Grant Rants

Archive for the ‘Isn’t it absurd?’ Category

I get feedback: Creationist logic edition

- July 23rd, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So apparently my column on the nature of science reporting has some creationists all tied up into knots.
The thrust of my piece was new BBC guidelines for its reporters that insists when reporting science that journalists actually report, you know, science. Creationists do not like this idea much because they want their particular origin myth to be factually true. It’s a line of reasoning that says if their version of the creation myth isn’t true, then nothing in the Bible is true, and their entire universe will collapse.

Of course, creationism isn’t science, has no scientific evidence, creationists produce no research and have discovered nothing. Which isn’t surprising, since religion isn’t science.

Doesn’t stop some of them from trying to claim it is. Take Herman Hunter of Niagara Falls, for  instance, who writes:

Grant Rant July 14 “Science reporting should be based on science.” Grant rants as if evolutionary scientists have answers to where life began. He claims that invoking a supernatural act by a creator who is beyond our time/space universe is unscientific. But the naturalistic view of the origin of the universe has to explain how nothing became everything by itself. This view violates the known laws of science. The humanistic, material energy, chance world view, intolerantly uses every form of force at its disposal to make its world view the exclusive one taught. It is rather naive to think that nothing gave rise to something, that non-living matter gave rise to life. What was the first cause that caused everything else? Where did matter and energy come from? Where did intelligence originate? Are we to think of the universe as a massive perpetual-motion apparatus with some sort of impersonal “intelligence” of its own? Or is there a intelligent designer who created everything from nothing and set it all in motion? Evolution is really a fairy tale for grown-ups.

This is a common creationist line of thinking. They like to think it is logic. It is more like a highly selective constipated thought process. And it’s one that can be easily broken down thusly:

1) “He claims that invoking a supernatural act by a creator who is beyond our time/space universe is unscientific. But the naturalistic view of the origin of the universe has to explain how nothing became everything by itself. This view violates the known laws of science.

This is all kinds of wrong. First off, the theory of evolution by natural selection describes how life forms on Earth change and adapt over time and how new species arise. It does not, in any way shape or form, discuss the origin of the universe. That is described in the big bang theory and related fields of science. These are entirely different scientific theories, describing different things, from different fields of study. Their only point of contact is that they do not invoke a god, which can be said for every single scientific theory. Because it’s science, not religion.

So Herman, you cannot say something violates the “known laws of science,” if you don’t know what science is.

2) The humanistic, material energy, chance world view, intolerantly uses every form of force at its disposal to make its world view the exclusive one taught.

Well, if you are talking about what is taught in a science class room, then yes. You see, in a science class you teach, you know, SCIENCE. Not religion. You can preach your origin myth all you want in your churches and temples. This is the great hypocrisy of the creationist. They want to preach in religion in science classes and have the Bible included as a science book. But you don’t see scientists knocking at the doors of Sunday school classes insisting on “equal” time for the germ theory of disease or evolution do you?

The creationist and like minded people appear to me to need a “them” to feel like they are under assault. Refusing to allow religious dogma into the science class or the lab is not religious persecution. It’s just good science.

Oh and by the way, while change plays a role in evolution in the form of mutation, evolution by natural selection is not a chance process. It is, in fact, a non random process. If it wasn’t, it won’t work.

3)  It is rather naive to think that nothing gave rise to something, that non-living matter gave rise to life. What was the first cause that caused everything else? Where did matter and energy come from? Where did intelligence originate? Are we to think of the universe as a massive perpetual-motion apparatus with some sort of impersonal “intelligence” of its own? Or is there a intelligent designer who created everything from nothing and set it all in motion? Evolution is really a fairy tale for grown-ups.

And here is where the creationist babble gaff completely falls apart.
See the creationist likes to think they have a checkmate argument by saying “Well, how did the universe arise from nothing? That makes no sense. It had to be god.” Then when you say “Ok, and where did god come from?” they  say  “oh, well, ah, you see god always existed…or created himself…or something. Doesn’t matter.”

See, as Carl Sagan pointed out, if you want to postulate that the universe has a creator and that creator was never itself created, you really have explained nothing. You might as well skip a step and say the universe created itself. It makes as much sense.

What science ACTUALLY says is rather different from what Herman, and indeed most creationists will tell you science says. When it comes to the absolute origin point of our universe, science as three words: “We don’t know.”

There is nothing wrong with not knowing. It means we have more to learn. Big Bang cosmology has brought us very far in terms of understanding the origin of our universe. But there is still more to know and discover. And scientists are working toward better answers all the time. What scientists don’t do is fill in our ignorance with whatever fair story happens to appeal to them. Herman, on the other hand, is throwing up his hands and saying in effect “magic man did it,” and then claiming that is science.

The brilliance of science is that it works through evidence, observation, experiment, and constantly attempting to prove its own conclusions wrong. And it does not hide from it’s own ignorance.

Sorry, Herman, but you can’t make an effective argument if you don’t know what which you are trying criticize. Go back to school, son.

I get feedback: Creationists don’t like me edition

- February 27th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So in my recent column about the location of the new south Niagara hospital, I pointed out that denying some basic facts about the hospital is like denying the facts about evolution:

“To deny these facts is like denying evolution. Sure, you can do it, but you end up looking like a loon. Just ask Ken Ham.”

