Saturday, August 29, 2009

Is Bush or Obama More Like Hitler?

It seems there is a popular game of comparing the American Presidents to Hitler. Maybe we are just far enough along to do a head to head comparison with Barack H. Obama and the previous champion, George W. Bush. But remember, it is a little unfair to Obama, as he had only 7 months of emulating Hitler, against 8 years for Bush.

- Hitler had a healthy vegetarian diet. Obama is closer with an organic garden on the White House lawn, but then spoils it going out to Hellburgers. Bush likes pretzels, but chokes on them. Declared even at 0 points each.

- Hitler sets up euthanasia clinics for grandmas and mentally handicapped. Obama favours abortion and Death Panels for Grandmas. Bush opposes all clinical death, including abortion. I have to give this one to Obama, but only one point as he has not yet passed any laws requiring Grandmas to be put to death, and the abortion laws are basically unchanged since Bush. Obama 1 Bush 0 (subject to revision once the gas chambers for Gandmas are set up)

- Hitler builds the autobahn and commissions the design of the Volkswagen (the car for the people). Obama decides to repair the Interstate Highways System with stimulus money, takes over General Motors, and fires the CEO. Bush merely drives around his ranch in a golf cart. 5 for Obama, 0 for Bush.

- Hitler invaded Poland, after giving assurances to the international community that he would stop after Czechoslovakia and Austria. Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama does not invade anybody, although he has not yet pulled out of anywhere, and has sent reinforcements to Afghanistan. 0 for Obama 5 for Bush

- Hitler was right wing. I had at least two blogs about this, I know many on the right wing in the US are uncomfortable with this seating arrangement, but it is generally accepted; even by Conservapedia (look it up). So this stands as a big win for Bush. Bush 5 Obama 0.

- Hitler encouraged the SS and Gestapo to torture people to find out information on the resistance and the enemy movements. Bush set up Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air base, Guantanamo Camp, and secret foreign torture sites to elicit valuable information from captives. Obama is trying to shut down Guantanamo and all the torture sites, and has made torture illegal. Obama 0, Bush 5. This win was well deserved, I think.

- Hitler gassed 6 million Jews. Neither Bush nor Obama have gassed any yet, to my knowledge. Although it is rumoured that Obama second hand smoked Rahm Emmanuel once out the back of the White House sneaking a drag on a cigarette. But really, I can't in all fairness to George, award a point for that, so 0-0 here.

- Hitler's Gestapo spied on the German people to discover traitors, Jews and Jew supporters. Bush began a secret wiretap operation on Americans. I think Obama is continuing it. so Obama 0, Bush 2 (for originality)

- Hitler's assault on liberty started with outlawing all opposition parties and jailing their leaders. So far Obama has resisted throwing Bush and Cheney in jail, so he gets nothing here. Neither does Bush for allowing Clinton and (especially) Al Gore to roam free. 0-0.

Final total: Obama 6, Bush 17

George will continue to possess the Little Black Moustache trophy for another six months, when I will review Obama's accomplishments again. After that, it will be annual reviews to the end of the first term.

Defending American Intelligence

Sometimes people get the impression I am anti American, but nothing could be farther from the truth. And just to prove it, I am going to devote this entire blog to a defence of Americans against the charge of stupidity. Recently, Bill Maher declared a new rule that smart president does not equal smart country. And he cited many facts to back up his new rule, including that 18% of Americans think the Sun goes around the Earth.

I felt there was something wrong with this, as I had recently been looking into beliefs of religious Christian fundamentalists (those who believe the Earth is 6000 years old, and Adam and Ever were the first humans). It turns out that, although they believe every word of the Bible to be literally true, there are a couple of words where they use their common sense. For example, where it is stated that God placed the Earth on the firmament and it shall not be moved.

So, unlike the religious debate on Evolution, there is no major religious group in the USA denying that the Earth goes around the Sun.

I was also thinking that 18% represent the kind of universal "Irreducible Stupidity Factor" that is found everywhere, even in this enlightened country of Canada. So I looked up the survey itself and found it was taken in 1999 by Gallup.

The poll was also done in Germany and Britain, with similar results. I think the only way you could get a poll result of significantly less than 18% is if you went to a third world country, where telephone lines are only available to a part of the population. (this was a random telephone poll).

I am not an expert in polling, but I think that if you are polling for general knowledge, you might need a set of control questions just to determine if you are talking to a Jaywalking All Star or not. First ask a series of questions like "What colour was Washington's grey mare?".

Getting back to this irreducible stupidity factor, unfortunately any kind of intelligence tests have become politically incorrect ever since Nazis used them to begin a euthanasia program. But anyway: I want to apply the Scientific Method to this test. I have never tried this experiment myself, even though I was a school teacher for ten years.

The experiment would be to give a control group of random people a classroom lesson on something that is new to all of them. Like what is the colour of Anthracite. Don't give out any clues like passing around a lump of Anthracite, and don't even tell them it is like coal. For some reason, mental aids like that will improve their scores. Then give a surprise test the next day, with a multiple choice A) Black B) White C) Don't know. Whatever percent you get that say it's white, that's your Irreducible Stupidity Factor.

