Saturday, March 21, 2009

I used to have dreams like this....

xkcd gets it right:
When I was an undergrad in the late '70s I had nightmares like this. Typically in my version, I would have gone home to my parents' place in Toronto, and suddenly I would realize: Ohmigod, I'm supposed to be back in Kingston writing an exam AT THIS VERY MOMENT!!! Quick -- if I jump in the car and drive like hell, can I make it in time to salvage something?

That dream recurred throughout the years of my program, and for a couple of years after graduation, then sort of petered out..... forward 15 years....

....and I'm back in school again, doing a Master's. And damned if that nightmare doesn't start up all over....

Sort of makes me wonder if it's such a good idea, taking another degree after I retire. At that age, my heart might not take that kind of stress....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

An Honorable Ignoramus

Everyone has by now read about how Gary Goodyear, our, um, excitable Minister of State for Science and Technology, replied to a question about his scientific views by proclaiming his religious opinions:

Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.

“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

Oddly, it's not the creationism angle that bothers me the most about this. Yeah, that bothers me too, but many otherwise intelligent people fall for that, and still manage to be rational and competent at their jobs. It seems to me that the potential harm here depends on exactly how much control the Minister has over specific funding decisions (at least, such seems to be my subconcious rationalization).

But what really got me was this comment (emphasis mine):

“Now I have got a portfolio that I am absolutely passionate about and frankly connected to,” he said, adding that his days of experimenting with engines in high school automotive class gave him an appreciation for what it feels like to come up with something new.

“When I was in high school, we were already tweaking with a coil that would wrap around the upper [radiator] hose and it got an extra five miles to the gallon. … So I've been there on this discovery stuff.”

Well, ain't that folksey? I also really dig "being there on this discovery stuff". Sounds like George W. Bush with an impact wrench, doesn't he?

Magic devices that dramatically improve gas mileage are an old standard of urban legends and scams -- and even among that sorry gallery, frigging with the cooling system seems one of the less likely candidates for improved fuel economy. That much should be obvious to anyone with even the smallest inkling of how engines actually work. It's bad enough that the government is cutting basic research in favour of "get[ting] some of these technologies out of the labs onto the factory floors. Made. Produced. Sold" (though even a creationist chiropractor could probably manage that kind of short-sighted mandate). But with the gas-mileage remark, Goodyear reveals himself as a gullible ignoramus who not only does not understand science, he's also clueless about technology -- he can't tell (as they say) shit from shinola. He's a jumped-up amateur mechanic who believes in woo -- chiro-woo, creation-woo, or car-woo; taken together it forms a pattern of consistent ignorance and anti-scientism.

And in case there is any remaining doubt of the man's complete babbling idiocy, he dispells it in this CTV interview (quoted at MacLean's blog):
We are evolving, every year, every decade. That’s a fact. Whether it’s to the intensity of the sun, whether it’s to, as a chiropractor, walking on cement versus anything else, whether it’s running shoes or high heels, of course, we are evolving to our environment. But that’s not relevant. And that’s why I refused to answer the question. The interview was about our science and tech strategy, which is strong…
I don't expect Ministers to have Ph.Ds, or be professional scientists. But I do expect them to have at least a basic appreciation of the nature of the field they are responsible for -- enough that they're willing to listen to those who are expert in those fields.

Gary Goodyear shows himself to be utterly unfit for any position with influence over science or technology.

Fire. Him. Now.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Mighty Caterer Is Our God

If you're old enough to remember The Cross and the Switchblade, then you know that David Wilkerson (played by Pat Boone in the movie) is the Pentecostal preacher who in 1958 moved from rural Pennsylvania to New York City to work with troubled youth. As I recall, it's quite a story -- if you're inclined to take the word of someone who claims God speaks to him every now and then.

But I bet you didn't know that Wilkerson is still around, and runs the Times Square Church. And according to the WingNutDaily, God still tells him stuff from time to time. Like on the night before 9/11:
Then Wilkerson felt God telling him something that seemed rather bizarre. He felt God telling him to make sandwiches – lots of sandwiches. What were they for? Who would eat them? That part wasn't clear, but his church did what they believed God was telling them anyway.