Well, as is always the case when I bring up the big E word, creationists go bananas, including one Harry Huizer of 
St. Catharines, whose response attempts to point out how evolution is really just a matter of opinion. Just to show how far creationists play in a world without facts, I think it worth responding to the points Harry makes.

“Grant LaFleche spoiled his article on the proposed south Niagara hospital with his insult to those denying evolution. To say they end up looking like loons is disrespectful and unwarranted. As an atheist, Grant doesn’t have much choice but to believe in the theory of evolution and we have to be respectful of his opinion.”

Harry goes right off the rails out of the gate here.

First, there is nothing to compel anyone to be respectful of anyone else’s opinion. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion and express it freely. That is what free speech is. But that doesn’t mean we have to respect the content of those opinions, or even be nice about them. This is particularly true about religion, where believers will regularly try to make the case that my disagreeing with them, by holding up their beliefs to scrutiny and even ridicule goes too far because, well, they believe it so. The honesty of their belief, they argue, should protect the content of those beliefs from being questioned or mocked.

I believe H.L. Mecken put it best when he said “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

Creationist do end up looking like loons because they deny the facts to such an extreme degree they end up looking like people who live in a fantasy world. Just consider at the recent debate between science educator Bill Nye and creationist guru Ken Ham. Ham ended up looking like someone who lives life by jumping into bed and pulling the blankets over his head. The only “facts” he accepts are the ones  he reads in his bible by flashlight. But this doesn’t stop people like Harry from offering up extraordinarily strange arguments.

“However here are a few “facts” that Grant and others should know: The fossil evidence from thousands of years ago shows not a trace of evolution. Animals and man seem to have suddenly appeared. The origin of life is the Achille’s heel of evolution since scientists have shown that the chances of assembling even one living cell is virtually impossible.”

Ugh. I don’t know what is worse about the creationism crowd, that they know nothing about probabilities, that they know nothing about biology and its related fields of science, or that they flaunt their ignorance as though its a badge of honour.

The fossil evidence is one of the best sources of evidence about evolution. It has become so detailed that scientists looking to tract the path of the evolution of a particular species can predict where they should find fossils that demonstrate the evolution of a particular trait. This is how Canadian scientists were able to find Tiktaalik, a critter that helps us understand how creatures that lived in the water evolved into those that lived on land. Because of the fossil record, the scientists knew where on the planet and in what layers of rock the fossils should be found. If those fossils were never found, you would have a serious challenge to the theory.

We’ve been able to track the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, and the evolution of feathers in the fossil record. We can watch the evolution of human beings from our primate ancestors. There is no “sudden appearance” of “man and animals.” Rather we see their development over long periods of time through small changes. Harry is just ignorant of what the fossil record shows.

And of course, evidence is not limited to just the fossil record. Genetics has proved to be a powerful tool to understanding evolution. And like all scientific theories, evolution makes specific predictions that can be tested, such as the theory’s explanation of why we have one fewer pair of chromosomes than chimps:

Finally there is this bit about the origin of life being “impossible.” No, we do not know everything about how life arose on this planet. But we are learning more and more all the time and the picture is increasingly looking like it all beings with simple chemistry. Once you have something that can self replicate, you have something for natural selection to work on. Just because we do not understand something, does not automatically make a religious explanation suddenly valid scientifically. When we do not know something, we do not know it. QED.

Of course, what Harry completely misses is that the theory of evolution is NOT about how life got started. It explains how the variety of life we see now developed. The precise details of the absolute origin of life as we know it is outside the theory’s scope. But science gets closer to understanding that mystery all the time.

Consider the alternative Harry presents here: a sky god with no origin, that always existed, magically created the world, made a man out of dirt and a woman out of a rib and from these two magical people, the entire population of human begins arose. (Apparently inbreeding wasn’t a problem for Adam and Eve’s children.)

Where is the evidence for any of that, Harry?

Oh and one final point. Harry is trying to say evolution didn’t happen because the odds of life arising from chemistry (the development of a single living cell as he put it) are “virtually impossible.” He does not know the difference between “improbable” and “impossible.”

Consider poker for a moment. The odds of getting a royal flush is something around 650,000 to one. Not good odds at all. And yet, players do get dealt royal flushes all the time despite the odds being “virtually impossible.” Long odds are not the issue here. What matters is what happened and what we know happened, regardless of how improbably it may seem, is that life developed on this planet by the process of evolution.

“Many prominent scientists have come to the conclusion that there is an intelligent designer behind all creation.”

Actually, no, Harry. This is an outright falsehood. Because of the overwhelming amount of evidence for evolution, scientists support it as the best explanation we have for life. Those who do not accept evolution are neither “prominent” and have produced no scientific work that support the outright religious idea of “intelligent design,” which is little more than creationism dressed up in a lab coat. It’s religion in drag.

To claim otherwise is like saying “many important scientists have come to the conclusion that gravity isn’t real and concluded that the sun goes around the earth.” Sure you can say that, but that doesn’t make it true.

