Thursday, September 27, 2012


Last week Wendy decided that Elli should enroll in Sparks, the entry level of Girl Guides here in Canada.  Elli was excited about the uniforms and the idea of an all girls club so off she went.  Why exactly she is so excited to go to an all girls event and yet simultaneously is desperate to be engaged to some boy or other is strange to me but I suppose five year old girls aren't supposed to make sense to their fathers.  Having recently been thoroughly disgusted with the Boy Scouts homophobia and religious discrimination I was concerned about sending Elli to Girl Guides but it turns out my concerns were totally groundless.

Girl Guides not only tolerates gay folks but specifically enshrines equality for all in their mission statement.  They clearly say that they will:

Treat Members, volunteers, employees and Members’ families fairly, knowing that GGC does not tolerate unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, citizenship, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical ability, political beliefs, socio-economic status, health-related status, sexual orientation, marital status, or any other grounds enumerated in the human rights legislation of the jurisdiction in which the individuals involved are located.

Seems pretty conclusive to me.  I was also pleased to note that their Promise was entirely free of worship and supplication.

Brownie Promise
I Promise to do my best,
To be true to myself, my beliefs and Canada
I will take action for a better world
And respect the Brownie Law


The Guiding Law challenges me to:
  • be honest and trustworthy
  • use my resources wisely
  • respect myself and others
  • recognize and use my talents and abilities
  • protect our common environment
  • live with courage and strength
  • share in the sisterhood of Guiding.
Honesty, wisdom, respect, achievement, environmentalism, courage, and sharing seem like a pretty great set of guidelines.  All in all the Girl Guides impressed me.  I was kind of expecting to have all sorts of righteous indignation and to have to hold my nose while Elli went to Guides but honestly I can't find fault with their policies in the slightest.  I wonder how much of the fact that the Girl Guides are less prejudiced than the Boy Scouts is due to the fact that they were explicitly founded to serve a marginalized group.  Some groups manage to escape the clutches of their beginnings and some do not; much like people in that regard.

Quotes taken from

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Save us from ourselves Google!

People are scared of all the wrong things.  They worry about terrorism when the chance of it killing you is roughly 0.002% and they fail to worry about the flu and pneumonia when those kill 1000 times as many people as terrorism.  They also worry way too much about the dangers of flying and not nearly enough about the dangers of driving.  As a sad sidenote it has been calculated that in the US about 1500 people died in traffic accidents due to driving more and flying less after the 9/11 attacks; they should definitely have continued to fly, from a short term safety standpoint.

Google, ever the champion of righteousness, is coming to our rescue.  Cars that drive themselves are now becoming legal in a few US states and certainly that trend will continue north of the border and around the world.  There are clearly a few tricks to having a driverless car on the road and some obstacles to overcome but we can't ignore the obvious advantage that computers kick our collective asses at things like driving.  Obeying the rules, staying on the road, and not hitting things are actually really easy under the great majority of conditions.  The problems really only emerge when you introduce the people factor:  Being drunk, being exhausted, having screaming teenagers in the car, driving beyond the speed limit, and other unnecessary risks that we take far too regularly.

We chuck all kinds of money at health problems that we can barely make a dent in to try to extend human life.  Modern medicine can perform some wonders but I think we could actually improve health care and longevity in most modern societies by cutting money from the healthcare budget and diverting it into getting every car on the road driven by a computer.  Would we have a few collisions because the computer crashed?  Sure.  But in the wash we would save huge numbers of lives by preventing people from doing stupid things and killing themselves.  Want to get loaded and drive home?  Go nuts!  Desperately need a nap on the way to work?  No problem!  I might recommend finding the money to encourage driverless vehicles by cutting out things like useless fighter jets instead of slashing healthcare costs but either way it is a winning proposition.

