Why we shouldn’t force ourselves to forget Justin Bourque

Sun News Network not to use Justin Bourque's name

Sun News Network not to use Justin Bourque’s name (Tweet by National Newswatch)

We should remember the officers and their stories. Their names were David Ross, Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, and Douglas James Larche.

But we shouldn’t apologize for being interested in Justin Bourque and his story. After all, he is the person who did the shooting, therefore the story of why and how this shooting took place is much more in Justin Bourque’s story, and hardly at all in the officers’ stories. Yes, tell the stories of the officers, respect them and honour them. But this isn’t necessarily a zero-sum game. Honouring the officers does not necessitate obliterating Bourque from our consciousness. There is plenty of airspace.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there is only one Justin Bourque. I say unfortunately because it’s hard to do science on a sample size of one. We can do no better than to have hunches or guess at what events led to the behaviour, as people and their behaviours are absurdly complex. But erasing him is counterproductive, self-defeating. While it’s not going to be easy or even necessarily possible to come to any useful, potentially falsifiable conclusions, erasing the information will ensure that it’s impossible to do so. For now, let’s save everything. We don’t have to stare at it, no, but that’s something that should be up to us as individuals.

It’s almost… almost! like some elements of the Great Media Machine are trying to grift us with Three-card Monte. The money card might be there somewhere, but we’re encouraged to turn up distractions. But I’m not quite cynical enough to believe that Sun News Network doesn’t believe that what they’re doing is in the broader public interest.

Some people think Justin Bourque did this at least partly for the notoriety, and maybe that’s a factor. But looking at his Facebook will tell you that he must be at least slightly ideologically motivated. And either way, notoriety or ideology, we still give a shit about stuff like this not happening. We must not let our retributive don’t-give-him-what-he-wanted tendencies to lead us to cut off our noses to spite our faces.

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Why Privacy

Snow Shovel

You can get quite hot doing this. There’s a very easy way to cool off. (Flickr)

I told a friend that I was working on an essay, and she made a guess about what the title was. I told her the real title and she replied, “Cuz everyone don’t wanna see a bare ass Will Matheson frolicking in the snow?”

Hard to argue with that.

I have another friend, who lives in rural Nova Scotia, who speaks to the elder incumbents frequently:

“If I have learned anything out here, it’s that older people in the country really hate if someone is being a dick to other people for no reason. ‘Why can’t people all just mind their own business? It’s like a disease that is spreading or something,’ says the good neighbour.”

Privacy is, at least in part, a protection from individual-society disagreement. This is why we have naturist habitats in secluded locations. This is why parties with alcohol in Iran happen on the downlow. This is why networks of drug production and distribution are kept secret. Yes, this is also why, say, botnet-running blackmailers stay in the shadows, too, but I think it’s important that we reflect on what, if anything, makes our purges special, aside from the fact that they’re ours.

For the many things that aren’t networks of baby theft, cooking, and meat distribution, we should consider privacy as a crude, temporary measure, but not necessarily a thing to attack. It is a queue into which we can place things to be reconciled with public life later. Ideally, it protects what is conscionable among a minority from the absolutist tyranny of the majority.1

Babies, Stove

Babies, Stove – These things should never never ever ever go together oh gawd I’m gonna get struck by lightning just for uploading this. (Wikipedia, Wikipedia)

The more society would drive a practice, benign or not-so-benign, underground, the more exacerbated the harmful effects become – provided, that is, there even are any. For example, young people might have a greater innate risk of alcohol poisoning, but their holding parties in secret must increase this risk. For one thing, few adults will subject themselves to the legal and social risks of monitoring such parties. For another, calling for an ambulance means everything is busted.2

And yet millions of teenagers go on drinking, with few or no lasting effects to speak of. You there – yes, you – did you drink when you were a teenager? For the love of crumbcake, tell the world! I didn’t drink when I was a teenager, but I didn’t hesitate to shame people who did. I regret the second thing. My objections were ungroundedly moral – it’s wrong because the Judeo-Christian-Dr. Laura morality corpus says it’s wrong, it’s wrong because alcohol is dangerous. I no longer care about the first, and in this essay I’m going to undermine the second as a reason to prohibit it, even though, really, alcohol is still dangerous.

