Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Like, you all care....

....but self-absorbed exhibitionism social networking is what Web 2.0 is all about, right?

Mike Haubrich tagged us with the Six Things Meme. The rules are:
  1. Link to the person who tagged you. [see above]
  2. Post the rules on your blog. [well, you're reading this, aren't you?]
  3. Write six random things about yourself. [below]
  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them. [below]
  5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog. [yeah, yeah, I'll get around to it]
  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up. [more YYIGATI]
My Six Boring Trivial Dumb Random Things:
  1. I have an earring. I got it when I was 38yo, just for the hell of it (or maybe it was a subconcious midlife-crisis-oh-god-lets-pretend-we're-still-23 thing). Anyway, it sort of goes with the beard/pony-tail/hippy image. I had heard that having an earring on the right side was signalling that one was gay, so I decided to get mine on the left. It's not that I object to people thinking I'm gay, but, well, I believe in clear communication (assuming the left-right thing is true, which it may not be anyway).
  2. I still have a scar on my right knee from falling off my bike when I was about 8yo. I was trying to do a 180 on the street when I hit a patch of gravel. The bike slid out, and I went down with my leg underneath, against the pavement. Ouch, with significant quantities of blood.
  3. The other night when there was that big boloid over Saskatchewan? I also saw a meteor. I was standing outside work waiting for my ride, about 6:30pm. It was pretty bright, though no where near the Saskatchewan rock. From memory of my days in the astro-hobby, I dredged up that late November is the Leonids meteor shower.
  4. I have not one but two fishponds in my backyard. Why? Because it's less trouble than cutting the grass in those spots.
  5. My other silly hobby is model trains. That's good: the trains and the ponds sort of complement each other, season-wise. Serious model railroaders are really pretty obsessive. Not only do they build these miniature worlds in excruciating detail, they even run their trains on a schedule, carrying imaginary passengers and freight, and observing the proper operating rules to prevent collisions etc. Sort of like war-gamers, only with a self-propelled element to the game pieces. I also have a blog for that hobby, but I can't point you to it because that would reveal my True Identity, and then I'd have to kill you (well, those of you who don't already know me in Real Life, anyway).
  6. But speaking of True Identities, I'll use my sixth item for a Revelation -- maybe even a Confession. You may have noticed occasional references to local Christian blogger Deborah Gyapong. I also drop the occasional comment over there. What most people don't know (except a few I've told in person) is that we used to know Debbie in real life. Between roughly 15 and 20 years ago we were in a fellowship/Bible study together. It's safe to say that we've been moving in diametrically opposite directions ever since. I don't think she's figured out who her occasional critic is. If she happens to read this -- which I doubt, but you never know -- she'll have no difficulty figuring it out (it wasn't that big a group).
Surprisingly, not quite everyone in my RSS subscription list has been tagged yet by someone else, so:
  1. A.J.Milne
  2. Chris Nedin at Ediacaran, an old talk.origins friend.
  3. Duae Quartunciae, another old t.o'er.
  4. Adina, because she hasn't posted anything in a long time.
  5. Andrew Arensburger at Epsilon Clue, yet another old Howler.
  6. King Aardvark, who will probably kick me there for doing this to him.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

CBC Fail

Not as bad as their last fail, but it's always a bit pathetic when an error correction itself contains an error.

It seems that a few nights ago, the CBC Radio program As It Happens referred to lobsters as "molluscs". OK, that's a bit of a fail right there, and they seem to have received some feedback on it, as last night they issued an on-air correction: lobsters are Crustaceans, part of the phylum Anthropoda. That's right: not Arthropoda (joint-footed), but Anthropoda (man-footed).

Maybe they mean something like this:

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Lessons From Plato

In today's reading, children, we learn how to cure hiccups, and the origin of the euphemism "Greek Culture".