This issue is all tied up in dumb psychology.  We are afraid in planes because we have no illusion of control.  They are astoundingly safe but without our hands on the wheel there is a fear that something up front is going wrong and we have no idea what it might be.  90% of people believe they are in the top 50% of drivers by skill so very few of us have a realistic idea of how good we are at driving.  We have this collective delusion that somehow our talents can make up for our impairments and risky behaviour and it kills us in remarkable numbers.  We don't need perfection from a computer to drastically improve our road safety, just a driver that obeys the laws and brings its full focus to bear every single time the key is turned.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Crooks and Poor Nations

There often isn't much difference between the ethics of a 'legitimate' ruler and the ethics of a mob boss.  Obama has happily signed away some very important, very basic rights of his citizens in order to further a completely unnecessary war as well as been responsible for plenty of assassinations and combat deaths.  (Note that the Republicans would probably have done the same but worse, this isn't about partisan politics.) However, when he does things they have the stamp of legitimacy.  He sends in official type people on missions that are public because no one can do anything about it; Osama Bin Laden simply wasn't able to prevent himself from being killed regardless of the fact that he knew it was coming.

On the other hand you have the Pakistani railways minister who was extremely angry that a random person in another country made a film that offended his religious sensibilities so he put out a $100,000 contract on the life of the filmmaker in question.  He would have happily started a war or sent a strike team to destroy the filmmaker instead but of course he lacked the direct power to do so, much like a criminal does.  Drug dealers may beat people up but they don't do it publicly and acknowledge it when asked; contracts are the weapon of the underdog.

That stamp of legitimacy is simply power though and has nothing to do with moral authority.  I think both the press and regular people often confuse the two and talk as if someone in a suit giving an executive order is somehow better than a machine gun wielding militant hiding in a cave when their aims and results are the same.  Dropping bombs from high tech planes on civilians isn't better or more justified than shooting those civilians at close range because the only difference is how powerful the aggressor is.  Power should not imply moral behaviour or appropriate goals though unfortunately people often see it that way.

I find it hilarious that Obama went before the UN to condemn extremism and violence after his nation invaded another nation and caused more than 100,000 civilian deaths.  Certainly the violence of the protests in recent days is deplorable but it is a pittance compared to the violence of the Iraq war.  It must also be noted that the US is happy to imprison and kill people without due process, just like any terrorist organization, when it suits their needs.  The difference, again, is simply that they are powerful enough to do it publicly and nobody can stop them.

Stopping violence is a good thing.  Spreading democracy and basic human rights around the world is a wonderful goal.  The first thing you would want to do to make that happen though is to set a good example.  You will win nothing but enemies and accusations of hypocrisy when you cloak violence against the weak under the guise of self-defence and then condemn others who do the same thing without as many guns to back it up.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Give me one more hit

18 months ago I quit World of Warcraft.  It was my addiction, my passion, my motive for doing things for seven years.  Tomorrow at 3:00 am the newest expansion for WOW launches and I am preparing to get up at 2:55 so I can log on immediately and score up some realm firsts.  For the first time I will be doing this alone as Wendy is not planning on joining me in falling back into our old habits.  We used to schedule a week's worth of holidays for her so the two of us could play together but no more; WOW will fail to grab her again in its cold, icy clutches.

Of course it isn't the game so much that is grabbing me but the social opportunities.  WOW is where the action is.  All kinds of friends are planning on playing again and the opportunity to hang out with the boyz while having fun blowing up monsters and taking their stuff is too much too pass up.  Truly it doesn't matter what game it is we are playing so much, as long as I have a good community to play with I will be pretty happy.  Sthenno is even contemplating resubscribing to WOW at fifteen dollars a month just as a chat window to keep up with us; you know that something is lacking technologically when you do that.

I liked Pounda's characterization of my situation. "So Blizzard has stolen your friends and is willing to rent them back to you for $15 a month?"  We need this focus, this place, to create the social environment that we all want.  There is enough inertia to WOW and it is a good enough social platform that a rejoining seems inevitable for many or even most of us.  I wonder how many other old friends I do not speak to regularly will end up drawn back in by the allure of geek chat and watching numbers get bigger.  Those two things together are some kind of magical elixir, one so addictive that it is nearly impossible to break the habit permanently.

I suppose I should feel guilty about breaking my dry spell and hitting up the crack pipe once again.  I don't though.  Time to kill dudes, eat them, and take their stuff.  Also, make spreadsheets to optimize said activities.