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  1. Or, more likely, the tyranny of a para-religious minority that few have the gumption to openly question. But we also enable them by forcing fundamentalism on each other

  2. Robby Soave writes about this at Reason.com as it applies to US colleges. The legal drinking age in the United States is an absurd 21. 

On (Dis)Engagement, Part 2: Free speech and using it

On (Dis)Engagement: Let’s not act like we all need to think alike on everything (and ideas on how to proceed when we do) :: A two-part essay :: 1 2

So now, how can we engage about volatile topics? I think it’s vital that we engage when we can, as opposed to living in fear, destroying each other, and burning or exiling heretics.1 From that principle, I will essay.

If we believe that it’s unethical to coerce people’s consciences into pointing any which way we demand, I think we must try harder to distinguish between “I don’t like them doing that” and “They shouldn’t be allowed to do that.” I have no issues with homosexuality, and sometimes I even have “those” fantasies. But even if I did have issues with homosexuality, does it follow that I have to work to prohibit it? Is it any of my fucking business? Seriously, who died and made me king? On matters where we are not in each other’s faces, where cooperation is not needed (we probably have to have nigh-universal rules for driving and for what a legally-protected relationship is, to name two examples), why should other people just up and conform to what I want? This kind of narcissism mixed with political (or social) authority is a match made in hell.

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  1. Refraining from doing so had to be argued for in the past and the arguments are worth revisiting: see this part of the TED talk “The Long Reach of Reason” by Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. Watch the full talk if you have time. 

On (Dis)Engagement, Part 1: Trudeau’s pro-choice edict

On (Dis)Engagement: Let’s not act like we all need to think alike on everything (and ideas on how to proceed when we do) :: A two-part essay :: 1 2

“The fundamental political idea of modern times is the presumed moral superiority of centralized control.” – Paul Lutus

This two-parter isn’t actually about abortion, but rather about living in the same country while remaining on speaking terms with one other. The recent revival1 of abortion in our political discourse (pardon my charitable language) makes abortion a timely table-setter for the rest of this essay.

Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau in 2009 (Wikipedia)

This past Wednesday, after his party’s weekly caucus meeting, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said “I have made it clear that future candidates need to be completely understanding that they will be expected to vote pro-choice on any bills.”

I’m pro-choice™ myself, or at least I think I am. But does Trudeau’s definition mean “pro-choice, no matter what?” What if “voting pro-choice” means voting to explicitly permit no-questions-asked abortions at or after, say, 25 weeks, the 50% survival threshold for premature births? Is it so regressive to question the ethics of aborting a fetus that has a strong chance of being viable without further support of the mother? It’s possible to support easy and early abortions but to also have a nuanced position on late-term abortions. You might question the political wisdom of bringing it up, as women aren’t exactly lining up to get late-term abortions (only 2-3% are done after 16 weeks), so this would generate a lot of heat for seemingly no good political or practical reason.2

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  1. CTV News: “Topless protesters disrupt anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill” 

  2. Morally, “one is too many” may be an averable reason. But the evils of the asymptotic effort required to stamp out every last transgression might outweigh the evils of the actual transgressions. 

Revisiting Thursday night’s Agenda, on the Fair Elections Act

I felt compelled to share with everyone what I thought was an important discussion of the Fair Elections Act: the Thursday night broadcast of The Agenda on TVO. Unfortunately, a major component of the broadcast was a one-on-one with Pierre Poilievre, the Minister of State for Democratic Reform. Ordinarily I would say that including the minister or member primarily responsible for a piece of legislation in a discussion of said legislation is at least desirable if not essential. Unfortunately, in this case the minister has shown himself again and again1 to be, um, a pants-on friar, and I can’t ethically re-post anything he says without extensive rebuttal. He’s like the Iraqi Information Minister during the 2003 invasion, but not as likeable.

As of yesterday (Friday), there’s good news for everyone and bad news for me. The good news for everyone is that Poilievre is open to changing some parts of the bill – though problematic items remain. The bad news for me is that there was an overnight window during which this post would have been oh, so timely, and I totally missed it.