Now getting back to the Evangelicals who believe (I want to say "Correctly") that the Earth orbits the Sun. The reason, in my opinion, that they got it right is simply because this debate was settled before their religion was founded. On the other hand, Charles Darwin came along after the Evangelical church was established, and they found themselves trapped in a position opposing evolution just by less than a hundred years.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Propaganda: Lies are the New Honesty

Can you spot the lie in the picture? Guns are a moderately useful defense only against unarmed crazy people. A trained professional killer will eventually get you, even if you carry a loaded AR-15 everywhere you go for the rest of your life. Assault weapons are primarily offensive, not defensive weapons. Just look up the meaning of assault, if you have to. But the very fact that the "guns are for defense" argument is a lie, only makes the case for guns stronger.

In an earlier blog I mentioned that good propaganda was truthful, that a good propagandist would avoid being caught in a lie, and that lies actually weakened the point of the propaganda.

Well, that was the theory back in the early days of Nazi propaganda, but we have made great advances in the science of propaganda since then. The Nazis had no idea how much power propaganda eventually would have over people's minds.

Now studies have been done which indicate that if people support a certain cause, they are more likely to redouble their support when confronted by proven contradictory facts. So even if your cause has no need for lies to make it's case, it would be good propaganda science to include a few. If only to give your opponents a chance to call your supporters liars, and so redouble their support for your cause.

In case this is not obvious, I have a bias against lies myself. But I get worn out proving facts to counter right wing lies. So I would love to turn the propaganda tables so that it was the right wingers who were defending the truth, and leftists started telling lies. Why doesn't the left support some ridiculous lie, like for example "The Earth is Flat". It would cause no end of mental anguish to right wingers to try arguing that the Earth is actually round. And it would be great practice in the free form debates found on most TV news shows today.

I was reading through Al Franken's book "Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them", and I was struck by how much has changed in peoples attitudes even since 2003. For example, Bush talked about his tax cuts helped the poor more than the rich. Bush said "By far the vast majority of the help goes to those at the bottom of the economic ladder". Finally after much math, Al Franken basically proves that "Joe Average" would lose out with Bush's tax cuts, which in truth all went to the ultra-rich. And to Al, being somewhat naive in the world of propaganda, this seemed an open and shut case.

Now, in 2009, we have the real face for Joe Average: "Joe the Plumber". Joe the Plumber got famous for saying that he would suffer under Obama's taxes. Many TV interviews later, Joe became aware that the only way Obama's taxes would hurt him would be if he became very rich. Joe's response was that he regarded a tax cut for the poor as an unearned handout. It redoubled his support for the Republican tax policy, even though it was hurting him personally.

The important discovery is, that once a follower has been convinced to support a cause, the facts no longer matter. This is the new reality of propaganda. Telling the truth is now seen a sign of weakness, something like being an honest lawyer, or an ethical CEO. "Nice guys finish last" was expressed by baseball manager Leo Durocher in 1946, coincidentally just around the end of WW2. Considering the recent demise of Hitler and the Japanese, it was a shocking statement by Leo.

Everywhere you look on the conservative right you will find lies, and the right wing conservatives consider defending them to be a badge of honour, not shame. For example try telling a pro-war Christian that Jesus was a pacifist and see what reaction you get.

Wasn't it in the old west that a gun was called an equalizer? Lying is the great equalizer in debates against bigger intellects, and now it is part of the science of propaganda too.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is Quentin Tarantino a Liberal?

According to most conservatives, the world is divided into "Bad Guys" and "Good Guys", and it's easy to tell who is who. A liberal would say the world is made up of people of all types, and each country, each religion has some bad people and some good people and a lot of people in between. Statements like that drive conservatives crazy.

I see Tarantino's new movie "Inglourious Basterds" is tops at the box office, and I'm not really surprised. Because the audience has almost a complete lack of historical perspective, they are getting a pure conservative philosophy of "good guys and bad guys"

Just to review some facts in the case. Before WW2, German Jews wanted to get out of Germany. No other countries would accept them in large enough numbers. The United States was one of those countries that denied the Jews a safe haven. And it was deliberate, because a large number of Americans hated Jews and were prejudiced against them. Much of this hatred came from the Southern USA where the Ku Klux Klan was leading a campaign of violence and hatred against blacks, Jews and lots of other minorities.

Was it just a coincidence that Brad Pitt, the leader of the Jewish commandos in this movie, was supposed to be from the Southern USA? Or is that part of Tarantino's conservative propaganda designed to cover up the "bad guy" aspect of Americans? Because I didn't see the movie, I'm going to have to wait to find out how Tarantino justified an all-Jewish unit (where all the members actually have a stereotypical Jewish look to them) being led by someone played by Brad Pitt, who was not only a Southerner but part Apache. And the Apache bloodline seems to be used as part of the reason for the cruelty, as if a Southerner would need native blood to be sadistic.

Just another historical reminder, slavery was a program of hate and sadism rivalling Hitlers holocaust of the Jews. Although slavery had officially ended 80 years before, the South had instituted a new version of slavery that was just as bad as the old fashioned and outlawed kind, which Franklin Roosevelt had to put an end to in order to counter the German and Japanese propaganda.