Friday, September 21, 2012

What is in a name

Names are really important to people.  I knew this when I was in kindergarten because Sky is very easy to rhyme with and it led to endless mocking lines from my peers, though things improved a lot when I got older and it became a great opening line when trying to hit on women.  I don't place much stock in last names though and I forget how important they are to other people.  I just read an article about Japan that made it clear how important last names and family legacies are to some people and was astounded at how much sexism was tied up in that practice.  

I normally think of Japan as a pretty progressive place, one that is much like Canada with more raw fish and electronics but less open space and ice.  I couldn't quite wrap my mind around the idea that you could make a living trying to unite females from business families and males looking to be adopted into a business family as the new successor.  Apparently a female running the business is unpalatable enough that companies and families feel the need to hunt down a man who can marry into the family for that express purpose.  

There are all kinds of wrong in that story.  First off, why is it that the family name has to be drawn from the male exactly?  Second, why does it matter if the person running the business has that family name?  Third, why can't a daughter inherit the business instead of a son?  Is that level of explicit sexism really the norm in Japan?  Certainly if you want a family and a business both women have greater challenges because they need to divide their attention more than a man would but that can't possibly be justification for this; a few years off work isn't the end.

I just can't figure out the mindset that would necessitate such efforts to ensure that somebody out there who is about twenty five years younger has the same name as you.  I get the idea of wanting a genetic legacy but the leap from that to adopting an adult male just to carry on your name is totally beyond me.  It seems like a desperate reach for immortality, a continuation of oneself, but why would that be so completely attached to men?  If you want continuity you can get it by simply having your family name continue down through to grandchildren by your daughter, I would think, and yet that isn't the case.

I tend to identify myself a me, not as a label.  I could change my name without any significant discomfort; hell, I actually thought about changing my first name to Red awhile ago and I have no particular attachment to my last name.  Roy is a fine name and all, rarely misspelled, but I feel no obligation whatever to support it over any other name.  If there weren't any more Roys in the next generation that wouldn't bother me as it just isn't a part of who I am; rather it is just something that happened to me.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I need a lawn

Camping is a very mini/maxi activity for me.  When the sun is shining and I get to spend my day paddling through a picturesque lake, swimming off of a giant rock, poking at a fire, and having wonderful late night conversations in the dark it is a fantastic thing to do.  When the rain is coming down, my hands are locking up because they are so cold, and I am looking forward to a miserable paddle in the drizzle and wind it is a dreary activity indeed.  Fortunately camping in the rain builds character so it is not a total loss.

One thing camping does teach me though is that lawns are really useful critters to have around.  Normally I find them useless and annoying, a source of extra work and worry that is rarely of great utility.  When you get back from a camping trip and try to spread all of the soaking wet, filthy camping gear out to dry though you really get a sense of how useful a lawn and a sunny day can be.  Piling the gear on all of the furniture and hoping it dries just by sitting in my condo is a irritating situation at best - not only do I need a lawn, but a basement to store all the stuff until the sun is out and shining would be nice too.  Maybe I ought to talk to the folks in the condo below mine to see if they would be willing to warehouse my crap?

We also got to try out canoe camping with a child in tow and it went surprisingly well.  Elli needed a ton of attention and supervision throughout the trip but we had ten adults along so that wasn't such an issue.  The only issue with having so many people taking care of her is that all the adults seemed to take it as a point of pride to cram her full of candy at every opportunity - each of them seemed to feel that it was their duty to butter her up with sour keys, roasted marshmallows, or chocolate.  It will be hard for her to adjust to real food again!  I think the whole thing would have worked better with more children around, rather than less, because they could have entertained each other and perhaps avoided being spoiled quite so much.

Also, UtiliKilts are awesome for camping.  Despite all the naysayers and doubt surrounding my choice of attire I stand triumphant.  There were actually people betting that I would lose the kilt at the first portage!  Don't bet against me being stubborn about my nonstandard fashion choices, you won't win.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Put that gun away

British bobbies are famous for not wielding guns.  They take a relatively normal police uniform, add a ridiculous hat and subtract a pistol.  For most of my life I looked at them as a bit of a freakshow and couldn't fathom why they wouldn't pack heat to shoot some bad guys.  Seriously, a cop's life is mostly high speed chases and shootouts in old factories with desperate drug dealers ... right?  Also, having a big scary revolver is good for intimidating all those evil punks and disruptive protesters.

