Sunday, December 22, 2013

So, freedom of XXXXX speech, you say?

Have you ever kicked a wasp's nest? I know that sounds like some kind of weak cliche, but the truth is that there are real life wasp nests, and it is possible to step on them. I know, because I have done it.

I was probably about ten years old. If you're too old to remember, or too young to understand, let me tell you that ten-year-olds get some pretty crazy ideas. My crazy idea is that I had a super-power, and my power was super-human resistance to bee and wasp stings. This was based on the fact that I had been stung once on the arm and didn't consider it "that bad".

The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris): the Samuel L. Jackson of insects. I laugh at them.

So my ten-year-old super self and a group of friends were running the hills in the village where I grew up, and we came across an old wrecked car. VW Beetle, to be specific. The old bug was rusted and had no wheels, and on the path alongside it where someone might walk, one of the cars doors was stripped from the wreckage and laying across like some kind of manhole cover. To a bunch of ten-year-olds, an abandoned car is an amazing thing; we can't sit in the driver's seat of our parents cars, but here we could all pile into the old beetle and I could crank on the steering wheel, wrestle the stick shifter into any position I liked, and make all kinds of engine sounds with my mouth. Good times.

It was really not in this good of a condition.

Eventually, one of us noticed that the stray car door had a couple of wasps buzzing around it. They would come out, hover around, and then retreat back under the door. It was pretty apparant that there must be more of them under the door. Ten-year-old Super Joey, full of confidence that he was, immune to the worst that these wimpy little bugs could do, decided that he must protect all of his young friends. That would mean disturbing the wasps so that they would go away from the car.

After getting all my cohorts to stand back, I took advantage of the fact that the door was on a path, and made a nice long run up to the door. Then, using my other super power (super speed, of course), I ran down the path and did a beautiful two-foot jump directly onto the door, bouncing off the other side and resuming my sprint across the path.

If I had a cape like this guy, things probably would have worked out differently.

For future reference, if you have the occasion to run across a wasp-infested car door, I offer you four words; Do not look back.

As I turned to inspect the carnage, one of the defending troops was able to catch up with me, and managed to get me with his stinger right on my eyelid. I have no words to express the pain that I experienced as a ten-year-old boy being stung directly on my eyelid by a wasp. But I can describe the next use of my super powers, which was to apply my remaining super speed to get my ass, swollen eyelid and all, directly home where I could bleat into my mommy's shoulder for the rest of the day.

"Cut me, Mom!"

If I could go back in time, I would have some advice for ten-year-old me; I'd tell him, "Don't be such a dumbass." Maybe not in those words, of course - it would be something more nuanced. But the truth is, I didn't have super powers, and kicking at wasps is neither a good idea for the wasps nor the kicker.

Unless you've been living in a bubble, you've probably heard that Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame has come under fire lately for some homophobic comments that he made in an interview with GQ. Admittedly, I don't watch Duck Dynasty and I care very little for what happens to the Robertson family, but I do see a lot of people springing to the man's defense which troubles me a bit.

Hey, Phil. With that thing in your mouth it looks kinda, well, you know..."

There is a misunderstanding among a lot of folks over what freedom of speech means. I hope that I can make my story about the wasp nest explain some things. There was no law preventing me from jumping on that door. I was intent on attacking the wasps, and I would not have understood any sympathy for the wasps, because... you know, they're wasps.  None of my juvenile friends thought it worth the effort to stop me, and they probably could not have restrained me. I did it, and I faced the consequences.

Now, I'm sure Robertson didn't mean any ill will towards gays. In his mind, they're sinners, and they should know they're sinners, so why would they be offended? After all, they're only gay people. His racist, sexist and homophobic comments all seemed fine to him, because can claim ignorance - he would like to say that he's just some duck hunter.

I find this attitude repugnant. Being oblivious to the "other" is not an acceptable defense.

More people taking advantage of their right to free speech.

So we have Robertson speaking his mind to an interviewer. The interviewer could have omitted the comments - I'm guessing that Robertson has said all kinds of hateful things over the years that have been left on the cutting room floor. But the comments were not omitted, they were published. And they are offensive, causing those who have been offended are retaliating. The offended parties includes his employer. There is nothing implied by the concept of "freedom of speech" that says you will not face consequences for your words - only that you should not be prosecuted or discriminated against. And Robertson is now facing the consequences.

He has now been suspended from his job. Why is that? He works as a celebrity; his job is to speak on behalf of Duck Dynasty and A&E, and he has gone off message. If you are someone responsible for public relations at A&E, you would not want these comments to be what your viewers bring to mind when they watch Duck Dynasty. This man is not a plumber or a carpenter who is being criticized for overzealous evangelism on street corners on his weekends, this is an individual using the avenue that has been made possible by his position as a public persona. He is spreading a message that is discriminatory and contrary to the message that his employers wish to be associated with. It is not only Robertson's freedom of speech that needs protected here, but also A&E's - if he is paid to be their spokesperson, and he does not deliver their message, then they are right to correct him.

Now if they could just come up with an idea more original than this.

So freedom of speech can backfire. But it still must be protected. As the quote goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” If someone wants to say something that I disagree with, I am free to object, but I will not stop that person from speaking. However, just because you are permitted to say it does not mean you should. This is where non-Phil-Robertson-types use a little thing called "discernment".

Sometimes when the consequenses have been weighed and the message is important enough, someone will decide to speak out even their words will be unpopular. If Robertson had it to do over, I'm guessing he would not have said those things to GQ. I'm sure he would still go on about other things that I disagree with, because he feels the message is important and saying some other things would not have him pay such a steep price. Similarly, I know that some people take offense to things I write in this blog - I watch the pageviews drop after I write something controversial, and I'm sure that some of the people who read such posts and do not read any more are going to be more reluctant to say "Hi" to me on the street. That is a a price I am willing to pay because I feel that the things I am talking about are things that I need to talk about.

I compare this with the recent attempt by Center For Inquiry to enlist Pattison Outdoor to run a billboard campaign in Vancouver. CFI is an organization that promotes a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry and humanist values. In a nutshell, they are atheists, and the billboards they wanted to place in Vancouver were encouraging people to loo to themselves as a measure of what is good, rather than God or the Bible. Religious people often take offense to even the suggestion that there may not be a god, and Christians are sensitive about criticisms of the Bible. These are things that CFI had weighed out and decided that getting their message out was more important than avoiding offense of these people.

I think Dave is somewhere after II Thessalonians.

Unfortunately, Pattison Outdoor is owned by an evangelical Christian and decided that it would reject CFI's advertisements. This would not be such a big issue if Pattison did not have a near monopoly on advertising space in Vancouver. Of course, CFI used this rejection to get the maximum publicity for themselves by going to every media outlet they could. And who could blame them? But the fact remains that CFI has a message, and they were prevented from speaking. Whether you believe in God or not, others should be allowed to express their beliefs. That, my friends, is a genuine free speech issue.