Evangelical Christian religion helps to support this kind of "Good Guy, Bad Guy" division, by insisting that you do not need to actually be good, to be a good guy. It seems like as long as you are "one of the chosen", any sadistic cruelty is forgiven. Plenty of passages in the Bible are quoted by Evangelicals to prove it. After all, they started out making excuses for slavery, and by now have pretty much memorized every passage of the Bible that supports wife beating, child abuse, slavery, and slaughter of all the enemy including women and children.

Here's an interesting Quote from Quentin Tarantino

JH: How would you describe your politics, Quentin?

QT: [Silence] I guess I'm a liberal. Definitely not conservative. I'm definitely not a Republican. Most people, when they're on one side or the other, don't paint with a small brush they paint with a f---in' roller and wipe everybody into pansy liberals or fascist dictators.
Maybe Quentin falls somewhere between, but not in the violence and gore department.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Movie Propaganda: Hate and Sadism "Inglourious Basterds"

A new Quentin Tarantino flick has just come out, "Inglourious Basterds", which despite its' name actually "glourifies" torture and violence. It is a late coming resurrection of old WW2 hate, but with a modern twist. In this film, Americans and Jews get revenge on the Nazis by being worse than the Nazis.

I just want to state clearly right from the outset that I despise this film, and any film for trying to make a profit by glorifying hate and sadism. I'm not sure I can make my statement any more clear than that. I am disappointed that Roger Ebert gave this film four stars, because I usually trust his judgment. But then he recently also gave four stars to Ponyo, which was almost incomprehensible to me. Maybe he's getting more generous with the stars these days.

I think the Basterds film plays into several modern themes. Most obviously, is the theory that the Nazi Holocaust was so bad that it excuses a lot of sadistic behaviour on the part of Jews. Personally I don't agree with this idea, but it seems to be working with a lot of Americans so far to excuse Israel for their treatment of the Palestinians.

A second theme is the idea that torture works and is excusable in relation to what you believe the enemy is doing. I would have to point out one fact and that is, the full horror of the Nazi Holocaust was not known until after the war, and so it is not meaningful to suggest that you would seek revenge for something before you even know it happened. But then again a lot of people are not really able to understand how time works.

No, I have not seen this movie, and I probably will not see it. Actually, this is not really a movie review, it is a morality check about hate and sadism. Are we Christians or are we sadists? Most atheists have a better grasp of morality than shown in this film. We keep telling ourselves that our western morality comes from Jesus, who wanted peace. Is that so?

These days, even some Christian churches are being corrupted with this pro-war and pro-torture propaganda. Listen to
a TV Evangelists calling for assassination of a foreign leader. Look at surveys done to find that the people most in favour of using torture are church-going Christians.

Now read this passage from the Bible, which I had never come across in all my years, but then granted I don't read the Bible a lot. OK not at all. This is the quote attributed to Jesus:

Matt. 10:34 "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."

I hope this is not where Christianity is going, but obviously this gives some encouragement to the more sadistic warmongers among us. It has been called in the past a "problematic" quote, because it seems to contradict Jesus' best known teachings. Here is one of the web pages that have tried to explain it in a more rational way to fit in with the notion of a peace loving Jesus.

I have a warning for any warwongers who want fundamentalists on their side.  Fundamentalists do not fight to win, they fight to die and take as many people with them as possible to get their reward in heaven. And most of them do not even believe in the need to win a war, they believe only in the need to start a war.  They are happy to leave the finish of the war to God, and the Second Coming of Jesus. They say there are no atheists in a foxhole, but I would rather be in a foxhole with an atheist than with a fundamentalist who is waiting for the second coming.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ignorance: It's what made us great.

A new form of ignorance is flooding the public areas that goes beyond the bounds of what used to pass for ignorance.

Last night I caught a clip on the Daily Show, where they showed a clip from Fox News (Recycling is great). A TV actor (star of the series "Coach") is ranting about how nobody takes responsibility for themselves any more.

Glenn Beck: "Are you saying that you personally won't pay income taxes any more?"
Craig T. Nelson "There are programs that they are asking me to fund that I refuse to fund. We are a capitalistic society. OK I go into business, I don't make it, I go bankrupt. They don't bail me out. I've been on food stamps, on welfare. Anybody help me out? NO.No."

Huffington Post correctly points out that food stamps and welfare are both taxpayer funded assistance. Do you notice the sense of entitlement that this conservative displays, with no sense of obligation?

But I would like to add that bankruptcy protection is itself a way to get undeserved assistance. You borrow money, start a business, when it fails you declare bankruptcy, leaving the losses to others who will never be repaid. Meanwhile you are free to start again, until you do succeed. At which point, if you are at all deluded like Craig T. you can declare "I did it all by myself." And then say "no more paying taxes".

I would like to submit that conservatives who are this deluded, do not understand the realities of social and economic systems. These people probably should not be on TV, especially not the most watched news network in the USA. The economic system itself can be destroyed by spreading ignorance on this unprecedented scale.

Is the Customer Always Right?