I don't think that anymore.  There are a few problems with gun toting police, the first of which is that they very rarely use their guns.  This might not seem like a problem, exactly, but it turns out that police who are actively encouraged not to use their weapons like in Canada rarely need them.  I read some scary stuff about cops in the US who whip out their guns for every speeding ticket but up here in Canada the paperwork for pulling a gun is prohibitive enough that cops don't do foolish things like that.  If you don't need your gun much it does not make sense to have one since just possessing them is an issue.

The big thing about possessing a gun is that you tend to then use that gun instead of finding other solutions.  We are all going to be better off if police officers have every possible reason to calm situations down instead of relying on superior firepower to win if things get out of hand.  Just the knowledge that there is a gun on hand makes people more nervous and desperate; when one side is keyed up and the other side is subtly encouraged to escalate a conflict we have a recipe for violence.  Clearly police need to be able to call in backup that has access to heavy weaponry when necessary but it should be a serious choice with opportunity to cool down rather than a split second decision.

Having a gun on hand also separates a police officer from the civilians who surround them.  Everyone is more nervous and worried when a powerful weapon is close at hand such that it is more difficult for police officers to be part of the community when they are carrying a gun.  The gun also cements the idea that police wield power by threat of violence instead of societal contract.  An unarmed bobby is obeyed because we as a society agree that we should do what police officers say to a large extent.  The threat of overwhelming force is far away and that is where it should stay; it is more dangerous for everyone, especially the police, when they are viewed as thugs with big guns instead of people who maintain order with a commanding presence.

I also have a lot less respect for the police based on history.  Most cops are pretty good folk these days (as are most people) but in the past the Toronto police force were used almost exclusively as violent political enforcers and even recently have been in trouble over shootings that seemed really racially biased.  The fact is that although the police are ostensibly there to protect us all they are not immune to politics, bigotry, mistakes, frustration, and misinterpretation.  We all make mistakes and when guns are involved those mistakes can become lethal ones.

The London bobby might seem like an anachronism to some but I think they are the future rather than the past.  Violence everywhere is decreasing and we can help that along by setting a good example with our law enforcement; lethal violence only when all other avenues have been exhausted and never on the spur of the moment.

Friday, September 14, 2012

You know you are boned when

You can tell when you aren't doing well as an elected official when nobody will defend you anymore.  Rob Ford is the mayor of Toronto and I have complained about him over and over and finally it is looking like he might actually get the boot.  It turns out that he was involved in a conflict of interest, which is obviously bad, but he was also unaware that he was in a conflict of interest because he didn't know the basic rules under which the mayor has to operate.  Not his finest hour.

Lately though Ford has been involved in another snafu because he took off in the middle of a council meeting for five hours to coach football.  It has come out since that not only does he blow off city business for football but he also allegedly gets his city staff to work on his football project too - for a guy who campaigned on 'stop the gravy train' and 'cut the fat' it looks pretty bad to be using city resources for outside work.

Here's the rub:  I went to a few different newspapers to see what people thought of Ford.  It is nearly always true that when you open up news articles to comments from the public you get a broad spectrum of responses, universally including extremist views from both left and ring wing types.  You can, to some extent, gauge public opinion based on how many comments you get and what they say.  It is critical to check sites that lean both ways and what I found is that in the right wing rag The Toronto Sun Ford had a few defenders but not many; when more than half the commenters are against you on your home turf you gotta be worried.  The kicker though was that the relatively centrist newpaper the Globe and Mail had zero people defending the embattled mayor.  50 comments in and not a single pro-Ford comment to be seen.