In the commentary that follows, I’ll be referring to a Globe and Mail piece called “Everything you need to know about the Fair Elections Act”. I won’t comment on everything – just the parts that would make my younger self throw things at the screen.

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  1. In that piece, Nerenberg notes that Poilievre has been doing one-on-one interviews rather than panel appearances. It might be telling that he does not appear in the panel discussion on this show, but availability might be a reason. I haven’t looked into it. 

My response to the online consultation on our prostitution laws

Prostitution Réprimée Santé Sacrifiée

Prostitution Réprimée, Santé Sacrifiée / “Repress prostitution, sacrifice health” (William Hamon, Flickr)

Here are my responses to the online consultation on prostitution laws. The consultation ended on March 17, so now I can post what I’ve submitted without unduly influencing the words of other people.1 No doubt better arguments have been made than mine (here’s the response from South Western Ontario Sex Workers, and here’s a response from an author whose sister was murdered by Robert Pickton) – and as my use of the above image2 reminds me, I didn’t really get into the health issues of it and argued on basic principles instead.

Police chiefs were asked for their views, but could not come to a consensus.3

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  1. Apparently some religious authorities didn’t scruple about telling their sheeple what to say

  2. I don’t really take the argument in this direction, though I happen to agree with the message. 

  3. Their having been asked is somewhat problematic. As a friend on Facebook puts it: “It’s not the cops’ job to make laws/speak about laws/have anything to do with law other than hand-cuffing people who broke said law.” 

When you win Ontario, do you win it all?

Ontario in Canada

Ontario in present-day Canada (Wikipedia)

Stephen Harper might be representing Calgary Southwest, but his government hinges on Ontario – in the 2011 election, 73 of the CPC‘s 166 seats came from among Ontario’s 106 seats. Alberta contributes a paltry 27 (of its 28 seats) to the cause. This made me wonder, though I’m nigh-absolutely certain I’m not the first to wonder: Is it possible to win without winning Ontario – and therefore, from the runner-up perspective, win Ontario and not win in Canada overall? (Spoiler: Yes.)

In 2011, Ontario held 38.4% of our national population. Quebec is a distant second at 23.6%. If you didn’t get Ontario, can you win without Quebec? (Spoiler: Yes, but it’s vanishingly rare.) And finally, does getting both Ontario and Quebec ‘guarantee’ you’ll win? (Spoiler: Surprisingly, no.)

Deciding what constitutes a minority government is sometimes difficult: here’s a list of minority governments in Canada. I’m not going to spend much time distinguishing between minorities and majorities – for me, a plurality is a win. Even when it sort of isn’t.

Important note: The early elections were much different from today’s, both ethically and procedurally. I only talk about winning, not how the wins were won, if you follow me. Elections Canada has a web-book, A History of the Vote in Canada, whose second chapter talks about early elections and their questionable practices.

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Heck yes, my RTs are endorsements

It bugs me a little bit when I see people put “RTs not endorsements” in their Twitter bios. “Hey, don’t look at me!” it seems to say. “I don’t necessarily agree with this stuff, I just thought it might be interesting! I’m just putting these words out there.”


If you do a Google image search for “retweet” you should see a screenshot of this Tweet appear. The Twitter development folks put it up in their Web Intents guide. I love the ability of Twitter to virally spread wit and sometimes also more-accurate perceptions.

I can be a morally neutral agent, you see? Not only should you not judge me because judging itself seems unseemly, but in this case your judgements would be wrong whenever they would cast me in a negative light because my retweets aren’t endorsements. Now if you’ll excuse me, this interesting thing came up and I’m going to retweet it: The annual meeting of the Eliminate-All-XYZ-People Club is this Thursday at seven p.m.. But no, don’t worry, it’s not an endorsement! Ha-ha-ha, why would you ever think that?

Clearly there is something moral at work in every retweet. Whether or not we agree with the Tweet, we’re at least assuming that it’s moral that you see it, else we wouldn’t retweet it at all. We might have our minds changed (for us) after the fact, but for you, in the moment of retweeting, there wasn’t a strong enough moral objection to refrain from the retweet.

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