Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Moral categories and political alignment

I have finished reading Stephen Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature:  Why Violence has Declined.  You might question why I wrote my first post about it before completing it; some questions must remain unanswered.  Near the end of the book Pinker talks about the ways in which moral imperatives can be organized and how that causes partisan politics.  There are a few ways to arrange this moral organization but the one I liked the best divided things into five parts:  Purity/Sanctity, In-group Loyalty, Authority/Respect, Harm/Care, and Fairness/Reciprocity.

It has been discovered that conservatives tend to draw from all five categories when making moral decisions and coming up with guidelines but that liberals tend to draw only from Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity.   Liberals have no respect for the idea that certain objects or ideas are sacrosanct, that it is inherently moral to favour those people in your tribe, nor that doing what you are told has some innate value.  This certainly describes my position!  Orders from authority figures and taboos are only useful so long as their objective and results are forwarding real goals such as helping people or promoting liberty and freedom.  I have no use at all for the idea that it is more moral to help people in your own group - patriotism is a curse word in my vocabulary, not a shining ideal.

I read an analysis of this work by one of my favourite bloggers awhile ago.  He took it as a point of pride that conservatives, of which he is one, draw from all five categories and saw it as a weakness of liberal ideals that Sanctity, Authority, and In-group Loyalty were ignored.  I think he is completely off his trolley in this case, but it is fascinating to me to read the alternative viewpoint and to try to get my mind around how the other side thinks.  It certainly helped me make sense of how conservatives make the decisions they do; when you really feel like obeying orders is intrinsically as valuable as doing something that helps people you are going to support all kinds of decisions that I find abhorrent.

When I argue politics I have always approached from the standpoint that human flourishing is the end goal of morality and assumed that everyone else believed that too.  My assumption was that once I convinced them that religion held no value in terms of promoting well being that it would be safely discredited and could be ignored along with many other conservative values.  Clearly that isn't going to work as it ignores the reality that a lot of people think that Sanctity, Respect, and Loyalty are ends in and of themselves rather than simply means.  This also explains why partisan politics gets so incredibly heated; we don't just disagree on the best way to accomplish things but rather we disagree on what sorts of things are even worth aiming for.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Car culture

I have been up north at my parent's place near Thunder Bay for the past few days to attend a wedding and chatted with a few people there that I have not met before.  I ran into a recurring theme:  The dislike of the big city.  People up here who have visited my home in Toronto don't like it and have a really negative impression of the metropolis at the heart of Ontario.  The strange thing is that they all complain about the traffic and virtually nothing else.  They talk about how driving made them crazy and they felt hemmed in by the endless throngs of people.

It is completely true that driving in Toronto is awful but I don't see that as a significant obstacle to living in the city because I don't own a car and rarely drive. For me country living comes with the downside of having to own a car to get anywhere and the attendant maintenance, breakdowns, worries, and cost.  Of course when I do drive a car in the country it is a perfectly fine experience where I get where I am going in a stress-free and effective manner while driving in the city makes me fantasize about chucking grenades out the window and watching everything around me burn.

The difference between me and the country folk I hang out with here is that I make the assumption that a car is something other people own and that it isn't something you use on a regular basis.  Clearly there are some city dwellers who are psychically melded with their vehicles but that sort of thing is far more common when you are way out in the boonies because a car is required.  Up here not having a car is a disaster, a lamentable condition that must indicate some tremendous misfortune or catastrophic decision.  Back in Toronto not having a car is, to many people, a very good thing.

The trick for me is to try to make people understand how fundamentally different life is in Toronto.  It isn't like living in the country but with busier streets - you can have an entirely car free existence and that works out fine.  Our possessions really do define us though and people who have never lived an adult life without a car find it difficult to imagine how that works.  I, on the other hand, find it hard to imagine how people can consistently visit a gas station, spend seventy dollars, and feel like this is all fine and good.

They see the big city as an inconvenient place where driving is a pain in the ass.  I see the big city as an convenient place because you don't have to drive at all.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Internal monologue

Man, do people still do the father walking the bride down the aisle?

Why do they do that?

Don't they know it is just a symbol of patriarchal dominance and an overt signal that a woman is the property of a man?

Damn parents, horning in on a perfectly good wedding with their anachronistic sexist baggage.

Geez, when did I become such a feminist?

I watched these things for years without having these thoughts smash around inside my skull.

Being at a wedding didn't used to so consistently enrage me.

Damn, they are giving their vows!  I gotta stop zoning out and actually live in the moment.

Why go to a wedding if all I do is get wrapped up in gender politics and atheistic zeal?

Ack, I did it again!  Must focus.

Awww, they made up vows that rhyme... badly.  But they are so sweet.

I am going to cry!