CFI ended up taking their billboards to CBS Outdoor, the company that pretty well owns the remainder of Vancouver's billboards. CBS accepted the campaign without issue, and the signs are currently up in Vancouver. CFI is laughing now, since they got a whole load of free publicity, which helped them to get their message out. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that they went to Pattison in the first place, knowing the man's personal views and hoping to get rejected. You could say that they kicked a wasps nest, knowing that the display of wasps circling around the nest is what they wanted all along. I consider this an example of exercising good judgement, something that we have already established to be lacking in Phil Robertson's actions.

When we talk about free speech, people often think that means that they are free to say what they want, when they want, without consequences. But that is not the case. It is especially complicated when your livelyhood is to deliver someone else's message - sometimes you just have to keep your mouth shut. But if you do trample on a wasp's nest, don't be surprised if you get stung.

And Phil: don't be such a dumbass. That's a message from forty-year-old Not-So-Super Joey.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Hate Midi-chlorians and Religious Fundamentalism

Now that I have "come out" as a humanist rather than as a biblical moralist, I can imagine being accused of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." I disagree, and in fact I think it is this very tendancy to preserve things that are obviously wrong that gets us into difficulties in the first place. If people were more willing to be honest about what the text of the Bible is really saying, the words would be genuinely more useful. For my part, I am willing to say that the Bible contains truth without saying that it is truth. To help frame this all in terms that make things clearer to more people in my peer group, I'm going to discuss something more relevant to everyone: Star Wars.

It may seem odd, but a series of movies can inspire something that is almost like a religion. Star Wars is probably the greatest example, and I can confirm I was converted when I was a young'un.
I think I have the materials at home to test my own midi-chlorian level.
I expect that anyone should be able to guess that, as a boy growing up in the eighties, I was a Star Wars fan. I had a bin full of space Lego that I used to build starships, I had a Millenium Falcon, and I even slept on Star Wars bed sheets.
Gina won't let me use these now.
This all means that I have spent the adult years of my life fuming over all the things that George Lucas has been doing to destroy my fond childhood memories. First, he started mucking with the original movies, completely ruining Han Solo's swagger by having him shoot Greedo in retaliation. Then he went to work on undermining the entire series by releasing a set of prequels that thrust upon us the maddening Jar Jar Binks, the unwelcomed "Yippee!"-ing of pod-racing little kid, and the atrocious acting of Hayden Christensen. But one of the worst fouls I believe he committed was when he introduced us to midi-chlorians. For those of you that need some background, here you go:

In the first part of this video, we have the unfortunately named Qui Gon Jinn explaining to little Darth Vader, (er... Anakin Skywalker) how the Force comes from midi-chlorians. If you're like me, you find yourself wishing at this point that his cellphone would ring and that the caller would be his daughter, informing him of her present kidnapping. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Within an hour we are all relieved when Neeson's character dies, releasing him from this disaster before he has to do two more of them. The second part of the clip is from the original Star Wars movie, showing Obi-Wan Kenobi explaining the Force to a bratty Luke Skywalker, son of the aforementioned Anakin.

"I'm so happy to be here and not on Tatooine! I'm still going to kill you, though !"
In the original movies, there was no "pseudo-scientific" explanation for the Force - it simply is what it is. A very poetic idea, the invisible Force moves through all beings, directing them, and directed by them. Characters debate whether one should be on the Good Side, or the Dark Side, or whether the mysterious Force even exists at all. But for the viewer, there is no need for uncertainty in our minds - the narrative makes it clear to us that the Jedi way is right, and that the Dark Side is the wrong way to go. In the end we know that we are watching a movie - a work of fiction - and the suspension of disbelief is enough for us to get behind Luke and recognize the evil that the Emperor represents.

For some reason beyond imagination, Lucas must have thought that the viewers lacked faith, because he felt the need to introduce some kind of mechanics to explain this Force. An explanation that tries to sound scientific, but fails miserably to anyone that has any understanding of real science. This cheapens the experience greatly, and honestly affected my ability to buy into "the Force" from that point on.

I'll admit that I was disappointed that the romance that I had with the Force was now gone, but it is not the end of the world. After all, a motion picture, even a from a sacred franchise like Star Wars, is still a mundane thing. But thinking about this has given me an idea about something meaningful that follows a similar pattern. I see a lot of harm to be done in this world by people that honestly believe they are in the right, and these beliefs that drive them come from another mystical source - the Bible. Although most of us have moved on, apparently some people did not get the memo that the stories in it didn't really happen.

I'm not going to argue in depth for why I say this, as that would require me to explain a lot about science, archaeology, history, and literature, and textual analysis to an audience that may not be interested in any of those fields. Perhaps that can be in a future post. I think it should suffice to say that if humankind was not created only 6000 years ago in 7 days with two individuals being formed from dirt (which it wasn't), and if we acknowledge that there is no evidence of a global flood and the prohibitive difficulties of gathering all the animals of the world into a boat for a few weeks (to then let them all migrate from the Middle East, with both of the kangaroos hopping all the way across the Indian Ocean to Australia before they started making baby kangaroos), I think we can safely say that the authors of the Bible are prone to telling tales.

And what is wrong with that? Why are people so unwilling to acknowledge that? It's as if admitting that the book is not a history textbook means that it is no longer useful. Frankly, I have difficulty enjoying the Bible for this very reason. I think mythologies are fantastic, and I love the stories of Greek or Norse mythology. But I also have never had anyone threaten me that Zeus or Thor are going to strike me down with lightning. If one is to call the Bible what it really is, that person will promptly be told by some zealot that he or she is going to Hell. Hey, yeah - thanks for showing the love of Christ.

What is worse, though - and this draws me to my point - is that people feel the need to justify and add rationalizations to what is written in the Bible. Rather than simply examining it and considering a rational reading of the text, people make up the biblical equivalent of "midi-chlorians" - details that are designed to sound like real science or history to justify their irrational reading of the text. There is a whole organization called "Answers in Genesys" led by the Australian Ken Ham, that uses this pseudo-science and pseudo-history in an attempt to reconcile the narrative of the Bible with reality. Or maybe better to say to reconcile reality with the Bible, since there is a total unwillingness to modify the group's accepted interpretation of the Bible in favour of facts.
Ken Ham. Never trust a man with a chinstrap unless he is riding a horse-cart or wearing a top hat.
What is really unfortunate is the attempts to make children believe this stuff by trying to get it taught in schools. This kind of pseudo-scientific nonsense holds back public education and discourse. It prevents future researchers and medical professionals (i.e. our kids) from getting the education required to save and improve lives in the future. Additionally, the skepticism of real science caused by these ideas causes people to eschew vaccinations, and to dismiss the climate change emergency; these are things that affect us right now. AIDS is being spread in Africa because the Catholic Church takes the nearly 2000 year old words of Paul to mean they should prohibit condom use. LGBT teens are committing suicide because their peers, who have been indoctrinated with a hateful and unnatural morality, are harassing them. People with bad information have trouble shaking it, and end up making bad decisions. And this is often (dare I say frequently) by people who haven't even read the book themselves, but are relying on others to tell them what it says!

