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?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The reasons time as been surreal and non existant for me and this medium

Hello everyone and here is a brief post to explain my recent disappearing act.

Life can be, at many times in ones life, throwing curve balls. The curviest ball I've had thrown at me so far is the house I live in. Sparing you the gruesome details, this said house that I purchased a year and half ago as been, has been the bane of our existence and we are now in the process of selling it, ergo why I have been away from "more then three lines posts" in the last little while.

That being said, my lists of subjects have not gone dry or decreased in any way and as soon as time permits me I will be tackling well known and more obscure issues that have a great deal of importance in my skeptical eye.

I am fully aware that explanations are not excuses and that a more rigorous input of material will be flowing in soon enough.



Thursday, March 19, 2009

Evolution of ideas

After a long pause due to sickness, I'm back! That delay explains the delay on the subject approached here but I find it still relevant to address it.

Indeed, my concern for my country (Canada) and science, push me to comment on this article and its follow up.

Since this as been floating around the web for a bit I recommend reading the interesting yet direct approaches of PZ Myers and The Canadian Cynic's takes on Mr Goodyear's "evolution".
Albeit some ad homonym attacks they both touch on one thing: Mr Goodyear's version of evolution does NOT touch on the actual natural definition of it in any way shape or form.

The point here is not what he believes or that his previous job was as a chiropractor, which tends to lead to some magical thinking, but that he was appointed as the Minister of Science and Technology and that his background WILL affect the country's funding and development in the field of said ministry!

Taketh care folks and hope to be here sooner rather then later!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Memory, the media and law enforcement

Good day everyone,

The media nowadays often as a tendency to sensationalize distort slightly and misquote to create a web of quasi truth that can withstand the first glance and even the subtle inquiry yet falls when the weight of evidence is laid upon it. The law enforcement officers are here to protect and serve, to make sure that laws are upheld, yet we entrusted them to do so with a power that can easily be abused or at the very least misused.

Today my focus falls on a local situation that I heard on a radio station, while waiting for them to give a traffic update. In this event both aforementioned groups have a key role in the story, which started (according to the article) when a couple were stopped by police for having overly tinted windows. The woman was asked for Id, she refused and when the officer asked her to get out of the car, she refused, they tried to force her out and that’s when she bit the said officer. The article goes on to make a good synthesis of both the police and miss Spring’s side, and things seem like they are all well rounded, yet the structure of the statements give a penchant to the police force, not questioning most of the points brought by the spokesman.

As I listened to the radio, a caller rang in and it was the lady herself, miss Spring. She started telling her side of the story; especially how what had been said by the police spokesperson was erroneous. Her 5 year old child WAS wearing her safety belt, she was sitting at the back of the car next to her younger child who was also in a car seat, and she only started breastfeeding once the car was stopped. She also mentioned that she was never asked for Id and would have gladly given it if asked.

Albeit this being a dangerous topic to thread on, especially with tensions having been quite high following the Villanueva affaire, my point here is more on the form then the subject, where I want to ask, was the reporting of this incident thorough enough and what of the account of the accused, was it detailed enough? One relies on the media (news papers, radio) and the media agents of the police (PR representative), while the other relies on testimonial evidence (memory of who things happened to). Both have weaknesses and therefore, neither strengthen their case, but to illustrate what I mean, let me tell you about what happened to me personally.

Yes, this is testimonial evidence, the irony is not lost on me, and in fact I revel in it. When I was, me and my friend participated in a model rocket launching contests. With my home made rocket, which I’ll admit looked a bit odd, I set a height record and my friend, with his store bought rocket, won the main technical contest. Seeing how two of the winners were friends, a reporter from one of the major news papers in the Montreal area, decided to interview us both for his youth/tech piece. We were more then pleased to answer the many questions that were thrown at us and awaited the article’s publication like ravenous news paper eating rats. The crucial day came and, when we both laid eyes on what was going to be the center piece of all our conversations for the next month or so, our faces fell. The reporter, took MY height record, attributed it to my friend, failed to mention me by name or my friends victory and to top it all off used some random guy’s rocket for the picture in the article. It was my first taste of the intricate world of reporting…sadly it would not be the last.

In any case, I believe the overall article was not horrific in it’s content but might have wanted to push more on both sides to have a better outlook of the story, and the police officers who’s responsibility is to diffuse situations might have wanted to handle this differently, but in the end I was not there and even if I would have been… would I have recollected the events accurately?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Another quick update

Just to say that you can find me on Twitter at jfshield.

A new "real" post COMING SOON to a Blog near you!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

On the Road and Off the Map

Time, cruel mistress that she is, as joined forces with the unexpected and has sent me on a business /family trip.

This as unfortunately delayed some things I would have liked to discuss, such as a product called Vivimind, since I can't elaborate much I'll just send these few questions out there:

1) if their claims on the effects of homotaurine on brain volume and also the list of Wonders it brought about, was on the level?