Dammit, I suppressed the crying.  Stupid reflexes. There is nothing wrong with crying.

Displays of emotion are normal and healthy.  Must not suppress them by reflex.

Sigh.  Now I am not crying because I am all focused on myself and philosophy and I am ignoring the proceedings again.

Must focus on the actual event... and it looks like it is over and they are signing the book.

Great, so I missed half the wedding arguing with myself and being bitter at random people who I won't ever see again.

Someday I will figure out how to just watch an event without spending all my time thinking about the meta themes... but not today, evidently.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How religious is the world?

Atheism is on the rise world wide, this we know.  The details, of course, are trickier than that.  Recently there was a large worldwide poll to discover trends in religious belief and the change over just a few years was really substantial.  The same study was done in 2005 with a slightly different set of nations so comparisons can be done but they need to be done carefully.  The question asked was

"Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?"

Worldwide the number of people answering 'religious' was 59%, non-religious was 23%, and confirmed atheist 13%.  The survey revealed a number of trends within the data, most of which are unsurprising.  Atheists tend to be young, educated, middle class or higher, and female.  The male / female split is 12%/14% so the difference between the genders isn't huge but it is relatively easily explained by the very substantial sexism embedded in most of the largest religions.  It is difficult to chart exactly how answers to these questions have changed though because of China.  It was added to the 2012 survey but was not in the 2005 survey and China is both immense in population and the most atheist country in the world at 47%.

The thing that has me wondering is how much of this change towards atheism is people actually changing their minds on God and how much of it is people feeling that it is socially acceptable to identify as atheist?  In Canada we have 46% religious, 40% not religious, 9% atheist, 5% unsure.  That is an awful lot of people who believe that religion is not for them but that there is some kind of God.  Since 2005 the number of religious folk has dropped from 58% to 46% but I find it hard to believe that so many people have actually changed their minds that quickly; most of that must be a change only in their answers.  Some of them are surely people who were raised in a religious setting and completely ignore religion but who haven't really critically thought about their belief in God.  Particularly when the question is phrased as "convinced atheist" there is a huge amount of room for uncertainty.  It feels to me like we won't actually know what people believe until there is more time for atheism to set in as a normal, unremarkable option.  Heck, there are still a few religious folk who confuse atheism with devil worship and that sort of nonsense is going to mess with your response accuracy.

It used to be that the default assumption was that you were a Christian who went to church.  That slowly eroded to the current situation where the default assumption is that you are a cultural Christian who doesn't go to church but has some residual beliefs from a religious upbringing.  (I still remember getting Christian education in public school from the nice old lady who came to tell us Bible stories every couple weeks.  Unsurprisingly she left out the mass murders, rapes, torture, slavery, genocides, and other such atrocities.)  The trend is definitely shifting towards an assumption of agnosticism for some, atheism for others, but what that trend looks like is really hard to know.

There is an amusing article on this on the bbc website.  They have a couple opinion pieces after the actual facts from two very different viewpoints.  The right wing Christian viewpoint seems to be that progression churches are ruining it for everybody by watering down religion and supporting the people who 'believe in God' but who ignore religion.  Apparently people without religion don't have the strength to deal with a hard life and when they come crawling back to Christianity only the serious churches that maintained their hard line on bigotry will be left.  The left wing opinion is that churches that continue to pursue homophobic and sexist policies are doomed because young people won't put up with that these days.  Only those churches that are willing to be progressive and inclusive have any chance.  I doubt that either have any chance at all to remain large scale and influential in the long term; the important point is that they need to do the right thing now.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Getting better

Things are getting better is a regular refrain around here.  Not that everything is perfect, of course, as I certainly subscribe to the theories that everything sucks and people especially suck (even more so than you would expect of something that is part of everything) but it is hard to deny how much better and safer life is now than it was in the past.  Recently I have been reading a book by Stephen Pinker called The Better Angels of Our Nature:  Why Violence Has Declined that talks all about this topic.

I have a bit of a dilemma.  On one hand I want to call this a feel good book that tries and succeeds at convincing the reader that the world is a wonderful place.  On the other hand it is really hard coming from a life with modern sensibilities to read graphic accounts of just how awful things were for humanity for nearly all of history.  Whether it be medieval torture methods, rape, or infanticide Pinker pulls no punches.

It's not just that we try to rehabilitate criminals these days instead of simply imprisoning them; it is that tormenting criminals to death used to be a fun public activity for the whole family.  Did you steal something and end up imprisoned in the stocks?  Mobs are likely to show up and torture and mutilate you to death just for entertainment.  The difference between how people act now and how they acted a century ago are incredible; go back five centuries and it is hard to recognize humanity at all.