You can get positive comments on absolutely any ludicrous thing you do.  No matter how awful your belief or how reprehensible your actions there are always some yahoos that will support you.  Apparently Ford managed to break this norm.  Not a good sign for reelection when you can't even find an internet troll to defend you just to piss people off.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Better not offend me, I'm religious

Religion is used as an excuse for all kinds of crazy behaviour but today we really saw one of the highs. In Libya a group of gunmen attacked a US embassy and killed four people after a firefight with security personnel and other defenders. Their reason for the attack was that a film was made in the US that portrays the 'prophet' Muhammad in a really negative light. This wasn't a US government film, nor even a big industry film, but rather a incredibly tacky, badly shot amateur affair that is only available in pieces on Youtube - it hasn't even been properly released yet. It certainly portrays Muhammad in an incredibly poor light, mostly by telling the truth about what is in the Koran using crappy actors and awful dialogue.

The first official response to this deplorable action contained the following:

The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

Unsurprisingly US officials are pretty angry that about the whole affair. I must ask though, why is it exactly that they are even talking about the video as if it was a part of the problem? Free speech is a critical part of having an open, democratic society and it is not magically removed in the case that somebody happens to be religious. The movie that provoked this response was poorly made but that is the *only* thing wrong with it. Being religious is not an excuse for violent behaviour, let alone murder, even if somebody else says something your religion disagrees with.

You do not have the right to not be offended. You may not like what I say, but as long as I am not endangering or threatening you I have the right to say those things. I don't much like people saying that Muhammad was in any way divinely inspired (mostly because that would imply that things can be divine) but I don't get to go murder Saudi Arabian government workers because I heard an imam saying things that offended me. The difference between me and a religious person is that nobody will accept my being offended as an excuse for mayhem while religious people will find widespread support for rampages based on being mocked.

Something I find utterly astounding is how these violent events ignore the constant stream of mockery directed at religions and focus on just a few small events as justification for outbursts. Jesus and Mo is up all the time portraying Muhammad as a complete buffoon and yet it has not yet been a flashpoint for religious violence. The new Youtube movie hasn't said anything that isn't regularly said all over the place and yet somehow it provoked this insane response. I can't figure out what it is about cartoons in Danish newspapers and nearly unknown amateur films that get fundamentalist, radical Muslims really riled up but there sure seems to be something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

So I bought a skirt

Though it might have seemed impossible that I could stand out even more than I do just by wandering around shoeless I think I have done it.  I went out and bought myself a ridiculously overpriced UtiliKilt and now I can wander around appearing in gender nonconforming clothing while also refusing to wear shoes.  The question is:  Once I have violated one clothing norm does violating one more multiply the crazy, making me appear totally nutty, or does adding on nonconformity hardly matter once you break the barrier once?  I do know for sure that the children at Elli's school were quite taken aback and couldn't seem to decide between questioning me about the kilt or my bare feet.  They were all quite certain that men weren't allowed to wear skirts and that everyone had to wear shoes but which violation was more strange and offensive wasn't clear.

As Sthenno rightly pointed out, this UtiliKilt really does look like I am trying to draw particular attention to my groin with its strategically placed triangle of snaps - I assure you that isn't the intention, though my groin getting extra attention seems like it could provide some nice entertainment value.  Elli was very interested in the snaps and eagerly touched them when she first saw them.  This may have been slightly awkward as I was in a crowded room with her teacher and classmates at the time. I look forward to her introducing me to her dates in high school with "And this is my crazy dad who doesn't wear shoes but does wear skirts... please don't think I'm weird?"  She is going to have so many things to tell her therapist when she gets older!

I apparently have a lot to learn about how to sit down properly with a skirt and probably need to consider how I am going to avoid flashing the public at large during wind gusts and such.  I haven't yet gone commando in my kilt but it seems like a thing that has to be done.  That is how they are supposed to be worn, after all.

I don't know why I am doing the Egyptian.  I had a normal picture with me standing there with a pasted on smile but who puts that kind of boring crap up on the internet?  Goofy or get out.  In closing:  UtiliKilts are awesome, and not just for making other people uncomfortable!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mobility is good, right?

