Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

Radio Freethinker Episode 189 – The End of Coffee Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on November 13, 2012

This week:
– Coffee plant soon to be extinct,
– Talking Elephants, 

– Tyson find Superman’s home planet,
– Autism ‘links’ to the flu
– Mandatory Flu Vaccination – why doctors resist

Download the episode here!

Coffee plant soon to be extinct

According to scientist, coffee in the ‘wild’ will be extinct before the century is out. Its human destruction of habitat and climate change to blame. What impact will this have on our cup-of-Joe at the bux? Hint: did you know the commercial banana went extinct 100 years ago but we had the wild variety to ‘re-create’ a new commercial crop.

Find out more:

Talking Elephants

We respond to reports about a Korean Elephant that has learnt to ‘talk’ to its trainers. We compare this to other reports of talking animals and the idea that ‘this class’ of animal can ‘communicate’ as we do at all. What does ‘communicate’ even mean to an ‘alien’ species…like an elephant or whale?

Find out more:

Tyson find Superman’s home planet

When DC comics ask Neil De Grass Tyson to do a cameo in an upcoming edition of Superman, little did they realize they would be getting a big side order of science to go in as well. Listen to find out where Kryton really could have been.

Find out more:

Autism ‘links’ to the flu

In the past, we have talked about how major news agencies often misrepresent science. We have talked about how Autism discussion in the media often parrot the ‘anti-vax’ position as ‘fair and balanced’. This week we talk about a report in NBC that got most of it right. Science was hyped but in the end it trashed the Anti-vax position about vaccination and urged pregnant women to get the flu shot.

Find out more:

Mandatory Flu Vaccination – why doctors resist

It is flu season again and the usual push to get every one, especially vulnerable groups, vaccinated. Doesn’t vaccination give permanent immunity? Then why an annual shot? How do the great the vaccine and is it effective? We answer these question and more with the help of special guest Dr. Rob Tarzwell.

We also talk to Rob about the apparent paradox as to why the most medically informed population (health care providers) seem to be so reluctant to get the annual flu shot. We confront the recent announcement that flu vaccination will become mandatory for healthcare providers and how the medical community is responding to this announcement.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

Philosophers’ Café

Fear as a tool for governance? For repression? For entertainment?

On an individual level we tend to seek out fear. One just needs to look at the success of writers such as Stephen King and the plethora of “scary movies”. On a societal or collective level, fear may have remained a constant tool in the hands of the powerful. Has fear become a crucial element in our Faustian quest for security?

Date: Monday, Nov 19, 2012, 7:30 pm

Location: Caffe Amici, Commercial Drive at Kitchener, Vancouver

Admission: Free

Moderator: Zahid Makhdoom speaks and writes extensively on the issues of justice, peace and human rights, and is currently engaged as a humble public servant.

If plants are sentient beings, should we eat them?

Recent discoveries indicate that plants may be as sentient as other natural beings. If a plant can feel and has some form of consciousness, should we still eat them? How should vegetarians respond to this notion?

Date: Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012, 7 pm

Location: Nature’s Garden Organic Deli, University High Street, Burnaby

Admission: Free

Moderator: Jason Carreiro,  a PhD candidate and instructor in philosophical and social issues in education at Simon Fraser University.

It’s the end of the Universe and I feel fine

Staff Astronomer, Raminder Samra will guide the audience on an tour of how astronomers believe that one day the Earth will meet its end — starting from the Big Bang, then progressing to the formation of our Solar System, and finally, to how our Earth will end and what is to be expected to happen to our Universe in the far future.

Date: Saturday, Nov 17, 2012, 8 pm

Location: H.R. MacMillan Space Centre

Admission: by donation

Moderator: Raminder Samra — UBC graduate student of astronomy and astrophysics.

Café Inquiry: How to do Cold Readings

Saturday, November 17, 2012
SFU Harbour Centre Room 2290 (West Fraser Timber Conference Room)

Café Inquiry is a monthly casual discussion group run by CFI Vancouver. Come along and enjoy afternoon tea and stimulating discussion with fellow freethinkers on a variety of topics.