This book isn't just a list of statistics about how much less often we murder each other than in times long past (it is a LOT less) but also an examination of why we think murdering each other isn't okay anymore.  The decline of violence has accompanied changes in human attitudes towards violence and Pinker does a fantastic job of explaining not just that things are safer now but also why.

The thing that I find most remarkable about this book is that Pinker is extremely thorough about admitting what we know for sure, what is reasonable to assume and what he thinks is true without proof.  The book has lots of graphs and data but often, especially when dealing with events far in the past, it is extremely difficult to be sure what the numbers really are.  Lots of books out there draw conclusions from nothing or use flimsy statistical justifications for their beliefs but Pinker is willing to admit it when he is just making his best guess.  I respect that a lot and it lends a huge amount of credibility when he does say that something is certainly true.

I also very much like Pinker's treatment of religion.  Obviously plenty of violence has been done in the name of religion in the past but much of it we can't realistically blame on religion since it was more culture vs. culture than anything else.  It is true though that religion can exacerbate violence in two specific ways that are really interesting.  In particular it can make ending wars extremely difficult because the enemies are not just jerks but are also heathens and heretics which makes peace negotiation unacceptable.  This made ending wars much more difficult and caused much additional suffering.  The other major effect of religion was basing morality around souls rather than people.  This belief gives people an excuse for utterly horrific treatment of others on the basis that protecting their souls justifies any treatment of their bodies.  The idea that suffering and death are totally secondary to other goals warps morality and gave rise all kinds of terrible abuses.

I really recommend this book.  It is long and dense so you won't get through it quickly but I very much approve of the message.  Violence will never vanish completely but it is very much on the wane and we can and should continue to work to reinforce that trend.

Picture from wikipedia:

Monday, August 20, 2012

A bit of good news

There is a certain US Congressman named Todd Akin.  Until recently he was completely unknown to me and presumably most of the world outside Missouri, USA but he jumped into a brief, shining moment of prominence by being a gigantic jackass.  His quote follows:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

It is relatively clear by this short quote that the good Congressman is both clueless about biology and contemptuous of women.  What exactly is 'illegitimate' rape?  I presume it is his fantasy in which women who want abortions all falsely claim that they are raped in order to get one; this is generous as the only other likely interpretation is that he is some kind of rape denialist.  This is all bad news and a very sorry indictment of the extreme religious right.  There is a silver lining though in the response of other right wing religious folk.

Romney called this 'insulting' and 'inexcusable' and he said that 'what he said is entirely without merit and he should correct it'.  Given ample opportunity to waffle and suggest that perhaps Akin was misunderstood Romney actually showed some backbone and roundly condemned it.  He isn't the only one:  The federal GOP pulled Akin's funding and Republicans have rallied against Akin.  Obviously there are still plenty of bigots but they can no longer afford to publicly hold these ideas.

That inability to speak is the key.  The amount of bigotry that is acceptable from a candidate is ever shrinking and you don't have to go very far back in time before Akin would be wrong but unremarkable.  In 2012 this singular remark is considered to be enough to swing an entire state away from the Republicans by itself.  Things can and will get better.  Too slowly, for certain, but it is important to remember how far we have come.

The test for a scam - a google search

The world needs a lesson about buying things on the internet, though that lesson is probably really useful for buying things anywhere in meatspace too, to be honest.  The lesson is simple:  Before you put your money down for anything you type "(Name of company and product) scam" into Google.  If you are immediately directed to a host of sites with people complaining about being scammed by a company selling the product you are considering you can safely assume that they are evil bad nasty thief types and save yourself some grief.  If there are no hits or if the hits lead to sites where everybody talks about the magnetic covariance of the product sending their thoughts to the aliens then you are probably quite safe.  After all, there is always some lunatic who hates a product no matter how good it is.  Or, you know, you could use the ancient and very respectable maxim "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

This time the offender is a program that theoretically will teach you a new language in 5 hours.  That is, 10 sessions of 30 minutes each which you can do while you are performing other activities.  How wonderful!  I can become a functional speaker of Japanese with zero accent by listening to audio recordings for 5 hours?  How come I didn't know about this before?!?

Maybe because it's bloody ridiculous?

I have to give credit where credit is due.  They have a very nice presentation that makes fun of all the usual suspects (public education, expensive alternatives that actually work) and references all kinds of nonspecific but glowing reviews.  Come on, it is a presentation made on an erasable whiteboard.  You can't fake that!  Respectable sites really need to get their asses in gear and start editing out these obvious scam ads.  Anything that starts with "Respectable professionals HATE this person" or "One old tip that has miraculous and unlikely superpowers" is a scam and it isn't remotely difficult to notice.

