Saturday, 12 August 2006

In praise of hypocrisy

I was raised in Sunday school. I'm not supposed to be in favour of hypocrisy. And I'm not. Really truly. Who could possibly be in favour of child-molesting priests, politicians on the take, environmentalists who hide SUV's in their garages and nutritionists who scarf down chocolate bars on the sly? ("Flavonoids, my deah, the operative word is flavonoids.") OK, I admit, it's hard to get in a lather about that last one, but you know what I mean.

Given a choice between the real thing and a faker, I'll take the real thing anyday. But more and more that's not the choice I'm given. When I have to pick between the slimy pretenders and the people proudly trumpeting their vice to the world, I'll take the slimeballs.

The hypocrites are at least acknowledging that what they are covering up is wrong, or at the very least, socially unacceptable. As Fran├žois de la Rochefoucauld famously said, "Hypocrisy is the homage which vice pays to virtue." There is still an operative sense of shame and a tacit acknowledgement that what they are keeping under wraps is wrong.

Contrast that, for instance, with NAMBLA and its avowed aim to "leave" children "free to determine the content of their own sexual experiences." Or with Paris Hilton and her open quest for the venal, the superficial and the narcissistic.

Somehow, they evoke in me a much deeper sense of horror. And quite apart from my own personal feelings, which really don't much matter to anyone who isn't me, there is the fact that these people serve as magnets for the like-minded and together, they enable and embolden each other. It's like removing a quarantine; the sickness spreads more easily.

Hypocrisy is indeed a vice, but in the long run it's preferable to shamelessness.

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Friday, 11 August 2006

Blatant MSM fraud

(MSM, for the uninitiated, is blogspeak for MainStream Media. I finally figured it out a couple of days ago. Yes, I'm new here too...)

This is not new news, but I thought it worthy of passing on. I'm sure 99% of the Canadian blogosphere is aware of how blogger Stephen Taylor caught the CBC red-handed in fraudulently skewing a story on Stephen Harper's stance on the Middle East.

If you're a Canadian, and you haven't seen this, you should. And after watching, tell the CBC what you think.

If you're not a Canadian, watch and see how shamelessly media can warp a story until it turns into something completely different. This is not a purely Canadian phenomenon and it might help you know what questions to ask when watching media coverage in your own country. Please note: in this case, it is a right-wing politician being placed in front of a funhouse mirror and then pilloried for being grotesque. It could just as easily have been a left-wing politician. (OK, maybe not on CBC, but on other networks.) This is not a right wing/left wing issue - it's an integrity issue.

For the media to take issue with a politician's positions is legitimate; it's called editorializing. To misrepresent those positions is dishonest. The CBC and Christina Lawand should be charged with libel.

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It's going to be a long, dry flight

It wasn't too long ago that airlines stopped serving up "free" drinks and food on most flights in response to the overwhelming demand for lower air fares. Travellers were encouraged to pack their own lunches and BYOB (bring your own bottle). Well, no more. Not since Scotland Yard busted a terrorist cell that intended to blow up planes over the Atlantic using ingredients smuggled onto the planes in beverage bottles.

Police believe that the terrorists planned to evade security measures by disguising explosive materials as mineral water, fizzy drinks and sugar.

Of course, the only response to this is banning all carry-on drinks on planes, right?

Well, the terrorists were going to detonate their ingredients with camera flashes, and nobody is banning those. For several years now, we've had to be prepared to prove to security personnel that our electronic devices worked as advertised, even taking a picture if necessary, to demonstrate that there were no plastic explosives stuffed in the battery compartment. So why not apply the same procedure to drinks? Everybody with carry-on drinks should be required to take a good, long swig under the watchful eyes of security screeners. Wannabe terrorists would think twice about carrying on nitroglycerin and peroxide and the rest of us could slake our thirst in peace.

The possible flaw in my reasoning is that nitroglycerin and peroxide might not actually taste that bad. For some strange reason, I've never tried to find out. Maybe they aren't that foul and a wannabe martyr could take a sip with a straight face. I presume that suicide bombers would hardly be concerned about long-term health implications.

Failing the drink-it-yourself test, airlines would do well to reinstate the drinks included policy. Somehow, paying three dollars more for your ticket is easier to stomach than shelling out the same three dollars for a bottle of water.

Note to airline and security executives: my consultancy fees are very reasonable. Have your people contact mine.

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Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Previous post on the topic of Terrorism

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Muslim musings on British Muslims

A fascinating analysis of what makes a home-grown terrorist, by an American Muslim with ties to Britain and Pakistan.

Hat tip to Amba and Pat.

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Thursday, 10 August 2006

Living life to a soundtrack

A recent AP story about the effect of sexually degrading lyrics in the music that teens listen to has been getting some pretty wide attention lately. According to lead author Steven Martino, kids who listen to music that presents women as sexual objects and men as sex-obsessed studs start sexual activity considerably younger than those who don't.

It also generated some lively discussion among three of my own offspring, aged 17 to 22, with most of the argument centering on where to locate the cause and effect. The question, simply put, is do the kids get involved in early sexual activity because of the influence of the music, or do they choose that kind of music because they're already moving toward that kind of mentality?

As a society - and perhaps as a species - we are very fond of trying to reduce complex situations to an either/or scenario and then taking sides. It seems to me in this particular case at least, we are dealing with a kind of feedback loop and at what point the kids are entering it is almost immaterial. Any attempts to combat it on the part of parents should probably aim at all parts of the loop, although preventing them from entering the loop at all is probably the most effective strategy. That is, if you can pull it off. This is an uphill battle no matter how you look at it.