Intelligent design by the way, is a complete discredited idea that was cooked up by a bunch of American creationists who were looking for a way to get around a Supreme Court ruling that forbade creationism from being taught in public school classrooms. There is no scientific work to support it, no peer reviewed work, no theory to be tested. Just an idea that says “god did it.” It was part of a strategy to teach creationism without explicitly mentioning god, who is replaced by the phrase “intelligent designer.” It is frankly a more pitiful attempt at political camouflage than the Progressive Conservative’s recent effort to hang onto right to work policy ideas without actually using the phrase “right to work.”

The organization that was behind the entire intelligent design thing is a group called the Discovery Institute, which operated on a premise that became known as the Wedge Strategy, which stated that if they could overthrow evolution as the primary paradigm in biology, they could introduce the idea of an intelligent designer, and eventually sway people to believe in Christian creationism.

The entire ID thing was exposed a few years ago in Dover, Pennsylvania during a trial where the history, methods and truth behind the Discovery Institute and ID was brought to light. Here is a very good documentary about it:

Which brings us to Harry’s last point:

“Michael Denton, a molecular biologist says it best: “Evolutionary theory is still, as it was in Darwin’s time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without factual support.” I think Grant needs to study all the facts before making his comments and conclusions.”

Yah, so Michael Denton works for, you guessed it, the Discovery Institute. They produce a lot of books, but no scientific work. Harry thinks he has made a point by telling us that Denton is a molecular biologist. His creds mean nothing if his conclusions are unscientific and discredited.

Better luck next time Harry.

Faceplam Saturday: Hudak jobs plan just warm the heart edition

- January 18th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

Oh my but the Tory faithful are upset with me this week!

Earlier this week, I wrote a column about PC leader Tim Hudak’s “one million jobs” economic plan. You can read it here, along with Hudak’s not-really-rebuttal here.

I’ll be getting to substance Hudak’s oped on the subject in my next blog entry, but for now I want to address a couple of more general comments from readers, party supporters and a gaggle of those modern day morlocks — a online commenters. So let  showdown begin!

1) Why are you picking on the Progressive Conservatives!? You must be on the payroll of the “Lie”berals, NDP, Karl Marx, the vampire people and the Illuminati.

There is a very strange pattern of behavior among online political party partisans. They assume that if you are critical of their party, you are automatically for the other side. As if everything is a zero sum game, and any opposition to an policy means you support the dark forces of evil – defined by the parties the person isn’t in support of, of course.

So I if I am critical of the Liberals or NDP, which I often have been, I am really a radical right winger bordering on being a Nazi. And if I am critical of the Tories, as one reader points out, I am a communist. But not just any communist, according one reader of the Rant, but some sort of KGB plant:

Fred Bracken:
If the Standard is conservative in nature why is Grant being allowed to write Marxist bologna like this piece?
There isn’t one person who works for the Standard that is not a communist and not one who doesn’t believe that BIG government is the solution to everybody’s problems.

Later, Fred insists I am a “card carrying” communist. Which is ridiculous. Communists work in a collective. We only have one card between all of us.

The reality is I favor no party. When I vote, I tend to chose the party has presented the best case to cope with the issues of the day — after I have mercilessly picked those plans apart for thruthiness. I often feel like I’m not voting for the best party, but the lesser of several evils. I find being a devotee to a single political party too much like religion. Candidates have to win my vote each and every time.

As for why did I pick on Hudak’s plan this week, and not say, the Liberals or the NDP? Well, Hudak was the one who decided (probably because of the Niagara Falls by-election) to release his jobs ideas now and made a very big deal about the whole thing. Hudak put his idea out there with press conferences and news releases to nearly every news organization in the province. So the party faithful cannot cry foul when the press seems particularly focused on Hudak at this point in time.

As the elections move on, I’ll be commenting on the other parties’ policies, which I am sure will provide no shortage of material to tear into. After 16 years in the business, I can tell you political parties never, ever fail to screw up in new and exciting ways.

Which brings me to my next point: part of the job of journalists is to critically examine what politicians are telling us! We do not exist to help the parties with their chosen narrative. When the voodoo math of any politician doesn’t ad up, you can bet we are going to say so.

2) You’re a defeatist! Tim Hudak is BOLD! He is a visionary! You are just Mr. Downer Downerpants! Your attitude is so crummy, Downie Downerson. You won’t even give this plan a chance. *pout*

*Ugh* We’re really into playing tennis without a net here.

One of the more mundane facts of our current political life is that when facing criticism, politicians and parties often retreat to the fuzzy world of emotions rather than the hard, and often unpleasant world of hard facts.

In this case, defenders of Hudak’s plan keep talking about how it makes us FEEL. If you criticize his positive plan – after all isn’t a million jobs a positive thing? – you are being a defeatist.

Take the following reactions to my column for instance:

Skidoo: You aren’t even willing to give anything a chance and you have a defeatist attitude. Bad combination Grant.

Dean Tester ‏‪@DeanTester‬
‪@GrantRants‬ I prefer a leader who sets lofty goals and plans to achieve them, over a leader with no goals, no plan, and a terrible record.