In case you are curious this particular language scam is of the variety where you get charged for tons of crap you didn't want after you buy the original item for a pittance.  At least you don't end up working for the mob?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Something done right for a change

Taking kids to restaurants is annoying.  There are obviously potential behavioural issues but that is true pretty much no matter what you do with kids.  The problem with restaurants in particular is that they make it hard to order for children to get something that everybody will be happy with.  Even restaurants like McDonalds don't make it simple for kids to choose their food because the choices are all laid out on a screen near the ceiling in words kids usually can't decipher anyway.  Adult restaurants are annoying because they usually don't have kids portions and it is hard to offer choice to children when they don't have the necessary context to understand what various food items are called.  I know what to expect when I order rigatoni, ribs, pad thai, or udon noodles but Elli does not.  Enter Montana's:

This is exactly what a kid's menu should look like.  A clear four step process where the kid can look at the items on the menu and make choices they are happy with.  Admittedly the menu items themselves are heavily weighted to the meat and starch end of things but we are talking about a restaurant that focuses on the twin themes of cowboys and ribs so you aren't going to see a plethora of vegetarian options.  This is also great because the kid doesn't have to sort through a bazillion options or be confused about what the words mean; they can choose things as easily as an adult can and feel good about being in charge of their meal.

Elli was happy because she got to pick her own meal and she knew what was coming instead of guessing.  She was also happy because the meal ended with a ridiculous dessert containing three separate mini ice cream cones.  Heck, the price was even good and it came served in the back of a cardboard toy truck.  I would have preferred that dessert not be included in the baseline meal; getting the family to sit around at the end of the meal while the child eats sugar is good for Montana's dessert sales and bad for humanity unfortunately.

Somebody somewhere should win a design award for this.  Simple, easy, and everybody involves in the process likes it.  Normally I wouldn't pick out something so straightforward to wax eloquent about but having been in a ton of restaurants with Elli and seeing just how frustrating they are I gotta give credit where credit is due.  This really emphasizes how good design can make problems that seem systemic and intractable quite obsolete.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Being wrong is exciting

Yesterday I made a post about Bill C-304 which is being pushed through Parliament by the Conservatives at the moment.  I quoted this article and was full of righteous indignation and flamed the Conservatives for pushing through legislation supported by white supremacist groups.  I got called out on my writing by Anonymous, rightly so I think, because although I was on the right side I wrote sloppily and did not adhere to the standards of conduct I normally aspire to.  It is easy to be right half of the time; just shout loudly that everything sucks and call one side of any debate nasty names and inevitably you will score some hits.  The hard part is trying to be right *and* interesting because proper research almost always ends up with an article that is both long and inconclusive.  The truth is complicated.

This, more than anything, is the difficulty with the Internet.  When I write posts that I feel I have researched thoroughly and which seem written very precisely I rarely get any responses.  There usually isn't much to argue about!  When I get all riled up and flame on though I tend to get people calling me on my BS and forcing me to either strike back or eat my words.  I am pleased to note that nearly every time I get criticized it is justified; apparently my audience is full of people with high standards.  Like most people when I write something I want responses; silence leads me to think I am utterly boring.  That fact tends to reward people that make inflammatory posts which is why you find that the most popular writers are not ones that present all the facts in an unbiased fashion but ones who regularly flame on.

Obviously this is a major reason that trolls exist.  When fourteen year old boys post the most reasonable things they can think of they get ignored but when they troll people they get all kinds of attention; nothing is worse than being utterly ignored so people are trained to troll.  This is not to say that we should all feel obligated to comment on every post with "Yeah, so right!" because that doesn't really help anything either. Having a forum where everyone agrees loudly with one another makes it hard to notice dissenting voices.

One note though:  If you do post here I would take it as a personal favour if you would do so under some kind of pseudonym.  It needn't have any connection to your real name but I do like to keep mental track of regular posters to try to understand them and the things they believe.  It helps me understand who reads what I write and how they think about it and learning about how my writing affects the world and what people think about it is a big motivator for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The freedom to shout White Power!

Canada is really doing it's best to shove it's formerly good worldwide reputation and drag it through the muck.  Not only do we have a government desperate to avoid environmental responsibility and even fact based decision making we also have a government that specifically wants to make it easier for white supremacists and other hate groups to flourish.  Bill C-304 is aimed at chopping the Canadian Human Rights Act to stop government intervention of hate crimes.  Unfortunately it looks like the bill will pass and the government's ability to stop people from inciting hatred and violence against others will be reduced.

Just an FYI:  When white supremacist groups hail your legislation as a wonderful strike against Zionist oppression you are doing something *wrong*.

That's something I just can't fathom.  I am all for free speech and for letting people with stupid, irresponsible, or reprehensible viewpoints talk about their beliefs but when people do things that incite others to crimes and violence towards a particular group it crosses the line.  I can't go into an airport and shout "I'm going to set off a bomb!" and expect to be able to laugh it off as artistic expression and people who want to hurt or otherwise attack other groups should be treated the same way.  You don't like non-whites?  Fine.  You are entitled to your knuckle dragging bigotry.  You don't get to try to convince others to ruin the lives of non-whites (or whites, for that matter) and claim innocence and free expression.

