Monday, September 13, 2010

Tell me if you've heard this Government Gag...

I'm not usually here to talk politics, but when it infringes on the right to information, the suppression of science for the benefit of a party's ideological views, I make an exception.

We learned yesterday, via the Vancouver Sun and Slashdot, that the Canadian Government was "muzzling" its scientists, so that no "politically sensitive findings" could be sent out to the media without approval. This resulted in some red tape nightmares, of course, and has the article goes on, we clearly see that it may be their (the Government's) gateway to control any findings made by taxpayer-funded researchers*.

The funny thing is in all this, and by funny I really mean, patheti-sad, is that this is not the first time the Conservative government pulls this kind of hoodwink on Canadians. Indeed, back in 08, we found out, via the media, that they were establishing new "government approved lines" for Environment Canada's scientists!

Do any of you remember that? Not me, or at least not clearly, and that's what scary in all this: The current Government has been slowly bending and circumventing laws and regulations to infringe on our liberties and rights, only so they can have a tighter message, closer to their ideals. May it be via these scientific gags or prorogation of parliament anytime things are not going their way, the current Government seem to bask in a "get out of jail free card" that allows them to scrub out any media "faux pas" so that we forget so easily, what happened, last year, last month or last week.

In closing, I am aware that no body of Government is perfect and that there will always be influences on our leaders, and law makers but they should be above most of these influences. They are paid to do so, they are elected to do so. Not to masquerade decisions as political when they are really ideological. Not to take the voice of research&reason, shape it into a "party line" and send it back, polished and spun so no feathers are ruffled, no lobbyist insulted, no one enlightened by findings and discoveries that might challenge preconceived notions.

We certainly wouldn't want that now would we?

*this would be as severe a matter if the scientist were not tax-payer funded.Just sayin'

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It SHOULD be called ghost lab, only for the immaterial presence of science

It seems that the Discovery Channel as fallen into the "trend" of bathing in the murky waters of pseudo-science with this show called Ghost Lab.

The show (and here I really thought it would be otherwise) looks tastes and smells like any other ghost-busting, ghost-chasing, EVP, speculation-filled glob of misdirection.

After seeing a few shows and being swamped with gems like: "I just felt something on my hand. It could have been a bug...but I don't see a bug! (this said in a dark room only illuminated by a hand held flash light and a "nightvision camera spot")" All of this drowned in a "scientific" veneer because they use (i.e. drown you in their overabundance of) "sophisticated instruments"* like tape recorders, heat sensors and many other baffling pieces of technology!

The majority of the problem, in this instance, is WHERE we find this generic paranormal dry cracker; we would expect something of the kind when channel surfing to A&E, TLC or (and this breaks my academic heart to say) the History channel but to find this kind of show on a channel that usually prides itself on conveying scientific facts and well detailed research, it leaves you with an after taste of bad programing or even maybe a quest for the $ at the expense of the quality that should and has been offered to their viewers.

This is not to say that everything that comes to the screen of Discovery is 100% incensed in the scientific method, far from it. The wild cards or odd ducks are, more often then not, found in the one shot specials or mini series and still keep some facts in there soup of far out speculations and somewhat misleading assumptions. Ghostlab is an ongoing show, a constant series of episodes filled with misinformation and empty techno-babel that hooks the young and reinforce the preset pasterns of the amateur paranormal enthusiast tethering on the fence.

If Discovery wants to "reach out" to people interested in paranormal phenomenons and exhaustive theories, they would be the perfect vessel to promote shows like The Skeptologists or something akin to the National Geographic Channel's Is it Real.

These show structures don't stop at the "we may never know" line. Instead ,they lay down the facts and more probable explanations to help the viewer establish a clearer picture of the evidence which hits the pallet much more akin to a Discovery-esque vintage.

In the end, there are more pressing matters in the world then the winter-spring line up of a cable channel but when you stop and realize the power of the medium television his, will be and has been since its inception, making sure it spreads a bit more critical thinking then Factless speculation-fueled nonsense.

Back to the Future of science and critical thinking

It's been a while here at the Shield since the last post took place. I won't go into a long diatribe on the where, when and why, just that after moving, having a second child and rearranging my life on some levels I finally pierced through the veil of the essential things that needed to be done and I am back on track with the hard questions and probing observations on the media, people and the world that surrounds us!

When I track back to my original post I see a continuation in my meanderings, a focus that seems to be present in what I have done, if so very little, so far. In any case, be sure to see more coming soon for The Shield still reflects Strength through transparency-Freedom through Doubt!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meeting Travelers

It’s been a while and I won’t get into the nitty gritty of why it took so long for a new entry but let’s just say that the level of crazy busy I have had to deal with has dwindled down for a while and I am taking this opportunity to add another layer of glass to shield!

Not too long ago, I was taking the subway to my work, when I spotted three tall, similarly dressed, bible holding young men. I recognized the dress code and the name tags for what they were, the trademarks of Mormon missionaries. The trio were talking to each other and pointing to certain people or places to be once the subways car arrived, so, I am taking a guess here, they could maximise their interventions.

