Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Freedom of Expression is Messy (Pt 2)

I commenced the thought that of all the rights and freedoms a person can have this one is the messiest. Probably because this has more to do with us as ourselves then any other right. After all, the freedom of religion and assembly, do come from the same source as the expression, and do speak of our true nature, although they tend to do with where we gather and what truth we have accepted. As for freedom of the press, that is good, but for the most part, we enjoy this right, we don't participate.

I considered the words of Rene Descartes: Je pense donc je suis. The idea is that if we are capable of thought, we exist. We are real, this is not a dream existence. I'm wondering if there may be another interpretation, it is in thinking and our expression plus our thoughts that reveal our true selves. Our thoughts are who we are. Now again, that is very messy, because there are a number of times we say or think things which we are probably not proud of possessing as thought. However, it is in our thinking and reasoning, or some times, the lack thereof, that we find our true selves.

Whether we or others like it or not, we come up with thoughts, sometimes totally independent of what the social norms are and what is considered proper for polite company, or as in the case of a dictatorship, what the leader wants you to think. While in some countries, you are simply told what you are to believe, and you had better not sway, but deep down inside, there is something totally different.

Perhaps this is why dictatorships and tyrannies always end up, eventually on the losing end, because people know what is the truth. They know when they are being fed a bunch of garbage, and while they can along with it for years, there will come a point when they say ' I'm not putting up with this nonsense any more'. Vacel Havel wrote in his essay "Power of the Powerless":
Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. . . .

It would be far simplier for the greengrocer to continue to display what he knows is a lie. He would be able to live a life that is relatively safe within the confines of his society and culture if he votes as instructed. Many people do, even though they see through the farce. But then there is the reality of existence, I think, therefore I am... or to reverse, I am, therefore I think... and he throws the sign away. Then the first cracks appear in the system.

This is why governments are so quick to suppress this right. Its perfectly fine if you continue to think as you should, because its safe. Even in a democracy such as Canada, bad things won't happen to you if you think bad thoughts. Although some may think what you believe falls under the category of a hate crime, then you will a few problems. Of course, the definition of hate crime has a tendency to expand and not remain static. It's not just new groups that are now protected from hate, its that the definition expands. Before it might be encouraging violence against a specific group, now it could be said if you hold a negative view towards another group then you are involved in hate crime. Or you are a victim of such.

I came across an article that stated, hate crime is on the rise in Canada. The question is, real increase or just more people are getting angry and reporting it. That is the big question. What becomes fascinating is how many actual crimes there are, 892 or so. Almost non-existent in a way.

Let me say hate crimes are never right. One should never espouse the death of a specific group in a society. If there is any limits on freedom of expression I will accept its that, that's the area of the government. It is often the role of government to tell us who to hate. It's called 'war'.

Still people do hold those thoughts, it is who they are. The problem of suppression is when one attempts to suppress anything, it goes underground. It does not go away, in fact it might be the basis of a whole new level of hate. Now a person thinks, they are unfairly 'protected' by the government. This leads to the bizarre conspiracy theories.

What do I suggest, with a few exceptions, let them express themselves as long as its not threatening or not destructive. For if you open your mouth to express your opinion, you invite me to open mine. If you are going to be a total jerk, I should have the right to point out what a jerk you are, it is only fair.

Still, this is where it all gets messy, all these not correct thoughts be express. It's noisy, it makes people upset. Yet, it is our humanity in full and some times, ugly display.

I think I've got a few more things to say.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Freedom of Expression is Messy

As we have all been following, the Arab world seems to be in a state in amazing flux. A few of the long running autocracies have fallen and a few more seem to be coming to their expiry dates. This seems to be especially true for Libya. The nation is in uproar, people are now sick of the 42 year reign of Muammar Gaddafi and want things like democracy, freedom of expression and economic freedom that is free from the restrictions placed by the government. Over the last number of years, Gaddafi has favoured one part of the country over the other. The East seems to have suffered, although many will say the West isn't exactly the land of milk and honey. For a nation rich in resources, there has been an amazing economic screw=up by the government. Well, let's be honest, its been a one man show, because of it, the problems have to rest in the incompetence of the Mr. Gaddafi. He's called the shots and he is the one that messed everything up.

I was reading the Constitution of Libya, its something I like to do and as is the case of most constitutions of dictatorship, it has some wonderful language. For example the Preamble has this:
The Revolutionary Command Council, in the name of the Arab people in Libya, who pledged to restore their freedom, enjoy the wealth of their land, live in a society in which every loyal citizen has the right to prosperity and well-being, who are determined to break the restraints which impede their growth and their development, who will stand with their brothers from all parts of the Arab Nation in the struggle for the restoration of every inch of Arab land desecrated by imperialism and for the elimination of all obstacles which prevent Arab unity from the Gulf to the Ocean.

Prosperity for the citizenry and a vision of a Pan-Arab world in which all nations of the Arab world will join to bring unity and prosperity through that region. As nice as it sounds, it seems the reality is totally different.