The strategy of the Conservatives under Emperor for Life Harper is bizarre.  They want to increase the government's ability to spy on anyone, anytime, for any reason.  They need this for our security, they say.  Then they go about passing legislation to make sure that if people are found to be doing horrible things and promoting hatred online that the government can no longer intervene.  Apparently they want to check up on us constantly to be sure we aren't doing bad things but racism and violence aren't bad enough to make the list.  Presumably they are saving that extra surveillance for people who download music without paying for it; obviously when faced with enforcing music industry copyright and racial hate crimes it is the copyright that requires government intervention.  Hate crimes can take care of themselves.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alone time

The last week has been fun but hectic.  Hobo came into town and crashed on my couch for 5 days and we had 2 big parties and Elli's first sleepover; there was very little downtime.  After this much people exposure I get a wee bit squirrely and desperately need my alone time to read, write, and play games.  Elli gets the same way and especially after big parties with lots of adults she requires quiet time by herself to recharge.  The devil, as usual, is in the details.

When I think of alone time I think of me by myself shooting aliens online, reading philosophy or economics books, or even doing household chores.  As long as nobody else is around I can recharge pretty much regardless of what I am doing.  Elli's version of 'alone time' is a little bit different though because it can be summarized as "Mama and Daddy give 100% of their attention to me and nobody else is around."  This makes it very difficult when both Elli and I need alone time at the same moment!  When Elli leaps into my lap, grabs my shirt, shoves her face directly into mine, and demands that we play princesses together it is relaxing and calming for her.  She likes that solo time.  I, on the other hand, feel like someone just shoved a firehose spewing raw stress down my throat and turned it on full blast.

I find true alone time relaxing, time with adults and friends fun but slightly stressful and time spent completely with Elli to be more stressful than anything else.  I suspect she understands this and finds it difficult to deal with.  She desperately wants to be around me and it is a hard thing when two people have mismatched desires to be near each other; far moreso when one of them is utterly dependent on the other.  Normally we can establish compromises that make it work but things get somewhat dysfunctional when both of us are coming off of a lot of people time because we are both stressed and more desperate to have our own versions of alone time come to pass.

I hear people talk about how it is hard to raise teenagers because they rarely want to talk to you and become to independent.  I can't wait for that!  I really like some aspects of parenting, particularly explaining challenging concepts.  I find it exciting to try to figure out Elli's limits of understanding and to try to give her the best possible comprehension of a new or challenging idea.  I love watching her thinking about something and stepping in to say "That is cool all right, and now consider how that affects *this* idea...."  Thinkers (from Myers-Briggs personality types) tend to dislike babies and like teenagers and Feelers are the opposite.  I suppose I should not be surprised that I lean so drastically towards Thinker ways.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cake in a pot

Yesterday I had my birthday party.  It was a grand event with a huge collection of old friends, notably a bunch of folks who have mostly been geographically challenged in recent years, and although my condo was quite overwhelmed by the number of guests we had a good time.  In preparation for my party Wendy asked me what sort of birthday cake I would like.  As has been my habit over the past few years I asked for Aunt Wilma Cake, a lemon and raisin concoction that my mother used to make in my younger days.

The thing about Aunt Wilma Cake is that you bake it in a mold and then pop it out so it can look all nice and presentable like.  The trouble with Aunt Wilma Cake is that sometimes you have incompetent people taking the cake out of the mold and things don't go quite as planned.  I pulled the cake out of the oven and tried to get it out of the mold.  It resisted strenuously and the mold sat on the counter as I thumped on it.  Not to be denied I pried all edges of the cake off of the mold and tried the upside down thumping again.  Unfortunately instead of a nice, shapely cake popping cleanly out of the mold I got a rain of shattered cake chunks all over the counter and a bunch of cake thoroughly stuck to the mold.

Undaunted I scraped the cake out of the mold and then hesitated, unsure of how exactly to handle the storage and preservation of a collection of disparate bits of cake that formerly were a single unit.  I needed a container, with decent size sides, and probably a lid since I wanted the cake to last until the next day for the party.  My solution:  Put the cake in a pot, of course!  Most likely I won't be asked to take a cake out of the oven again; despite that each step of my solution seemed logical I didn't really end up where I was supposed to.