(NOTE: All of my criticisms would likely apply to the Koran, or any other book that is held up as holy. I simply am not familiar with those texts the way I am with the Bible, so I cannot discuss them in detail. However the very existence of these other ancient holy books, with their own adherents and contradictory accounts of history, should really just add to my case. )

I have trouble enjoying the Bible these days. When I read it, I am thinking about what kind of crazy ideas some other person might get from the passage I'm seeing. I worry that at the very moment, someone is doing ill to humanity because he or she believes these words are literal and directive. In Star Wars, a character would be urged to, "Use the Force!" You know what is true. When we put parameters around the Force, when the rules about how the force abides are declared, it loses it's magic. But the Force cannot be explained without invoking magic. As it is with the Bible. Do us all a favor -  do not expect the world to conform to a contrived interpretation of the foreign translation of words written in a dead language in a collection of books that was expressed in the stories and poetry and intended for peoples that have long since passed from this earth. When the text is wrong, we must admit it, we must correct it - we cannot change reality to fit. When our beliefs are wrong, we must adjust.

Unless it's the Force. We can believe in the Force; but we don't live in the Star Wars universe, we live in this one.

Feel free to tell me off for trampling on your beloved ideas. That's why I do this in the first place - I'm looking for feedback. Comments and private messages are welcome.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why you might think I'm a jerk

Online discussions are tough. It's pretty well known that no level of emoticon usage can properly convey the tone with which a comment is intended, but there is more to it than that.

I have always been driven mad by people that express opinions when they are ignorant of facts. That very sentence is inflammatory - have I offended you yet? The problem I find is that people will read a sentence like that, and they instantly make a couple of assumptions.
  1. I am talking about them.
  2. I am not including myself
In fairness, I have been accused of arrogance in the past. Mostly by my wife. It's a criticism that makes me uncomfortable, but I can't deny that is is often true. As the saying goes, "I'd rather be a smartass than a dumbass".

That being said, I hope that people have a little more patience with me. If you know me in person, and not solely online, I don't think I come off as quite so smug. Admittedly, I do tend to forget that others dislike having their opinions challenged, whereas I do not. I will frequently disagree, but I rarely take it personally.

Disagreeing online, especially on Facebook, is an entirely different proposition with unique challenges. Usually I will avoid it because I know that people posting are usually expecting their "status post" to be just that; a one-way message letting people know where they are, having their friends respond with "likes", either via the "like" button itself, or with verbal "attaboys" or "we're praying for you" or "wow, I can't believe that happened". Sometimes, though, people post and they are actually soliciting feedback. If I believe this is the case, then there is nothing I love more than a good online discussion.

I try to live by a few rules in these discussions. Some of them are to prevent me from looking like a jerk, and others prevent me from looking like an idiot. Sometimes these are at cross purposes, and I have to choose which it's going to be. The medium itself often dictates the result, but if you are having trouble understanding why something I said is either dippy or douchey, here's why:

  1. Say what you have to say with as few statements as possible.
    When I am reading a discussion and one particular person is going on and on, I often only read the first sentence to see where they are going. Facebook makes this necessary by truncating longer comments. If you can limit your reply to a single point, do it, even if it means that something important is left unsaid. You can always elaborate later on.

    There are problems with this strategy. Firstly, Facebook is not a true real-time medium, and so it may be a while before someone returns to the conversation, if ever. You have to accept that your case my remain unfinished. If it does, then there was not enough interest in the first place. Secondly, you can come across as being harsh and unsympathetic. This is because you are leaving out phrases like "with all due respect", or "I see you point, but...". To be honest, I find these kinds of phrases to be patronizing, so I don't like them anyways. We are all grownups, so you should assume that whatever I say is meant with respect and that I am trying to understand your point of view - I shouldn't have to reiterate it.
  2. Support your argument, but don't paraphrase your evidence.
    If you have data backing up your point, I am positive that somewhere on the internet is a reliable source that contains information. When you describe the information yourself, it is difficult for readers to determine what is data and what is your interpretation of the data, and they should assume it is all interpretation. If you use a quote, quote it exactly and indicate who said it and where it can be confirmed. Don't make me use Google to confirm your points - I'm going to assume that you just made it up. However, if I am really interested in the discussion I will have no problem clicking on a link to read what you are talking about. Also, links usually take up less discussion space, so you can avoid being truncated (see point number 1).

    The downside of this is that some people don't want to put in the effort to read any external sources. They're not lazy - the argument just isn't important enough to them. They also may find this a bit colder than hearing you present it in your own voice: think about the difference between reading a history book versus sitting on Grandpa's lap and hearing a story. Again, if they are interested in really knowing truth, they will understand that Grandpa may not be the most reliable source.

  3. Do not attack ad hominem.
    Bad ideas are usually based on incorrect data. Incorrect data is usually believed by well-meaning people. You and I are both parties who are exposed to a lot of data, often incorrect, and it is typical to assimilate some of this information because we can't tell the difference. We need to attack bad ideas and flawed epistemology, not the people who hold to these. I'll be honest, I am often guilty of breaking this rule: usually not directly, or even intentionally, but in a passive-aggressive manner that I don't even recognize myself. Not like, "you're an idiot", but more like "anyone who believes x is an idiot."
    For more Mimi and Eunice, go to

    This is a very fine line to walk. People often have really strange reasons for believing the things that they do, and it is hard not to inadvertently make comments that get personal. People see "that thing you just said is not true, and here is the proof" as "you're a liar and I won't listen to you." Add to this the fact that a lot of people identify themselves by their ideas, and so an attack on the ideas is seen by them as a personal attack, even when it isn't. If I have done this to you, I am sorry. But please look closely at my comments, and make sure that you didn't read something into them that isn't there. I am, for the most part, a very confident writer, and I don't think that people should assume I am putting them down when I am really just trying to make myself look good.
One of my phavourite philosophers.

It was the great Canadian philosopher, Marshal McLuhan who said "the media is the message". McLuhan died before Facebook became a thing, but I bet he wold have had a field day reviewing the changes in culture, language, and ideas that have been brought on by social media in general. Facebook has different attributes that are not the same as Twitter or Pinterest, although they are all about expressing ideas. One of the reasons I started writing this blog was because of the limitations of Facebook. I love discussions, but I cannot express my thoughts adequately on Facebook, so here I am. If anyone finds my thought interesting enough to read more than 140 characters by me, they won't mind following a link to see this. And maybe when the see how much more eloquent I am when not trying to condense my arguments into a little box, they might realize that I am not such an arrogant jerk.