The odd thing is after 42 years of such wonderful rhetoric, the people seem totally sick of it all. With the relatively bloodless regime change to their neighbours, it only seems right for the Libyan people to do the same. Sadly it hasn't been true, where there has been peaceful protest, the government has cracked down with violence and bloodshed. However, never underestimate the resolve of people to seek a better life, they are still at it. In fact as I write this, Benghazi has been liberated by the protesters and Tripoli is now feeling the same power of protest.

I noticed the speech of his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi has already announced his father is preparing to fight for the defence of Tripoli. I'm not sure but that could be code for "he's already on the first plane to Saudi Arabia to join his friend the deposed President of Tunisia" or "we've just shot him and now we're in charge, we're just not ready to dispose the body yet".

This is not the theme of today's blog, I also went over the constitution and found these words:
Freedom of Opinion is guaranteed within the limits of public interest and the principles of the Revolution.

In other words, freedom of expression is allowed as long as it agrees with the Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution. If you want an opinion Gaddafi will give you one, disagree and things will not be nice.

Here's the thing, people like Gaddafi, in fact the leaders of almost every nation realizes this fact, freedom of expression is messy. If you let people have the freedom of opinion or expression they will do just that. In fact they will probably not agree with the opinion of the leader and government. This is why most people who are foolish enough to take things such as Article 13 at face value end up in jail. This is why the people of Libya are now facing down mercenaries who are well armed, and are willing to die. They believe the words of their constitution are no longer pretty sounding on a piece of paper but should have a place in their lives. Of course dictators can't think that point, they look at the people and wonder what is wrong with the rabble and because they can't fathom it all, they think that shoot enough of them, it will all go away. If history has proven anything, there's not enough bullets to get rid of a people who want to be free. Dictators will always in the battles, but they will never win the war, because they are facing a people who believe in an ideal- it's called freedom.

Of course, to further fail the point, leaders promise "constitutional dialogue". People are fed up with it all, the want freedom, they want the prosperity that has been promised, they want to be a free people.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chicken Tartare Anyone?

Recently the CBC program Marketplace revealed the ugly truth about the chicken we eat, it's full of bacteria. If that wasn't bad enough, it's full of bacteria that is resistant to various antibiotics. The problem is, according to the program is the fact that poultry farmers jack up the amount of antibiotics they fill their birds. A great deal of this, the argument goes, because the birds live in horrific conditions, filled with disease and dirt. The birds are suffering greatly and the only way to keep them with some semblance of health until they reach the abattoir is to have them filled with antibiotics. So its no wonder the birds have these super bugs on them, because the environment and the overexposure of the drugs makes it possible.

Needless to say, Chicken Farmers are not impressed with the news. In fact their federation sent off a letter to the CBC to give their side of the story. As well, one of Canada's largest food chains had a reaction to the show, Loblaws sent this email to the CBC:
he use of antibiotics is not permitted in the production of President's Choice® Free From™ Chicken. We have rigorous processes and controls in place to ensure that all of our Free From™ Chicken is produced to the exacting standards that we specify meeting all Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulatory requirements for such products. It's probable that if microbes were isolated on chicken that there could be resistant isolates amongst them. Any such isolation of bacteria displaying antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics are part of the general microbial population, which over time have had the natural ability to resist certain antibiotics and not necessarily the result of direct exposure to antibiotics. As expected within the microbial ecosystem, which is part of our environment, products can become naturally exposed to strains of anti-microbial resistant bacteria. This is simply a characteristic of the endemic microbial population and has no relationship at all to the Free From™ Chicken Program.

I suppose at the end of the program the question needs to be ask, is our food truly that contaminated? Are people dropping dead or ending up in the hospital because of contaminated food? On one hand the answer is 'no', on the other, is it something we should be concerned about? As we learned during the various Mad Cow infections, our food is not perfect, nor are the modern agricultural methods. Certainly in the day and age in which we consumers demand good food that is good, plentiful and relatively inexpensive, the only way to meet this is by making things happen faster then allowing nature to take its course.

If I can go back, the Chicken Farmers of Canada have an entire page on their website to deal with Antibiotics.

There was one point in the article from the CBC that does need reminding:
While thorough cooking kills bacteria — including superbugs — most contamination happens before the chicken is cooked through improper handling. If there's contamination by superbugs, the worry is that consumers could ingest illness-causing bugs that are then resistant to much of the available spectrum of traditional antibiotic therapy.

It seems there is still one thing that will kill the bacteria and that's cooking the chicken completely. Seems they resist everything but heat. So keep it at 350 for 45 minutes. Everything will be fine. As well, there is the reminder to keep cutting boards and other kitchen surfaces clean to ensure there is no cross contamination. This is good advice that we do need to remember. Plus to wash our hands, got to keep those hands washed. This seems to be the number one way of keeping germs from being spread.

Of course, to get back to the poultry industry, do we need to crack down on the use of antibiotics, probably we do, we do want safe food and we want to know it is ultimately safe for us. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we like the concept of the factory farm for poultry or any other farm animal. Or is this the cost to keep us with the variety of food at the prices we like. This is the issue we need to keep in our minds. Or is there middle ground that can be achieved.