By Michael Petrou - Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 0 Comments
Egyptian atheist Alber Saber is today out of jail, free on bail pending the results of an appeal against a three-year-sentence imposed on him last week for blasphemy and contempt of religion.
His sentence is an affront to justice and a worrying sign of where Egypt may be heading two years after the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. On other hand, Saber’s lucky he’s not dead.
In September, a crowd surrounded Saber’s home, threatening to kill him and burn it down. Saber’s mother, a Coptic Christian, called the police for help. They came and arrested him instead. In prison, according to one of Saber’s lawyers, a police officer told the other inmates to kill him. The prisoners attacked him and cut his neck with a razor.
Saber’s supposed crimes are difficult to pin down. His arrest came during the height of public uproar over the trailer for a film, The Innocence of Muslims, that mocks Islam and the prophet Mohammad. Saber was initially accused of circulating the trailer. Police found no evidence he had done so and eventually based their charges on other online statements he had allegedly made. Continue…
By Nancy MacDonald, Cigdem Iltan, Emma Teitel, Alex Ballingall and Richard Foot - Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 10:50 AM - 1 Comment
Hugo Chávez looks to Castro for care, J-Lo and Marc Anthony call it quits, and Shaq gets a new job
He speeds for good deeds
When you imagine the record-holder for the fastest bicycle trip across Canada, you’re probably not picturing somebody’s grandpa. But as of this week, the title belongs to Winnipeg’s Arvid Loewen, proud grandfather of three. The 54-year-old, who has raised more than $1.5 million for Kenyan orphans by cycling, pedalled close to 500 km per day. After 13 days, six hours and 13 minutes, Loewen rolled into downtown Halifax, beating the previous record by more than three hours. In other speeding news this week, David Weber’s attempt to save his unborn baby was rewarded with a huge ticket and a licence suspension. The 32-year-old was driving in rural Manitoba with his wife Genevieve when she went into labour. Complications during her first birth meant natural labour could endanger future babies. Panicked, David hit speeds of up to 170 km/h to get to a hospital. But the RCMP pulled him over twice, earning him $1,000 in ﬁnes. “What would have happened if something happened to my wife, or my baby?” David told the Winnipeg Free Press. “It’s like there’s no compassion anymore.” Baby Anabela was born healthy via emergency C-section.
Shaq to work
It was a good week for retired athletes embroiled in controversy. Shaquille O’Neal was absolved of involvement in a titillating story about a group of gangsters who allegedly kidnapped, pistol-whipped and robbed a man claiming to be in possession of a Shaq sex tape. Court officials deemed the big man wasn’t involved in the incident. Shaq also inked a multi-year deal with broadcaster TNT. He’ll join Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnston on the network’s Inside the NBA program. Then there’s former baseball star Roger Clemens. After being charged with lying to Congress about steroid use, the former Yankee had his trial thrown out after the prosecution submitted evidence that violated a pretrial agreement. Judge Reggie Watson said afterwards a “first-year law student” wouldn’t have made the same mistake. Talk about dodging a knock-down pitch.
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 5:41 PM - 19 Comments
Squabbling persists over who’s smarter, liberals or conservatives. Maybe a better question is: who cares?
Grubby as it can be, politics remains at bottom a contest of ideas. One side claims the superiority of its program and values. The other responds in kind, and voters decide which they like best.
Or, in Canada’s case, which they dislike least.
What happens, though, when someone suggests members of one political group are themselves smarter than the folks on the other side?
A recent study out of the London School of Economics did just that, purporting to show among other things that atheistic liberals boast higher IQs, on average, than their religious and conservative counterparts.
Author Satoshi Kanazawa, an “evolutionary psychologist,” then went on to draw some incendiary and fanciful conclusions from his findings: conservatism, he explained, is a very human predisposition based on self-interest—a bred-in-the-bone inclination to care about family and friends rather than the wider world that is genetically unrelated to us. Liberalism, meanwhile, reflects a more evolved willingness to embrace novel ideas and to care about those we don’t see or know, he said; it springs from greater intelligence and awareness, and takes brains to pull off comfortably.
As such, he said, liberals are less likely to need such psychological crutches like God to get through life. “More intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God, and they become atheists,” Kanazawa wrote in the study, which was published in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly.
At first glance, the findings looked like a gift to the non-religious left, which in the U.S. at least has a history of claiming intellectual superiority. It is a peculiar form of identity politics, grounded in the notion that brainy sorts are most likely to join a club that would have themselves as members (apologies to Groucho Marx).
Consider the reaction six years ago, when the launch of Air America moved progressive commentators to predict that this liberal answer to right-wing, open-mouth radio would fall flat. Liberals, they theorized, are too smart and open-minded to be Ditto-heads, of course. If that meant sitting still for a daily pasting at the hands of Rush Limbaugh, well, that’s the price you pay for being progressive (they were right: Air America shut for good in January, though its demise probably had more to do with poor management and in-fighting than the IQs of its listeners).
Why then, are liberals running so hard from Kanazawa’s study?