Unless I really am. If so, I'm sure my wife will tell me.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Fight Against Fighting

I have been a fan of hockey as long as I have been conscious, I think. Over the years, I watched a good lot of hockey, in all it's guts and glory. Gina, on the other hand, has no interest in hockey and watches as little as possible. When we were visiting Vancouver a couple of years ago I insisted that we attend an NHL hockey game, and being the loving wife that she is, Gina agreed to buy a cheap Canucks t-shirt and come to the game with me. I could tell that she was humouring me the entire night, as I had her take my picture with the Roger Neilson statue. I could see her rolling her eyes when I made her stand in from the of the giant Alex Burroughs banner and show off her t-shirt for another picture. She thinks I am cute like a little boy, and I love her for it.

My beautiful wife, proving how much she really loves me.

But when the subject of fighting in hockey has come up, I can see the blank stare on her face as she struggles to find, somewhere in her brain, an explanation for why this phenomenon takes place and why someone might defend it. I have given up on trying to justify hockey fights to her, but being a man who is prone to self-examination, I can't help but to start looking at my own rationalizations for fighting.

To be fair, my take on fighting is entirely as a fan, and not as a player. I play a couple times a week, in a pickup game and in a league that has a fighting ban. The closest I have every come to being in a real hockey fight was in peewee, when I wrestled the jersey over another player's head after the game for a joke. Oh - he was a teammate, and we discussed it beforehand, so it hardly qualifies. This is probably just as well, since my 5'7"-150lb frame is not the idea platform for a scrapper (unless I make a return to peewee). If I were an NHL fighter I would certainly see things differently.

I'm prompted to write this because of a couple of excellent articles on fighting that were published this week. Seth Wickersham writes an article for ESPN going in depth on George Parros. Parros is one of the more interesting players in the NHL, so Wickersham has a lot of good material to work with. Parros has a degree in economics from Princeton, yet plays the role of a "goon" in the NHL. He is a fan favorite, well-spoken with the press, and is charismatic with his trademark dark moustache (execpt when he shaves is at the beginning of every Movember). His status as a posterboy for fighting in hockey took a weird turn when he was stretchered off the ice during the first hockey game of the season as a result of a fight "gone wrong".

This guy's a beauty

The second piece is written by Justin Bourne (@jtbourne) at the Score's "Backhand Shelf" blog. Justin writes what may be the most revealing and accurate work on the the state of fighting in hockey today that I have ever read. In it he turn on its head the often-claimed idea that fighters in hockey are simply dropping gloves for the good of the team. If you can only read one story on fighting in hockey, stop reading mine and go read his instead.

To be honest, I enjoy watching hockey fights. It is a guilty pleasure. I know that these hockey players are taking risks, a fact that was driven home this season when the rule prohibiting players from removing their helmets took effect. Even Parros, who prided himself on never getting knocked out, now has a concussion history to show for his efforts. In this day, when the League is trying to reduce injuries (and I agree with them), why do I still want to see hockey players put the game on hold to throw knuckles at each other? Why did the movie "Goon" resonate with me so strongly? (And not just because I'm in love with Liev Schrieber. Does that make me gay?)

I'll admit, a large part of it is nostalgia. We have romanticized this old-timey world where men were men, and hockey games were rowdy. There is an image in my head of hockey players, in the heat of competition, going over the edge and taking care of business mano y mano. But this is rarely what happens.

Bourne details this well, but essentially the game has devolved into a situation where our tough guy who can't play hockey at an NHL level will have a fight with your tough guy who can't play hockey at an NHL level, merely in order to justify their own existence. And I think that even most pro-fighting hockey fans will agree that this situation is hot garbage. It has nothing to do with passion, it has nothing to do with honour, it has nothing to do with "The Code" - it's just sad.

Parros almost admits as much, but can't bring himself to it. He talks about all the reasons he fights, but you don't hear him talking about how it helps his team win games. Because it doesn't, the numbers are pretty clear on that.

So we are left with a problem. Hardly anyone is happy with the status quo, but a great number of "purists" are resistant to change for fear that is will mean the end of fighting completely. I think there needs to be a more nuance approach to this.

I would like to see a way that makes guys like Parros (and I mean no offense to him personally) obsolete. The mechanism needs to punish teams that keep these guys on the roster without being too hard on players who fight periodically. Here's my two-fold proposal: 1) make the two-minute instigator penalty mandatory - even if it means giving both fighers the instigator (similar to removing one's helmet), and 2) if a player in any game accumulates more minutes in penalties than they do time on ice, they should receive an automatic one-game suspension, good for the team's very next game. The reason why I think this might work, is that a lot of these players only play 5 minutes a night, and a fighting major is 5 minutes long. If the instigator is called every time, it will force teams to create a roster where every player on the team can be trusted with at least 7 minutes of hockey a night. It will also make players much more cautious about entering fights, since they do not want to take the extra 2 minutes and put their team down a man. That being said, it will not ban fighting outright - it only makes it difficult to be on the team if that is your raison d'ĂȘtre.

Do these guys feel shame?

The strongest argument against this idea that I can see is that the mandatory instigator penalty would discourage all fights. This could be perceived as a way for "rats" (i.e. players who play dirty but won't fight) to get away with dangerous plays without having to answer for them. My response to this is that the instigator penalty already exists, and applies to exactly this situation. I am not calling for a new rule but only for the enforcement of the current rule. Aside from this, the league has taken great steps in the last few years to punish these offenses (i.e. dangerous plays) with supplemental discipline. Finally, I believe the truth is that a player on the ice is probably not a better judge of the legality of the other team's play than the actual officials on the ice are.

So, what say you? Fighting opponents or apologists - would this strategy work for you? Let me know, and if I get enough support I'll take it to Gary Bettman ;)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why I love gays.

NOTE: When I wrote this, I made a smart-alecky comment about my confusion on terminology. It should have probably just asked someone so that I could be more PC. I plead ignorance, and beg your forgiveness :)

I started to write this post on National Coming Out Day. That has been a while ago now, but it's still relevant since I have a confession to make.

One of the best things that ever happened to me is that gays started coming out. That's not the confession; that's simply a fact that precipitated an important change. Bear with me on this. I know my title is misleading, since the main point of this post is the confession itself and not the fact that I love gay people. That being said, I need to deal with the issue of the title:

I love gays because they are people, and I love people. Not only that, but I have some great friends who are gay, and I enjoy their friendship immensely. Even if the story I'm about to tell was not true, I could still not help but to love these people.