Our presenter, Michael Glenister, is a both a professional magician and a high school science and mathematics teacher.This months Café is on how to do cold readings. Cold reading is a series of techniques used by magicians, illusionists and so called psychics or fortune-tellers to determine or express details about another person, often in order to convince them that the reader knows much more about a subject than they actually do. It is a common practice by “psychics” to convince people of their supernatural powers.

Check out the FaceBook Event

Science of Harm Reduction Drug Policy by Dr. Thomas Kerr

Friday, November 30, 2012
Room A102 of Buchanan Building, Block A, 1866 Main Mall, Vancouver

Dr. Thomas Kerr is Co-Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), and an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of AIDS at the University of British Columbia.

Harm reduction drug policy has become a politically polarizing issue, which often leaves the science behind the rhetoric. With recent court challenges over Vancouver’s safe injection site, Insite; society must become scientifically informed on what strategies are effective in treating addiction and improving public health.

This talk will take place in room A102 of Buchanan building block A at UBC. There is a suggested donation of $5 to $10.

Check out the FaceBook Event

Posted in Show notes | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blasphemy Against Atheists? What’s Sacred to Us?

Posted by Ethan Clow on June 1, 2012

A few days ago at UBC I attended a CFI talk by Austin Dacey about the future of blasphemy. It was an interesting lecture and while I felt that Dacey was leaning towards the “olive branch” side of the spectrum, I did find his points rather persuasive. Or, at the least, extremely thought provoking. Namely, what is blasphemy and what does it mean to atheists and skeptics in the free thought movement? How do we navigate the new modern view of blasphemy and is there a way that we can take advantage of this interpretation? If we can though, what is sacred to free thinkers?

The main focus of the talk was on the changing dynamic of blasphemy interpretation. In early biblical times, blasphemy was viewed as an affront to God. Literally speaking. If you committed the crime of blasphemy, the victim was God. In most cases, the penalty for this was death.

However as time went on the view of who the victim of blasphemy began to change. No longer was God seen as the victim but rather society. If someone blasphemed, they were harming the community and thus blasphemy was seen as a civic crime.

In modern times blasphemy morphed into a new type of crime, a personal attack on the feelings and beliefs of an individual. In fact, this new form is how the United Nations and various human rights agencies around the world view blasphemy, a crime wherein the feelings and beliefs of individuals are mocked and hurt by the act of blasphemy.

I don’t think I need to go into huge detail about why this is such a troubling and dangerous definition for any law. Subjective emotions and feelings exist in a vague and esoteric dimension guarded by hounds of close mindedness and ectoplasm.

If someone puts up a sign that offends me, how can any just society consider having that person arrested and put in jail for the terrible crime of offending me?

Of course we rarely see someone incarcerated in North America for blasphemy but we do see other forms of punitive action taking place when someone is so offended. A number of atheist billboards have been taken down because some religious person couldn’t stand the fact that atheists exists.

This billboard was taken down because it was too offensive.

Elsewhere people who blaspheme may face more serious action. Sanal Edamaruku, an Indian skeptic was arrested for blasphemy in March. Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi Arabian writer, was forced to flee his country when he was accused of blasphemy under the penalty of death.

Solving the problem of blasphemy laws will be an uphill battle. These laws were put in place by human rights activists to protect against religious minorities being singled out for violence in the way that Jewish people were singled out for violence by Nazi Germany. However as Dacey pointed out, that’s not what these laws do. If anything, they actually empower the oppressor to subject minority voices.

Blasphemy laws seem to be used by the most conservative and holier than thou’s of religions for the express purpose of strengthening their own positions and silencing criticism.

But Dacey said something I had never considered. Perhaps we atheists and skeptics can turn the tables and use these blasphemy laws to our own advantage. The only catch is that we have to have something sacred to blaspheme against.

So the thorny question is: what (if anything) is sacred to free thinkers?

My first instinct is to say nothing. The reason I say that is because when I think of sacred, I imagine something that is profoundly unquestionable. Something that is so important, no part of it could change or be altered or the risk would be its total destruction.