This was also the main theme of the actually articulate blog Crux of the Matter, who wrote:

“Talk about cynicism and pessimism!  What are the Ontario PCs supposed to do, just roll over and let the NDP and Liberal naysayers continue to ruin Ontario?”

Yup, because that is the only option, right? “Either we go with the plan my party is selling, or we go with the other guys who will surely destroy us.” There could not possibility be other choices beyond this schoolyard zero sum game. It’s either join us or join the gloomy naysayers!

It’s an old political trick that attempts to adopt the old “you’re with me or against me” routine. Much like when former Defense Minister Peter McKay once tried to shut down debate over the billions it would cost to buy new fighter jets by saying even ASKING about the planes in public would demoralize our troops and thus put their lives in danger in Afghanistan. I kid you not, that was his actual argument. I actually supported the idea of getting the F-35s, but by Zeus you need a moment to get some aspirin, after an argument like that.

So in this case the pro-Hudak crowd tries to paint their side as the only ones willing to actually do anything about a problem. They are bold! People of action! Everyone else are just lazy sloths living off the hog!

If you disagree with their plan, the only alternative is that you are Debbie Downer and just want to roll over and die and let things get worse. Because, you know, there can be no other way except the one their party says is golden.

More critically,  any criticism is declared illegitimate in favor of what amounts to nothing more than slogans. Facts aren’t really as important as the feel-good narrative.

Consider the following comments by Crux of the Matter:

“Look, no one can guarantee one million jobs. But, even if only 100,000 were created over a term, is that a bad thing? I mean, we are hemorrhaging jobs now. Is a million jobs act and plan such an impossibility? Pixie dust? Magical thinking? I mean, ask the person who is currently unemployed and I am sure they will tell you that trying to put government policies into place that would create the conditions for new full-time jobs is certainly not a stupid plan.”

Crux is trying to frame the issue as an emotional one. Since job creation is a good thing, and since claiming it is not is a hurtful thing to say to the unemployed, Hudak’s million job plan is great! As if the measure of  how realistic Hudak’s plan is can be found by asking someone if they like being jobless. That is a bit like saying deep fried butter sticks are good for  you because there are people who are starving.

Crux then tell us even if Hudak’s plan fall short by no less than 900,000 jobs (!!) his plan is still good!

This is the crux of the problem (see what I did there?) when people become beholden to political parties with a near religious fervor. Facts don’t matter anymore. Crux, like Hudak, is trying to appeal to the heart, going so far as to say even if the policy is an abject failure – which is what missing your target by 90% would be. —  it doesn’t matter. Because it’s bold. Because it feels good and all actiony.

But this isn’t about what feels good. It is not about being defeatist. It is comparing a political plan against the hard wall of reality. Hudak’s plan has been widely panned in the Ontario media because it raises so many eyebrows. Major parts of it just level you scratching your head.

The response party of the Tory party faithful has been largely slogans and jingoism, rather than any sort of detailed explanation about how Hudak’s plan could actually work. It has been about blaming “the lame-stream media”, as if Hudak and his party are not mainstream but mavericks out on the fringes.

This is a question of facts and evidence, not about what can be said to make us feel good when facing difficult times.

The stupid it burns: Dragons are real edition

- August 15th, 2013

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

This actually doesn’t require any pithy  comment on my part. I simply give you today’s burning stupid: Dragons are real because…the Bible.

The Feedback Facepalm: Sex causes tornadoes edition

- June 4th, 2013

Facepalm: verb. to raise one’s hand to one’s face, typically expressing exasperation, frustration, disbelief, horror or general woe in the presence of the burning stupid.

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

So after my recent  column and follow up commentary here on the Grant Rant Blog, I was lucky enough to receive this email. And by “lucky” I mean lucky in the same way one is lucky to have a root canal done by a blind, drunken dentist with no thumbs. And while I give its author credit for using his full name in the email rather than hiding behind a handle, Donny’s missive is still a fine example of the burning stupid. Here it goes, with my commentary:

Donny: when you tell God f****ts are okay —- you are telling him your word means NOTHING!!! Why sing the national anthem asking God to bless your land when he looks at it in disgust.

As readers of the rant know, I am an atheist. I don’t “tell” a god anything … well, except for Thor when there are frost giants about. I hate those guys. Anyway, if I allow myself to play a tho3bcf4274_n79020_facepalm2028house29ught experiment for a bit, if the average Christian concept of god is true — an all powerful, all benevolent, all loving creature — why would it hate anything? Why would it possess so petty a human emotion? Why would it hate the honest expression of love between two consenting adults, straight or gay? I’ve never understood why some believers insist upon defining their god as someone who love you, and then proceeds to crank out of list of things it hates and will torture you for.

If the god Donny here believes in existed, and fortunately it doesn’t, it would have to be opposed on basic moral grounds for it would be, as Richard Dawkins pointed out, a deeply unpleasant creature: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Donny: Look at all the tornadoes in Oklahoma – all because of a Gay pride parade. God destroyed Sodom & Gomorraha  because he calls homosexuality an abomination………

Ah, yes, the 700 Club, human sexual behavior model of meteorology.  I don’t have a degree in tornadology, but I am pretty sure that they are formed by the interaction of cold and warm air during a supercell thunderstorm in the part of the world that sees this type of weather event more than anywhere else.