Also, when I use the word "gay" I mean any person of alternative sexual orientation or gender identity. I have lost track of the LGBT mix of alphabet soup - every time I look, someone has added new letters to it. I'm pretty sure most of you are OK with the term "gay". It has the added bonus of meaning happy or carefree - and I agree that you deserve to be "gay".  I do love you and hope you are happy with however you identify yourself. I know that this is not technically correct, but for shorthand "gay" is the best word I have. OK, so on with the post...

If I left you out I'm sorry. Here is a rainbow just for you.

Like many people in this part of the world, Christianity is a big part of my culture. I attended Sunday School as a child, went to a church youth group as a teen, and was fairly involved in my church as an adult. But this same religion that taught me "God is love" also seems to have it in for the gays. This was really not important to me for a lot of years. For the most part, I didn't really know anyone who was gay. Not openly, anyways. "Out of sight, out of mind," as it is said. Since I am not gay myself I was little affected by the fact that the Church considered these people to be sinners. I can be selfish, just like everyone else.

But in the last several years a couple of things happened to me. They probably happened to you too.

First is that I got to know people who were gay, or people that I already knew started to come out. I recognized pretty quickly that these people deserved more respect that what I was trained to give to "sinners".

Now she looks friendly, eh?
Secondly, this thing called the internet came along. Now I could see things that were happening all over the world instantly, and I could discuss these events with people who I had never met. People were gay, people were straight, and I could see all of their stories unfolding from the comfort of my own home. I noticed that the only people that seemed to be giving the gays a hard time were those who claimed that the Bible told them that they should do so. I tried to put it off for a while, but eventually I could not ignore the thought that was haunting me:

"If I believe the Bible, should I hate homosexuality too?"

A lot of people know that the Bible says something on the subject. They choose to deal with this information in one of three ways:
  1. Hate gays;
  2. Assume that the translation/interpretation/context of the biblical passages must be wrong; or
  3. Study and find out how this stuff got into the Bible in the first place, and follow this where it leads.
Christians that choose path No. 1 are what we call "fundamentalists". They are unwilling to believe that the words in the Bible could be saying anything other than what they appear to say. If the Bible says it's a sin, then it must be a sin. They are big on using platitudes like "Love the sinner, hate the sin" - this way they can interact with those who don't agree with them while maintaining a level of superiority. This is a patronizing and passive-aggressive way of condemning someone. There is another maxim I know that says "Judge not lest you be judged". In the end, every piece of wisdom must be subjected to our interpretation and evaluation, whether one admits it or not. It seems to be more important for some people to condemn (or if they prefer "not condone") sin than to give another person the benefit of the doubt. (Fun exercise: one of these sayings is in the Bible; the other is not. Can you tell which is which without looking?)

How most Christians deal with homosexuality.

Most Christians I know choose path No. 2. I like to call this the "poly/cotton blend exemption". And it works for the most part, since the strongest passages against homosexuality are in the Old Testament, in the same section where the wearing of garments of mixed fabrics is forbidden. 

For me, though, both of these approaches caused me cognitive dissonance. The first one, because I knew in my heart that there was nothing gay people should be ashamed of (and I don't mean they should be tolerated - I mean nothing wrong). I could not believe that I had been given the ability to reason moral conclusions, and that this ability should not be used. But this second approach forced me to pick and choose passages from the Bible. Why would God give us laws when he does not want us to follow them? Why would He make things so difficult for us to understand? Why would God be fighting against common sense? I had ignored this contradiction long enough, I had to once and for all resolve it.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness -

The only answer for me was to look at the Bible honestly to find out why it said what it did. I knew I had the skills as a scholar, since I had studied in university. I had just never had an issue that pressed me into study before. What I thought would be a simple study of a couple passages turned into a much bigger project. But I was dedicated to understanding.

I have never been to seminary. If I had, maybe I would have reached this point a lot earlier in my life. I wondered things for a long time, like how the Old Testament could look so different from the New Testament - but now the first item I had to settle was where these books actually came from. The answer I had always lived with was that God was the author, using men as his scribes. But it seemed obvious to me that if different places in the Bible were saying things at cross purposes, then the "scribes" must have influenced the writing more than I had always believed.

What happened to me over the next while was like the breaking of a spell. The closer I looked at the Bible, the less certain I became that anything the Bible had to say could be divine. The Bible is a mass of contradictions. The question of the appropriateness of homosexuality was no longer the only struggle I was having with the meaning of the books. I was roadblocked by all kinds of problems just figuring out what the Bible was saying about elemental things. This was before I could even begin to judge the content and what it might be telling me about right and wrong.

Wait, what did you say? (Click to see what I mean).

Secondly, when I did feel I could understand what the meaning might be, it often disagreed with common sense or modern knowledge (or both). It's all well and good to prohibit the consumption of pork when people don't have safe methods to prepare it, but as a society we've gotten past that. Yet the Bible has not been updated, and never will be.

I had spent years thinking that my difficulties with the Bible were caused by my lack of effort to find the true meaning. Yet, when I removed the "sheen" of divine inspiration and looked honestly at what it was saying, it looked less and less like it was something a God would have written, and more like a book written by men. Often very mistaken men. This book was no longer helping, it was only causing harm. As a moral handbook, the Bible is an utter failure.

I was stunned.

The Good Book: not so good.

Why did nobody tell me this? Pastors study the Bible - don't they see this? The use it as a source, and omit everything that is objectionable. Of course, the lay people in the church would not recognize this, because it is not what they are really looking for it. They are reading Christian books by Christian authors written to reinforce the things that they already believe. They are reading small passages, and reading with preconceptions about what the passage says. They are listening to preachers who have already worked things out for them, and hearing sermons that omit anything that might be difficult to explain. I know this because this is the zone I was stuck in for years. I'll admit I was naive; it's not like I didn't know about any of this, but I had just never let it sink in. But I was now looking at things differently, and I could not turn back.

This was a painful realization for me. I had believed for years that the Bible was God's way of communicating with me. Seeing that it was so ineffective at that task made me very disappointed.

At first.

I realized that in my years of lackadaisical Bible study, I had really figured these things out on my own. I never really bothered looking to the Bible for answers, because I could come up with them on my own more easily. And my answers were good and worked well. I assumed that if I took the time to inspect them they would match scripture, although I know now that not necessarily true nor relevant. They were certainly better answers than those of the people who did seem to look to the Bible for everything. Once I recognized that I did not need to give the words of the Bible that kind of reverence, a sense of freedom started to grow in me. I shouldn't even be giving it lip service - that's confusing people like I myself had been confused.

Things that I puzzled over for years all made so much sense to me. Why would God ask Abraham to kill Isaac? It doesn't matter - that's just a story. Why would God say such awful things about how we should treat women? He didn't - but the men writing this down thought those rules would be useful. Why does Jesus curse a fig tree simply for being in his path at the wrong time of year? Who cares? He's Jesus and he kicked a fig tree's ass!