Possibly because the armchair statisticians who lurk the digi-sphere have done such a great job rubbishing both its design and logic. Shockingly, some of these clever people are conservatives, like the Canadian libertarian Neil Reynolds. Others are what Margaret Thatcher might have called squishy, and proud to be so.
These critics are quick to point out that the purported spread between the IQs of progressives and reactionaries is only six points—within the margin of error of many IQ tests. How, they ask, can one draw conclusions about human development over a few millennia based on a sample of 15,000 Americans surveyed in the late 1990s—and adolescent Americans at that?
Liberals may also be troubled by the checkered history of this sort of inquiry. Quite apart from its eugenic overtones, past claims that liberals were brainier than conservatives generally have been proven unfounded or been exposed as hoaxes. Five years ago, the Economist printed a graphic indicating people from U.S. states that voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election were on average dimmer than those from states that went Democrat. Alas, the venerable British magazine was forced to print a correction, admitting it had been sucked in by an internet hoax.
Other studies based on the findings of the U.S. General Social Survey have found virtually no statistical difference between the IQs of people who vote Democrat and those who vote Republican (this blog suggests the “advantage” has been see-sawing back and forth, with the Dems inching ahead by a half-point in ’04).
But most of the suspicion boils down fear over how the theory plays into more deeply cast political identities. That old eastern-intellectual label remains an enduring problem for Democrats in the U.S.—and to a lesser degree large-L Liberals in Canada. The perception isn’t so much that they are smarter than everyone else as that they think they are—and thus feel entitled to tell others how to run their lives.
Small wonder then, that a sworn enemy of the religious right like P.Z. Myers, a University of Minnesota biologist who has waged war against proponents of intelligent design, is warning his blog readers to “stop patting yourselves on the back over this study,” and advising them to “ignore anything with Kanazawa’s name on it.”
Liberals may not be all that much brighter than conservatives, on average. But they’re smart enough, evidently, to know trouble when they see it.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, January 9, 2010 at 11:20 PM - 19 Comments
A Beltway colleague attempts a contrarian defence of Fox News panelist Brit Hume, who aroused widespread wrath a week ago by suggesting that troubled Tiger Woods should abandon Buddhism because it doesn’t offer “the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith.” The Hume imbroglio is funny when viewed from the standpoint of the convinced atheist: if you regard the major religions as a buffet of indistinguishably nonsensical self-help regimens, Hume’s “proselytizing” appears no more dangerous than recommending some particular book about sex addiction or suggesting that Tiger go on a program of Graham crackers and cold showers. Hume was asked what he thinks Woods ought to do, and gave his best answer. What is objectionable about this?
We do have a strong social taboo, double-reinforced on television and radio broadcasts, against defaming particular religions. But as Carl Cannon points out, it’s not clear that Hume said anything untruthful or unfair about Buddhism. Every great religion has particular practical strengths, and “forgiveness and redemption” are rightly recognized as very strong suits of Christianity. Buddhism offers no escape from the accounting of accumulated karma: “redemption” is foreign to it. In Buddhism, you can’t declare bankruptcy. You work off your debt, in this life or the next.
If Tiger were choosing a new faith to believe in sincerely starting today, and Christianity and Buddhism were the available choices, he would be crazy to choose the latter and thus take a thousand pounds of karma onto his shoulders at the outset of his spiritual trek. He should obviously take the Get Out of Jail Free card. This is not really how anybody chooses a religion, or it is not supposed to be. We are not supposed to hold beliefs because they are pleasant or convenient or conducive to our happiness: we are supposed to believe that which is true about the world. But if you’ve got a belief to sell to others, as Brit Hume does, it is easier to take the low road. Get ‘em with the “forgiveness” pitch when they’re down! Tell them they can be “born again”! They can talk themselves into the theology and the cosmology and the tall tales later! Perhaps it’s the case that when Christians tell stories about the Devil trying to trick vulnerable humans into signing away their souls, they are projecting their own behaviour onto a fictitious adversary.
The real irony is that if we were choosing a faith for Tiger as a practical guide to his future behaviour, instead of a source of comfort, we might see distinct advantages in Buddhism. The ethical doctrine of the Buddha does not depend on what pleases some divine being; it is founded on the idea that suffering is caused by desire. Does it seem likely that Tiger would argue with that one?
By Philippe Gohier - Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 2:40 PM - 1 Comment
The year’s most heated feuds
PALIN vs. JOHNSTON
Call it the tussle on the tundra: America’s most famous Alaskans have been at each other’s throats ever since Levi Johnston left the Palin family home shortly after the birth of his son, Tripp, to Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol. In interviews and a tell-all article for Vanity Fair, Johnston paints a portrait of Sarah as a lazy, tempestuous, money-hungry egomaniac. Palin, meanwhile, has dismissed Bristol’s relationship with Johnston as a “mistake” and accused the 19-year-old newly minted Playgirl model of being a deadbeat on a “quest for fame, attention, and fortune.”
PORT vs. COHEN
The Skanks in NYC blog was never destined for greatness. And yet its musings about Canadian-born model Liskula Cohen (right) made headlines after Cohen went to court to force Google to identify the anonymous blogger. Cohen eventually dropped her US$3-million defamation suit against Rosemary Port, the 29-year-old fashion student in question. Port, though, launched a US$15-million suit against Google, which she claims should have upheld her right to call someone a “psychotic lying whore” online.
