Sunday, 1 March 2015

University of Toronto Supporting 'Alternative-Vaccines' Instructor

Beth Landau-Halpern (source)
In November, we learned from an excellent CBC's Marketplace documentary that homeopaths are really into dissuading mothers from vaccinating their babies and Beth Landau-Halpern was one of those homeopaths. She responded publicly in in a fairly predictable manner and the story really would have ended there, except...
Toronto-based homeopath Beth Landau-Halpern is a health studies instructor and teaches a course in alternative medicine at U of T’s Scarborough campus, where her husband, Rick Halpern, is dean. Last year, she wrote a blog post on her clinic’s website about teaching fourth-year health studies students to have “a healthy degree of skepticism about the limits of science in understanding health and disease.” On her website, Ms. Landau-Halpern has also written that “normal childhood illnesses like measles and chicken pox are almost always followed by massive developmental spurts” and to “avoid vaccinations” because they are “of questionable efficacy, full of ingredients that definitely should not be in the blood stream, and may compromise your general immunity irreparably.”
What the hell is wrong with our universities? The University of Toronto is totally down with her instructing at their Scarborough campus and is even sponsoring an event where she'll be speaking along with some naturopath who claims they can treat cancer! I've heard that claim before -- it was made to the late Makayla Sault's mother and motivated them to end life saving chemotherapy.
On Saturday, Ms. Landau-Halpern is slated to speak at the Population Health and Policy Conference at the Scarborough campus. The event – sponsored by the University of Toronto International Health Program, a non-profit student organization, the anthropology/health studies department, and others – also features a naturopath who claims to treat cancer, heart disease and fibromyalgia with vitamin injections.
The university is defending itself by saying it is promoting student engagement in controversial topics! Except, wait! It's established science and is not controversial at all. They also say it's freedom of speech! Except, wait! Nobody's preventing these people from having their conference at the local Sheraton, for goodness sake! Should universities let any rubbish in?
Across Canada, more academic institutions are offering alternative health courses . The problem is that alternatives to evidence-based medicine are not rooted in science, says Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health. He worries about the consequences of holding events such as U of T’s alternative health conference. “It’s problematic when a university, an institution, lends credibility to these kinds of presentations with its name and support,” he said. “Having University of Toronto’s name next to their names on these [promotional] posters legitimizes their position and can be used to legitimize their unscientific views.”
Last year, the University of Saskatchewan supported a conference all about animal telepathy.  Just last month, Queens University had to stop an anti-vaxxer from teaching a health course.

NO Orthodox Masturbation! & Some Naughty Bacon

First issue of Playboy in Israel, March 2013. (source)
Let's start with the non-Orthodox masturbation. Israeli Ultra-Orthodox Jewish filmmaker (they exist?) Ori Gruder will be showcasing his new film about how his own religious community addresses masturbation -- hint: God wants this to be a wank free zone.

Now before you get too much on the Orthodox Jews' case, I'll inform you that my Traditionalist Catholic upbringing was the same way. I would have priests asking me in the confessional booth if I touched myself and reminded me that I should only touch down there when cleaning... through a cloth... not for too long.

Go listen to the interview with the filmmaker, where he's told point blank how utterly bizarre his secular Jewish (film in Hebrew) audience will find all this. This atheist finds the whole thing just as sad and pointless as my own youth where I was terrified to do what came completely naturally.
“It seems, on the paper, black on white, crazy," Gruder admits, speaking at a film studio in Tel Aviv in between edits on a new film. "Prevent spilling the sperm, just, you know, for fun, as a teenager. It’s one of the things that we are not allowed to do. It’s forbidden to spill sperm for nothing. Punishment for that is very, very strict. That is the worst thing to do from the Torah.”

Of course, reaching below the belt is a no-no in many religions. But what may surprise viewers is just how much pressure the ultra-Orthodox community is willing to put on its members to follow the commandment.

According to the film, Hasidic boys are taught not to touch themselves when they urinate. When it comes to sperm samples — in the case of Hasidic men who need to undergo chemotherapy but want to store away healthy sperm to father babies in the future — many prefer to use electrical stimulation under anesthesia so they don’t have to, you know, do it themselves.
So hilarious, so absurd, so tragic.

Let's move on, shall we? Let's make this a happy ending! Let's sing about Hot Young Jewish Girl!

This is a hilarious (albeit somewhat juvenile) song by Jake Freekin' Smith from the band The Lakes of Canada, who are from Montreal, of course!
I wanna introduce my Moses to your burnin' bush! ...

I wanna rub my matzah balls on your gefilte fish! ...

