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Monday, July 14, 2008

Intellectual freedom in Canada: First order of business is comedy!

Yes, absolutely, the first order of business is definitely comedy, on Saturday night, July 19, celebrating 40 years of stand up comedy "an event that embodies our right to free speech (while we still have it)"

Details: Tickets $20 at Comedy Bar, 945B Bloor St. West, show starts 9:00 pm July 19, all proceeds to Guy Earle's defense. Earle is the comic charged by the BC human rights tribunal because some hecklers were offended by his response after they dissed him.

Comics: Register online: One minute each, only 40 spots available. 60 seconds to shoot your mouth off.

Mark Steyn, himself a funnyman in prose, talks about Earle on the Hugh Hewitt show here:
MS: ... these hack bureaucrats simply don’t get it, and they want to expand their powers. The British Columbia judges, the ones in my case, have now moved on to prosecuting this fellow called Guy Earle, who is a stand-up comedian. And basically, two people who’d been barracking him during the show complained that he’d been rude to them, as comics often are. You have to, if you’re doing live stand-up, you have to be able to put down hecklers. Unfortunately, in his case, the hecklers were two lesbians, and they’ve now complained (laughing)…

[ ... ]

I think jokes are one of the absolutely critical things that distinguish free societies from unfree societies. I love that line of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s – “There are no jokes in Islam.” He says, you know, if you think you’re down here to have fun, have a laugh, have a good time, have a big giggle, a chuckle, split your sides, forget it. There are no jokes in Islam.
The ayatollah had obviously never met some of my Muslim friends who are well acquainted with a good joke. Just as well on both sides I am sure.

Meanwhile, civil rights lawyer Ezra Levant, has suggested to a US Congress committee that they put Canada on a rights abuse watch list:
So what can Americans do?

1. The first thing you can do is what you always do: continue to monitor the erosion of freedom around the world, including through Congressional committees like this one. Publish annual reports shaming foreign countries for their abuses of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Put Canada on that list, to let our government know what they’re doing isn’t acceptable.

2. And rededicate yourselves to your First Amendment. Understand that the erosion of freedom doesn’t always happen with a bang – it can happen with a whimper. And that, when it comes to free speech, it’s usually unpopular people who are censored first. But if they can go for a neo-Nazi yesterday, it’s Geno’s Steak House today, and then a Christian pastor or a news magazine tomorrow.
I think that might be a good idea. A few independent American news outlets might cover the ongoing mulching of civil rights here. The others will cover the latest fashions in belly rings.

Friend Franklin Carter of the Book and Periodical Council of Canada also calls my attention to an important clarification of our libel laws. In "The right to be 'wrong-headed'," media lawyer Brian MacLeod Rogers of Toronto explains,
The Supreme Court of Canada's decision in WIC Radio Ltd. v. Simpson (2008 SCC 40) clarifies and strengthens a defence that had fallen into murky depths and had become too unreliable to be counted on when most needed. Nothing can be more important in a democracy than to have citizens feel that they can speak freely and openly about their views – however wrong-headed those views may seem to others.

In their ruling, all nine judges said
that "public controversy can be a rough trade and the law needs to accommodate its requirements." An "overly solicitous regard for personal reputation," the court added, should not be permitted "to 'chill' freewheeling debate on matters of public interest."
But do let's remember that, for those of us lucky enough to live in or near Toronto, the first order of business is comedy, comedy, comedy Saturday night. I am buying my ticket tomorrow.

Please note: This is late nite comedy. Don't bring Aunt Censoria. Get her to babysit Bowser the Schnauzer.

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We come to bury Darwin, not to praise him?

Susan Mazur, who covered the Altenberg 16 rethink of evolution, is posting an e-book about what she is learning - and it ain't pretty. More later.

I start to get answers here. 2:35 pm EST July 15, 2008

Just up at The Mindful Hack

Neuroscience: Meditation really can change the brain

My experiences point to truth but yours are classic examples of brain rot? (Charlie Brown's sister Lucy's theory of psychiatry, but not a cartoon*)

Jeff Schwartz lectures in Ireland on changing the troubled brain by changing the mind

Neuroscience: First detailed map of the Grand Central Station of the brain

Can languages be treated as if words were genes?