INDIA vs. SCOTLAND
It’s a fixture in Indian restaurants, but Glasgow chef Ahmed Aslam Ali says chicken tikka masala isn’t Indian at all—it’s Scottish. In fact, the 64-year-old founder of the Shish Mahal restaurant claims he invented it in the early 1970s. A Scottish MP is now taking the Scot’s claim one step further, trying to secure “protected designation of origin” status for the dish. Indian foodies have dismissed Ali’s claims as “preposterous,” and say chicken tikka masala is an “authentic Mughlai recipe” that’s been passed down for generations.
VLADIMIR PUTIN vs. UKRAINE
When Ukraine missed a US$500-million payment for Russian gas in November, Russian PM Vladimir Putin was incensed. His Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko, stepped in and negotiated a deal to guarantee gas deliveries. But Putin has since suggested Ukraine’s payment “problems” could be met with significant supply “problems.” And should Ukraine decide to siphon gas from shipments meant for Europe rather than buy it from Russia, he threatened, “we will cut supplies,” a tactic he already used last January.
SEPARATIST vs. THE NATIONAL BATTLEFIELDS COMMISSION
When Quebec’s hard-core separatist fringe threatened to disrupt a re-enactment of the battle on the Plains of Abraham, Canada’s National Battlefields Commission simply cancelled the event altogether. “We don’t want it to become a clash,” André Juneau, then commission president, said by way of explanation. “There was one in 1759 and we don’t want another.” History, it seems, isn’t written by the winners, but by the whiners.
BECKHAM vs. FANS
David Beckham probably knew better than to expect a warm welcome when he returned to L.A. for his first home game with Major League Soccer’s Galaxy. Despite his US$250-million contract, the star had skipped the Galaxy’s first 17 matches of the season, opting to play for an Italian club. But the reception was enough to leave Beckham wishing he’d stayed in Italy. Fed up with the taunts and boos, he tried to climb a barrier to get at an angry fan. Beckham claims he just wanted to shake hands; he was fined US$1,000 for the goodwill gesture.
ATHEISTS vs. UNITED CHURCH
Last winter, Canadian atheists announced they would be buying ad space on buses to promote their message: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Rather than try to censor the message, the United Church of Canada opted to run a cheeky reply of its own: “There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Whatever impact the ads may have had, the real message may very well have been, “There’s probably no point arguing about religion on the sides of buses.”
AMERICAN APPERAL vs. WOODY ALLEN
Woody Allen isn’t the first name that comes to most people’s minds when the topic of fashion models comes up. Still, no one was as surprised as Allen himself when his frumpish mug found its way onto an American Apparel billboard in 2007. Allen sued over the ad, which showed him dressed as an Orthodox Jew, with a caption, in Yiddish, calling him “the high rabbi.” They settled out of court in May for US$5 million.
CHINA vs. RIO TINTO
Last July, Chinese officials arrested four employees of Australian mining giant Rio Tinto, accusing them of stealing state secrets. The arrests followed a failed bid by Chinalco, a state-owned Chinese manufacturer, to invest US$19.5 billion in the company. Rio Tinto, along with Australian officials, is still working to free Stern Hu, the company’s chief iron ore negotiator, but Chinese officials say their investigation isn’t complete.
By selley - Friday, October 3, 2008 at 5:28 PM - 15 Comments
We were delighted this afternoon to find some rare vintage Barbara Kay… on the
We were delighted this afternoon to find some rare vintage Barbara Kay on the National Post‘s Full Comment blog, where she suggests that “belief in God is a prophylactic against superstition.” (This, surely, is one of the more mind-boggling contentions an atheist is ever likely to read.) Kay’s evidence comes (second-hand) from a new book from the Baylor University Press, What Americans Really Believe, which is based largely on the absolutely fascinating survey data collected by Gallup on behalf of the university’s Institute for Studies of Religion. We haven’t read the book, we should stress—though we’ve gone through much of component data from the 2006 survey, which is available on the Institute’s website—and neither has Kay. She acknowledges that she’s getting her data from “a review in the September 19th Wall Street Journal,” by which we can only conclude she means an opinion column by one Mollie Ziegler Hemingway.
That Ziegler Hemingway’s name doesn’t appear in Kay’s piece strikes us as somewhat odd given that it is, functionally, identical. Both argue that the data put the lie to atheistic smugness about the collective intelligence of the pious. Both offer Bill Maher’s new film, Religulous, and a recent Saturday Night Life sketch on home schooling, as classic examples of the smugness in question. The only statistics Kay cites from the book are also cited in Ziegler Hemingway’s article. Both point to corroborating data from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Both quote Maher on the matter of Louis Pasteur’s germ theory and his (Maher’s) skepticism about vaccinations. Kay did dig up and dismiss a positive review of Religulous—which she refuses to see, natch—from the Kansas City Star. But other than that, we can’t find much that she’s contributed to the argument.
And that argument had some problems to begin with. Continue…