Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review of Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

Robert Sawyer is a Canadian science fiction write and despite his having written 21 books, I never heard of him before.  And I thought I liked science fiction books.  Most amazingly, I had to find out about him through Mary Ann. She, who dislikes science fiction, was in the middle of reading this book when I found it on the table.  Somehow I lost Mary Ann's place marker in my rush to finish the book.  She chose it because it was the Waterloo selection for "One Book One Community" for 2005.

I won't get into the plot of the book, so this review will not contain any spoilers.  There is a comparison between the world we live in, where Neanderthals are extinct, and a parallel universe where Neanderthals became the only sentient species, and Homo Sapiens went extinct instead.  It seems to me that Sawyer comes up with a lot of ideas about how Neanderthal civilization might have evolved, based on his research, or his knowledge of our own history and science.  For example, he writes that if humans had not been warlike, we might never have reached the moon, as those rockets were originally invented as a weapon of war.  How would technology evolve if we did not use fossil fuels?  These are all interesting questions from a scientific viewpoint. Additionally, Robert Sawyer tackles religion and philosophy.  How would a society evolve that did not believe in a father-figure God who punishes and rewards us in the afterlife?

There was one topic in the book, that was particularly timely, about surveillance.  In the Neanderthal world, everyone's actions are recorded all the time by implanted devices.  There is no privacy, but hardly any crime either.  This topic foreshadows the current 2013 scandal where we find out that the NSA is recording all kinds of phone calls and emails.  Similarly to what happened in "Hominids", NSA is not necessarily looking or listening to all these recorded messages, but in case of a crime, can go back to see what happened.

In the political climate of today, Robert Sawyer comes off as extremely left wing liberal. This book will insult many conservative readers,  who have tired of hearing about everything that is wrong with our warlike, environment destroying species.  In fact the book already has insulted many, judging from comments on this website.

To me (the Lost Motorcyclist), who is now officially a 60's liberal, "Hominids" reads like a science fiction story from the fifties, except with bit more sex, as censorship has loosened over the years.  In other words, the book's philosophical underpinning is science, reason, peace and tolerance.  I have this feeling that some of modern science fiction has been replaced by religious, magical, and warlike fantasies posing as science fiction.

The change from old style science fiction to magical war fantasies may have been started with the very successful movie "Star Wars".  The title tells you about all you need to know about the pacifism in this movie, and then "May the force be with you" tells you what you need to know about the attitude toward miracles and magic.  Star Wars had very little in the way of real science.  It was more like a typical war movie, only this time set in space.  As the space ships passed by, they made quite a bit of noise even though they were in a total vacuum.  Sorry, Star Wars fans, but there is no noise in space.  Little errors like this generally disqualify a movie from being real science fiction. Actually they are probably not even errors as much as a clear sign from the director that this movie is not intended for real science fiction fans.

"Hominids" took me back to an interesting time where real science fiction was better appreciated, in a world where science itself was respected, and evolution was taken for granted.  A time before the right wing backlash against science had begun its last ditch effort to take us back to the dark ages of superstition and witchcraft.

And so, just as much as the conservatives are tired about hearing what's wrong with religion, pollution, and exterminating species; I am also tired of arguments as to why we need to use up all the Earth's resources as fast as possible.  So to me this book was a comfortable read.

Monday, June 24, 2013

About Christian Persecution at Home

First I want to explain the picture, and maybe that's not necessary for a real football fan, but I had to look it up.  I think the picture on the right is Tim Tebow, in a Denver Broncos uniform.  As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing wrong with either picture, but apparently Tim Tebow is an overtly fundamentalist Christian who has exaggerated prayer rituals in football games, and a habit of painting biblical verses and chapters on the black paint under his eyes.  Back when he was a high school aged student, his parents home schooled him, and fought a successful legal battle to allow him to play football at a local high school even though he did not attend classes at that school.  Interesting football trivia.  Anyhow, back to the picture.  It seems a lot of football fans are upset over Tebow's religious displays (the picture here does not show his classical "Jesus loves me" pose), but there are also a lot of fans who love him. Below is the web page I got the picture from, and coincidentally it is written by another motorcyclist.  (In that way, he's like me, "The Lost Motorcyclist".)  He happens to be Christian and through the blog below, gives his views on this "attack" on Christianity, which actually is about the same as my view.  Could it be that motorcyclists think alike even though they may not have the same religion?