The Mindful Hack is news and views on the science of our brains. It supports the book The Spiritual Brain, by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary.

*A reader helpfully advises me of an error:
In Charles Schulz' popular cartoon strip Peanuts, Charlie Brown and Lucy are not brother and sister, but unrelated.

Charlie Brown's sister is Sally Brown, and Lucy van Pelt has two younger brothers, Linus and Rerun.
Ah yes, ... being a bossy older sister myself, I had merely assumed that she was one of the sorority.

Trees: When the truth is dug up, theories are sometimes uprooted

In "The Life of Trees: Their "most simple and beautiful oneness" in Books & Culture, Alan Jacobs writes about trees, reminding us of how little we really know about the life forms that surround us:
But perhaps the most interesting fact to be gleaned from these books—and from Richard Preston's The Wild Trees—is this: much of our knowledge about trees is of recent vintage, and there is still a great deal about these creatures that we do not know. Rackham points out that two great storms that swept across Britain in 1987 and 1990 and uprooted thousands of old trees created surprise and consternation in many botanists: all along they had been describing the long taproots that anchored such trees deep in the ground, but the storms revealed that the taproots didn't exist. Even the largest trees can have roots just a couple of feet deep: they extend horizontally vast distances, but the taproots that saplings (especially oaks) send down are soon supplanted. Preston describes the work of Steve Sillett, of Humboldt State University in California, and a small group of other scientists who in the past fifteen years have discovered what really goes on in the canopies of our tallest trees—something which earlier botanists had tried, with limited success, to explore by floating above the forests in balloons. Sillett and company simply climb the trees, risking life and limb every time they do it, and in the process are discovering the phenomenally complex ecosystem flourishing in those heights. Preston, who became a climber himself and joined Sillett on some of his expeditions, found in the crowns of some Eastern trees flying squirrels so unfamiliar with human beings that they allowed him to scratch their heads, and life two hundred feet farther up, in those California redwoods, is even stranger. As one scientist vividly remarked, atop some of the tallest redwoods, with their dense and interlocking multiple crowns, you could put showshoes on and throw a Frisbee around. O brave new world indeed.
And so much of what we know is wrong:

Conservationists," says Rackham, "have a record of trying to play God and rectifying God's mistakes as well as humanity's. Often they make woods fit a predetermined theory (which theory depends on how long ago they were at college) rather than listening to the woods and discovering what each wood has to contribute to conservation as a whole." It's now well-understood that the most catastrophic of these attempt at God-playing was the practice—very common throughout the 20th century, especially in North America and in Brazil, and not yet everywhere rejected—of trying to eradicate forest fires. This overzealousness deprives woodland ecosystems of the vital benefits of occasional burning, and, worse, insures that when fires do start they find so much combustible material that they become superfires, with dire consequences for forests and people alike.
Essentially, if all mature trees are protected from destruction, there will be no habitat for the many life forms that depend on new growth and mid-life forests, to say nothing of clearings. A sound ecology incorporates all stages of life, including rotting logs. Jacobs also notes,

It's interesting to see that people who love trees and know them intimately, as opposed to those who have merely general instincts for conservation, tend not to erect ideological barriers between the human world and "Nature." Rackham's deeply committed but pragmatic and nonideological approach credits woodlands with a remarkable ability to manage themselves, and sees a great deal of wisdom in many of our ancient practices of woodcraft—practices formulated when we couldn't dominate our environment and so had to learn to be stewards of it.
It's a lovely essay; it communicates a love for trees while acknowledging the short-sightedness of the sort of urban environmentalism, where the busybody has, alas, picked "nature" as his target.

I had a run-in with just such folk a decade ago when the maple tree in my front yard was struck by lightning. A huge branch blocked the street for hours. Because it was an old tree, planted too close to the sidewalk and now quite disfigured, the city condemned and removed it. Well! To hear some people, you would think we had murdered the legendary Spirit of the Trees! In fact, a fine young tree now stands in its place, and life goes on, somewhat closer to the ground, -at least for now.

(Note: The image is from Free Fotos.)


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