December 29, 2006

Inquiring Minds


Would you like to go to Las Vegas with: Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park); Penn and Teller (magicians); Adam Savage (Mythbusters); Phil Plait (the Bad Astronomer); Bob Carroll (the Skeptics' Dictionary); Scott Dikkers (the Onion); Banachek (an incredible mentalist); Julia Sweeny (actress) and others? Geek heaven, mate!

Oh, yeah: James Randi will be showing up, too.

January 18th through the 21st. Get thee hence.

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posted by Thursday at 1:38 am 0 comments

December 28, 2006

Balancing Acts

Ah, the Post-Holiday Airing of Guilt. This, I understand, follows the Airing of Grievances. With a Christmas that we celebrate, I feel I owe it to... well, call it kharma or what have you. Too much of a good thing can be just as bad for you as too much of a God thing.

Speaking of which, over the course of the last month, I've dicsovered that I have my very own proselytizer! I was shoveling snow off the walk (a la Norman Rockwell) and noticed a gentleman in a suit with a small boy walking down the street. Past him, two teenage boys were walking on the other side, holding bibles and tracts. I was hoping the kids would stop by, as I hate being too harsh on a person in front of their child; but my hopes were dashed when all I got was a quick nod as they went past. I was rejected by my soul's potential saviours!

Isn't there a rule about that somewhere?

Ends up I was just being overly touchy, as two days later the usual man dropped by. I described my concerns, only to find that he had told people in his church (hall?) that he was to be the only person to visit my home.

He even brought me a gift: the 250-page book "Life - How did it get here? By evolution or by creation?" The number is a teeny bit desceptive, as it's designed to be pocket sized and has lots and lots of helpful illustrations for anyone who's not quite sure what the words mean. Huge margins for my notes, too! I'm not sure if he knew just what he was giving me, but I've had a wonderful time with it on the way to work: correcting misused quotes, updating the scientific impressions, berating the philosophical points...

Giving a "scientific" religious book published in 1985 to someone who occasionally wanders off to see what silliness Answers in Genesis is up to this week, it's a bit like, well, playing DOOM in God mode (so to speak); or appearing on Celebrity Jepoardy; or possibly as challenging as dropping a ball in a downward direction.

It's been a nice little vacation, in other words.

But then I got a reminder of one of the more depressing chapters of my past: a person I used to know had another parole hearing, and was turned down again. Apparently, the semi-local paper decided this was newsworthy enough to publish. Fair enough: blood sells, and it was quite the little story; what with the "two goons hired by a manipulative mastermind to murder his mother and grandmother" plotline, and the "corrupted innocence" perspective (they were teenagers). Slit throats, crowbar beatings, blood-spattered rooms all made their appearance, as did a confession from one of the three.

But not from my acquaintance.

Which brings us to guilt.

He has been turned down for parole a few times now, with two things cited most frequently (other than the escape attempts, which the wardens apparently frown on): a bad attitude towards authority, and constant declarations of innocence. Those declarations seriously limit what programs you have access to, as they are designed (or at least intended) to be there for the use of felons who wish to re-enter society, and that requires remorse and an acceptance of guilt, which he declines.

Do I think he did it? Yes. But, just like with O.J., I wasn't in the courtroom that convicted him, so my opinion ends up being just that. Yes, I know many details of the case, enough to reach a decision of my own, but I don't know all of them.

Pretty standard tale, really; but just outside that story stands his parents. His parents have sold their house and have worked for the sole purpose of trying to get his conviction overturned. Over the years, this has reached more than $500,000 in costs to them. But here's the question: is it worth it?

Again, I'm working on the assumption of his guilt. But his parents have little choice, from what I can see. Their only son has been arrested for murder, and continues to maintain his innocence. It's an interesting question of "what would you do", isn't it?

It's all very well to say: "You have to stick up for your buddies" or "Blood is thicker than water"; or, conversely: "The law is the law" or "You do the crime, you do the time". But what would you do if someone you loved, family of friend, was convicted of a crime while swearing up and down that they didn't? Is there a price you would put on that? How about if there was a single, fixed cost for making the conviction simply go away? Would you pay it?

The closest I ever came to that situation myself (other than the typical petty larceny of childhood) was another friend's father. He was a preacher who got himself into a sex scandal, if you could believe it. Being a Revivalist of the Baptist variety instead of a Catholic it was with two young women, and well back before he was married, and the women were of legal age. But they were also under his responsibility, and he abused his authority. I was asked by his family, who I liked quite a bit despite thier religious views (I can be awfully magnanimous that way), to write a letter begging leniency for him, as he had led an expemplary life since the crime. And by nearly any standards, he had: solid job, lovely wife, tremendously sweet and lovely daughters, and an utterly psychotic son who I hung out with. And I mean "psychotic" in the nicest of ways!

I found I couldn't do it.