Now for my own ideas on the persecution of Christians. Fox News often portrays Christianity as being under attack, not only in the non-believer parts of the world, but also at home in the USA.  Is this true?  Is there really a "War on Christmas", for example.  Are Christians being forbidden to pray in schools or anywhere else?

Quote by Ronald Reagan, a Republican President of the USA from the nineteen eighties.
 "Today there are those who are fighting to make sure voluntary prayer is not returned to the classrooms. And the frustrating thing for the great majority of Americans who support and understand the special importance of religion in the national life -- the frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom, and openmindedness. Question: Isn't the real truth that they are intolerant of religion? They refuse to tolerate its importance in our lives.”

The fight about prayer in US public schools is between those who want the whole school to publicly pray to a Christian God, and those who say no children in public schools should be forced to pray to any God.

In my own experience there has been an upsurge in Christian Fundamentalism in the last fifty years, and it's quite possible that there has also been a pushback against it.  Also, during the same time it appears that there is a drop-off in church attendance, making it look like there are more anti-religious people around.  Also, ongoing immigration from non-Christian countries, may also have added a bit of fuel to the fire, as Christians see their old churches being bought by Muslim groups and converted into Mosques.

I think what had been a quite stable religious situation fifty years ago has become stirred up a bit.  And this includes Canada too.

But in my opinion, the most devastating attack on Christianity (as I know it) is not coming from Muslims or Atheists, but from within, from a certain type of right wing Fundamentalist Christianity.

I believe in tolerance, and freedom of religion, and I also share a belief in the supposed Christian values such as peace, love, and helping the poor.  But I'm never going to give up science, reason, and freedom of religion to support a faith-based gun-toting right wing political agenda.  Much less if that right wing religion is opposed to helping the poor, opposed to freedom of religion, opposed to education, and opposed to peace.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is Justin Trudeau Really Flip Flopping on Charity?

Justin Trudeau, new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has gotten into more trouble with the Conservatives.

Many months ago, Justin Trudeau was paid $20,000 by the Grace Foundation to be a speaker at a fundraiser.  Later on, a letter was sent from someone at the Grace Foundation to ask for the money back. It was not returned, and about a week ago,  the letter to Trudeau was made public by the Prime Minister's Office.

The view from a seemingly Liberal slanted website:

Is the scandal here that Trudeau charged an outlandish amount of money, considering that it was a charity, after all?

Or is it more of a scandal that The Grace Foundation engaged somebody at a mutually agreed amount, then demanded the money be returned, because they are a charity.

Or is the biggest scandal that the Grace Foundation asked an individual for donations, then upon receiving no response, attempted to shame them by publicizing their name?

Incidentally, not all charities are the same, as I have found out over the course of my life.  Some charities really do good work for the most unfortunate people, other totally legitimate, but more self-serving charities are only to fund local projects in wealthy neighbourhoods.

The Grace Foundation is legally a charitable organization, but I consider it more an unpaid auxiliary to the "Church of St. John and St. Stephen Home". Before I start feeling sorry for the residents of that Seniors home, I would like to know what fees they are charged, and who is allowed into that home, and why they are admitted.  Most of the better seniors homes (like this one) are not charitable institutions, and I would guess that many of the Grace Foundation board members volunteer mainly as a way to get priority admittance for their aged parents when the time comes.

I would consider a "real" charity to be something like "Doctors Without Borders", or a soup kitchen.  An example here in Kitchener is "The Working Centre", that helps unemployed people get jobs.

It's not such a bad thing to give money to a real charity, although some people get awfully worked up about giving money to poor people.  But I prefer to at least be given a choice in my charitable donations, and be allowed to do it privately.  I would not appreciate being publicly humiliated by any charity that I decline to donate money to.

The chairman of the board of the Grace Foundation has said he regrets that this issue has been made public, that he did not agree to it, and does not know why the letter was made public without official knowledge of the board.  That is a reasonable response.

Unfortunately, Justin changed his mind later and offered to give back the money to the Grace Foundation. I think that's a bad mistake, but I'm sure he can recover from headlines like the (conservative) London Free Press "Trudeau Flip Flops on Charity".

What the Grace Foundation should do now is ask for a matching donation from the Conservatives.  And ask any overtly conservative board members for a refund of any  expense money they paid them, such as mailing expenses. If the conservatives have millions of dollars to waste on negative TV ad campaigns, surely they could afford to donate a little to charity, especially when donating to charity becomes such a well publicized event.