I've got some bacon, we can eat it together. Me and hot young Jewish girl, porking together! ... forever!

Hot young Jewish girl, you can circumcise me. Hot young Jewish girl, if I can part your Red Sea! ...
A description of the song on the alternative Jewish magazine Shtetl -- also based in Montreal, of course -- explains the inspiration for the song.
Jake Freekin’ Smith is a singer and songwriter for The Lakes of Canada, as well as a comedian and …a choir boy at an Orthodox synagogue in Montreal.  In Hot Young Jewish Girl he sings about checking out attractive young Jewish women at shul while standing for hours on the bima during high holiday services.
Whewf! After that first story about the video, I was concerned. Now my faith in humanity is restored and I may rest happy.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Quebec Judge Refuses to Hear Muslim Woman's Case With Her Hijab On

Rania El-Alloul (source)
Montreal resident Rania El-Alloul had to see a judge in order to get her impounded car back. She is Muslim, and chooses to wear a hijab (which does not impair anyone's ability to identify her.) However, judge Eliana Marengo demanded Rania remove her religious headgear before she would hear the case. Rania refused and the case was suspended indefinitely.
Marengo: El-Alloul, you stated that you were wearing the scarf, earlier. You stated you were wearing a scarf as a religious symbol.

Rania: Yes.

Marengo: In my opinion the courtroom is a secular place and a secular space. There are no religious symbols in this room, not on the walls and not on the persons. Article 13 of the regulation of the Court of Quebec states: Any person appearing before the court must be suitably dressed. In my opinion you are not suitably dressed. Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed. I don't see why scarves on the head would be either. The same rules need to be applied to everyone. I will therefore not hear you, if you are wearing a scarf on your head, just as I would not allow a person to appear before me wearing a hat or sunglasses on his or her head or any other garment not suitable for a court proceeding. 
On Friday, the Quebec Court stood by Marengo's decision.
The Court of Quebec said Friday it is standing by Marengo’s decision and the judge would not bow to public pressure.

Court spokeswoman Annie-Claude Bergeron repeated Friday that judges are masters of their courtroom and have the right to interpret the law and set the rules of the court as they see fit.
Apparently, there is little to no judicial precedent for Marengo's decision; it all boils down to what you define as decorum. I tend to agree with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association:
Sukanya Pillay, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s executive director, said the state has no right to be in people’s closets and to tell women what to wear.

“The courtroom has every right to be secular,” said Pillay. “But that doesn't translate into telling people what they can and cannot wear in a manner that’s incompatible with their freedom of religion.”
There is broad support for Rania across the country. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to buy her a new car, since he current one is still impounded. So far, it's raised $24,000 in its first day.

I'm all for secularism, and the ideals of laïcité, but doesn't this seem completely petty? Take a look at what kind of image is being portrayed of secular ideals with this.

If the courtroom is empty of all religious symbols and the judges and government employees are not wearing religious symbols then mission accomplished -- no need to go any further! You have achieved an acceptable level of secularism! In such a place, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists -- everyone can feel equally welcome. There is no government bias.

Now a word about decorum in the 21st century. As far as I am concerned, if what you're wearing does not violate any decency laws outside of the court and you can positively identify the person (no face covering), then you should be fine wearing it in the court. I realize this makes me seem like a radical, but it's truly the only fair approach.

Oh, and if the judge has a problem where she feels she's unable to render a fair judgement for someone wearing a hijab, or habit, or kippah, then she has the right to refer the case to another judge. This would be her own issue -- her own struggle to be secular.

I know several readers will strongly disagree with me, but I really do think that a secular court does not include everything every visitor or guest is wearing. As a secular atheist, I find myself growing weary of these fits against what people are wearing and yearn for a time when we can remove prayers and bloody crucifixes from city halls and start properly taxing religious institutions. Wouldn't that be something even Rania El-Alloul could unite with us on?

Friday, 27 February 2015

VIA Rail Terror Plot Suspect's Trial Ends After He Refused to Participate in Canada's 'Non-Quranic' Legal System

Chiheb Esseghaier (source)
Remember those two terrorists who were charged with scheming to blow up a VIA rail train from New York to Montreal? Chiheb Esseghaier is one of them and there has been some difficulty getting him proper legal defence -- because he doesn't believe in any sort of judicial system other than what's in the Quran.
Esseghaier told the court during an earlier appearance following his arrest in late April that the Criminal Code should not apply to him because it's "not a holy book." Instead, he wants the Qur'an used as a "reference" in his case. 
Well, after Esseghaier ranting about tsunamis and other natural disasters punishing secular nations, and refusing to actually defend himself in court, the crown prosecution has called the trial a wrap.