BAM! How'd ya like me now, Fig Tree!

So then, why would God make people gay and then condemn them for being so? He doesn't. They should be loved, and there is nothing wrong with them. It is no surprise that they are becoming more and more accepted by our society at the same time that our trust in the Bible is waning. Christians are not doing themselves any favors by pretending that they are standing on some moral high ground When the public stands up against Christian attempts to treat these people unfairly, they are not persecuting the Christians. It didn't work for slavery, and it can't work now.

So it took a lot to get here, but I did it. I love gays because they are great people, and knowing this fact is what lead me to learn the most important lesson in my life - that I can decide what is right and wrong, that my morality need not be at odds with my reason, and that no one with any book will ever make me feel wrong about that.

Comments are open - let me have it. Or send me private messages if you prefer.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Remember Movember

I am participating in Movember again. If you have been my friend, either on Facebook or IRL, you are aware that I have been growing this manly facial exhibit for the past several years, and many of you have donated to help "change the face of men's health" - raising money and awareness of the fight against prostate and testicular cancer. For this I thank you.

I realize that I have waited until the very end of the month to let you all know that I am participating. There are a number of circumstances behind this, including work and play taking priority in my personal life, my inability to find a team after having a team with whom I participated in the previous years disbanding. But although I have been quiet, my mustache has been doing it's part. I hope that I am not too late to be effective here, but as they say, "never late than never!"

I honestly started Movember 4 years ago as a lark, but when one of my close friends underwent treatment for testicular cancer the movement gained a whole new meaning to me. It hits home with me that every man has a responsibility to look after his own health, and I am very happy that my friend was able to discover the problem, get treatment, and continue with his fantastic life. If no one donates, I hope that my wearing this foolish patch of facial hair at least reminds other men that they need to keep things in check.

So please, help me out. Maybe you can't afford to donate, or you have already donated to someone else (if so thank you!) If not, just be aware of the cause.

More information is available on my MoSpace page, and if you want to donate there you may.

Let's make concern about this stuff a thing of the past!


People have been generous, as I knew they would be. Thank you all.

It also want to take a minute to brag a bit. Although I have not put in as much effort on this as I have in the past, I still see this as important and I have continued even though most of the friends I had as teammates have bailed out. Not all, but most. This is why Movember gives me a badge:

4 years, baby! Aw yeah!
Also, when your checkups are up to date, and your doctor says you're clean, that's a good thing too. I also have had my DNA checked (which you can read about in a previous post), and I am genetically in good shape. So, another badge:

Feeling like a Boy Scout.
Finally, I have cultivated what I believe is a pretty good mustache for a guy of fair complexion like myself. Maybe one of the best reasons to not bring it up until the end of the month was that it takes me the better part of a month to have this mustache come in. Yet I stuck with it, blond and patchy as it was, until I had what I have today. In fact, when I scored a goal in pickup hockey this week OFF MY CHIN, I'm positive that it was because my mustache was screening the goalie. I know they don't give out assists for that, but you've gotta appreciate the effort!

This is in contrast to some MoBros that start growing a beard at the beginning of Movember and then trim it into a mustache later in the month after it has grown in (*cough* Shawn Rouse *cough*). I have worn this mustache from November 1st on, including my trip to Las Vegas where it was seriously cramping my style.

So there you go. Yay me!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Who is this old guy, really? (or 23 ways to skin a man...)

***UPDATE 2013-11-25 *** The FDA has told 23 and Me that they must stop selling their tests. It looks like it is still available on their web site, so I'm going to see if I can still order. Stay tuned.

Is 40 really the new 30? It's hard to say. What I can say is that at 40 there are times when I am starting, just a little bit, to feel old. Not old-fogey old, mind you. Just legitimately grown-up old.

I recently went to see my doctor, who has been my family doctor for over twenty years and has seen me probably less than a half dozen times. Since then, I have now experienced physiotherapy for a bum shoulder, and have been to the hospital for blood work to ensure that I'm still functioning as expected (SPOILER: I am!). But the more interesting thing I had to talk with him about was genetic testing.

No, not THAT doctor!

You see, my brother has two children, both of whom have cystic fibrosis. If you're not aware of what CF is or does, the brief rundown is as follows: when one has CF, their mucous production is overactive. Not just in the nose or external area, but any mucous membrane in the body will produce excess mucous - in the lungs, in the digestive system. This causes breathing difficulties, digestive problems leading to malnutrition, and subsequent immune failures. There is more information available here. If you would like to give to make CF better (or gone!), it would be appreciated.

CF is a hereditary disease that arises when both parents pass the carrier gene to a child (the odds are one in four that the child will develop the disease - yet my brother and his wife managed to go two-for-two). I am no geneticist, but I can give you some simple conclusions that can be drawn from this this fact. If a child has CF, then both parents are carriers. If one of the parents is my brother, then my brother is a carrier, and therefore at least one of my parents is a carrier. If you follow the tree down the other way, this gives me a roughly one in two chance of being a carrier myself, and therefore I could pass a significantly higher than average (1 in 25, incidentally) chance onto each of my two children.

So, to get back to my visit with my doctor, there I was am seeking genetic testing. Being the father of two young men, I am aware that the time is approaching when they may want to become fathers themselves. It might be useful for them to know if there is any reason to be concerned about passing this condition on to their children.

What I learned from my doctor's visit is that to have this kind of genetic testing done I would have to get it done myself. What I mean by this is that if you rely on the public health system for this, you will be waiting a looong time. In my case, after a couple of years wondering when this was going to happen I suggested to my doctor (and he agreed) that I should try "23 and Me".

Here is the last guy who decided to wait for genetic testing from a doctor.

If you are unfamiliar, 23 and Me is a US-based company that offers genetic testing to the general public for the low price of $99 (+$60 shipping for Canada). That's a lot less than the roughly one zillion dollars I had been expecting. You simply send them a bottle of your saliva and they analyse the DNA they extract from it and provide you with a report on what they find. They can tell you about a number of health risks that you may or may not have, whether you are a carrier of some inheritable diseases (like CF), and even provide details about your ancestry and living family members around the world. I had heard about the service from numerous advertisements on podcasts that I listen to, and after doing some research into the reputation of the company I decided that this was something I wanted to try.

Bear in mind, some people may find out some information through this process that they would rather not have known. Maybe you have health risks that will cause you to worry. Or perhaps your ancestry is not what you expected - there are surprises in your family tree.

Y U no smile, Cobb?

I didn't really fear any of that, so it was a pretty easy decision. I ordered the DNA sample kit and received it within days. A note to anyone in Saint John who wants to try this out: 23 and Me used DHL to deliver and provide return shipping for the kit. There is no DHL location in Saint John, so the package was delivered via Loomis. Or rather, attempted by Loomis, since I work days and could not be at home to receive the package. This meant that I had to go to the Loomis depot, which is located out in the industrial park behind the refinery. Even worse, I had to be that at 7:00 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon when the drivers are actually at the depot (it is closed all other times of day). This was inconvenient, to say the least.

