Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What's the deal with human rights?

China seems to have backed out of their promise to decrease infringements on human rights during the Olympic Games next month in Beijing by blocking foreign journalists access to certain websites (though I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that these websites are blocked to everyone in China, journalists just won't be the exception they had hoped they would). 

I have two roommates, a married couple, from China. One of them has been living here since January 1, and since that time we've had several discussions about Western opinion and criticism of China, particularly its government. He doesn't understand why Western societies, particularly the U.S., harps on China's human rights record since a) the U.S. has an equally bad human rights record, and b) the people of China are happy with the way things are, and c) incidents like the Tienanmen Square protest were so long ago.

I find flaws in his arguments, but I admit that I haven't pressed the issue very hard for two reasons: because I know very little about China, and because I have a western bias. He hasn't swayed me on my belief in human rights, but I haven't changed his mind either and I don't expect to. I don't think we know the whole truth about China, considering the inherent bias of all media, but I don't think he does either, and I think there is something to what we hear about the Chinese government, whether it's worse or better than we're told.
I firmly believe that governments are a human invention ("Well, duh," I hear you saying, but what I mean is I don't think any god gave us the idea, or created us to be able to have the idea). If it wasn't for government laws, we could literally do whatever we wanted (inside the laws of physics, of course), and while I'm thankful we have laws to deter most people from killing, raping, plundering, etc., I don't agree with laws that prevent us from ruling ourselves like China's ban on certain websites — or Canada's laws against drug use, but that's another tangent.  
Though I'm not a spiritual person, I do believe in truth (I think it lies somewhere between both sides of the story) and I believe we all have a right to seek it. Maybe the Falun Gong are a cult, and maybe the Dali Lama is a terrorist, but if that's the case, shouldn't people have a right to figure that out for themselves? 

Governments shouldn't put parental controls on their people and censor what information they have access to — the people are supposed to control the government (and I think that applies in all forms of government. Even if you have a dictator, aren't they, in theory, supposed to carry out the will of the people?). If the government is so convinced that they're right, what are they so afraid people will find out?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Discriminatory banning practices

Anyone who gives a toss one way or the other about Canada's annual seal hunt is paying attention to the actions of the European Union (EU) right now to see if they will indeed ban Canadian seal products from both being sold in their member countries and being shipped through their countries, making it difficult to get the products to countries like Russia, one of Canada's largest markets for seal products. 

Yesterday the EU's Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas announced a bill that he is pushing through the union to implement such a ban on products derived from countries with hunts that "practice cruel hunting methods." There was a major exception, however: seal products from traditional Inuit hunters. There is something about this that doesn't sit right with me.

I admit right away to being pretty ignorant to traditional Inuit seal-hunting practices, but is it any more humane than the methods white hunters use?  Granted, if only Inuit hunted seals, there would be a lot less seals killed, but from what I can gather from anti-hunt protesters, they don't care if the number of seals killed decreases — they don't want them killed at all.

I don't think bans should be implemented on seal products one way or another — as long as a sustainable hunt is carried out, I fail to see how the seal hunt is any different than killing cows, chickens, or pigs in slaughter houses. At least these seals have a chance at living to see another day, and know freedom — a cow in a slaughter house is going to die before it's time regardless of whether it ends up on your plate, covering your back, or killed off for being defective. 

That being said, I don't see why special privileges should be given to Inuit hunters in this scenario. The EU isn't putting a ban on the hunt — if they included Inuit hunters in the ban they wouldn't be taking away a traditional food or clothing source for the Inuit, or destroying an ancient way of life. They just wouldn't be able to sell or ship their products to EU countries, thereby possibly destroying their livelihoods, like they will for the non-Inuit hunters. 

Does the EU think Inuit are too stupid or ignorant to find other means of employment? What about the non-Inuit hunters who don't have any other vocational training, and maybe didn't even finish grade school? Yes, there are significantly less Aboriginal people with post-secondary training in Canada than non-Aboriginals, but the numbers are slowly getting better.

My theory — and I recognize that I could be way off base with this, but hear me out — is that the EU fears Inuit and Aboriginal protests if they include Inuit hunt products in the ban. In order to avoid appearing racist, they will allow Inuit products to come through. But in efforts to avoid being labeled as bigots, they are actually discriminating against non-Aboriginal hunters for not being Aboriginal. That's like cops pulling over everyone who isn't black to avoid appearing as though they use racial profiling. 

If I had my way, no seal product bans would pass in the EU, but as it's becoming more and more likely that a ban is imminent, I believe all seal products should be banned and no allowances made for the colour of your skin or how long your ancestors have lived in this country.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The epitome of taking yourself too seriously

I don't feel like writing an entire blog entry about this, partly because I'm lazy and partly because I think my ire is pretty self-explanatory. In short, there is ridiculous controversy surrounding an upcoming Paul McCartney concert in Quebec City, and it has nothing to do with seals. 

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ghoulish Germs

WARNING: There may be fecal matter on your computer keyboard right now. Back away from the computer — hell, throw out your keyboard, or entire computer just to be safe, and quickly order that life size plastic bubble and lifetime supply of anti-bacterial wipes, gels, hand soaps, etc. by phone, but keep a stack of Kleenex between your mouth and the phone piece.