This is where I was having problems with Dacey’s thesis, it would seem that in order to have something “sacred” I would need a definition of sacred that is so watered down as to hardly even make sense when talking with anyone with a more mainstream definition.

Even with such a watered down definition I have trouble with Dacey’s idea as he applies to physical objects. He gave an example of great works of art or old books. But even then, if I was in the Louvre and it was freezing cold and it was either burn the Mona Lisa or freeze to death…I’m probably burning that painting.

However where I found myself thinking that Dacey’s idea could work for me was the idea of human dignity. The idea that human beings shouldn’t be tortured, demeaned, humiliated, wrongfully incarcerated, abused or destroyed. Whether we want to call these human rights or not, I’m pretty sure that they are as close to sacred as I can get.

And of course to blaspheme against them would have to be more than suggest that those ideas are wrong. After all, free speech and free expression would fall under the umbrella of human dignity, to lock someone up for that would seem to be hypocritical.

I think the only form of blaspheme against human dignity would be violations of human dignity. Perhaps the enactment of laws designed to erode the values of human rights or the justifications for egregious violations of human beings. The actual acts of torture etc already have laws on the books to punish such crimes.

But even setting aside the actual blasphemy claim, can we accept the idea of sacred ideas? Even if we decided to include the notion of great art into that category. Would we lock someone up for defacing the Mona Lisa? Would a musician who remixes Mozart go to jail? Under these new laws could George Lucas be arrested for the Star Wars prequels?

Austin Dacey has two books that interested folks might want to check out. The Secular Conscience and The Future of Blasphemy.


Posted in Blogs, Ethan's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Libya, the UN and what we have lost…

Posted by Don McLenaghen on October 24, 2011

I think it’s time.

He’s dead and in a tangential kind of way we, those of us on the show, asked for it to happen.

There are many adjectives that have been applied to Moammar Kaddafi…revolutionary, dictator, Pan-African federalist, opportunist, Arab nationalist, mad man, anti-American freedom fighter, killer of his own people…whatever label you may apply it seems true that he was unique, anti-colonial and absolute ruler of Libya. I think it’s not a stretch that at least for Libya itself, his death is believed to be a good thing. What follows may be better or worse…time will well. Egypt seems to show that removing the dictator does not guarantee a ‘western-style free democratic society’ (whatever that may mean). Recent hints from the elections in Tunisia and the Libyan leaders point to a more theocratic government based on sharia law with blasphemy laws, curtailed freedom for women and a stricter adherence to religious dogma (maybe as extreme as the ‘based on biblical law’ of the current GOP/Tea Party).

Although I do care what happens now, the focus of this blog is my personal sense of responsibility (as minor and ethereal as it may be) for what happened…what we as “the west” did at first for and then to Libya. As our loyal listeners may remember we did a segment a number of months ago about the intervention of the UN (via the NATO). In that segment we attempted to dissect the issue of intervention.


At the heart of the debate was, as we saw it – innocent citizens being ‘murdered’ by their own government. These ‘innocents’ were the spontaneous uprising hoping to liberate themselves from a ‘hated dictator’. The local flowering of the Arab spring that had seen the removal a despised dictator in Tunisia and Egypt…who were in no small way encouraged by those of us in the free nations hoping for the same in Libya. Unlike Tunisia or Egypt and more like Syria; Libyans were not able to achieve the overthrow in a (relatively) peaceful way.

Some (maybe most in Canada?) didn’t care (it’s their problem not mine), a few thought the west (and especially the USA) was spread too thin as it was with Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, and Africa. There were some who thought we (the west, NATO, the USA…) should invade with troops and put in a ‘better’ (for the West) regime.  Most people (I would like to think) thought that intervention, for humanitarian reasons, was a valid option.

The humanitarian argument was that life should be protected…that just because one is a member of a state, that the state does not have a right to kill its own citizens…in fact if a state kills its own citizens it loses its legitimacy.