I have been reading lots of US politics lately.  Generally speaking this means much time spent reading obvious lies and ridiculous statements but occasionally I run into something that really makes me think.  The main thing I think is that the amount of money spent on US elections by the people running for office is absolutely stunning.  6 Billion dollars will be spent on campaigning this year - $20 for every single person living in the US.  While this money is a pretty small sum compared to the US deficit it does put it under a different sort of light - if they simply introduced laws to prevent excessive campaign spending by doing things like outlawing PACs they could find a lot of cash just wasting away to put to good use.

Not that being leader of the US isn't important enough to advertise for, because it is, but there really isn't any benefit to society in letting politicians blow enormous sums in an arms race against each other.  It forces those who are supposed to be focusing on leading into spending their time and energy fundraising and promotes making policies that benefit specific big contributors.  I get that people want the freedom to support their political parties but all that means is that everybody else loses the freedom to have responsible government *unless* they also donate in turn.  Big donations should not be a prerequisite to representation.

I also hear a lot about inequality.  I obviously am a backer of societies with a low Gini coefficient where the super rich don't control such a big portion of the total wealth.  Normally I dismiss right wing arguments supporting wealth disparity as ridiculous but one writer actually made a really good point about the US - their mobility is extremely high.  Europe may have better wealth equality but the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor, much moreso than in the US.  Now, I can't believe that rich people being super powerful but only temporarily is actually a good thing overall but it does have its merits - people being sure that they can make their way up with enough luck, work, and smarts is a great belief for a society to have.  I don't personally want to live in a highly mobile, highly unequal society, but it does have something going for it.

There is, however, a catch.

That idea of the US having high mobility isn't accurate but rather a fabrication that people living there seriously buy into.  Making policies that just let people go and do whatever they want and supporting the rich doesn't in fact make for a socially mobile society at all - rather it means that the rich stay rich.  The US at the moment is actually a society where opportunities to rise up are far fewer than other societies *and* the rich control far more wealth than in other societies.  Clearly there are a few people who really like this situation but for the great majority it is both very much in defiance of the American Dream and also makes life for most of society much worse.

We need to be very careful when we, north of the border, start shifting our policies to emulate those of our very powerful southern neighbour.  The American Dream of anybody being able to make it is a fine one, but unfortunately for the American people the US isn't much good at providing it.  If you want a land of opportunity you tax the crap out of the rich (like France is planning on doing) and let the poor catch up, not the other way around.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Teenagers and fashion violations

I have been going barefoot a lot this past week.  Two years ago I ended up being forced to wear shoes at Elli's school due to 'health concerns' but I have given up on obedience and decided to risk a telling off.  So far, no fights, but I have happily been without foot coverings for a week.  I did manage to have a hilarious encounter with a pair of teenage girls on the bus yesterday though.  They were very curious about why I would go without shoes and asked a bit about the basic logistics; the conversation got really amusing when they started to focus on the fashion faux pas portion of being barefoot.

Teenagers:  So, do you have a girlfriend?

Me:  No, but I do have a wife.

Teenagers (Incredulous): You have a wife?!?


Does she go barefoot too?


So, does she go outside with you?


But isn't that a problem?


Isn't she worried about what people will think?

I guess not!

To be sure, Wendy would probably prefer it if I just wore shoes.  She doesn't like the idea of confrontations and doesn't have my intense desire to avoid covering my feet.  However, she does seem to have decided that I have some kind of appeal that warrants staying with me even though I break every fashion law I become aware of.  Also, fashion laws I am very much ignorant of.  Teenage preconceptions notwithstanding, it is in fact possible to find someone to marry you even if you are a teensy bit weird.

As the teenagers got off the bus they threw their gum at a random lady in a nearby seat and ran away laughing at her.  Apparently it is preposterous to imagine being romantically involved with someone with doesn't conform to fashion norms but hucking gum at strangers is all good.  People, I present to you:  Teenagers.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Writing a book

Earlier this summer my dad was trying to convince me to write a fantasy novel.  I had been describing my design for my new DnD campaign including a substantial amount of world backstory and he felt like I should really turn it into a book.  I was pretty skeptical because I don't feel like I am especially talented at writing fiction.  (Here's where you zing me about everything I write being fiction.)  That said, I do have time and I could use a project... so what to write about?