As I walked toward them I had a fleeting thought:

Do I have my Carl Sagan’s Science as Candle in the Dark or my Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion in my back pack? And if so, maybe I could, book in hand, approach them and try to strike up a conversation along the lines of: Have you ever heard of critical thinking and the scientific method?

But I quickly dismissed the idea, seeing it for what it was a darkly tinted humorous attempt at tit for tat. None the less, I saw that they were casing the people on the subway and once everyone was seated they began to address people and hoping to get them to talk back. The one closest to me hit a wall with his first attempt when the lady he tried to talk, did not even respond to his amicable introduction but just started rocking her head NO vehemently to indicate her total refusal to communicate with the young man.

After this abrupt halt he turned his gaze on the rest of the car, I, politely, smiled at him and *BANG* he was next to me talking in broken yet very clear French: Bonjour, connaissez vous notre Église? Yes, I answered in French, I am aware of your Church. Oh, really? Do you believe in God, he asked? No, I said simply. Don’t you believe in anything, he said? I believe in rational thinking, the scientific method…at that point I used an English term and he started speaking in English.

Oh you speak English, I much better in English, he continued. I corrected myself, I don’t “believe” in anything but I rely on rational thinking and the scientific method, to bring me facts and a better understanding of the world, the universe and everything. That being said, I continued, I think that everyone is allowed their own point of view.

I then told him that what he was doing wasn’t easy sociologically speaking. Really, he said, why? Because you are breaking the social boundaries of public transportation, the: don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at anyone for too long policy. You approach and engage people who from the get go only want to get from point A to point B with little interaction and no problems along the way.

We then started talking about his travels, the language barrier he had had to surmount and then he told me of his homeland Paraguay, and said, “You know in my village you are born a Christian, you don’t have a choice.

My Dad and my brother both when on to do missionary work, I followed in their footsteps…you see ( and he said that with a drop of sadness in his voice) the Church came to our impoverish village and recruited my Father, who then went to Texas, to one of the main Cultural Centers for training and after we was sent all over in central and south America as a missionary, my brother followed suit and when it came to me they said you are being sent to Canada…I was taken aback but it’s my duty, my quest”

After that the conversation turned to his life in Canada and how he enjoyed this city, how he liked meeting so many different people. We talked about the city landmarks, life in general, “public” transport and then I turned to him and said: you asked me what I believe in, I believe in social interaction where I have my point of view and you have yours and yet here we are having a conversation not Mormon and Atheist, south American and North American…just two human being talking about everything and nothing.

We then continued our talk about the city and I said: “One thing you have to admit is that there is a lot of beautiful women in this town!” To which he answered: “ OH YEAH! *Slap on his mouth*…well I’m not suppose to say that you know, he said sheepishly. It’s OK, I said, I didn’t hear anything. We then both started laughing hysterically and we said our goodbyes shortly after.

Since this is taking a bit I’ll conclude here for now, and post my view on this conversation in a short while, in another post, just to make things more palatable and give you, the audience, a chance to comment if you will on it all.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lurking in the shadow of the Guidestones

So far, here at the shield, I have talked about current events, major problems of this fair world and the odd moment or two brought on by social blunders, but I have yet to tackle the more ethereal subjects that assail critical thinking and the scientific method, things like the paranormal, the occult and conspiracy theories. Today I remedy to the latter and will not forget the others as future subject matters.

Not too long ago, I stumbled upon an article in Wired magazine that wrote about a place that seems so surreal, it felt like reading about the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s burial chamber. The monument in question is called the Georgia Guidestones. While the wiki entry is a good resumé, the Wired article gives a very good intro into the subject and explains in detail the story of the creation of the Guidestones and the mystery it is enshrouded in:

The strangest monument in America looms over a barren knoll in northeastern Georgia. Five massive slabs of polished granite rise out of the earth in a star pattern. The rocks are each 16 feet tall, with four of them weighing more than 20 tons apiece. Together they support a 25,000-pound capstone. Approaching the edifice, it's hard not to think immediately of England's Stonehenge or possibly the ominous monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Built in 1980, these pale gray rocks are quietly awaiting the end of the world as we know it.

Called the Georgia Guidestones, the monument is a mystery—nobody knows exactly who commissioned it or why. The only clues to its origin are on a nearby plaque on the ground—which gives the dimensions and explains a series of intricate notches and holes that correspond to the movements of the sun and stars—and the "guides" themselves, directives carved into the rocks. These instructions appear in eight languages ranging from English to Swahili and reflect a peculiar New Age ideology. Some are vaguely eugenic (guide reproduction wisely—improving fitness and diversity); others prescribe standard-issue hippie mysticism (prize truth—beauty—love—seeking harmony with the infinite).

It goes on to explain the story of the mysterious R.C. Christian, the envoy with a pseudonym, charged with the task of making sure the Guidestones were built and built according to his “group” specifications.