The type of ignorance I'm referring to is not the occasional "I forget the name of the capital of Azerbaijan". I am referring to a type of in-your-face ignorance where people who know nothing are emboldened to step forward and state their incorrect opinions with arrogance that you rarely see in even a University professor teaching a class in their pet topic. There is no word yet in our language for this kind of ignorance. For now I will refer to it as viral ignorance.

It is not the educational system that spreads viral ignorance. I think one of the primary breeding areas for it is in retail shopping. The prevalent concept in America is "The Customer is Always Right". The entire retail commercial system is dedicated to enhancing ignorance, to giving stupidity a legitimacy of its own. Millions of people can safely practice spouting ignorance at humble store clerks, who are required to listen meekly to these opinions. Then of course, they go out in the world and become ignorant customers themselves. (Speaking of which, you should see the movie "Clerks" )

Here is a blog with contributions from many people from different countries, of interactions with customers. Some customers are just plain funny, but you can't go too far before coming across an advanced case of viral ignorance.

Check out this one in particular (on the subject of Canadian northern sovereignty, a topic dear to our Prime Minister's heart):

The customer is not always right. Sometimes the customer should know when to just shut up.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Work Ethic vs Lazy Ethic

You may have often heard it said that the work ethic is what makes America/Canada/Lower Slobbovia great. This is bullshit of course. The driving force of industry and commerce always has been and always will be laziness.

It was all started by the very first hominid who suddenly decided "I'm tired of hunting woolly mammoths. Why don't I get some other guys to hunt the woolly mammoths for me? To reward them I'll give them half the meat!". That was the most profound idea ever hatched. Every other idea followed from that first one. Slavery for example, was not such a big step after that. In slavery, you give a quarter of the meat to the slave drivers (after all they don't really work, do they?) and keep 3/4 for yourself. The workers get nothing, as they are no longer working for reward, but to avoid punishment.

The driving force of the industrial revolution was inventing gadgets to do the work for you. Then you invent machines to build the gadgets to do the work for you.

Notice how all the really really highly paid people either don't work at all or do something questionable that doesn't really count as work? The bankers who collapsed the economy get bonuses of $100 million dollars a year. Sports stars get millions for playing sports. Rock starts get millions for playing songs. People who take out the garbage get nothing. People who build cars lose their jobs and their pensions. Farmers regularly end up paying out more than they take in. Their only reason for farming is to wait for the city boundary to swallow up their farm and then they can sit back and coast on the money.

The goal is not to be busy all the time, the goal is to make some other poor dumb bastard be busy all the time working for you (paraphrasing Gen. Patton.) So don't feel too sorry for me when you find out I'm retired and I do absolutely nothing at all. I have simply reached the Nirvana we have all been seeking since the original good idea 80,000 years ago.

On Bringing a Loaded Gun to a Health Care Debate

Many people have heard of Godwin's Law, a law about debates on the internet. Part of Godwin's law is that the first person to refer to Hitler, loses the debate (or something like that).

I think we need to invent a new law "Smith & Wesson's" law for political debates where the first to bring a loaded firearm, loses the debate. They don't have to actually shoot it, just appear with it. I might make one exception, (as in Godwin's Law), in the case of the debate being all about the right to bear arms.

Gun toting person, William Kostric, brings up a lot of issues with this aggressive act.

Security: I don't think Obama's security was compromised this time, as the secret service has to protect him from hidden weapons, which requires other strategies that would also protect him from openly carried weapons.

Symbolic Racism: Obama is now a symbol for all black people, and if the white supremacist can threaten him openly with a gun, and openly demand that he produce documentation of his citizenship, then symbolically they do this to all black people.

The Anti_Jesus Church: Evangelicals and Baptists have already pretty much given up on the peaceful teachings of Jesus. So no surprise to me that some church would have given William Kostric permission to use their property for his armed protest. I wish I knew which church it was though.

"The Big Country" with Gregory Peck from 1958 is about carrying guns . I actually found this movie in a bargain rack at White Oaks Mall in London yesterday, it might still be there if you rush right over. Charlton Heston is in this movie as the guy who insists on carrying a gun, while Gregory Peck is the non-gunslinger. Charlton of course went on to become president of the NRA and famous for the phrase "When you pry this gun from my cold dead hand". This movie portrayed Gregory Peck as the braver man.

Ontario Driving Test Blues

I spend quite a lot of time getting involved in Ontario Drivers tests. So far I have not done any myself, but I have a wife, three sons, and a mother. My wife already had a driver's licence, but still needed three more tests to get a motorcycle endorsement. Then my mother needs a test every other year now that she's over 80. My sons needed three tests each for their driver's licence, and another three for the motorcycle endorsement. Plus there was one failed final test that resulted in having to retake all three tests again, plus one test where the appointment time was misunderstood, and needed to book again. A total of 28 tests.

You would think with all this testing, the Ontario drivers would be the best in the world. Or at least that they would be able to handle a simple roundabout or traffic light.

One problem is the in the tests themselves. Some of the questions are so ambiguous that nobody could ever say for sure what the right answer is. A few years ago, senior citizens were being asked questions on their renewal test that had nothing to do with driving safety. Example, what blood alcohol level is permitted for a driver who accompanies a driver on their learning permit? Nobody knows the answer to that, not even the accompanying driver, even if they've been drinking. Which is a really bad idea anyway. That chapter of the test has fortunately been removed for the senior citizens test, I guess some important people complained.