And on the 10th of September they stayed up all night making hundreds and hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. By morning they had about 2,000 sandwiches. At 8:46 a.m. the first plane hit the World Trade Center and Times Square Church was ready to feed and minister to rescue workers and victims of our nation's worst attack.
Yep, there's a reason for Brayton's Law, which states that when you see "WorldNetDaily Exclusive", it means that what follows is something so colossally idiotic that no one else would print it. And unsurprisingly, the story turns out to be bogus (as the added Editor's Note says -- but not before blogs all over the Christian Loonosphere picked it up! Google on "wilkerson sandwich" to see what I mean).

But never mind that detail; let's just run for a moment with the sandwich story as-is: 3000 people are about to die horribly, and what does the Almighty do about it? Gets a holy roller church to make fracking sandwiches. Like, it didn't occur to him that just maybe, tipping off the FBI with the names of the hijackers and the flight numbers might be more useful? I mean, it's great that Wilkerson's church pitched in to help in a terrible crisis -- but wouldn't it be a whole lot better if that crisis were averted?

Does it not occur to any of the fans of this sort of story that, really, this is a piss-poor waste of omniscience? What is wrong with these people?

Hat tip: my favorite source for this kind of thing.

Update @ 13/3/09 11:33pm: Well, ain't that interesting. Above, I link to posts on two other blogspot blogs. And within an hour or so, Blogger automatically added the trackbacks over there (I checked).

Today they're gone. Both of them. (And the comment I dropped at Debbie's place hasn't appeared either).

Do you suppose those folks just don't like links to places that are, well, less than properly reverent? Or maybe Blogger just got confused by the re-title and re-post operation. Yeah, that must be it....
Upperdate @17/3/09: I partially take it back. For the record: Debbie posted my comment.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

God and City Council

[I'm going to resist the temptation to do yet another Bus Sign. For one thing, I can't think of a good punchline off-hand]

At Ottawa City Council today, God could be found hiding in the corner behind Policies and Procedures. Or at least, that's where his erstwhile defenders were, when Councillor Alex Cullen presented his motion to overrule OC Transpo's decision to refuse the atheist bus ads.

Cullen gave an impassioned address about free speech and the need for municipal government to uphold it. It probably didn't hurt his case that the city's solicitor had prepared a memo outlining the legal issues involved in carrying "viewpoint" advertising in public facilities -- and pointing out that Transpo's current policy was almost certainly in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the city would likely get its ass handed to it in the event of a lawsuit. It boils down to: mere likelihood of public offense isn't enough to ban an ad. IOW: deal with it, pearl-clutchers.

Then the nay-sayers had their turn. Marianne Wilkinson continued to complain that she was offended, but acknowledged that the policy was problematic. She proposed amending Cullen's motion, replacing the directive to run the ads with a directive to review Transpo's policies, and bring them in line with the Charter. Cullen replied: What a great idea, and proposed amending his own motion -- by adding the review directive to his own, rather than replacing it. Councillor El-Chantiry had his say; I don't recall what except he also didn't like them, and the same from Councillor Bloess. But the real comedy came from another councillor, I think Bob Monette, who claimed the ads were from "some young people who thought it would be funny" -- and in the blissfully unselfaware manner common to ideologues, went on to complain that the ads were derogatory (OK, at 51 I guess I should accept "young people" as a compliment). Then there was some blather from that side about how Council was wasting time on irrelevancies like this when we still hadn't got the bus system back to full capacity following the strike -- as if putting (revenue-paying!) signs on the sides of busses was in some way impeding doing maintenance and getting them on the road. But the main theme from the opponents was that it was some kind of sin to override the Process -- that Transpo's bureaucrats had made a decision in keeping with Stated Policy (though we know that Policy has not been consistently applied in past cases of pro-religion ads), and while we should fix the Policy, we shouldn't overrule the bureaucrats, because....well, because. Exactly when the Policy would get fixed, and the ads get approved, wasn't quite clear.

Then Hizzoner Larry O'Brien almost gave us a surprise: he started off talking about how clergy on the Ottawa Interfaith Council (of which he is chair) were pretty unanimous in support of the ad; that they welcomed the opportunity for dialog. And for a moment we thought he was going to change his earlier reported position and vote Yes. But then he reversed course, sought refuge with his cronies in Policy and Procedure, and announced he would be voting No.

