Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Newest Hero

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and the Director of the Hayden Planetarium. He's part of the rational-thinking skeptic community, fighting to keep pseudo-science and religion out of science classrooms. He is smarter than you, smarter than me, smarter than darn-near anybody. His intellectual equals are Hitchens, Dawkins, Chandrasekhar, Gould et al...

He is also a really, really funny guy. Check him out on the youtube machine, read his Twitter feeds, website and blogs, watch his television appearances and, if you ever get a chance to see him live and in-person, go listen.

To paraphrase him, we don't need to worry so much about separating church and state. We need to worry about separating ignorant, scientifically-illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.

Here's a video of Neil in action. Enjoy.

Those Ducks Totally Had it Coming

So, Syncrude (killer of 1600 ducks on an unprotected tailings pond in Northern Alberta) has directed their lawyer to seek the court to have all the charges against them dismissed. Their reasoning: That the crown hasn't made its case. They claim, and I swear to God I'm not making this up, that the statute they were charged under - "hazardous substances out into the environment where it comes into contact with animals in the natural environment and does them damage" - doesn't apply in this case. They go on to say that because the tailings ponds are intact, the tailings didn't come into contact with wildlife.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, "that's crazy, everybody except Ed Stelmach) saw the pictures of ducks on the tailings pond, drowning under the weight of toxic sludge. There were 1600 of the little buggers.Clearly, the ducks had been exposed to the toxins in the tailings pond." You might think that, if you are a rational, intelligent person. However, that would be your common sense talking. If you are a self-delusional moron, you'd believe Syncrude and their lawyers when they say that the toxins in the pond didn't come into contact with the wildlife... wait for it... the ducks, by virtue of landing on the pond, came into contact with the toxins. It's the ducks' fault.

The analogue is telling a rape victim that she was asking for it.

Syncrude maintains that because they have a license to operate the tailings pond, and that because the tailings ponds have not been breached, nor have the ponds leaked, that they are not responsible for the fate of 1600 living, wild animals that came into contact with the toxins in the ponds. The company was supposed to have installed air cannons that would scare birds away from the ponds. They didn't have them set out. Syncrude execs claim that a snowstorm prevented their people from installing the cannons in time.

Apparently the cold, freezing, hellish depths of winter in Northern Alberta aren't too cold to stop the mining and processing of bitumen but they are too cold to have a couple of guys go out and put up air cannons. First, the idea that having some air cannons on a pond is a reasonable means of protecting wildlife from some incredibly nasty chemicals, is ridiculous. Second, the level of environmental regulation that these companies have to meet is absurdly lax. Third, they can't even seem to meet the most basic of the few regulations they are mandated to follow.

Perhaps all the First Nations people living downstream, in communities that experience cancer rates far above the national average, should not expect to have clean water. After all, it's their fault for interacting with the toxins, not Syncrude's fault for producing the toxins in the first place.

Damn environment. Always with the sexiness and cheap come-on's. Those trampy ducks were probably asking for it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Law Unto Itself

These few words are proving to be an exceedingly odious piece of prose:

Civil laws to which the law of the Church yields are to be observed in canon law with the same effects, insofar as they are not contrary to divine law and unless canon law provides otherwise.

This is Canon 22 from the ecclesiastical laws in the Code of Canon Law. The Code of Canon Law is the rulebook by which the Roman Catholic Church conducts itself. Canon 22 is exceptionally problematic because it gives the Church the right to tell civil authorities to mind their own business. In other words, if the Roman Catholic Church feels that a piece of civil legislation, i.e. the rules that a we in a civil democracy live by, runs contrary to divine law then they are allowed, under the canon to invoke divine law and ignore the civil law.

What civil laws might be deemed less important than divine law? How about pedophilia, ephebofillia, sexual predation, sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation to name a few.

It should come as no surprise to anybody that there is a history of abuse - even an apocryphal one - associated with the Catholic Church. The stereotype of priests abusing little boys has been played out on television, movies, books and magazines; in both fiction and non-fiction. However, for me this unspeakable history took a new turn with the revelations of Patrick Wall, former Benedictine Monk.

In his interview on The Current (you can listen to part of it here or download the podcast from iTunes) Patrick chronicles his work as a "fixer", sent by the church to clean up after priests were caught abusing their parishioners; especially minors. He quit the church and turned his back on the only life he'd ever wanted because of the Vatican's refusal to permanently deal with abusive priests. The Vatican, according to Wall, would move priests from parish to parish but never strip them of their vestments or have the excommunicated. And, when the authorities do attempt to get involved in these cases, the Church invokes Canon 22; what I've come to term the "go screw yourself" clause. It's like they have a get out of jail free card.

Wall now works as a legal consultant for sexual abuse victims.

This was merely an interesting, albeit sickening discussion topic for me until I heard about the Saturday night service at one of the two Roman Catholic Churches in town. As reported to me by a friend who was there last week, the priest's message last Saturday evening was essentially "Let's not blow this out of proportion." My friend was so angry she left before the service had ended.

Get this straight, the Catholic Church is being publicly vilified, former Church administrators are coming out to talk about the scandal and the history. The Church, according to Patrick Wall, has centuries of secret documents locked in a vault in Rome (Wall claims to have seen them) documenting the priests and their behaviour. Victims of abuse are finally finding the courage to speak openly about what happened to them. And here in Red Deer, in 2010, in a community that has already been through a residential school tragedy, we have a Catholic priest who is preaching to his congregation "Let's not blow this out of proportion."

How on earth does this antiquated instution keep a following of right-thinking, morally-upstanding, intelligent people?

As for Canon 22, I need to get me one of those. It would make all the annoyances of life (filing taxes, dealing with parking tickets...) so much easier. "Sorry, I'm invoking my personal Canon 22, my authority comes from Yoda. He trumps your silly little laws."