Another problem is the enforcement. Traffic cameras are not good enforcement, they are revenue generators that have almost no influence in improving drivers habits. Alcohol is regulated, but not cell phone talking. Speed limits are enforced, but they are useless when they are most needed: In parking lots, in ice and snow, and in fog.

I'll give one compliment here, electronic speed limiters on trucks has actually made it easier to drive on the 400 highways, but only if the car drivers cooperate and keep up with the truck speed. For some reason, there are still a few people who cannot figure out why they are being passed by lines of trucks on the 401, when a mere 3 kph more would put them into a nice steady line of traffic. It must be counter intuitive to think that speeding up to 3 kph faster is actually a safer speed.

There is another problem with the design of the roads. We have many poorly designed merge ramps, where it is not clear how far you can move ahead before you run out of space. Sometimes there is no room, sometimes there is an entire merge lane. There may actually be a clue in the signage, but so far I have not figured it out. Often these "ramps" are found at traffic lights in the city, and their only usefulness is to make it a little easier for the driver to steer their car around the corner. Hey doesn't everybody have power steering now? The merge lanes are also puzzling for pedestrians trying to cross the street at the traffic light, and many of those pedestrians are little kids or have some other problems getting across the streets.

Older ramps onto the freeways have design flaws. Although they have a constant radius curve right up to the point where you need to accelerate, just then there is a hook where the curve tightens up, and if you go wide, you end up suddenly in a traffic lane. Again, the newer ramps have a smooth design, but you do have to always watch out for an old one.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Who is the Missing Link in Evolution?

Although scientists are busy debating each other all the time, they don't care much for debating religious fundamentalists. This is partly because it is very frustrating (as you can imagine), and it leads nowhere professionally, as even if you win the debate, you don't exactly get a Nobel prize. Creationists are interested in debating because they can gain converts, and converts vote and contribute more money to the cause. Recently, scientists have started taking up the debate more energetically because of the damage done by a creationist President of the USA, and various murders committed by Christian fundamentalists against liberals. Also there is the Movie by Ben Stein (Expelled) that accuses scientists of being the cause of the Nazi holocaust.

Here is a video of a debate between Kent Hovind and Dr. Matthew Rainbow. two and a half hour debate,

It would be worth watching a few minutes if only just for the comparisons in style between Hovind and Rainbow. Hovind is the ultimate slick fast talker, Rainbow goes way beyond the traditional dishevelled look and somewhat bumbling style of a college lecturer. Hovind is actually many times wealthier than Dr. Rainbow, although that point is now moot since Hovind is serving a ten year sentence for tax fraud.

The lengthy video touches on probably hundreds of topics, but I want to look at one question, and try to determine why it is still an open debate after all these years on the classic "missing link" question started by Charles Darwin himself. It is still often argued by Creationists that there is not a single fossil that shows a link between one species and another.

Scientists really do try to answer this question. Dr. Rainbow showed a whole series of fossils going from dinosaurs to birds, with the Archaeopteryx in between. But the question never goes away. Apparently evolutionists' answers sound weak in debates against creationists. So I'm going to try to make some sense of why this argument goes on and on, despite the many "Links" that scientists have actually found, starting over a hundred years ago with the Archaeopteryx. On this species alone there is a mountain of information, here is a website about it and how it fits or does not fit the requirements of a link between birds and dinosaurs.

Creationists admit there are step-by-step sequences that you can see in the fossil record, and I don't think Kent Hovind even questioned Rainbow's sequence of fossils, which led sort of gradually from dinosaurs to birds. Creationists are just saying that there are gaps that are not filled in, where you would expect there to be some "linking" fossils that come between the other ones. The gradual steps are not gradual enough for creationists, but they are acceptably gradual to scientists.

The most obvious answer by scientists is that the linking species were probably not very long lasting compared to the forms that quickly followed, so we have a hard time finding the rarer in-between stages. For example, if penguins learned to fly, there would be some intermediate form of flying penguins that were almost like the non-flying penguins, but once flight became a reality, then the winged penguins would evolve relatively rapidly to a much more capable flying species, which might then stabilize and exist almost unchanged for many thousands of more years. The semi-flying penguins would either have to compete with the better flying penguins and lose, or go back to being flightless, Either way, the in-betweeners don't last too long, and so don't leave a lot of fossils. But this argument does not seem very convincing to most creationists who think, yes but out of all those billions of fossils at least one should be a clear cut in-betweener.

So I want to dig deeper into why there is a lack of understanding on this seemingly simple question, yet still so complex that it defies every attempt at settling it.

To a young earth creationist, who believes that the world is only a few thousand years old, we seem to have have a huge number of fossils for every year of the Earth's existence. Therefore the gaps in the fossil record are significant. But according to scientists, who believe the Earth is between a thousand and a million times older, we do not have enough fossils per year to provide continuity as smooth as creationists would like to see. So to know if the gaps in the fossil record are big enough actually disprove evolution, it helps to know how old the Earth is.