That said, it is one thing to say that an illegitimate government should be deposed by its people (as it has happened in Tunisia and apparently in Egypt) and an entirely different (?) thing to have external powers (i.e. NATO, UN, USA) to commit regime change.

As stated, the majority (?) of those in favor of humanitarian intervention do not support (external) regime change.

Racism against black Africans in Libya. Guest workers equated to 'Kaddafi Mercenaries'

In spite of the moral argument a number thought  it still wrong to intervene, not because the cause was just but that once the ‘west’ was involved, our ‘ennobled’ leaders could not resist the temptation to use the military power given them to go beyond humanitarian support and use it to remove a thorn (justifiable or not) in ‘the wests’ side; that once the UN authorized military intervention, the US and Europe (and Canada) would go beyond humanitarian support and act as a proxy air force for the ‘rebels’. Implicit in this is that in supporting the rebels, UN forces (via NATO) would kill numerous ‘innocent’ people in their drive to remove Kaddafi.  As we have seen, although NATO would claim it bombed discriminately, many innocent civilians died from bombing, ‘rebel’ attacks and revenge killing (by the rebels the NATO eventually explicitly supported).

The fear went beyond just the loss of innocent life or even the hypocrisy of the ‘west’. For those who believed in humanitarian intervention but feared regime change, the biggest danger was that the UN was the author of the intervention. That if ‘humanitarian intervention’ was seen to be secret code for ‘regime change’; any attempt by the UN to ACTUALLY promote human rights…to protect the innocent…to take meaningful and concrete actions for ‘good’ would be fatally harmed by this action. That it was for the greater good that we let Kaddafi do what he would to ensure that the UN only flex its muscle for genuine (?) humanitarian causes.

Well, as I said it’s done…regime change done…revolution complete…the chickens will soon come home to roost.

We did not save lives – arguably…did we promote human rights – no…did we remain above petty politics for the sake of grander moral principles – NO! NATO (via the UN) saw an opportunity to remove a thorn and Libya is (perhaps) free of a dictator.

The cost?

The UN…

One thing that is constantly, and justly, raised is why Libya and not Syria (or Bahrain)? IF the UN were to be the neutral protector of BASIC human rights, it should have done something not only in Libya but also in Syria. Libya was easy…it did not have a ‘military’ institution (something seen as a criticism in Libya and a hindrance in Egypt).

Who stands to gain.

Kaddafi was not reliable…there was a moment of opportunity for regime change to a more malleable leader. Keep an eye open in the coming months for talk about ‘rebuilding Libyan infrastructure’…code for western takeover of Libyan oil. Kaddafi was a bastard but he did nationalize most of the petroleum industry and use that money for (what HE saw as) Libyan interests.

Syrians die because they have a ‘real’ air force…Syria is politically ‘complex’…Syrian lives are not as important as Libyans…Kaddafi was more embarrassing to the west than Assade…Assade had support from Iran, Kaddafi only African nations…Bahrain has the base for the US Navy’s 6th Fleet…ultimately, the cost to profit ratio was not worth it…Bahrain’s Spring…Syrian’s Spring…postponed because it was not easy!

Kaddafi is dead. The dead is done. I am unsure if I would still support UN intervention in Libya. If my concern was simply Libya I think I would not hesitate with my support for intervention. IF my concern was the UN…human rights…the world…I am not sure I could remain as confident.

Kaddafi is dead and with him any chance the UN will ‘forcefully’ intervene JUST BECAUSE of human rights…human suffering is involved…just because it’s the moral and right thing to do. The UN is a great idea, sadly it doesn’t seem to work as well in practice.

I mourn today, not for Kaddafi but for humanity as a whole.

Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Libyan No-Fly Zone Redux

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 31, 2011

In an earlier episode I made a case for a No-Fly Zone over Libya to stop the massacre that was imminent due to a resurgent Gadhafi. When the no-fly zone was implemented, I made a comment about how the USA, NATO and the UN were in a no win situation, that prior to the implantation people would accuse them of callous indifference and that if/when it was implemented people would accuse them of imperialism. I used the term “whine” which offended some listeners…sorry Maurice…and the note that, my comments were an ad homonym attack on those who oppose the no-fly zone.