This was the birthday cake served to my guests at my party.  It tasted great and I was very much pleased with the whole fiasco (it got me a great story to tell) but I think Wendy feels embarrassed since she was the one baking the thing.  It bothers me not at all and I think the guests by now simply must be inured to the lack of ceremony and presentation that is present in all I do.  If you can't handle birthday cakes being served out of a pot with a soup ladle then you aren't going to fit into the rest of my life anyway.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rebellion and useful mistakes

I was chatting with Hobo and Sthenno last night about our teenage years and there was lot of talk about missed opportunities.  I had a extremely prickly stick up my ass when I was a teenager and had all kinds of ideas about not having sex, drinking or doing drugs and was convinced that it gave me the moral high ground.  This, in retrospect, is a laughable worldview and I do wish I had managed to get over it an awful lot sooner.  I am sure I would have had an easier time in university, particularly when it comes to relationships, had I gone out there and tried some of the world before pronouncing it unpalatable.

It is traditional for parents to tell their children not to do things.  Don't drink, don't do drugs, don't have sex, and don't dress in those ratty/slutty/gangster style clothes!  Teenagers, predictably, ignore these warnings and rush out to do all those things that their parents tell them not to do.  I have long suspected that this is going to be a bit of a tricky spot for Elli because I don't intend to tell her to avoid any of those things.  I will probably tell her to avoid fancy clothes and demanding careers and encourage disobeying the rules, eschewing clothes and experimenting with both drugs and sex; she will most likely rebel by becoming religious, taking various purity vows and becoming a lawyer.

When parents think about their younger years and the wild things they did they often make the error of forgetting that learning must include mistakes.  Telling your children to not make the mistakes you did is futile because you would also be telling them to not learn the things you learned.  People, it must be noted, don't learn by being lectured at but rather by wading in and getting their hands (and other parts) dirty.  Mistakes and risk taking are neither futile nor a waste; they are an essential part in learning.  To learn what sort of relationships are bad people must experience bad relationships.  To learn how much alcohol is too much alcohol people must drink too much alcohol!  To deny our children the chance to do foolish things is to deny them the wisdom that comes from experience.

To be sure there are some mistakes that are too dangerous.  Getting yourself addicted, diseased or pregnant can have extreme serious long term consequences and we have a responsibility to protect our children from mistakes like these.  We can't do that by denying the existence of adult joys and vices however; the only sensible defence is to teach them about risks and protection and to set a good example.  That example must include acknowledgement that adults have sex, do drugs, and take risks.  "Do as I say and not as I do" isn't going to cut it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Facebook memes and nice religious folk

Yesterday on Facebook I saw this picture:

On the surface it seems kinda nice.  It does seem compassionate to love people even though they do things you don't agree with and it also strikes me as good to be able to disagree with a person's choices without hating them.  I do both of these things a lot.  The trouble with this quote though is that it is used to justify doing horrible things to people based on their personal lifestyle choices.  Loving someone despite their choices doesn't excuse trying to ruin their life!

This sort of juxtaposition of love and retribution is a fundamental part of Christianity (as well as some other religions, of course).  Jesus loves you but he is going to make sure you suffer eternal torment unless you do *precisely* what he says.  He has decided that there are particular ways in which a person must live and that living outside that box, even when it hurts no one, is unacceptable and worthy of the most heinous punishments imaginable.  Thus it is probably natural for people who buy into this philosophy to feel like it is okay to love homosexuals but condemn their choices and try to force them to live a heterosexual lifestyle.

It isn't okay.

There is a particular point where the quote above does hold true; that being where you personally disapprove of homosexual behaviour but do nothing whatsoever to try to force people to avoid that behaviour.  This is a theoretical point occupied by no real people.  Real people who disapprove of a behaviour work to prevent it or punish those who indulge in it even if they try their best to remain neutral.  Moreover when you live in a time and place where a particular group is marginalized and you take the stance that their actions are unacceptable you support those who do hate them and you support bigotry against them.  This support occurs even if you adamantly insist that you personally contain no hatred.

This is why moderate religion drives me so utterly bonkers.  The people involved support and empower the fundamentalists while trying to condemn the actions perpetrated by the fundamentalists.  If you want to stop bigotry and show people that you are not hateful the first step is not to say "I disapprove of homosexuals BUT I love them!" but rather to say "I disapprove of treating people badly.  All people.  PERIOD."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lotta lotta sex yo

The Olympics makes a point of trying to take care of the athletes involved.  Although all kinds of injuries are to be expected the organizers want to try to mitigate a brutal outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases and so they provide condoms for the athletes; approximately 140,000 condoms to be exact.  Since there are 10,000 athletes and the competition goes for 17 days we can assume that the athletes will be using those condoms at a rate of .82/day.  Since you generally speaking need 2 people for a condom to be of much use we can guesstimate that the athletes are having sex 1.62 times/day on average during the competition.