I think the answer is definitely not a fantasy novel.  I am passionate about gaming but I am not passionate about writing a fantasy book and if you aren't that interested in your first book you aren't going to get anywhere, particularly since most people who write first books are desperately interested and still almost universally get nothing in return.  What I would be interested in doing though is writing a book about atheism for the general public.  There are already good books out there like these three which give good reasons to believe in evolution, find fault with religion, and logically deny the existence of God, and honestly I am not qualified to write something that would compete with any of them.  However, what I think I am qualified to do is write about how a non believer can interact with believers in ways that both support skepticism and critical thinking as well as avoid needless confrontation.  Not that I mind confrontation, mind, but I think having stumbled around the subject a lot myself I can write useful things about how to do it better than I did.

Being a Nonbeliever in a world full of Faith.

Conscientious objection to religious assumption

The Atheist's Bible

I Don't Believe That but I Don't Mind if You Do

I just keep spewing titles.  Some of them seem clever, some seem kinda foolish, but one thing I am fairly sure of is that an author who spends a lot of time rewriting the title of a book which isn't even started yet is going nowhere fast.  There is probably a big correlation between fussing over the title before writing and never actually writing anything of substance at all.  Sitting at my desk creating my 15th new title in an hour is doing it wrong!

I suspect there are a lot of people out there who aren't believers and have some issues with things like saying grace before meals, religious education, religious ceremony at weddings and funerals, and other places where conflict between believers and casual nonbelievers arises.  Non believers run the gamut from hardcore atheist preachers like myself to people who are agnostics or deists without even knowing those terms and I would hope to write something that would be useful for all of them.  Having a book that talks about constructive ways to get people to understand the perspective of someone who has objections to religion could be a great thing to have.  This is my first step:  post about my idea in a public forum so people will keep asking me about it to try to give myself a kick in the pants to actually write something.  Perhaps I shouldn't try to leverage my social network to push my nose to the grindstone but it seems like it might just work.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


I am a pretty permissive parent.  I really want Elli to grow up without the idea that sex is bad and naughty and that she should be ashamed of it.  I want her to think of her body as entirely natural and okay.  This is all fine and well up to a point, of course, and then it gets a little bit weird.  I am totally convinced that giving fairly thorough, clear answers to questions like "Where to babies come from?" at age four is the right thing to do.  Taking Elli to a sex fetish store with me... not so much.

Oh, settle down.

I am not going to the store to buy fetish gear, just a UtiliKilt.  I got some birthday money and was stumped about what to do with it so I decided that since people who give birthday money want me to get something cool that I wouldn't normally buy for myself I should go do that.  UtiliKilts are far more money than I would normally sink into a pair of shorts but they are stone cold awesome and should last forever; they work perfectly for a proxy birthday present.  Of course the only outlet for UtiliKilts anywhere near me is a fetish store that seems to focus primarily on gay men.  In what should come as no surprise Elli decided that she wanted to accompany me to the store to buy my kilt.

Now I am all for explaining sex and human plumbing to four year olds but I am not convinced that I really want to start talking about the use and purpose of whips, ball stretchers, gags, butt plugs and other sex fetish gear.  For the moment I am satisfied with her understanding sex as an enjoyable thing that adults do with each other that can make babies if the adults are of opposite genders.  The details of BDSM are probably best left to another day.  If that turns out to be something Elli wants to do I am happy to explain it and let her go do her thing... but perhaps I should let her find out about it when she is a touch older than five.

My parents are probably torn between relief that I am not taking her to the fetish store and horror that I thought about it.  I swear I am just trying to be all new age and sex positive, not creepy.  Honest!

Photo from

Think of the next generation

I have been reading some stuff about Ontario's nuclear waste problems.  The government is looking for a place to safely deposit a substantial amount of radioactive waste and of course most people are thoroughly against it - unless it goes somewhere far away, in which case it is all good.  The most troubling part of this is people using the 'we must do the right thing for the next generation' refrain.  Framing what is essentially an economic, scientific, and engineering problem in terms of morality necessarily derails the conversation and means that rational decision making becomes extremely difficult.  Morality has its uses of course but when something is portrayed as having infinite value on the basis of protecting future children we can end up committing atrocities - after all, there is no price too high!