I found this article through G-Mail's handy little headline news links — a group of students at the University of Washington in Seattle found traces of fecal bacteria on 30 of the campus' library computer keyboards. The article goes on to say that the presence of fecal bacteria on the keyboards could mean that there's other bacteria, such as E Coli, at our fingertips when we use public keyboards. 

My initial reaction to this: people are surprised by this? We wipe our asses using our hands (and tissue paper — most of us) and also use keyboards with our hands. I would like to think that most of us wash our hands (that's probably wishful thinking), but even for those of us who make a conscious effort to get poo off our fingers, there's not always soap or enough time to give a good, thorough scrub to our digits, hence fecal matter shows up on our keyboards. And I imagine it doesn't end there — if they tested our phones, food, toothbrushes, doorknobs, office supplies, or even beds, they'd probably find fecal germs there, too. So what?

I'm all for hygiene — I shower at least once a day, wash my hands with soap after I use the toilet, brush my teeth at least once, if not twice a day, and I floss … every now and then. But you can't protect yourself from all germs, and we're spending too much money, creating way too much garbage in our battle to fight germs, and even, ironically, affecting our own health in the process. 

In a study originally posted in the journal Respirology, researchers found that kids raised on a farm were less likely to develop asthma than kids in more urban settings — during a two year study of kids less than 12 years old,  2.3 per cent of kids on farms developed asthma as compared to 5.3 per cent of kids in other rural areas and 5.7 per cent in urban centres. Scientists determined it was because kids living on farms were more likely to be exposed to endotoxins from animal viruses and manure, which kept their immune system active working against bacteria and therefore enabling itself to fight off other bacteria and viruses that could lead to asthma. 

I'm not saying human feces might have these endotoxins, or that we should start taking the active approach in exposing ourselves to them. But what I am saying is our fear of germs and dirty things can disrupt the natural health defenses we were born with — our immune systems. We now know to cook our meat thoroughly, keep certain products refrigerated, wash our hands, don't play with needles, sterilize surgical equipment, and cover our mouths when you sneeze (though how well that works is also up for debate), all important advances that help us live longer. But sprays that kill 99.9 per cent of all bacteria, including the good kind or bacteria your body can easily defeat on its own, is not necessary and may even be harmful. 

It pretty much goes without saying that all the spray cans, disposable wipes, Swiffer wet and dry clothes, cleaning chemicals, and plastic bottles is not good for the environment, either, so I'll spare you an environmentalist tirade for today.

Truth be told, you may end up consuming fecal bacteria in the future. But you can rest easy knowing you've probably consumed a lot already (especially as a child), and you're still alive if you're reading this blog (though a zombie, vampire or ghost readership wouldn't go astray...).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I don't consider myself a nationalist. In fact, I find nationalism a bit disconcerting — it's fine to be proud of your country, but nationalism taken to the extreme can be insulting at best, and bloody warfare causing at worst. I didn't even vote for Gros Morne in the Seven Natural Wonders of the World contest — sure it's beautiful there, but there is so much more on this planet that is far more breathtaking than what can be found on our tiny little island.

But I couldn't help but feel a bit ticked off about how Newfoundlanders treated their own Memorial Day today. You know, the Battle of Beaumont Hamel? I know you know it — what Newfoundlander doesn't? I grew up with what I perceived as curmudgeony parents grumbling about Canada Day taking away from the remembering the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. I couldn't understand why my parents could loathe a day off work, with block parties, barbeques,  and fire works, just because it happened to fall on the anniversary of the worst military defeat our country (Newfoundland and Labrador, not Canada) had ever experienced. 

Even though I share some of their ire now, and  the nationalism I see on Canada Day now makes me a little ill, I'm not going to begrudge people their day of celebration.

However, despite the fact that we are part of Canada now, I'm pretty disappointed with how the Battle of Beaumont Hamel ceremonies played out in St. John's today. First of all, I didn't even know they were happening. I knew we used to have them, but had heard something about Canada asking us to move them to another day so as to not tar their birthday celebrations, and being the good little doormat province, we did as we were told. My sister didn't accept this answer, so she asked our parents. They didn't know either.

The event wasn't listed on The Telegram's website, nor in the events of the paper I work for (yeah, I work for a newspaper and I didn't know about the parade - sad but true). It wasn't on the City's website, either. My stepmom, techno wizard that she is, found it for us online somewhere - yes there was a war memorial service. 

This morning on CBC radio, there was no mention of the service. After 8:30 they did do a piece on the Holy Heart of Mary Choir singing in Beaumont Hamel, France, today, which was nice. But still no mention of the parade/service. 

Before we went, my sister and I had a debate as to whether or not we should wear poppies. My argument was that all the allies were buried in Flanders Fields — which I didn't really know for fact, I admit, but it is a World War I symbol. We decided against the poppies, just in case. 

When we got to the service, however, "In Flanders Fields" was read — causing me to gloat at first, but then ponder. Then they started bringing out the wreaths, and there were a lot of wreaths, from various battalions and groups that had nothing to do with Newfoundland or the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. The band played a medley of God Save the Queen and Oh Canada twice, but only played one verse from the Ode to Newfoundland at the very end of the service.

I go to the Remembrance Day ceremonies every year, and this service was just like it, both in length and content. There was very little focus on the particular battle itself or the men that were lost there. I'm not saying other veterans don't deserve to be commemorated on more than one day a year, but this was a Newfoundland battle and a Newfoundland loss - why wasn't there more Newfoundland in it?