Or by Thor. Take your pick.

All kidding aside, this sort of thinking is no different that a belief that throwing a virgin into a volcano will prevent an eruption. Fortunately, we aren’t living in caves anymore, we know for a fact that who we sleep with, or marry, or what food we eat, or crops we grow, or clothes we wear, or what days of the week we work doesn’t impact the weather. At all. To believe otherwise is to live one’s life under the gravest of misapprehensions.

By the way, since we are on the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is worth pointing out a bit of the story Donny has failed to mention. In it, two angels hit the city of Sodom looking for enough good people to prove to god that it is not beyond saving. But Sodom is kind of like the angry love child of Las Vegas and Mad Max’s Thunderdome. So naturally, the two supernatural tourists are chased down by a rape gang. They find shelter with a dude named Lot, but the gang isn’t about to let that stop them. They really want to a piece of these angels. Lot, being an upstanding and moral guy, offers to give his own teenaged daughters to the rape gang in exchange for leaving the two visitors alone….and Lot is the hero of the story! Seriously.

Donny: Today newspaper people don’t have the guts to report the truth most are cowards —– Canada is a disgusting country in the gutter with a f****t Premier and I am so glad I no longer live there.

You know, I am never one to believe in blind patriotism. It is, as Oscar Wilde said, the “virtue of the vicious.” Nevertheless, Canada remains a fantastic country with a proud history. We have our issues, our mistakes and missteps, but it remains one of the freest, safest, and best places to live on Earth. We should be proud that, for most of us, gay marriage is a non-issue and that our government had the courage to do what was right and make it legal several years ago. We should be proud that we have reached a point where the sexual orientation of our Ontario premier is simply not a relevant issue (except for good ole Donny here) save for the fact that is shows we are increasingly willing to judge people by their character and ideas and not by bigotry of a bronze aged religion.

I think I speak for many of us, Donny, when I say we are quite happy you aren’t living here. But be warned, the world is an increasingly shrinking place. The march of freedom and equality is not so easily stopped and sooner or later, it will catch up with you. So unless you can find yourself a time machine to go back to 18th century (I suspect you’d be happy there) you’d might as well get used to it.

Read the bible Grant – read Lev. and see what your creator said and guess what 10 out of 10 people die and they face God…..and queers do not go to heaven by their own choice. Wake up Pal!!

I almost don’t have the energy to keep going with this. Yes, I have read it. More than once. It’s an awful book with worse writing than than Fifty Shades of Grey. (A book that would have been popular in Las Sodom Thunderdome, no doubt.) It is little more than an artifact of a primitive, fearful and paranoid culture that knew next to nothing about the world they lived in or the greater universe beyond it. They lived in a world where the only explanation for the things that nature does was the actions of an angry god and finding ways to sate that rage was a serious concern.

Fortunately, we’ve moved on since then.

Donny: “Wake up every day like you are broke and hungry and you will never be either.”…

Uh, no. If you wake up like you are broke and hungry, you probably are broke and hungry. If you are neither but pretend you are, you need serious help.

The stupid it burns: Government of Canada edition

- February 11th, 2013

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

Please, Ottawa, please, please, please, please pour some water on the burning stupid. Can you PUL-EEZE think through a decision. I mean, just once? We don’t have very high expectations of you, Government of Canada. We mostly figure you go about making silly choices based on polls on when the next election is rather than what is actually good for the country. But we really do expect that every once in a while you use your collective brains before jumping down the rabbit hole. Especially when the rabbit hole is more like a massive sink hole that just swallowed a city.

You didn’t, think that is, which is why you are now in the embarrassing position of having pull big pile of tax dollars from Crossroads Christian Communications. Why? Well, because this charming evangelical group likes to go about talking about how gay people are the worst of sinners and blah blah blah. The usual, narrow minded nonsense some evangelicals get about when they want to stick their noses into other people’s bedrooms. Frankly listening to that clap trap has reached a stage where I  figure it would be more pleasant to stick an angry hornet in my ear and then block my ear with a cork so the bug can never get out.

Why is giving them funding a problem? Well mostly because they use their government money to do missionary work in Uganda. Which is a charming country seemingly perpetually obsessed with finding new and fun legal ways to murder homosexuals for being gay. We here in Canada take a pretty dim view of that sort of thing, some religious fringe notwithstanding, and giving money to a group which likes to spend it’s time telling gay people how evil they are being to go work in a country that wants to kill gay people….is probably not the best idea.

Now to be fair, the government has yanked the funding for this group, thank Odin, but the point it probably should have looked into it a little more before writing the cheque in the first place. Maybe, I don’t know, looking at the group’s website which openly told homosexuals what big fat sinners they are? (In a move to not-so-suprising hypocrisy, the Crossroads Christian Communications yanked its “god loves you, but stop being such evil gay sinners, you evil gay sinners” screed from their website after the first phone call from the Canadian Press on the issue. A bit of Albertan wisdom for the folks at Crossroads: that is a big like fixing the barn door after the horses are gone.)

Simply put, Canadian tax dollars ought not to be given to groups that support, even in a broad sense, the political ideology of a murderous dictatorship.