First, in my defence, the comments were not part of one of our main segments but just our idle chatter, so I wasn’t making any argument ad homonym or otherwise…but I will try to be less flippant in future if that is important to our listeners. Second, the point I was TRYING to make was that both or either side was destined to complain regardless of what was done. I was ‘whining’ that the UN did not impose a no-fly zone prior to our show. Lastly, you are right. When I made the case, for as good skeptics, we should have taken some time to assess the other side. So let’s do so now.

There are several reasons NOT to impose a no-fly zone. These fall into three main camps. The first is the idea of sovereignty. This is the claim often made by Russia and China. Each nation claims to have the right to settle internal affairs… internally and that no nation has the right to in the internal affairs of another. This issue, in a less violent way, has been raised often in Canada. There have been a number of times when Canadians have complained that comments made by American officials are wrong because they are seen as attempting to interfere with the internal affairs of Canada. An example of this is….in 2005 election the US ambassador to Canada said that Canadian politicians should not ‘bash the USA’…in response to issues like Kyoto and Softwood lumber, this verbal defence at the time cause a huge uproar in the press and public…

Another main argument against the no-fly zone is that violence, even when ostensibly for peaceful reasons, is wrong. This is similar to the arguments made against capital punishment…that we kill people to show that killing people is wrong; as in this case we are attempting to stop the killing of people in Libya by killing people in Libya…the only difference being on what side of an arbitrary, like the bombs are allowed to drop.

The last argument, and I think the strongest, is that this intervention IS an act of imperialism or at least opportunism by the US. The US has a long history of interventions in other nation’s internal affairs…or even regions affairs…not to create healthy democracies but to support pro-American regimes. My support for the No-Fly Zone was for humanitarian reasons but it is rapidly transformed into a move by ‘the west’ to oust Gadhafi. They are no longer trying to suppress loss of life but to actively support the ‘rebels’ in an attempt to drive Gadhafi from power…something a number of people said was the probable true reason for the intervention and regardless of the original intent it was the unavoidable outcome…the fundamental reason NOT to have a no-fly zone…that it would inevitably lead to active political intervention in the nation.

Now, we can argue that getting rid of Gadhafi is a good thing…like getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a good thing…and therefor the no-fly zone was still humanitarian and good even if it has been escalated because these dictators were in a near constant state of bringing violence and death upon their own people. We MIGHT agree with that…but what about other regimes that do this and the UN or the west…we do nothing? Syria comes to mind, where in the 80’s after a failed revolt, that government shelled the ‘offending city’ of HAM and killed over 17,000.

Currently Bahrain and Yemen are violently suppressing political dissent but these countries are allied with the USA…notably the US 5th fleet is based in Bahrain and the ‘hot spot’ the US war on terror in the region is Yemen…Bahrain has even had the Saudi armed forces help in the suppression; yet we do nothing. Uzbekistan is infamous for their violent repression and civil rights abuse…yet because the US sees them as reliable allies we do nothing. What about the intervention in Chile…or in 2004 in Haiti where the US engineered a coup against the popularist Aristae government under the guise of humanitarian relief.

Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Libyan No-Fly Zone

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 18, 2011

Peace Prize Roulette

Last week we talked about the popular uprising in Libya and the possibility that world powers would erect a no-fly zone over Libya to level the battle field between the heavily armed forces of Gadhafi and those of the newly recognized government in Benghazi. I mentioned that the US (and any western power) was in a kind of catch 22 – they enforce the no-fly zone and people says it’s another attempt by the west to secure Arab oil (although the Arab League last Saturday announced its support for the zone)…or they don’t and people say that the west doesn’t care if ‘brown people’ die.

Well, as it turns out there is an international law…well a UN protocol, that provides support for the UN to enforce a no-fly zone provided it meets certain criteria, called The Responsibility to Protect[1]. It has three main clauses[2]:

A State has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing (mass atrocities).