There was a little confusion in the voting process, because first Council had to approve adding the policy-review directive to Cullen's motion, then vote on the motion as amended. Both votes passed 13-7, with presumably the same councillors voting the same way on both (I didn't keep track).

Various media were there -- at least Metro, A-Channel, the Citizen, the Sun -- filming and photographing Council and the dozen of us sitting in the gallery wearing our protest T-shirts. After the vote, we filed out, and there occurred in the corridor what I believe is called a "scrum" -- we shook Cullen's hand and thanked him; the journalists talked to people at random; I suddenly found a bright light shining in my face, through which I could dimly make out a camera lens, a mike, and a nice lady asking my opinions what had just happened. I managed to blurt out something about free speech (hopefully without sounding too pompous) and about how some people want religion to be immune from criticism, and it shouldn't be. Maybe they'll edit me into the Slavering Baby-Eating Atheist Monster, I dunno. There's a reason I don't work in PR.

A few people had to take off for other commitments, and the rest of us had a celebratory dinner at an Indian buffet on Laurier. On the way back, we just had to take the picture above, which is an artwork hanging in the elevator lobby off the parking garage (sorry for the quality; the only camera we had was a Blackberry). While we were doing that a woman came out of the elevator, and asked immediately recognized the ad on the shirt. She was very pleased to hear that Council had voted our way, and left saying something favorable (I don't recall exactly what) about Hitchens and Dawkins. Funny how you run into people....

All the other kids have already posted this video, but I especially like the fact that the guy looks like Mayor O'Brien:

Hat tip for the video: Mike.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

You've been thrown out of better places than this!

According to available information, the situation is this:
In Brazil, a nine year old girl is sexually abused by her step-father (note: he hasn't been convicted, so I hereby make the obligatory genuflection towards Our Lady of the Presumption of Innocence) and becomes pregnant (with twins!). When her mother finds out, she seeks an abortion for her daughter, which the medical system is willing to grant, given both the rape and the fact that she's still too young to safely carry even one child to term, let alone twins (thus managing to hit not one, but two exceptions to Brazil's general ban on abortion).

And the Catholic Church, displaying the matchless Love of Jesus, tried to prevent it.

Fortunately for this poor kid, her doctors went ahead and did the abortion anyway.

So the local Archbishop excommunicated them. And the girl's mother. There's no word on whether the anathema also applies to the evil bastard who's responsible for the whole mess in the first place.

BTW, the Brazilian Catholic Church seems to be on a roll these days: just last week, they suspended a priest from his duties, for his advocacay of gay rights, and the use of condoms as a public health measure.

But back to the excommunications: the girl is off the hook, as she's too young to be held accountable. However, I can't help thinking that as she grows up, she will remember what her Church did for her in the darkest hour of her young life, and react appropriately. As for her mother and the medical personnel: I also can't help thinking they're better off being on the outside of this insane institution.

Bus ads update

The motion to overturn OC Transpo's bus ad ban was tabled at the 4 March Council meeting, and will be discussed and voted on at the 11 March meeting.

There is an on-line petition here; we invite everyone to write letters to city councilors, at that site and also here

Some other ways you can help:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Voice Falls Silent

The following arrived in my RSS reader today (don't bother clicking the links; it's gone, folks):

Note To All My Regular Readers

I know a lot of my regular readers have been wondering what happened to this blog so I thought I would post a quick note of explanation.

My employer was not too happy to discover that I had been writing a blog and thought that my choice of topics reflected badly on them and on my position in the community. As I prefer receiving regular paychecks to blogging, we came to the agreement that it would be best if the blog was removed from the internet.

Thank you to all the kind people who have enjoyed my writing over the years and have stopped by to comment - it's been great getting to know many of you, but now it is time for me to move on to other things. I'll still stop by to visit the atheist blogosphere from time to time, though not under my own name.
I don't know whether his employer objected to the sometimes-bumptious religion debates, the occasional pictures of nekkid wimmin, or what. As far as I can recall, references to the community, the school, and the kids he taught were generally pretty positive. Whatever the reason, I'll miss my semi-regular dose of Primordiality.

And of course, it also emphasizes the reason that many people prefer to use a 'nym online.