Now, can I please have an aspirin? That hornet in my ear is really starting to cause me some pain.

 

PS. Crossroads is saying in news stories that it is in Uganda spreading the almighty’s love and using federal money for specific objectives (digging well and the like.) and not religious missionary work. It’s not a defense that is of much use. You don’t get to blast homosexuals at home, then take tax dollars and use them to do work in a country that is passing laws to kill gay people for being gay. You just don’t.

Evolution is incredible, but also horrifying

- October 30th, 2012

Greetings ghouls, ghost, zombies and the rest of you!

So staying in the spirit of Halloween, after having trashed some traditional Halloween monsters, I bring you something that is actually terrifying.

I’ve  often been asked why I don’t believe in the divine when I look out at the wonders and splendor of nature, from the beauty of distant nebulae to the miracle of birth.  My usual reply is that while I am awed and humbled by the universe we live and all its mystery and beauty, it’s actually not a very nice place for us to live. If you think about it, most of our own planet – the only one we know of so far that can sustain life as we understand it – is inhabitable by us. We would drown, freeze, starve or just be eaten. To say nothing of earthquakes, monster storms, Glee, and other nasty natural temper tantrums. And that is our HOME. Wander out into space and without advanced tech we die from exposure, get fried by cosmic rays, get spaghettified by a black hole, nuked by gamma ray bursts, or just disintegrated  in a super nova explosion.

Fun place the universe.

cymothoa-exigua-tonge-eating-isopod-louse-insect

Ewww….just….ewww!

But even more to the point are the horrible, awful turns that evolution takes. I mean, for every beautiful deer or majestic polar bear there are awful parasites, viruses, bacteria all out to survive by, well, killing other species in a particularly nasty manner. Evolution is about, after all, survival by adaption, and there is no guarantee those adaptions will be cute. If you want to see nature in all her glory, you need to see her in ALL her glory before you go on about how a pretty rainbow proves the existence of a god.

So I present you to the Cymothoa exigua or tongue eating louse.  A nasty piece of work by all accounts. It gets into the mouth of the fish, destroys its tongue and then takes the place of the tongue!!!! And the weird part is that the fish gets along just fine with this thing from the Alien movies as it’s tongue. Seriously!

Tell me this handsome fellow isn’t more horrifying than a zombie or the wolfman.

 

 

A very Grant Rant Halloween: Unterrifying Monsters Edition

- October 29th, 2012

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

So, being that it is nearly Halloween, I’m doing a Halloween rant. Not because I want to, mind you. It’s  because I’m told columnists have to write holiday related pieces around holidays. I would actually protest and say that Halloween is not actually a holiday per se, but I suspect I am going to be out voted.

So in the forced march spirit of the season, here is my contribution to Halloween reportage: five Halloween monsters that actually aren’t that terrifying.(yes I am dying a little inside here)

dracula_g

What? It takes time for my nails to dry after a manicure!

5) Vampires

Oh how far the mighty vampire has fallen.

I know, I can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth at this. Vampires. Nosferatu. Bloodsucking denizens of the night. Scary right? Ok, I will give you that the classic vampire – Dracula, Blackula, Count Chocula and probably Blade – scary as all get out. Fangs, super strength, hard to kill and sneakyer and more badass than a Ninja Chuck Norris.

Unfortunately, the tragically evil figure of the classic vampire has been replaced by his weaker, whiny, simpering and often inexplicably sparkly counter parts. The original Dracula was suave, if utterly lethal, ladies man. You know, like Shaft with fangs. (Was Shaft a vampire? Seems like he should be, right?) Plus he could only come out at night, which met going to sleep was a bad idea. Then came Twilight and the dawn of the emo vampire. Danger was replaced with teenaged angst and vaguely stop-staring-at-me-you’re-being-gross-and-creepy. Really, stop it. And they came come out during the day? What the hell is that???

Terrifying level: Two vials of blood out of five. They still have powers beyond the ken of mortal men, but are too busy crying in their extra-virgin Shirley Temples to know it.

the-mummy_l

Come on, you know I am a sexy beast.

4) The Mummy:

One the one hand, the Mummy has the whole undead thing going for him. Popular motif for monsters that. Basically if you want to be a true monster that will frighten the bejesus out of someone, you have to have died first. Think about it: vampires, zombies, Bettlejuice, Stephen Harper….all once dead, now undead. Or dead like. Or at least not very life like most of the time. Essentially mannequins that can ruthlessly hunt you down. (Note to self: pen screenplay about mannequins conquering a mall clothing store and making the shoppers stand in uncomfortable poses in windows. Bite me, Stephen King.)

Anyway, you know the deal with this guy. Mummified Egyptian bigwig, comes back from the dead because of a curse in hunt of a woman who vaguely looks like his dead girlfriend. Actually that is kind of Dracula’s M.O. too….anyway, I digress. He shuffles about like a drunken sailor to fix up his bandaged body and find said girl and then is eventually killed by a flash light.

Terrifying level: one ancient sarcophagus out of five. The Mummy’s problem is best summed up by Will Smith playing Muhammad Ali in the movie Ali: “That mummy has one eye and a limp. That  mummy’s 643 years old. He can’t catch nobody. Look at him. You gotta fall down ’cause that’s the only way the mummy could catch you.” I did I mention he gets killed by a flash light?