Hiccup Cure

When one of the Symposium guests has an attack of the hiccups, Dr. Erixymachus advises:
....let me recommend you to hold your breath, and if this fails, then to gargle with a little water; and if the hiccough still continues, tickle your nose with something and sneeze; if you sneeze once or twice, even the most violent hiccough is sure to go.
Apparently, the traditional folk remedies have a longer history than I had imagined. However, none of them sound like as much fun as this one:

In case
you're wondering: it worked. And speaking of sex, that brings us to....

Greek Culture

The diners elect that they will discourse on the topic of Love. The first oration is given by Phaedrus, who speaks of the custom in their society, that an older man would take under his wing a youth. The relationship is one of companion and mentorship, but obviously goes beyond simple instruction and advice:
For I know not any greater blessing to a young man beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth.
The following speaker, Pausanias, distinguishes between two types of love, which respectively emanate from the "common Aphrodite" and the "heavenly Aphrodite".
But the Love who is the son of the common Aphrodite is essentially common, and has no discrimination, being such as the meaner sort of men feel, and is apt to be of women as well as of youths, and is of the body rather than of the soul....

The goddess who is his mother is far younger, and she was born of the union of male and female, and partakes of both sexes. But the son of the heavenly Aphrodite is sprung from a mother in whose birth the female has no part, but she is from the male only; this is that love which is of youths only, and the goddess being older has nothing of wantonness. This who are inspired by this love turn to the male, and delight in him who is the more valiant and intelligent nature....

And in choosing them [ie. a man choosing a youth] as their companions, they mean to be faithful to them, and to pass their whole life with them, and be with them....

....and the coarser sort of lovers ought to be restrained by force, as we restrain or attempt to restrain them from fixing their affections on women of free birth.
Another speaker, Aristophanes, tells an origins myth, according to which humans were primevally double, having four arms, four legs, two faces, and so on. Moreover, there were three sexes: male; female; and the androgynous union of the other two, and each human individual comprised parts of all three sexes. But these humans rebelled against the gods, who as punishment, divided them each in two parts, the navel being the spot at which the skin on the cut surface was drawn together and re-sealed. And ever since then, every human has been seeking for their lost other half, that they may be whole again -- hence, the idea that each of us has a soul-mate, a perfect life partner. He goes on (emphasis mine):
....and after the transposition, the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest and go their ways to the business of life...Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are lascivious; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous and lascivious women: the women who are a section of the woman don't care for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But the men who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being a piece of the man, they hang about him and embrace him, and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature. Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them. And these when they grow up are our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saying. And when they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children, which they do, if at all, only in obedience to the law, but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live unwedded; and such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him.
So there you have it: to the old Greeks, not only was gay OK, but in some ways even superior to us straights. Suck on that, fans of "traditional marriage"!

PS: An Anachronism

Being currently under the pleasant post-prandial influence of a couple of glasses of Pelee Island Merlot, I must mention that a few pages later, a drunken Alcibiades refers to the proverb "In vino veritas" (if you don't know what that means, I'm sure that Google Is Your Friend). Which prompts the question: Why is a pre-Roman Greek quoting proverbs in Latin? Or equivalently: Why did the legendary Jowett choose to translate a (presumably) Greek phrase into Latin, as part of his English translation of the text?

(Thanks to my Lost-and-Found Other Half for taking dictation on the lengthy Aristophanes excerpt. Half way through, it occurred to us that the text is doubtless available online).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Rowans

Last week in a Pharyngula comment, I managed to confuse Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) with Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean. Now as much as I like British humour, I do have a little trouble keeping their standup comedians straight. And today, Daniel Florien kindly provides me with a perfect excuse why I would get those two confused:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's a word....It's a face...It's pareidolia!

  • My parents were married on the ninth ofJune, six days after Eamon's birthdate.
  • Eamon's parents were married on the sixth of January, nine days after* my birthdate.
  • Our first son was born on November 24th, the anniversary of the publication of Darwin's origin of species.
  • Our second son was born on December 25, a day widely celebrated as the birthday of someone famous.
* but some years before


a) Absolutely nothing.


b) Humans are exceptionally talented at finding patterns, even when there aren't any.