Would I have written such a letter if he had protested against the charge? If he decried them for bearing false witness? I don't think so, but I don't know.

He's a good man, who made a stupid, stupid mistake many years ago; but it was a mistake that affected at least two other lives, and if they needed his conviction to bring closure to themselves... Can you pay for your sins?

Typical wintertime question, eh? I wonder why Canada hasn't turned out more depressed philosophers. Or do what the U.S. did: turn the thought into a sit-com.

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posted by Thursday at 11:27 pm 3 comments

December 21, 2006

Not Dead Yet!

Right, first things first: the bonescan/blood tests on the old man were negative - the prostate cancer hasn't spread anywhere else in his body. That, plus the pre-radiation treatment coming up aces, has improved my dad's diagnosis tremendously.

Second: I haven't posted for a long time, for which I apologise. But, in my defence, the last interesting thing to happen to me was going out for a vast amout of brilliant food at a restaurant that not only has a near-impeccable whisky list, but also employs waitstaff that can make a perfect martini; or so claimed my two beautiful female companions for the evening. And no one needs to hear about that.

And third: you know it's been a long time when the Skeptics' Circle has another publication before you can get two posts in! This time, it's a tribute to Carl Sagan, the 20th of December being the 10th year after his unfortunate death. Perhaps fittingly, it is the 50th Circle - nice, round numbers all around!

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posted by Thursday at 6:43 pm 0 comments

December 09, 2006

Out of the Closet, and Into God's Arms!

So, I've been thinking about the latest little dust-up among religious conservatives down south regarding Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter and her wife (they've been together 15 years) deciding to have a child. Mary Cheney's now pregnant, and there's considerable dismay among the more extreme camps of wingnuts:

For instance, this from Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America (CoW of America?)

"It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father. They are encouraging people who don't have the advantages they have."

So while Ms. Crouse knows that the couple live in arguably the worst state in America to be gay, she also acknowledges that they are rich and connected enough to avoid some of the hardships that other, lesser gay couples face.

Then there's this gem from Carrie Gordon Earll from Focus on the Family, whose family is apparently old enough that they got their name when spelling was still optional:

"Just because you can conceive a child outside a one-woman, one-man marriage doesn't mean it's a good idea. Love can't replace a mother and a father."

Trust me, mate: it's frequently enough not a good idea within a one-woman, one-man marriage. Of course, that a mother and father can't replace love doesn't seem to enter into her thinking...

Anyhow, with this new twitch to go along with the others that have shown up lately among the religious, I've considered just what it is about God that makes people a little... you know... "funny that way". (Note: this link is to a video that gets a little tough to stomach.)

So I considered the personality not just of this God of theirs, but also the people who follow that God. What drives the two together?

Well, according to the bible, you have to worship God, and only God. Plus, he demands total subservience: He can do horrible, horrible things to you, but you can't ever question him.

He's not only a father figure, he's THE father figure: Jesus, from the KJV says, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and [to] my God, and your God." And of course every image of the guy is of a dominating, older, bearded gent.

Now, for the folks who worship him.

An odd lot, this; but most notable among them is the insitence that they uttlerly surrender to god, yielding themselves "body and soul" to him. Once they have, he takes care of them; he gives them purpose; he provides all the answers to everything, leaving them free to stop thinking and doing... um... whatever else it is they want to do instead. Which they couldn't do without God, or so they insist.

Which leads me to believe that God is a bear. No, a different kind of bear.

I'll explain:

In the worshipper, there is an essential desire to be dominated utterly, to be told what to do in every aspect of their lives. They look with longing at their older, hairy, intensely masculine hero.

Which is why I'm pretty sure that according to his followers, God is a bear.

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posted by Thursday at 11:33 am 3 comments

December 07, 2006

All Join Hands...

...And come into the Circle.


The Skeptics' Circle, that is! There is a very special guest hosting this time: Harry Houdini!

There are thirty (!) submissions up, and it all ends up at the pub, so not a bad trip after all.

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posted by Thursday at 10:06 pm 0 comments

A Random Post for Random Times

I currently have far too many links in my Bookmarks, so it's time to clean a few out:


"After two centuries, could this be twilight for the Enlightenment project and the beginning of a new age of unreason?"
-from Beyond Belief 2006

Beyond Belief is an examination of what religion is in the world, as told by scientists. (Well, it makes as much sense as a Papal summit on evolution.) What's interesting is the level of willingness to play politics with science, what can only be considered extremism in dealing with religion. Sure, there is some justification to paniced feelings when you see people actually believing (and paying for) this idiocy, but still.

Why this emotional response is happening is obvious: there have been constant, relentless attacks on science and education for the past twenty-five years, increasing in ferocity and insistence for the past five. There have been attacks on evolution, geology, paleontology, anthropology, biology... in short, anything which could be viewed as a threat to organised religion.