If the State is unable to protect its population on its own, the international community has a responsibility to assist the state by building its capacity. This can mean building early warning capabilities, mediating conflicts between political parties, strengthening the security sector, mobilizing standby forces, and many other actions.

If a State is manifestly failing to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures are not working, the international community has the responsibility to intervene at first diplomatically, then more coercively, and as a last resort, with military force.

So, the first one says, a state has the responsibility not to kill large portions of its own population, the second one states that if a state needs help to prevent the killing of large portions of its population, the international community may step in to help. Lastly, when a state is killing large portions of its own population, the international community has the responsibility to protect that population from its own government. It seems clear, to me at least, that this is the situation in Libya; that although it may look bad, lives are being lost and the world has the responsibility to act.

Okay, that’s the political speech…now let’s get skeptical. First, the rules claim genocide or ethnic cleansing…is this the case? Well, Libya is very tribal and the fighting does appear to be along largely tribal lines, however there does not appear to be any attempt to ‘remove or kill an ethnic group from a geographical area’. It’s factional fighting but so far, limited to combat and political reprisals, but not genocide.

Okay, what about crimes against humanity?

The cost of delay...

What are crimes against humanity[3]…simply they are acts that violate basic human rights on a grand scale. Acts, such as murder, committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. Acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. They are NOT sporadic or isolated…that is a few people here or there have their human rights violated is a bad thing but only when it is a large population does it qualify as a crime. I am unclear if Libya qualifies, well at least for this current event, because crimes against humanity are largely assessed in times of peace or occupation; neither seems to be completely applicable here. Yet the ICC has made precedent that it does qualify.

Okay, what about war crimes?

What IS the law of war is not well defined. The best example I could find is International Humanitarian Law[4]…the Geneva conventions for those of us not law professors. Of these the only one that seemed applicable was: Captured combatants and civilians must be protected against acts of violence and reprisals. Now some, including myself, are not sure if the rules of warfare apply to civil wars but there is historical precedent. The breakup of Yugoslavia resulted in charges of war crimes in the world court. UN war crimes tribunal has charged Charles Taylor for civil-war war crimes and the International Criminal Court (ICC) currently has indicted 11 people for civil-war type war crimes. Based on the ICC, it seems both War Crimes and Crimes against humanity have occurred in Libya thus making active intervention necessary.

Now this must be limited to the idea of responsibility to protect; that is intervention to stop mass killing and then to step back and allow ‘civil and democratic’ process to resolve the conflict. Failures in the past can be traced to three main faults: one, delaying action to the point where intervention served no purpose (the damage was already done…this I fear is what is currently happening in Libya); two, too little intervention so that crimes can still persist (this is what happened in Iraq in the 90’s, where intervention served only to make the life of the civilians worse and solidify the control of the dictatorship); and third, too much intervention (this is what happened in Iraq in 2k3; where instead of stopping crimes, the ‘coalition’ attempted to replace the government with one of their own making).

Lost Opportunity

Currently the delays and inaction by the UN (which was always going to be handicapped by anti-interventionist nations like China and Russia), NATO (which has a moral responsibility but technically Libya is outside its jurisdiction) and the Arab League (which lacks the ability to enforce a no-fly zone) makes it all the more likely that the totalitarian regime of Gadhafi will re-assert itself over Libya (likely leading to a genocide of those tribes that supported the revolution). Although legal issues made this delay likely and politics made it inevitable, it strikes me as a sad indictment of the so-called ‘moral democracies’ that we hide behind technicalities while allowing

Proving Critics Right

thousands of people to die…who died in the name of democracy. The USA…NATO…and yes, as ineffectual as it may have been, even Canada has a prime opportunity to show the world that it could use military force to defend the principle it CLAIMS to be defending in Iraq and Afghanistan…defend them in a meaningful and useful way; instead the opportunity may have slipped through our Noble Peace Prize winning (why again did Obama win?) ‘leader of the free world’ hands and the world is much worse place because of it.


The UN has just approved a No-Fly Zone and Canada IS sending planes to help…that is good but was it too late?

Posted in Blogs, Don's Blogs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 642 other followers