The question of why has evolution stopped can also be answered by the age of the Earth. If the Earth is 4000 years old, evolution is happening so fast that we should be able to see a significant number of new species evolve in 50 years or less. But if the age of the Earth is a hundred thousand times older, then it would take 5 million years to notice the same number of new species.

To put the age difference in perspective, if the Earth was only 25 metres in diameter, people would have figure out right away that it was round. The figure of 25 metres, I believe is an accurate comparison if you compare 4000 years old to 2 billion years old, it is 500,000 times as much. The diameter of the Earth is about 12,000 km, and by the same calculation you could divide by 500,000 to get .025 km.

I don't want to answer the age of the Earth question right now, just to note that one question sometimes leads to another that is equally controversial. It makes debating large and complex issues like this very difficult. Science is now so complex that biologists do not all really understand the specific details of explaining the age of the Earth. Also, scientists often do not understand the Bible, some of them come from religions that are not based on the Bible.

But let's say we took "age of the Earth" right out of the equation, and just discuss species in known recorded history.

It is still difficult for a creationist to discuss biological species with a scientist, and especially the meaning of a "Link" or transitional phase between species. Scientists do not even agree on how to define the separation between known species, let alone transitional species. They see species classification as an arbitrary boundary between infinitely variable living things. Although they have a system by which they come to a majority decision, they don't always agree the decision is a good one.

Creationists see species as distinct categories designed/invented/created by God. All creatures created by God must fall into those classifications one way or another, because of how they were created. If they don't fit in, then they would be the missing link. End of story. (By the way, creationists also do not accept there are humans who are half man, half woman. So no fossil is likely going to satisfy the missing link question.)

To further explain this divergence in point of view, let me give an example: If today you wanted to classify all the photographs you have ever taken, you might come up with some classifications like Landscape, People, Pets, Vacations. But as you go through the photos you are going to come up with all kinds of problems of where to put them because your definition was not clear enough.

The way a Creationist views species, using the photo example, it is as if the photographer started with the categories first, then took all the pictures so that each picture would clearly fall into one of the given categories.

It would influence your decisions in classifying the pictures, whether you believed the photographer made up the classifications and took the picture so that they would fall into one of the classifications, or if the photographer was just taking random pictures and you yourself made up the classifications.

Making Sense of Canada: Quebec French

The French language spoken in Quebec is not exactly the same as the French spoken in France. That fact never ceased to shock and surprise English Canadians, in spite of the fact that they themselves do not speak the same English as their mother country. My mother, who emigrated from England to Canada as a War Bride, found this out when she arrived. The War Department had even provided them with a list of things not to say when in Canada, which included the phrase "knocked up". In England that meant a wake-up call, in Canada it was having a bun in your oven.

My first contact with a "real" French speaker was a stewardess on an Air France flight in 1969. I wanted some chewing gum, and asked for it in French, which I had no reason to believe at the time was different from French French. In Quebec it was called "Gomme a macher" which literally means gum for chewing. Apparently this phrase had about the same meaning in France as "Knocked up" and the stewardess seemed totally taken aback by my request. It didn't help at all when I pointed at my mouth. Finally, just before she called security, the penny dropped and she cried out "Le Shwing Gum!" Apparently that was the word I was looking for. After that I stuck with English in speaking to her, to her great relief.

Before the mid seventies, Quebec French had no respect or even recognition in France. Unlike Canadian English, which was so much like American English that an Englishmen would recognize it right away. After all, they have American movies and listen to American songs in England. But not so in France. Before Robert Charlebois, anyway, Quebec French was considered something of a mistake. A bastardised version of their sacred tongue. Even though in Quebec a weekend was called "fin de semaine", and in France it was called "le weekend". Actually in some ways, Quebec had retained the old Louis XIV French, while France had modernized a bit.

But just as with English Canadians, the Quebec accent varies from place to place within the province. And it varies with time, as young kids add slang words. Now that I've been out of Quebec for 29 years, I'm having a harder time to understand Quebec movies, or French movies for that matter. Until the sixties, movies tried to use a generic language, but in recent years, using slang and local accents has become more prevalent. This is true in French and English. I know the French word for email, but don't ask me to translate "Twitter".

It would be helpful if all English Canadians could understand that Quebec French is as close to French in France, as Canadian English is to English in England.

When French became an official language of the Canadian Federal bureaucracy in the sixties, English Canadians were required to take French classes in order to qualify for many federal jobs. You would think that this would be easy, as Quebec is full of French Canadians who could teach such courses. But no, the English Canadians found out that Quebec French was not "proper" French, and refused to have their minds sullied with such a corrupted language. So they looked about for the closest place where people could speak "real" French. This happened to be the Islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, just off the Coast of Newfoundland. Since it was still a colony of France, English Canadians concluded that it was the best place to go to learn French, so English Canadians flew to these remote islands in great numbers to learn Real French. I wondered, what were they going to do with this "real" French if they did learn it? Teach it to the French Canadians so that everybody could understand each other, I guess. That's often how things roll in Canada.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Motorcycle Staycation Ontario

This summer we have been doing a "motorcycling staycation" around southern Ontario. Mary Ann takes her Burgman 400, and I take my Kawasaki Vulcan 900. The weather has been unusual, with hardly any hot weather, and frequent rain showers. We have often been caught in sudden downpours even though I watch for the weather reports on this website

This morning we were meeting some friends at the Tim Horton's in Paris (Ontario) and sat in the coffee shop through what seemed to be a cross between a tornado and a thunderstorm. But we started the trip in sunshine, ended in sunshine and never hit a raindrop all day.