Aside from logistics problem, it was pretty easy to take my sample and mail it off. Although they claim results will take 4-6 weeks after receiving the sample, I had some initial results within 2 weeks. I say initial, because the health results were completed first, followed by some ancestry results a couple of weeks later, and finally the full results shortly after. I received helpful email notifications throughout the process from 23 and Me, and all the result are available through their easy-to-use website.

So what did I find out? I discovered that I am, in fact, a carrier for CF (although I do not have the disease myself). However, my profile for other various health risks is very favorable; I have, for the most part, kick-ass genes. I can say that overall I was very pleased with my results - the data is very thorough and informative. Furthermore, the ancestry results are fascinating - it seems that I am possibly the descendant of a particular randy 5th century Irish king, and can count Stephen Colbert among my current living relatives.

Cousin Steve. Fights for Truthiness. Afraid of bears.

As an aside, I find it absolutely mind-boggling to think that there are people today who believe that this world is only 6000 years old based on some unintelligibly literal interpretation of the Bible. I remember being in church once and having a person stand up and declare the evils of accepting the theory of evolution. I believe I applied my palm directly to my face at that point. This technology confirmed my fair skin, my blue eyes, that I sneeze when I step out into sunlight, and that I can pass on the CF genetic variation to my offspring, all from a saliva sample with no additional background information. This same technology shows that I have roughly 2.8% Neanderthal DNA and can trace back my lineage to before the last ice age 12,000 years ago. I am not a biologist, and even I can understand how this works. Even if I didn't, to deny it would be simply to manifest willful ignorance. If you don't accept the fact that mankind evolved from other life forms over millions and billions of years, I have trouble understanding how you can can even submit to modern medicine which requires these very facts to be true.

Maybe I'll discuss this more in a future post, but that's my rant for now.

Another one of my not-so-distant cousins. Let's call him Jeff. Jeff likes you.

It is also worth noting that there are a couple of items located under "Health Risks" that do not show the results in the list. These are things like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. If and when I choose, I can look at these results; until I do they are not visible to me. As I said before, there are many people who could be devastated by finding a positive result for these. I am not one of them. However, I will only look at these after I have consulted with my family to see how they feel about it. This is obviously the big drawback with this kind of service - you are presented with the data, when in some cases the data rather than having a doctor present who is skilled in consulting patients in these types of matters. I am sure that for some of my doctor's other patients he would not have advised this service, but he knows me well enough to know that I can manage this kind of information on my own.

There is also a feature where you can contact relatives and build a genealogy. The possibilities are immense. I will be exploring my results for the next little while, making decisions about what information I want to make available to my newly-discovered family members, and considering my place in humanity for some time to come. For this, I am very glad that I had the DNA mapping done. I highly recommend 23 and Me.

If you have any questions about the process that I haven't covered, please let me know in the comments, or feel free to contact me privately.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Oh, what a relief, Burkie's back!

I needed to get this off my chest - Brian Burke has been announced as President of Hockey Operations for the Calgary Flames. I am ecstatic! But before I start:

I am not a Flames fan.

I was not a Leafs fan (although I like to call myself a Leafs sympathizer - really those guys deserve some sympathy).

I am a big Brian Burke Fan.

Brian Burke is one of the most entertaining personalities in the NHL. I was disappointed when he was given a job in scouting with the Anaheim Ducks, and have been waiting anxiously for him to get a job with more visibility. And this is it. The Calgary Flames are introducing a new model of management where a President of Hockey Ops oversees the General Manager. Roughly translated, this means Jay Feaster has dodged a bullet.

Let's be frank, Flames fans: Feaster is a lawyer trying to run a hockey team. He has had some success - let us not forget the Tampa Bay Lightning's unexpected Stanley Cup win (Marty Gelinas hasn't). But we should not pretend that he has a long and storied hockey background. He could probably use a hand from a true hockey man like Burke. Why the Flames chose not to simply fire Feaster based on his abysmal record with the Flames and replace him with Burke is a good question with a straightforward answer. Obviously, it looks like Feaster has just been handed a lateral demotion.Think about Greg Sherman in Colorado, squeezed between Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy - do you think that guy is allowed to make decisions any more? Yet I suspect that Feaster will get to keep playing along in Calgary, one rung above an assistant GM, but needing  Brian Burke's blessing on any major moves.

This has to be good for the Flames. Because if anything can mess up a hockey team, it's interference from ownership - and everybody knows that this has been a problem in Calgary. I'm sure they're well-meaning, but subtle messages from ownership to management (when management is not strong enough to object) can derail the operation. If ownership like certain players, don't you suspect they will ask management to treat them favorably? Of course you do.

Enter Brian Burke. Someone who sets his own rules. Someone who tells it like it is. Someone who puts the needs of the organization above the wants of an individual. No owner will speak directly with Jay Feaster, but will instead go to Burke, who has no problem responding with, "That's not how you run a hockey team".

Brian Burke has his peculiarities. He imposes rules on his management organization that don't exist for the rest of the league: he refused to trade at Christmas; he refuses to use offer sheets; when they were legal, he refused to offer longer than 5 year contracts. But he more than makes up for these odd  opinions by simply running his teams The Right Way (TM).  Burke may not need to actually make all the hockey personnel decisions directly, he may simply need an option to veto in order to influence the course.

Detractors may point at the 4 seasons in Toronto without playoffs, but everyone who has watched the progress of that hockey club knows that the work Burke was doing was good, if not swift. (I weep to think of the damage that Dave Nonis has done in only one season, but that is for another time.) Calgary is in a similar situation to the Leafs the Burke salvaged, except the veterans and big contracts have already been pretty well purged. The team is ready to be built, and there needs to be a strong leader to steer the future direction. Brian Burke may be the best hope they have. And I will love watching every loose-tie, irreverent, grumpy press conference.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The shame, oh the shame!

Just a little housekeeping in this post (not my forte): for one, I added a template to the blog so that it looks a little more personal (thanks to and the Gimp for the background). It really has looked like a pathetic orphan of a blog, and since my post today actually received a few dozen page views I've been kind of embarrassed that you all had to see it like that.

Second of all, I'm hoping to add another post in the next day or so, since there is something else on my mind. I tend to get ideas when people post things on Facebook, but I often don't comment there since I want to get into detail. I've noticed another theme there lately, and I want to explore it.

Thirdly, I'm hoping to get my baby back soon. Here is a picture:
I love her and miss her. Isn't she beautiful? That has nothing to do with the blog, but hey, at least it's not a cat video, hmmmm?

They WANT you to think it's all a conspiracy.