Of course there are factors that are difficult to account for that make this number less than perfectly accurate.  Some athletes won't be having sex due to being underage, in committed relationships, being convinced that extramarital sex is evil/bad, or simply lack of interest.  Obviously that last one is going to be pretty rare and the other three never seemed to stop people much in the past but certainly *some* of them will abstain.  Some will also have sex without condoms or with condoms not given away for free one would imagine; this raises the number further.  Mitigating these factors is the fact that some condoms will end up unused for various reasons.

In the end though we can safely assume that the athletes that are having sex are doing so somewhere in the neighborhood of twice per day.  Of course that would suggest that a substantial portion of them are in the three or four times per day range which is pushing way beyond 'hooking up a lot' and into 'nonstop orgy'.  Clearly when you are 20 years old, far from home, having an intense emotional experience, in possession of a supremely fit body and surrounded by others in an identical set of circumstances you are going to end up with lots of sex.  I really didn't think it would be quite that *much* sex though.  I led a pretty sheltered life as a teenager, (particularly so for someone who had parents who weren't especially strict) but even then I can hardly imagine such a scene.

I thought for normal people it would be hard to resist having sex with someone who is an Olympic athlete.

"So I was on vacation and this Olympic beach volleyball girl came on to me... what was I supposed to do, say no?"

But I figured that being an Olympic athlete might mitigate the desperate need to have sex with a hard bodied person who might be famous.  Turns out I was mistaken.  Maybe the Olympics should try to get some extra income by selling tapes from the Olympic village to porn companies....

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hot buns

Normal people buy hamburger buns at the grocery store.  Slightly fancier people buy hamburger buns from a local baker and the buns have fancy types like 9 grain and italian.  There is another group of people though that refuses to use either of these options and instead decides to bake their own hamburger buns.  The smart people in the third group ask friends or Google 'how to make homemade hamburger buns' ahead of time rather than just going for it and falling flat.  I am perhaps not so smart.  I decided to try to do hamburgers completely from scratch and make my own patties, buns and toppings.  Note:  I don't make my own ketchup, I cheated.  Hell, I didn't even make my own pickles.  What a slacker.

I wasn't at all sure how big I needed to make the initial balls of dough to get proper sized buns so I made a variety of sizes to make sure I got something useful out the other end.  It actually worked out okay because I made huge patties for myself and smaller ones for Elli and they looked only mostly silly.

I got myself into trouble because the patties were really thick.  This is fine except that the buns had a normal bread crust on them and so were fairly resistant to squishing and this made it hard for Elli to eat her hamburger.  I managed to maul my burgers well enough but it was clear that I am missing something really key in my baking strategy.

You know those commercials for hamburger joints where they show a perfect hamburger, sizzling from the grill, with toppings so fresh they are still covered in beads of water?  Yeah, mine don't look like that.  They look like a fat hunk of meat with limp veggies on a deformed bun.  Just from a visual perspective my homemade hamburgers don't just look worse than a McDonalds ad, they look worse than the actual burgers you get at McDonalds.  

They taste better than their fast food brethren though, and they are filled with less death and suffering.  A good trade, if I do say so myself, and I do say so.  Now I just need to figure out what I screwed up in the making of these buns and I will be on my way!

Friday, August 3, 2012


Heist movies are generally pretty ridiculous but the absolute king of the heap of implausibility is the laser room.  You know the one, the giant room with a single pillar containing a bazillion dollar diamond that is a mass of interconnecting laser beams.  The thieves inevitably have some outrageous gymnast that can maneuver through the web of beams that are carefully arranged to be difficult, but not impossible, for a human body to fit through.  Apparently the people who design vaults are incapable of building a wall of lasers 5 cm apart or just filling the room with temperature sensors and cameras.

Or, you know, putting the gigantic diamond someplace *safe*.

However, there is one good thing that has come from the sad trope of crisscrossing lasers and it isn't a butt shot of Catherine Zeta-Jones nor a trio of black leather clad hotties needlessly tumbling through a field of beams.  There is a new themepark game (new to me, anyway) which mimics this game and allows people to try to maneuver through a hallway containing a field of crosscrossing laser beams as quickly as possible.  It is stone cold awesome; they need to make this into an Olympic event!

I went with Elli's class today to a kid's indoor play zone and got to try it myself.  I am distinctly better than a child who is confused and afraid of the game but it turns out I get my clock cleaned by a 5 year old who understands the concept and wants to win.  Being small is really good in this sport it turns out and although I had a blast it was clear that in this game you do not bet on the big men.  For some reason it reminds me of playing Predator/Prey back in university - I feel a huge rush when I begin to play and I get the feeling that winning is a matter of moxie as well as physical preparation and strategy.

Unfortunately aside from building my own laser tunnel there isn't any reasonable way for me to play this game a lot.  At $2 per attempt and less than a minute per attempt I can't see the game being one that you can practice in the kid's zone since it would cost more than $100 an hour.  Someday I will own a house and then I will build some crazy awesome stuff, you wait and see!