500full

I totally do not look like a Scooby-Do villain!

3) Jason

When I was a kid, Jason was part of a 1980s generation of movie monsters that had every kid on my block scared out of their minds: Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street. Mike Myers from Halloween. Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink. They were constantly butchering teenagers who had apparently been left alone by negligent baby boomer parents who figured there was nothing wrong with their kids spending the night in an isolated forest with no means to call for help. Where was FACS, that’s what I want to know.

Jason was basically the Mummy with a wardrobe upgrade and a knife. He was also flash light proof as I recall. But how he ever managed a single successful kill was beyond me. He had all the agility of  redwood and the brains to match. And he made almost no attempt at stealth or speed. You mostly have to let Jason kill you. He is so unimpressive that I actually think the entire Friday the 13th film series is a metaphor about how nature culls the stupid.

But his great failing was his most iconic feature. The goalie mask. Look, I played hockey for a long time and really, if you want to know who, on any given team, will eventually snap and go homicidal, it’s the goalie. These dudes spend all their time putting their bodies IN FRONT of vulcanized rubber being launched at them at 100 miles an hour.

But Jason wore an old school goalie mask. As in Gerry Cheevers old school. Those masks have no peripheral vision. So all you have to do is step the side and walk away.

Terrifying level: Two hatchets out of five. Shambling, shuffling, only able to move in straight lines and might as well have vascular degeneration his eyesight is so bad. Still, he has a knife, which is more than any of the other entries on this list had.

2) The Blob

2009-08-28-the_blob

Are you scared yet? I can tell you’re scared by my Blobosity.

I would have loved to have been in on the meeting where the script writers pitched this one. If you don’t know, the Blob first appeared in a 1958 film called, well, The Blob. It is essentially a story about a really dangerous bit of mucous that slithers (is that right? can a blob of snot slither? It has no appendages to speak of or even a belly. I mean,  a snake slithers….what’s the right verb to describe how a blob moves? Squishes?) and slimes people to death. Somehow, despite not having any clear means of locomotion or opposable thumbs, this heap of Silly Putty manages to consume most of a small American town.

Basically, pour a bunch of melted cheese and Jello on the floor, and there you go. That’s the Blob. Are you terrified yet? Not only that, but the Blob can really only strike during the summer months, because it reacts to the cold the same way anyone with any common sense reacts to gangnam style. You just lock up in terror and cannot move while your brain slowly shuts down.

Terrifying level: one bowl of runny porridge out of five. Seriously, the Blob would be the lamest monster of all time, but the original movie was Steve McQueen’s first leading role. And Steve McQueen’s cosmic level of badassry makes even the most awful movie better. You can argue with me on this point, but you would be wrong.

1) Zombies

lawn_zombie2

I’m going to get you….you know….eventually. Once I get out of here….a some point…seriously can you hand me a shovel or something?

Oh for the love of….zombies??? Look, I don’t get the fascination with the zombie walks, and making dead presidents zombie hunters, and zombie remakes of classical literature.  And I’m not talking about 28 Days Later zombies. I am talking about the only true zombie – shuffling, groaning, poorly dressed and mostly physically useless genetic defects who are so slow they make Jason and the Mummy look like Usain Freakin’ Bolt by comparison.

Essentially, take your shoe off, leave it on the ground and run away. That shoe has a 1000% higher chance of killing you when you later walk by and trip and fall than a zombie does. (Yes, math geeks, I know 1000% isn’t a real thing. But it should be.)

At least The Mummy and Dracula have motivation of sorts. Count Chocula wants to give kids juvenile diabetes.  Jason has the foresight to carry a weapon. And the Blob has Steve McQueen (The Magnificent Seven, baby!!!) But the zombie? Look, aside from bizarrely being amazing dancers when Michael Jackson showed up wearing a Buck Rogers jacket, they just wondered around like cows, if cows ate brains. They cannot figure out how to open doors, or throw a rock or run. I mean, their limbs fall off while they are walking slowly after you for pity’s sake.

Terrifying level: zero rotten limbs out of five. Ultimately, the zombie is only slightly more dangerous than a goldfish left out on the kitchen counter. Or the Blob minus Steve McQueen.

I get feedback: Moral relativism and other silly ideas edition

- October 4th, 2012

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

A few days ago I wrote an editorial about IKEA’s decision to pretend women are invisible by removing them from the version of their catalogue in Saudi Arabia, a c0untry where women are treated mostly like chattel. Women cannot vote, get a job, or even open a bank account without the permission of a man. So to avoid offending Saudi sensibilities, IKEA digitally erased women from their catalogue. Starbucks has also gone down this road.

I find it appalling that a western company would, in the name of its singular pursuit of profit (which is all corporations exist to do) would contribute to the repression of women in the middle east. It appears, however, that not all of you share this view.