It raises in my mind a broader question though, that I have never seen addressed anywhere. What are the effects of living life to a soundtrack? Many people, and not just kids, are spending hours a day with iPods pumping music directly into their ears and minds. The medical profession has issued numerous warnings about the ill effects on hearing, and moralists of all types have trumpeted their concerns about the lyrics. What I am wondering though, is what it does to our thinking to have such a constant stream of music - any music - washing over us.

As a teenager, I used to listen to the top teen music station on the way to school every morning. After a while, I leaned over and switched it off permanently. I'd noticed that my mood for the day was set by the station's choice of songs for that time slot, and I resented being manipulated in such a way. Terry Jacks was not exactly a great way to get your day off to a positive start. Of course, nowadays you can make your own musical choices, which makes a considerable difference. One of my sons was quite enthusiastically telling me how much his bus trip to visit me had been enhanced by the music on his mp3 player/cell phone. The music added quite a kick to the scenery. In his case, I wouldn't be too concerned about negative influences of the music itself. He has confessed, however, to being addicted to having music as an almost constant in his life. Long hours slaving over the computer working on archictectural design go down a lot more smoothly when accompanied by music.

At least he removes the earbuds when in the company of other people. In contrast, I remember my horror the first time I saw someone using a Sony Walkman. She was standing at the bus stop and the Walkman served as a glass wall, isolating her from the inconvenient presence of other people and ensuring they wouldn't interact with her. My recent encounters on buses and planes have included a woman recently returned from three years teaching English in China and now dealing with her father's Alzheimers, a sociologist/psychoanalyst/professor/Christian, an airline pilot addicted to sudokus and a charming young woman/activist/non-conformist who defies categorization. My life is richer for these encounters, which never would have happened had I barricaded myself with headphones. It seems to me that one thing we do not need in this society is further insulation from each other.

And finally, when do people just stop and think their own thoughts? How can you listen to yourself or to nature or to God through a wall of sound, which far too often is a cacophony anyway? Socrates famously said that an unexamined life isn't worth living. Not only that, but it is one easily manipulated by outside influences. Ironically, in a world swimming in information and stimulation, we seem to spend too much time just absorbing them non-critically which makes us extremely vulnerable to their influence.

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Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Emancipation Day came early in Canada...

... but in typically Canadian fashion, it came gradually.

In case you don't know - and I didn't till this morning - August 1 is Emancipation Day in Jamaica, among other places, and celebrates the historically unprecedented abolition of slavery in the entire British Empire. This was definitely one of humanity's finer moments, when a mighty empire made an economically detrimental decision for the sole reason that it was the right thing to do. It is not often that morality trumps economics on such a vast scale and if ever there was a candidate for a universal, international holiday, this is it.

It took decades of militancy by abolitionists, headed by William Wilberforce, to turn the mighty ship of the British state in that direction. But the tiny dinghy of Upper Canada was a lighter, nimbler craft, and it proved much easier to bring around.

John Graves SimcoeA mere four years after Wilberforce's first speech in Parliament, and two years after his first anti-slavery bill was defeated, John Graves Simcoe, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, managed to cobble together a compromise consensus in the legislature that resulted in the first anti-slavery legislation in the entire British Empire. He was unable to get the immediate abolition he was aiming for, but he did succeed in passing a law in 1793 that banned the importation of slaves and emancipated the children of slaves when they reached the age of 25. This was effectively abolition in a time-release capsule. By 1810, there were no longer any slaves in Upper Canada.

This illustrates a couple of things for me. First of all, idealism could often be better served by a willingness to compromise even on fundamental principles in order to take the first steps on the journey. The "all or nothing right now" approach far too often results in "nothing". Secondly, it shows one of the important foundational stones of Canadian character. We tend to favour incremental change over revolution, a gradual working things through over swift upheavals. It may make for a somewhat bland history, but I for one will happily pass on the drama of civil war.

My grateful acknowledgements to Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen for his column today on this subject.

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Monday, 7 August 2006

On the true nature of tolerance

I am a bad example of racial tolerance.

The reason for that is quite simple; I am never offended by anyone's race, so there's nothing for me to be tolerant about. What often passes for tolerance nowadays is nothing of the sort; it is actually a form of indifference or apathy.

The exercise of tolerance requires that you first be offended. A deaf man who sleeps blissfully through his neighbours' late-night parties is not practising tolerance; he has not been incommodated or offended.

A person of profound and absolute convictions who lives in peace with his neighbour who doesn't share these convictions is the one who is really practicing tolerance, not the one who says "I'm not sure what to think, so whatever you think is fine with me." The latter is never offended and therefore is never called on to practice tolerance.

I would contend that most religious people are shining examples of tolerance. The head-scarfed Muslim neighbour who greets me warmly while politely ignoring my shorts is practising tolerance; the bikini-clad neighbour watering her flowerbed who waves at me is not, she's just being nice. The evangelical Christian who mows the lawn for his vacationing next door neighbours, knowing full well they are pro-abortion activists, is practising tolerance; the pro-choice neighbour who collects their mail is not (although he is still being a good neighbour).

Acts of tolerance, by their very nature, are quiet and unassuming and don't get much press. It is the obnoxious loudmouths who get noticed, and then the lunatic fringe is taken to represent the entire carpet.

Of course, presenting the lunatic fringe as mainstream in any number of areas is a favourite ploy of the media. Nothing sells like controversy and little thought is given to the antogonism stirred up against the majority who don't deserve it.

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