So now there's a blowback, and I can't say it's a great idea: several mistakes are made at the meet (check out the excellent comment by one of the speakers Scott Atran here; the other comments aren't much, I'm afraid), but I can understand the frustration that must be felt by the scientists who are constantly seeing progress not only derided, but declared heretical and evil by people who have no idea what the progress even is.

(Side note: of the speaker's books, I'd reccommend Ramachandran's stuff to anyone.)

But is going on the offense, outright attacking religion, the best approach? Is the politicising of scientists a good idea? Is doing so really necessary for science to defend itself on the political field?

It's a circumstance where both the people attacking religion and those attacking science believe they are acting for the benifity of all humanity; and as we all know, the battle cry of "Save the Children!" does not lend itself well to any kind of rational thought.

Still, interesting stuff. Getting through all the speeches takes a while, though.


I know, it's late. But still, when I saw that one of the biggest criticisms of new Perpetual Party Leader Stephane Dion was that "he lacked charisma", I had to wonder: compared to whom, exactly? The Plastic Man himself?

If this game were won on charisma, the 80's Porn Star would have taken the last election in a landslide.


Gay marriage had another debate in Canada. Or rather, a debate (for an hour or so) then a vote on whether to debate gay marriage in Canada. It got beat like the Gimp and put to pasture, which everyone expected, and it would have been virtually impossible to enforce a reversal in the law anyways, so why was it brought up in the first place? Because PM Plastic Man said he would. In his own words after the vote:

"We made a promise to have a free vote on this issue; we kept that promise, and obviously the vote was decisive and obviously we'll accept the democratic result of the people's representatives."

The question remains if the opponents of same-sex marriage think he promised to have a free vote on gay marriage or on the debate. Charles McVety (you know - the guy who believes Ted Haggard was gay because of enviromentalism) had this comment:

"The people of Canada are not going to let this go, because marriage is too important an institution to just let it evaporate because of the emotions of a few people in Parliament."

How about the emotions of the majority of Canadians, then?

Oh, and I've figured out the sex and sexuality of God, but that's for another post.


If the universe is 6,000 years old (or so), how exactly do we end up with a lump here on Earth that could be 4.5 billion years old? Just asking.

And, for your perusal, 2500 science jokes. No, I don't get more than a quarter of them, either.

**Now with BONUS working link!**

Personal fave:
There are 10 kinds of people in this world: those who understand binary, and those who don't!


My sidecar's still not ready. I'd be more pissed about it if I had the money to insure it, so no biggie there.

One thing I am pissed about is that two dealerships I despise have the contracts for my favorite motorcycle company. The third option is about 8 hours travel away - each direction.


In the tradition of Shining, here's a preview of Mary Poppins that just might be a little touch misleading... But it is more in keeping with the original book than the movie is, I suppose!


posted by Thursday at 7:31 pm 2 comments

December 03, 2006

On C_nts, P_$$y$, and Pri@ks

Perusing this very funny post over at Ezra's place brought the world of insults to mind; specifically the ones that use various body parts. Do check the comments section after reading, as the converstaion there is an interesting study in opinion.

Warning: this post is intended only for those who understand George Carlin.

That said, here we go:

Bearing in mind that "fuck" comes from the Germanic "To hit or strike", and still (obviously) carries much of the same connotation. Later it came to mean "hit, strike or make love to", which gives come idea of sex in medieval Europe...

You'd think "asshole", being like opinions, would have a universal application; but I've only heard it used against men, likewise "bastard". "Bitch" and "C_nt" seem to be the only really common ones used against women in my experience, though the second is fairly rare.

Males are called all sorts of theoretically female terms for being percieved as soft or feminine ("pussy", "momma's boy", "fag"); when they are regarded as overly aggressive or masculine, that's when "prick" and "asshole" are used, but so is c_nt. "Motherfucker" doesn't have a female equivalent I've noticed, either.

Women, when they are seen as being overly masculine, are often enough called "bitches" or "c_nts", words that have no male connotation; there doesn't seem to be anything specific to be used when they are seen as overly passive or feminine. "Twat" seems to imply idiocy or incompetence.

"C_unt", by the way, is back to Anglo-Saxon, and has never changed it's meaning. Good folk for simple words, them!

More to the point, it strikes me that it's the sound of the words as much as their literal meaning that carries the insult. C_nt's a short, hard-consonant sound that's quick to say: rather masculine, perhaps? Whereas "pussy" is softer, longer and drawn out. Even "fag" is lengthened when used as a taunt. "Asshole" isn't an exception to this, being two easily separated syllables with an open-mouth start that hardens the word. The closed-mouth start to "prick" could be why it doesn't sound as harsh to us as some of the other insults.

Or am I just getting way to into this?

Note: I'm using aggressive/masculine and passive/feminine in classical yin/yang terminology here, since that seems to be where the conversation's going - but otherwise false dichotomies drive me *ahem* nuts.


posted by Thursday at 2:35 pm 2 comments