Judge Michael Code acknowledged that the trial went by much quicker than anticipated. Still, the courts of law must continue to function, regardless of whether or not it's against your religion.
The jury heard an excerpt of Esseghaier's motion, in which he said "the Holy Qur'an should be used as a unique reference for judgement in the matters of people's life" because "humans are not perfect, but God is his laws are supreme laws."

Code went on to explain that he dismissed Esseghaier's motion and told him the trial would be carried out under the provisions of the criminal code, a ruling that Esseghaier didn't agree with.

"He explained to me, when the jury was summonsed, that his participation in the trial would signify his acceptance of the trial being conducted pursuant to the criminal code and not pursuant to the Holy Qur'an," Code said. "In these circumstances, he decided that he should not participate."
You know what? I'm perfectly fine with this. I guess it makes the trial easier and all the while it saves our court system money. It's a win-win situation. No concessions should be made.

You can read more about the case in this piece by Rosie DiManno at the Toronto Star.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Wagner Opera 'Breaches Rights' of Christians By 'Offending Them'

Scene from 2008 Barcelona production of Wagner's opera Tannhäuser where Venus is kicking some bloody ass. (source)
Note: This post is likely NSFW unless you work at a really cool office.

Russian Orthodox Church clerics got offended by Apple's logo, so it stands to reason they would go ape shit over an edgy modern interpretation Wagner's most romantic opera, Tannhäuser.
The story centers on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love, a theme running through most of Wagner's mature work.
In the past decade or so, mature work has translated to lots of skimpy dresses, full nudity and a great deal of highly erotic dancing -- what with smearing paint all over them naked selves etc. Generally, not the sort of thing you'd expect a Russian Orthodox cleric to be at all onboard with. Personally, it may have just sparked a new interest in opera with me.

A recent German production with intense Holocaust overtones was so controversial and provocative that some people in the audience asked for medical help. Now what I've heard of Russian director Timofey Kulyabin's new production it seems pretty tame in comparison -- no worse than what I've seen by 1970s Argentinian filmmaker Alexandro Jodorowsky.

That said, the production got Russian Orthodox regional head Metropolitan Tikhon pissed off. He filed a formal complaint with authorities against the director and apparently court proceedings are now underway.
Prosecutors said the director, who last year won Russia’s prestigious Golden Mask award, “publicly desecrated the object of religious worship in Christianity – the image of Jesus Christ in the Gospels”.
Not that this should at all matter, but rumour has it that the cleric has a problem with a particular scene featuring Jesus.
The rendition features a scene where the Roman goddess Venus promises eternal love to Jesus Christ, were he to agree to stay with her in a grotto. But he rejects the offer and destroys the grotto with the help of the Virgin Mary, according to a summary on the theater's website.
Or maybe it was just the poster? That would be so Charlie Hebdo.
The bishop said that the show “humiliates believers' feelings and the Orthodox Church, and incites religious hatred”. However, it remains uncertain whether he had seen the performance or was responding to a poster for the performance in which Jesus is depicted crucified between a woman’s legs.
Kulyabin's version of the opera features a scene where Venus, goddess of love, attempts to seduce Jesus. (source)
Of course, in a free and secular society, the bishop would be quite welcomed to express his predictable disgust with such a production as vocally as he likes. Just as the director would be perfectly within his rights to put on such a production. However, we're talking about Russia here, where religious people have a right to not be offended. It's the law.
In June 2013, Russia’s State Duma passed a bill which made "offending religious feeling" a crime carrying a jail sentence. The move came a year after Pussy Riot performed their "Punk Prayer" in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Church, which saw two of the women end up behind bars. 
You see, this is a cautionary tale for all countries that still have blasphemy laws, because that's precisely what this is. The good bishop tells us his story.
“I wrote (to prosecutors) that Tannhauser breaches the rights of believers ... Believers are offended, so to say,” Tikhon said at a news conference this month.
There you have it. In Russia, religious believers have the right to never be offended. If they are, they can cry out blasphemy! and the State will come charging in and arrest anyone who dares utter anything at all challenging to the religious status quo.

This law apparently carries a fine of 200,000 rubles ($3,165 USD) as an administrative offence. However, jail time has also been thrown about as a possible punishment -- up to three years.

Ridiculous, right?

Canada still has a punishment of up to two years for blasphemy. Don't think it couldn't happen here. Check out the new End Blasphemy Laws coalition of groups who want to work for a world where prude clergymen cannot determine what we're allowed to see as adults.