First photo from:

Second photo from:

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Imagine this:  You are a person interested in opening a franchise of a successful chicken based fast food chain called Chick-Fil-A.  You look at expected return on investment, traffic patterns, risk factors, and all kinds of other things.  Then you discover that your new business venture is getting extremely wrapped up in gay politics and that a new Chick-Fil-A franchise is likely to be a battleground between religious zealots and pro gay rights activists.  You might call this scenario ridiculous... but sadly it is true.  The owner of Chick-Fil-A is all about doing things the Bible way so the chain isn't even open on Sundays.  This is good for both the employees *and* the customers though probably bad for the bottom line.

Dan Cathy, the big man in charge of Chick-Fil-A, thinks that gay marriage is wrong, wrong, wrong.  He also thinks that this is something he should make very public and so there has been a lot of nasty back and forth between the bigots and the rest of the populace culminating in a call for all gay bashers to eat at Chick-Fil-A.  We can't let rich guys who want to dictate everyone else's lifestyle starve, can we?  Apparently this was quite successful and Chick-Fil-A locations all over the US South were full to the brim with people wanting to celebrate their hate with processed chicken.  I am channeling Homer Simpson for a moment "Mmmmmmm, hate filled processed chicken.... nomnomnom."

Thankfully a different Dan got in gear and decided to crank up his naming power once again.  In 2003 Dan Savage managed to attach the name Santorum to  "The frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the product of anal sex." in retribution for Rick Santorum's loony gay bashing.  Now Savage is trying to make the same sort of connection with Chick-Fil-A and "Anal penetration of a man by a woman using a strap on dildo."  Previously dubbed pegging this activity has been renamed Chick-Fil-A by the guru of sex on the internet and now we get to see if Savage can make the same sort of trouble successfully again.

I wonder how this will affect franchise sales.  I feel like it might actually be a good thing if you are establishing a Chick-Fil-A in the Bible belt in a small town with 8 churches but it seems like a disaster if you want to sell to anyone else!  I certainly wouldn't want to invest in a franchise where the company owner seemed interested in stirring up controversy and competing demonstrations.  If a Chick-Fil-A opened up near me I know I would have a grand time talking to people about how empty I felt and how much I wanted to go down to Chick-Fil-A to get filled right up... it is probably a good thing for everyone involved that they aren't going to do that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My world is not the only world

In my world there are lots of interesting things to debate.  That universal health care is a good idea is taken for granted, of course, but we can talk about the best ways to discourage patient abuse of the system (on my vacation I was told a story of an elderly lady who continually called for ambulances to ferry her to the hospital to visit relatives..) or whether or not the government should bankroll extremely risky or untested new medicines.  It is understood that women should have access to any role in life that they desire but we talk about the pros and cons of trying to raise children while working a lot of hours and how much we should encourage young girls to enter traditionally male dominated roles.  I have real debates about whether or not a child should be spanked under any circumstance and some people say yes, but only in a few extreme situations and some say never.

Then we have other worlds, ones that I often forget really exist.

Worlds like the one this blogger inhabited, where she was told in all earnestness that universal health care in Canada meant state mandated abortions for 'undesirable' children.  Her world also included literal instructions for being a wife that included not voicing opinions, always being available for any need your husband has, and staying at home producing an endless stream of babies since naturally contraception is a tool of the devil.  Let us not forget the child rearing instruction that spanking is the one and only tool that should be used to get children in line; it should be employed in virtually every situation.

I read some of her posts and was blown away by the difficulties of her transition out of 'peon to the patriarchy' to 'actual person'.  Even if you ignore the outrageous sexism and denial of reality when it comes to healthcare she has had a rough time of it since her husband turned out to be a transgender woman and the author came out as a lesbian!  Fortunately these things have some real synergy but it utterly boggles my mind to think of coping with being trans or gay when raised in a society that hasn't even come to grips with accepting straight, cisgendered women as the equals of men.

In the world I inhabit the idea of actually debating whether or not women should be allowed to work is simply not a thing.  I can't even begin to construct a set of rules and guidelines for how I would act in such a world.  It explains a lot of why people vote for right wing religious nutters and why I can't comprehend their decisions though; if you honestly believe that God causes psychopaths to gun down bystanders in retribution for homosexuality being tolerated then there is no chance that I will make sense of who you want to vote for. I don't know what I could say to someone who thinks that fear of Hell would prevent atrocities.

Thankfully the author demonstrates that religious fundamentalist brainwashing is not impregnable.  People can and do open their eyes and renounce faith and the madness that it engenders.  Hopefully the increased connectivity and openness of the world will lead more people cast off their sheep's form and begin to really think.