I have discovered that Southern Ontario can feel like any exotic location in the entire world. The city of Waterloo, within walking distance of our house, now has an open square in the city centre where there used to be a parking lot. We were sitting there the other night at a free outdoor cafe. You can bring your own coffee if you like. While we were sitting there, we watched a dance class doing the salsa from a nearby dance studio. I may be off base here, but can you find anything like this anywhere else in the world? And in our city you can probably find people from just about any country in the world walking around, acting like it was normal. At the health clinic last week I saw an elderly couple that seemed to be dressed in some Nepalese native costume. Two weeks ago, we had a meal with some friends at an East African restaurant. I had to ask for a fork, I couldn't figure out how to eat the food. I see that as a sign that the restaurant was authentic - they neither offered a fork, or instructions on how to eat, probably just what would happen if you went to a restaurant in Eritrea. Some people may be horrified by this development, but then we have so many different kinds of restaurants, and people who love McDonald's have decided by now where to go. It's called McDonald's. And people from all over the world go there too.

A few days ago, we went for a trip to Port Dover. We of course stopped at the Apple Fritter Place, situated right along the main dock overlooking the channel. It looks a bit Dutch, judging from the colourful plastic streamers in the doorway. Then we went a block down the street to get a couple of quesadillas at a Mexican outdoor restaurant. It seemed authentic to me - it was run my a Mexican family, played Mexican music (I think), and the food was what I remembered from my road trips down the Baja peninsula. Then a stroll along the beach under the palm trees. They have to dig them up and replant them for the winter, but that's their problem. Meanwhile I don't have to go to Florida to see replanted palm trees any more. Saves on gas and tires and medical insurance.

Staying at home is a great option to have because travelling through the USA has become hazardous for my health. I just can't afford to got to Hospital there, with their shortage of affordable health care, which they like to call the best health care in the world. Trouble is you have to be a millionaire to afford it, and so far I have only made $0 dollars writing this blog. (That's Canadian dollars, so it's even less than $0 US)

Instead of me going to see the world, it seems like the world is coming to us. Only a few years ago Canada was pretty boring. Now I feel like I have travelled the world without having to think up funny jokes for the border guards to distract them from inspecting my motorcycle luggage, only to find that they don't don't have a sense of humour and pull me aside anyway.

P.S. Apparently staycations irk some people (See Jason Cochran's opinion, plus over a hundred comments on it)

I love a controversy, so here is my take. Jason, if you really want to take a flight to some exotic resort, and be sent through metal detectors, and crammed like cattle on a plane, just for the fun of sitting with a bunch of American tourists at a McDonald's in Cancun, then do it. I'm pretty sure the fuel used by your airplane will not tip the balance in global warming this time. But when it does, you are going to be flying to Inuvik instead of Mexico for your suntans. And by then, when tickets are a million dollars each way, staycations are going to start looking mighty good. Maybe you should start practicing now.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Propaganda: Obfuscation

Obfuscation is a word that should be better known, to better understand the world around us.

First of all, speaking as a computer programmer, the word obfuscation comes up a lot. I think what it refers to is a computer program that is written deliberately so as to be confusing to a human, although clear to a computer. Obfuscation of code is sometimes accidental, sometimes deliberate. How can it be accidental if the computer understands it? Well, that's because a program gets tested in the computer, and if the computer does not understand, the program is altered until the computer does understand. Once the computer understands, it is not really necessary that the program be understood by another human being. It would be a nice thing, but not necessary.

Deliberate obfuscation is another matter. First, it is pretty easy to do accidentally, so why try it deliberately? For the thrill of it, I would say, look at all the viruses computer programmers write. Obviously their kind of fun is different from most. And there may actually be some value in concealing the meaning of a program from other humans. Anyway Google "obfuscation" "example", and you'll come up with plenty of hits referring to computer programs.

Next, obfuscation in human language. Obfuscation works best in a binary way like on/off. George Orwell refers to the blackwhite in propaganda, where if something is black, you call it white. That's obfuscation. Obfuscation does not work when you are talking about degrees, such as saying "it's raining a lot" when "It's just raining a bit". That's because it really does not conceal the meaning to anyone, nobody ever agrees on how much something is happening. On the other hand, it is obfuscation to say "It has not rained for forty days and it is not raining now, and it will not rain in the future", instead of "It is raining cats and dogs outside right now!"

Obfuscation is useful in propaganda, as George Orwell explained in the book "1984". To keep opponents off balance in any debate, obfuscation is a key quality for the skillful propagandist. Examples of obfuscation: Peace is war. Science is religion. Hitler was a Jew. OK now you're starting to get it. Use obfuscation to throw the opponent off balance, and onto the defensive. Also rattles them a bit that they have to respond to such a stupid statement. But they do have to respond, or they default the argument.