The other thing that really bothers me about 'protecting future generations' is that it regularly is used to suggest that only one of the options has any real long term consequences.  Sure, nuclear waste that is stored as safely as possible far beneath the earth could have problems down the road.  However, burning coal instead to generate power blasts out huge amounts of garbage into the air and contributes to respiratory illnesses and deaths, to say nothing of climate change.  Wind is fine and all, but generating all the power a nuclear station could create with wind would instead hand off an immense monetary debt to future generations instead. We have to acknowledge that there are hard questions and that any realistic answer is going to have long term effects we don't necessarily understand.

When we don't fully understand the terms of a debate or feel that we can't win it using facts and rational argument there is a real temptation to resort to "Won't somebody *please* think of the children?!?"

It sounds a lot more like a concession rather than a serious argument to me but unfortunately it is much easier to tug on the people's heartstrings with emotional appeals than with hard data.  Obviously politics is rife with this sort of nonsense as everybody tries to frame their spending as helping the needy and their opponent's spending as waste that will impoverish the nation.  We need to get away from our reliance on the infinite value of moral goals and towards an understanding that the world is complicated; we must make estimates based on the best data we have and move forward.  Grandstanding on moral grounds makes for great theatre and cruddy policy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pretending is fun

Today Elli lost her first tooth.  Throughout the weekend it was wobbling around causing her some pain and consternation but the actual extraction was easy and painless enough.  She has been over the top excited about telling all of her friends and has given us fantastic descriptions of how thrilled they will be by her brawler's smile.

As we have done for Santa Claus we pitched the Tooth Fairy as a fun game of pretend that everyone plays and happily she bought into that with as much gusto as she did the fat old man.  She loves the idea that somehow money or special treats will make their way under her pillow in exchange for a tooth, especially because other kids in her class have apparently been teasing her about the fact that she had a complete smile.  Losing baby teeth, puberty, and other signs of aging are usually a pain in the ass when they are occurring but kids sure do use them as status symbols.  Adults, on the other hand, use their signs of aging as negative status symbols rather than positive.  Children can't buy convertibles, motorcycles or Rolexes so they have to take their symbols of experience and authority where they can get them I suppose.

She is starting Grade 1 tomorrow so it will be a big day; first off she will have new responsibilities and rules to figure out and second she will have to establish her new place in the pecking order as a certified tooth loser.  It is a lot of responsibility and excitement for just one day.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A catastrophic loss of connectivity

For the past week I have been up in the far north trying to deal with an internet that doesn't work.  I could get a signal but performance was extremely intermittent and I was stuck like rat in a cage desperately pressing a lever to get a pellet of internet.  Because the speed wasn't consistent I, like said rat, continually pressed buttons trying to get that singular moment of speedy connection instead of just accepting that it wasn't worth doing.  If only there was a consistent pattern I could have convinced my primitive brain to only take what I needed but rewards that are inconsistently applied generate an senseless and endless series of webpage requests.

Consider the internet as a sixth sense and where it would fit in the hierarchy of senses.  I wouldn't give up my sense of sight to get the internet.  I wouldn't give up hearing either, though that one is closer.  I can't even imagine what giving up touch would mean, but it is certain that I would toss taste or smell  for internet without hesitation.  I like things that taste good but the idea of never being able to cruise a forum and flame on some fools who are Wrong on the Internet is unthinkable.  On the bright side of losing taste I  would probably be able to eat even more healthily than ever before with no particular attraction to sugary foods - though without the pull of good taste I might end up even more skinny than I am now.

I am happy for the perspective though.  I may well be a happier person during the time that the internet is off because I end up reading interesting books, going for walks, and visiting with people instead of plugging in.  I lose some worldwide perspective but I gain some attachment to my surroundings and some physical exercise; probably a good exchange.  When I get back online though I desperately sift through my web reader, check out the latest news and get caught up on politics and war and then blog about them.  Whether or not being addicted to the internet is a good thing in general it is certainly something I cannot avoid.