Consider the feedback from the Standard reader who goes by the handle “howdydo2″ who believes that while we might not like how women are treated in Saudi Arabia or some other middle eastern country, we have to accept and respect those nations’ cultural decisions:

not that i’m a fan of ikea, but unfortunately you have to respect other countries way of life. If you don’t like it, don’t live there. If you don’t live there, don’t tell them how to live

and again:

then don’t live there. For some reason western society thinks it is the only cultural way and should trump all. This is not the case, while i don’t agree with that countries view of women and culture, that is how it has been for hundreds of years and even to this present day. If you don’t like it, don’t live there

and again:

that is just it.. WESTERN free society, this is not the case over there and it is not your place to tell them how to live, think and feel. That country has its own culture, and it isn’t ours.

and finally:

“i still stand by my stance that it is not our place in “western society” to dictate how other countries should operate and what is “culturally acceptable”. Thanks to western society we have destroyed the nuclear family, dad goes to work, mom takes care of the kids and house. Now both me and my wife have to work, mind you we still live comfortably for today’s standards, i would prefer my wife (or I, it doesn’t matter to me as long as one spouse is at home and one works) could stay home and take care of the home and children. No, instead families have to look at early daycare, nursery schools, jk/sk, etc, IF they can afford it. Its all ass-backwards.”

The argument here is basically that a) all cultural activities are relative. What is good for us, is good for us and what is good for them is good for them. And we cannot criticize or question the cultural activities of others and b) since we are not perfect, what right do we have to be critical of others.

Nonsense.

Much of what I am about to say, in the interest of disclosure, is influenced by Sam Harris’ book “The Moral Landscape.” A good overview of his central ideas can be seen in his recent TED talk and it is well worth your time to watch it:

Firstly, howdydo2′s primary point is, I think, ignoring some critical facts. First, the idea that because a cultural has been doing something for hundreds of years is not an argument in it’s defense, nor does it suggest some manner of moral and ethical equivalence to any other point of view. I mean, if a culture was keeping slaves for hundreds of years, do we therefore shrug our shoulders and say “well that is what is good for them, even if we don’t like it?”

Are we to say the Taliban’s brutal suppression of women when they ruled Afghanistan is “ok” because, well, that is their culture? Or you know, this bit of the burning stupid?

Further, howdydo2 is not asking the question Harris asks. What does voluntary mean in a society where if a woman fails to act in a fashion that the men who run her society approve can be brutally punished, even killed? How is that “voluntary?” How is that person “choosing” to live in such a fashion? What howdydo2 and those who subscribe to this kind of cultural relativism don’t seem to grasp is that the women in this cultures don’t have a meaningful choice to make. It’s not even an option. So the entire argument of “that is their culture and if they don’t like it they shouldn’t live there” is hopelessly naive.

Finally, this sort of talk ultimately says that questions of human suffering are ultimately unanswerable and are all relative to their cultural context. We think the subjection of women is bad, the Saudi’s do not and there is no way to determine which is superior. Nonsense. Either the values of freedom and equality, the bedrock of our democracies in the west, have an intrinsic value or they do not. Either freedom, education, and the right the choose are things worth fighting for and promoting or they are not. Either democracy is superior to a tyranny or it is not. To claim that all points of view are equal is to say that nothing we value is worth very much at all.

No, as Harris points out, there are basic questions about human suffering and flourishing that HAVE answers. There may be multiple answers, but we can say with some certainty that women having no lives save for that which their owners men allow is not a path to such flourishing. Moreover, IKEA and Starbucks and other corporations, by lowering themselves to embrace the cultural (and sometimes violent) misogyny of Saudi Arabia in the pursuit of greater profits are therefore endorsing those cultural practices. In other words, when IKEA erases women from its Saudi catalogue, it is saying treating women like pets is OK. And by doing so, IKEA was contributing to the suffering of women in that country.

That is unacceptable.

Religion in schools: can open, worms everywhere

- September 24th, 2012

Greetings web denizens, heathens, zealots and the rest of you!

So still following up with the article I wrote about religion in school last week.

I had the opportunity to talk to the parent who is suing the Hamilton school board so he has the right to withdraw his children from lessons he deems are against his religious belief, particularly lessons that involve homosexuality.

Steve Tourloukis and I chatted for a while and he seems a decent and honest guy. I think he is totally wrong on this issue, but the conversation was very civil and, if nothing else, Steve isn’t out to convert the world or try and ruin public education.

He makes a good point, one that isn’t covered much in the press he is getting. The parents of other religions already get to remove their children from classes they find theologically offensive or are given a wide berth to avoid material that offenses their faith. Whether it’s Muslim girls not having to take gym class because shorts and a t-shirt violate their modesty rules, or JVS not having to listen to lessons that talk about Easter or Christmas, he says exceptions for the religious are already being made all over the school board. In fact, it’s in the board’s official documentation about religious accommodation. True, the board is careful to point out in this documentation, which can be found on the Hamilton-Wentworth school board’s website, that there are limits to religious accommodation and that it cannot do anything that violates provincial regulations.

Nonetheless, Steve believes what he is asking for is no different than what is already given to other parents for essentially the same reason.

While I think that he if he is successful in court it will have  deleterious impact on the education system to properly educate students, he does have a point. In many ways, Pandora’s Box has already been opened. The question now is not to further warp public education, but to find a way to close the box.