Some practical examples, where obfuscation can be put to good use commercially. First in advertising, it is always good to obfuscate your message to sell your product. I'm going to go with a favourite organization of mine, Fox News, which was formed for the express purpose of promoting the Republican Party's point of view and making liberals look bad. So of course the choice of the slogan "Fair and Balanced" is a perfect example of a practical application of obfuscation.

Now how about those new subdivisions that have been put up at the edge of the city after razing a nice little forest that was home to chipmunks, birds and deer, thus slaughtering all of them under the bulldozer's treads? Call your subdivision "Deer Run", with paved streets names "Forest Glen", "Chipmunk Circle", and "Wood Thrush Freeway", and you have a perfect example of obfuscation again.

In the vehicle category, I can think of one vehicle that gets the prize for the only name I know that fully qualifies for three-way obfuscation. The "Cadillac Escalade SUV" Sport-Utility-Cadillac are all three obfuscations of each other.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Why Fundamentalists Cannot Get Their Heads Around Evolution

A difficult area of reconciliation between science and fundamentalism is in the visualization of God. The visualization of God as a man makes it difficult for religious fundamentalists to get their minds around scientific concepts. If you need to believe that God looks exactly like a man, then how do you answer these questions:

- Why does God have lungs?
- Why is God's brain no larger than a human brain?
- Why does God have a penis? (substitute whatever word you think is inoffensive right there)
- Why does God need two hands, can't He pick up stuff by telekinesis?
- Why does God need legs that are sized and shaped for Earth's gravity?
- Why does he need two eyes if He can see everything at once, and why would these eyes be limited to seeing the visible spectrum that humans see on Earth?
- If God is blond and blue eyed, then why? Is Heaven in a northern climate like Sweden?

Religious fundamentalists don't often ask these questions, Most scientists and most main stream religions have accepted the possibility that God does not exist in physical Human form.

I will concede that if God always existed and always looked like a man, there is almost no chance natural selection would end up with a human being in that specific shape and form. At least not without guidance by that image.

More hypothetical outcomes open up once free of this assumption of "Man is in the image of God". Without the human-centric viewpoint, intelligent life could evolve on other planets in other forms, and could even evolve a greater intelligence than our own.

Another possibility is that Humans are not the final life form on the evolutionary scale. If we become extinct, another life form may become dominant after us. Here is a scenario that is not human-centric: Mankind unleashes a holy war with atomic bombs and wipes out all human life as we know it, and most other species as well. But cockroaches survive and become the dominant life form on the planet. Then with hundreds of millions of years more evolution, they develop brains, then religion, then a more powerful atomic bomb, and BAM they are gone too.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Donorcycles and the American Health Care System

The cost of health care is a big debate now in the USA, but it also affects me as a Canadian and a motorcyclist. The USA is only a few hours from where I live, and although it is not the only foreign country I can ride to, I have to go there before riding to any other country, like Mexico.

The problem with U.S. health care for me, is the expense. As a Canadian, I am covered by the Canadian health care system up to a certain cost no matter where I go. If you were an American visiting Canada, you would be taken care of in Canada at reasonable expense, which would be covered under your own health care arrangement. But because American health care can be so exorbitantly expensive, a visitor who needs to go to a doctor or hospital in the USA can have their life savings wiped out. So Canadians need to buy foreign country overcharge coverage medical insurance before travelling to the USA.

If you are young and healthy, this extra insurance is not too expensive, and is easily purchased online, or may be part of the terms of your employee health care system. When you get to 55 years old, it starts getting harder to buy online, and as you accumulate certain age related ailments it gets even more complicated. And it gets more expensive, and more and more items are not covered at all (pre-existing heart conditions for example).

Americans don't have the same problems visiting Canada.

If the costs for American health care were controlled and standardized, I would not worry about it, but if you get in a motorcycle accident with the existing system, the costs can be huge. Starting with the fact that a helicopter is frequently dispatched along with an ambulance to the scene of the accident, whether you want it or not. You do have to pay for it though even if you don't use it. Then you may be taken to an expensive clinic and end up with a bill that could bankrupt you, depending on the severity of your injuries.

I would like the American Health care costs controlled so I could visit there without fear of bankruptcy.

On the Daily Show (July 30th 2009), I saw a report that I found even more horrifying. Apparently some conservatives are floating the idea that you could donate an organ to pay for your health care.

Sally Satel M.D. "The ability for strangers who are willing to donate a kidney and save someone's life to be able to get free health care."

The American Conservative website has this related article on organ donations.

With the organ donor option, American hospitals would have every incentive to provide high cost care. Then refuse to release you until you had settled up with either say $150,000 cash or a kidney. It would be even better for the US hospital if you died in this arrangement, as then they could put in a legal claim to all your organs to pay for the cost of the helicopter transport and all the other "care" that had provided before you "died of your injuries".

Already, some doctors and nurses like to refer to motorcyclists as "organ donors", and their motorcycles as donorcycles. (18,500 hits on Google) This issue affects the millions of American motorcyclists without health care insurance even more than me, since I can avoid going to the USA if I want to.