For more evidence (of what, I'm not sure), check out these videos:

A person-shaped Cheeto that makes people think of an orange Jesus

A Cheeto that (to me at least) doesn't look much like a person at all

A floor drain stain that looks vaguely like a large, wide woman with a cloak

and, the pig that lives in my bathroom door:

hat tip and a chocolate chip to Greg Laden

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Thinking for Free - Pass it on

Saturday afternoon, and it's pouring rain. My doorbell rings, and on my way to answer it I try to decide if it will be kids selling chocolate bars to raise money for schools or sports teams, or someone who thinks I should pay less (or at least pay them) for my gas or electricity bill. Wrong on both counts - upon opening the door, I see a well-dressed man of 30 or so, accompanied by a boy about 10 (I surmised that they were father and son). The man says that they are going around my neighbourhood talking to people about what is important in life. and asks if they could leave me a pamphlet to look at. (I think they might have identified their church, but it was said so quickly I didn't catch it, but I am reasonably certain that they were neither Mormons nor JWs; likely just run-of-the-mill fundamentalists.)

OK, my sign says "No Flyers Please", but I guess they figure that a pamphlet which proclaims the good news of salvation does not qualify for my prohibition. So, I politely decline, saying that I don't need any more paper. A split second later, I decide that was a pathetically wimpy way to turn away evangelists, and add, "We are atheists here". The man looks a bit surprised, and says something like, "I see. Well, have a nice day", and off they go.

Did the boy ask his father what an atheist is, as they walked down the street, or later that day? I certainly hope so, and I wonder what the father will say in response. (I did feel a twinge of guilt for potentially disturbing the child's faith, but quickly decided that was silly - they were the ones who came to *my* door, and I said nothing rude or otherwise inappropriate.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Rants & ROMinations

The day following PZ's talk at CFI found us back at the Royal Ontario Museum (along with a few additional family members). Aside from just wanting to visit a museum (and see the diamonds exhibit), I wanted to see whether my earlier negative impression of the shiny new Michael Lee-Chen Crystal would hold.

And it's official: I still hate it. So did everyone else in our party. Previous comments on the architecture of the Crystal still hold, only even more so. The damn thing looms angrily over the sidewalk. The corrugated exterior siding is just ugly: stand it all up straight and square, and it would be right at home in any suburban industrial park. Skewing the walls at funny angles doesn't magically make it clever: it just makes it look like a suburban industrial building that's falling down. Inside, the walls lean at crazy angles and cock-eyed pillars shoot through the space.

I toured the paleo galleries again, and got even more annoyed. There is a serious lack of interpretive material to tell the viewer what they're looking at and why it matters. In one display case is a series of Jurassic fossil insects, each one accompanied by a similar modern bug skewered on a pin. They're all nicely identified, but so what? What exactly is this display telling me? Is it about relationships among ancient and modern insects? About insect taphonomy? Or should I take from it the creationist lesson that grasshoppers are still grasshoppers, and they all got buried in the Flood? I have no idea. And across from that there's another case in which dead bugs ancient and modern are jumbled together with no order, identification or explanation at all. And no, the video displays don't replace decent placards: only one party can use them at a time, and I don't see why I should wait in line to see if the TV has the answer to whatever question I have. And speaking of placards: would it be too hard to add a little graphic to each one, showing a schematic of the geological timescale, and a marker saying "this critter comes from here"? That would beat just saying "Jurassic", for those who don't already know that it comes between the Triassic and the Cretaceous (geek that I am, I've known since I was about 8yo -- but my FIL pointed out that he didn't). There's no obvious "path" guiding you through the exhibits, and the overall impression is less of a museum gallery than of a storage room. And how much money did these copper-clad monoliths cost, that might have been spent instead on the displays?But enough kvetching already. It is, at any rate, still a museum full of neat stuff.

That's one mean sardine:

Hey, he's chomping an ammonite! Bad mososaur! Bad!