The precise specifications and text it harbors, pushes at least 2 major theories as to what “group” R.C. Christian was representing when helping in creating the Guidestones.

The first comes from Mark Dice, a Christian conservative, who claims that the stones are of “deep Satanic origin”, a cornerstone (pardon the pun) in Luciferian plot to achieve the New World Order. This specific approach to the Guidestones nature has brought on protest groups and, sadly, the desecration of the monument with spray painted messages that urged the destruction of these “evil” stones. Unfortunate that the way they thought of bringing a warning of eminent destruction, was by destroying things themselves…

On a completely different and more multi-tiered Machiavellian level, the second theory, proposed by Jay Weidner, claims that R.C. Christian was using this name as an homage to the founder of the Rosicrucian and that was exactly who he represented, a remnant group of mystics looking to save the earth. As one plunges into the history of the Rose Croix and its origin, one gets taken for a roller coaster ride of ideas, secret societies and conspiracy theories to no avail.

If one wants to seek the links between the story and the roller coaster, the question at heart here is not if there ever was a Rosicrucian society, but did it really start in the 1300’s with a college of invisibles, a group of medical doctors wanting to aid the less fortunate and the world all around to have a better life, or did imagination, propaganda and the power of the mysterious create an idea out of whole cloth, which became a Masonic shroud of Turin, creating splinter cells like the Golden Dawn or more appropriately the Ancient Mystical Order Rosæ Crucis (AMORC). They did uphold the tenets that the Guidestones , have the resources to create them, seeing how, when most occult societies had died during WWII the AMORC had the privilege to thrive and would have been looking toward darker time in about the 1950’s, 20 years before R.C. Christian came knocking on Joe Fendley`s door, which matches the time frame described in the Wired article.

Yet all of this is built on correlations and assumptions since no hard evidence as surfaced over the last 30 years. Yes it holds more water then the Mark Dice theory, but Weidner`s is still a sinking ship.

So was R.C. Christian the envoy of the knights of the Rose-Croix, a minion of Satan himself, or a *gasp* eccentric philanthropist belonging to a group of the same kind, wanting an instruction manual in case of a cataclysmic emergency? My money, for now, rides on the latter.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Here is a great little video that is worth every minute

A glimpse into open-mindedness with a very interesting approach!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

One step forward, two steps back

Not too long ago, I was writing about the new changes that could come about following the inclusion of people with no specific religious denomination in graduation speech, but this sorta makes you want to take your head and ram it at full speed into the nearest wall.

Indeed it seems that Alberta wants to pass a bill that has in one of its side rules that:
"require schools to notify parents in advance of "subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation," [and this..] is buried in a bill that extends human rights to homosexuals. Parents can ask for their child to be excluded from the discussion"

Now first and foremost to give a parent the "right" to exclude their child from certain discussions in a public school environment seems a bit harsh especially when faced with many-a-discussions on biology, geography, history and so on...Frank Bruseker, the head of the Alberta Teachers' Association goes on to suggest alternatives like home schooling or a private school that holds up ones points of view, but of course this is not accessible for everyone.

My two cents on this? People who go to public school should follow the curriculum prescribed, especially when it comes to issues like evolution and sexual education. The students don't agree? Beautiful! They'll ask questions, push the issue and maybe even spur on a healthy debate in class. Parents are "offended" by the propagation of a scientific fact or, let say, safe measures to prevent diseases, well they can move along their ideals to their child once he or she gets home, and hope that the "evil" machine that is the Education system, hasn't "corrupted" their young ones with defiance of unequivocal, bottom line, impossible to argue answers like: God did it or because God says so...

If we start pulling kids out of classrooms when the teacher mentions evolution or any other related subjects, what will their tests be like? What will they compensate it with? This can only lead me to write something like:

Dear teacher, JF needs to be excused from the class anytime the concept of mathematics is mentioned since our church denomination, Post-abacus Pre-calculator of our Lady of Counting on Her Fingers, explicitly demands that his knowledge on that subject stay minimal and shrouded in deep impenetrable mysteries...and then what no maths for JF!?

Silliness aside, the point I am trying to make here is still there: the public classroom is a place of learning and needs to have a certain curricular structure like for instance science in science classes and math in math classes and of course religion in religion classes, and students should all be on equal footing when it comes to being tested on these topics.

Finally the ever full of wonder, Education Minister of Albert, Mr Hancock, pushes the issue with this nice little twist of phrase, that makes it sound so laudable and righteous, it hurts:

"With respect to values, religion and sex education have always been areas of concern for parents, and they've always been areas parents have had the right to be notified about and to exempt their students from,"

Sure it sounds good and as a parent I want to say, right on mr Hancock, let me have a say in my kids education...but the sad truth here is that it's NOT bettering his or her education, it's stunting the learning process, the eduction process of seeing both sides of the coin. But no, we really don't want to create a world with people at it's helm with things like: critical thinking, perspective and a greater understanding of human nature in all its aspects, now would we?