"Just because you're paranoid / Don't mean they're not after you" - Nirvana

We all like to feel that we are in control. This desire is so strong within us that we often use superstitions, supernatural beliefs and conspiracy theories to rationalize an influence on the things that affect our lives. So then even if things are not under our control, there is something controlling them. If  some other agent is in control, even if they are hiding their actions from us, it leaves us with seemingly fewer unanswered questions.

I know I have been guilty of this. Now before I lose credibility, you need to know that I have never denied the moon landing, or claimed that ancient aliens made the Egyptian pyramids. But, there have been events that have happened when I thought that someone must be pulling the wool over my eyes. It is a compelling story, to believe that there is a group of people are responsible and I am part of a minority resistance to these "false" ideas. Ultimately though, if I can maintain my skepticism I will weigh the probabilities and find the real answers.

Truth is elusive. It has to be acknowledged that people lie, especially when there is something to be gained by keeping the truth to yourself. Sometimes people even believe their own lies. But it is also very difficult to have a second person lie on your behalf. It's exponentially harder to engage a third person, and so on. The bigger the circle gets, the less incentive there is for people at the fringes to keep it quiet. In the end, it is important to judge the likelihood that any story can be true when the facts weigh heavy on the other side.

I thought about this a lot when someone who is very close to me was spreading (on Facebook) the gibberish about a link between vaccines and autism. The truth is there is no link. The entire medical community agrees on this (with the exception of one dishonest doctor who published a flawed study and has been since had this article retracted and his license voided. He has made a lot of money, though...) I couldn't explain it better than to direct you to this post.. So why are we even having this discussion about it?

It's because if you have a loved one who is autistic, it is very disconcerting to imagine that we don't understand it, that we can't explain it, that we can't solve it. Someone will grasp onto anything that can help to understand it, and will accept any belief that gives hope, even if not for you but for someone else, that something can be done. Even if it defies reason.

We know that people don't listen to reason where their beliefs are concerned.

But if you are a health professional, what could be your motivation for lying about vaccines? Could you possibly want people to get ill? Of course not. Maybe you don't know what you're talking about? That's what medical school is for.

But when the common man doesn't understand medicine, is it reasonable to assume that the doctors also don't? If the common man doesn't understand climate change, can he also conclude that the climate change scientists also don't understand it? I hope you see where this is going.

I'm not saying that we just trust the experts or authorities. Sometimes these people are just self-interested. However, conspiracies are really difficult to pull off. Do you think there was a 9/11 conspiracy? Yes there was, as Michael Shermer points out; a group of Al Qaeda terrorists plotted to fly planes into buildings - that IN ITSELF is a conspiracy. But could it have been orchestrated by the Bush administration? Bill Maher jokes that it could not have been planned by Bush "because it worked!". This is a serious point, though - even a competent organization could not have carried out an operation of that magnitude without leaks, but for a couple of dozen terrorists it is possible. Yet believers are determined to find a way to prop up their beliefs.

I still struggle with apparent conspiracies. Is there a conspiracy between the food industry and the government to keep us unhealthy? No, but there is a conspiracy for them to try to make the greatest profit, and we need to keep on eye on things. And just because Monsanto is greedy and litigious does not mean that GMO food is bad for us (it's not) and that organic food is better for us (it's not). We need to look at the science - what do the experts say - and try to sort out the chains of self-interest to see who is being honest. And when we know that our government is doing things that are not in our best interest we need to stand up to them and set them straight.

In today's world there is so much information available that it's hard to know which messages to trust. Sometimes 30 seconds and Snopes is all you need to find out what is real, and most people don't even bother with that. Sometimes it takes more of your time to find out who is telling the truth, and the hardest part can be setting aside your preconceptions to be able to hear. But don't give up - be a seeker of truth, and be sure the things you say to others are well-considered.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Jumping off the Deepak end

Deepak Chopra.

I do not wish to make Deepak Chopra my mortal enemy. After all, he appears to be a friendly enough guy. I can see that he has a genuine desire to help people make sense of their place in the universe, to see them healthy and happy, in touch with their spirituality and one with all. I can dig all that. The neighborhood teens even call me Deepak, or "D-Pac", or something like that - for reasons that have nothing to do with any similarities between me and the guru himself. I actually kind of get a kick out of it. So I would love to be at peace with him.

But I find everything that he says maddening.

I made a couple of comments on Facebook about this recently. I am reading the book that Chopra co-authored with Leonard Mlodinow, "War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality". I would not normally read anything written by Chopra, but in the spirit of having an open mind I thought it would be fair to read this book. The book is in a debate format, where each chapter is started by one author with a response by the other. Since each chapter is half written by Mlodinow, I was hoping that this would keep Chopra honest.

Chopra claims to be a champion of spirituality, standing in opposition to religion. And he tries to make his case that spirituality has something to offer that science does not.

Now, I am neither a spiritual leader nor a scientist, but I do consider myself a philosopher and a poet (my degree is in English Literature with a minor in Philosophy). So when Chopra writes, every once in a while I start to feel like where he is going it, because he is using metaphors and figurative language to state his claim.

But wait - you mean he was serious about that?

He constantly make statements that seem to be poetic, but then uses them as fact. He draws analogies, but then seems to forget that an analogy is not the thing itself. In logic and critical argumentation, we call these "non sequiturs", "category errors" and "strawmen". In Chopra's world, these are talking points.

The danger is that when the figurative is taken literally, and you leave room for the supernatural, you are in fact creating a religion! This is what Chopra says he does not want, yet he walks straight down this path - yet this path is fraught with danger.

The Bible is a book of stories and poetry that has had the misfortune of being taken literally by some modern readers (possibly this was the intent of the authors - possibly not). Over the years, we have learned all kinds of things about our world that show the Bible to be in error if interpreted in this way. If I were Deepak Chopra, I would state emphatically that my theory of consciousness is a philosophical outlook, romantic and poetic. Otherwise, when (and not if) if is shown by science to contain errors he will not look like a fool. Perhaps he is banking on science taking a long time to disprove his "universal consciousness"? I wouldn't be so hopeful.

Even worse is his habit of co-opting meaningful words from other fields; "quantum", and "evolution", even "life" and "death. He re-purposes them to describe concepts in his own worldview. This has become a bit of a joke, as there is even a Deepak Chopra quote generator. But this is honestly confusing to readers that do not have a firm grasp on the concepts described by these words (as used by any other knowledgeable person). I find this technique to be wholly dishonest. What happens when a reader does some additional research, and learns what quantum fluctuation really means? They will feel abused by Chopra.

There are long passages of Chopra's writing that simply means nothing. Filled with lots of language, but no logical content. Why do I care? Because I love the truth, and Chopra tries to obscure the truth in favor of soothing people with language. Because Deepak Chopra loves his ideas more than the truth, but I love the truth.