need to apologize to Autism Speaks, you have definitely done something wrong). He still doesn't get it, but it is too soon to expect a change of attitude. I will not hold it against him, I have always had a bigger problem with people who actually know autistic people and try to 'help' us. (more examples here and here [FB]).

Peace out.