Poor Bruin here looks a bit disconsolate about all these new-fangled changes to his abode:

This camel on the other hand, just looks smug:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Drinking Philosophically?

So, being respectably ahead on my book club reading, I took a break from that to read a Pratchett (Making Money. Amusing, but sort of disjointed and not up to the usual standard). Having finished that, I decided to start reading some Serious Philosophy. Plato's Symposium, to be precise. Like much of Plato's output, the work is a dialog on philosophical subjects, placed in a fictional narrative framework. In this case, the frame narrative is a dinner party given by one Agathon, a playwright.

This morning on the bus, I got through about four pages, enough for the characters in the story to have a short discussion and reach their first conclusion. And what pearl of wisdom did they arrive at? What eternal verity hath the father of Western thought bequeathed to us?

They decide that the meal will be served teetotal, as most of them are still suffering hangovers from yesterday's boozing.

And I bet you thought that it was only in Monty Python that philosophy was so much fun.

Monday, November 3, 2008

PZed Myers comes to TO

TO is also known as Toronto, Ontario (Canada), and not to be confused with t.o aka usenet newsgroup talk.origins, (where I had my first encounter with PZed, known to some as PZ, some mumblety many years ago).

PZed's Toronto talk was sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry, Ontario. Co-opting the gourd carving meme from the local religious observance, the CFI displayed a cephalopumpkin*:

and also this:

- possibly a flower, or a ghost with a belly-button, but I interpret it as a curcurbit representation of electron orbits around the atomic nucleus.

On to the talk - an overview of various aspects of the conflict between religion and science education

Though some have commented that PZed was preaching to the choir, so to speak, everyone was very surprised to see Ken Ham in attendance! Here's a picture of Ken at the pub asking Jesus (who was just hanging around at the bar) to sign a copy of the book He wrote.

The symposium (original Greek usage) following the meeting continued for some time after Eamon and I wimped out.

* not to be confused with a punkin-head

My Pessimistic Prediction for the American Election

Barring divine intervention, it appears certain that Barack Obama will win tomorrow's presidential election in the USA.

No, that's not the pessimistic part -- I, in fact, hope that Obama wins, if only because he can't possibly be as bad as McCain and Bible Spice (Especially the latter. If she ever gets to sit in the Big Chair, I give civilization six months before she starts WWIII in the belief it will make Jesus return quicker). Being part of the 95% of the world that doesn't get to vote in this election, I'm not obliged to be better informed than that (even so, I still seem to be better informed than some of the folks who do get to vote).

The pessimistic part is this: I predict that Obama (or McCain, should that come to pass) will serve but a single term, and his presidency will be regarded as a failure. Which sucks in so many ways, only one of which is the comfort and encouragement it will give to those who say a black man should never be president of the United States. [Aside: If you're one of the people who refuse to vote for Obama because he's black, then you're a racist bigot, no matter how hard you pretend otherwise. If you're refusing to vote for him because he's a Muslim, then you're both stupid and a bigot, because he's not, and it shouldn't matter anyway. And if you're refusing to vote for him because he has a "Muslim name" then...there are no words for what you are. "Stupid bigotted mouth-breathing knuckle-dragging moron" doesn't even begin to cover it. Yeah, I realize none of the people that is addressed to read this blog, but I've been wanting to get that off my chest for a while. End digression.]

The reason for my pessimism is that, whoever takes office in January will inherit a mucking fess. There's the financial meltdown, a gift which will not cease giving for some time to come. On Iraq, Obama has the choice between allowing the troops to continue being slowly ground up to no good effect, or pulling out and taking the blame for the likely blood-letting that will follow. Afghanistan? Prospects aren't much better (and we still haven't found Bin Laden!). Then we have a looming oil shortage -- only postponed by the economic slump -- and the first harbingers of climate change. And, and, and. Some serious shit is going to hit the fan in the next few years.

And the incumbent, justly or not, will get blamed for it.

[PSA at Canadian Cynic goes on in the same vein at greater length and deeper depressivism]