2) Does the science in this Scientifically proven product hold up?

3) And finally, is this, as I found out with a little digging, really a re-ashed failed Anti-Alzheimer’s Pill,and if so, is that legal or ethical?

In any case, if she (Time) allows me to return to this I will, if not, then at the very least the seeds of curiosity on the subject are sowed.

You have all a good half-week

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

“Blunt” trauma

Recently a news article on marijuana use and testicular cancer, hit the pages of the papers and news blogs all around the world. Many versions of this article, and most importantly, of nuances in the many titles came to be and showed that one word can be the difference between a correlation study of 369 men with cancer and the new party line for the Drug war advocates.

The study, which came from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, showed certain correlations between heavy marijuana use and testicular cancer, more specifically a rare, yet fast growing in numbers of late, type of cancer called non seminoma.

The media across the world, spread that news, seeing the importance to warn, even if it was not a cause and effect study, the population of the new possibility of risk rolled in the use of smoking pot. So far, so good, the situation seems to be just another subject matter in the sea of information but where this takes and odd turn is when you stop and read the many versions or takes on the said subject matter.

The information added or left out, cherry picked and smoothed out, helps us see the duality of communication of information and the impossibility to be unbiased. This, however, does not imply that there aren’t any well threaded articles on the subject, or that every news paper, blog or internet news source, deliberately muddled the facts, only that we are genuinely influenced by our environment, our views and our peers and so we must be ever vigilant not to let the strong currents of the sea of our lives, steer our integrity and judgment away from the safety of the harbors built on our dedication to facts.

To show, in part, what kind of spectrum we are dealing with here, let’s take a peak at the BBC article . The title, first and foremost, is short and to the point but can be misinterpreted with the use of the term link, or how strong this link is. The article itself shows a rigid, yet explicit structure, it lays down the cold hard facts, concludes on a sound, scientific “replication before clear implication”, and yet still seems laced with an alarmist tone or aftertaste that was preamble by the aforementioned title.

Blogs, bring about, in”dubi” tably, a more all out approach, as can be read on Warren Holstein’s entry at the Huffingtonpost, where humor and candor are used in conjunction with logic to put forth a very off the cuff title yet that hides a well structured and informative piece, that passes an opinion, yes, but leaves you with a feeling that this article was not just thrown out there, but crafted and maybe in the best way to reach the targeted group of the study, males between the age of 20 and 35.

The USA today, health blog, however, seem to sum up the actual study so fast, you don’t have to time to inhale the subject matter, and then “hits” you with loads non-related or misrepresented information, that creates a fear mongering state, only to ensure this lingers, the conclusion goes into testicular cancer statistics on related deaths. Almost all fear, almost none of the facts…

Finally, one of the most, soundly structured title and article, comes from the CBC, where it shows the potential of a threat, the anomalies shown in the rise in the numbers of diagnosed testicular cancer in the last 50 -60years, but also the weight of this link (weak), the limitations of the study ( no replications yet, small group) and the possibility of it being just a statistical blip. It concludes by mentioning where the funds for the research came and gives a glimpse, although very brief, in what the affected age group might think of these new findings. Overall, it constitutes as a well rounded informative piece of writing.

So there we have it folks, a small glimpse of how words and strategic lack of some, can skew or at least taint in a small way the core of a published study and how at its opposite, some can capture the essence, the qualities and flaws of the subject at hand and deliver food for thought…or should that be munchies?

Monday, January 26, 2009

A step in the right direction!

Before we get to the main dish of this evening, I think it’s appropriate that we treat ourselves to an historical appetizer so that we may better enjoy the subtle flavours and discrepancies of the following courses.

Canada as been, since 1760, although it was not called that at the time, under British Rule. Even though we brought back our constitution from England in 1982 after the Canadian Act was passed which made England give up all remaining constitutional and legislative authority over Canada, we are technically still under their rule: we are part of the Commonwealth, we have the Queen of England on our money and we sill have her representative at the head of the country, the Governor General. Mind you that title is in large part honorific, yet it as seen resurgence in its validity recently, when all hell broke loose at the end of this year in our parliament.

Now on to the main course, the article: U of A tones down God reference. The article, talks about how the University of Alberta, after a student group, the U of A Atheists and Agnostics, campaigned for a revision to the old charge, changed it from encouraging grads to use their degrees: “for the glory of God and the honour of your country” to “for the uplifting of the whole people; to inspire the human spirit; for all who believe, to serve your God; and to pursue more steadfastly whatsoever things are true.” This made me realise that these little changes, variations in sentences, can be the catalyst to major changes, through the growth, the adaptability that academic institutions have shown, it can hopefully inspire other institutions and bodies, like our government.

To know that our Governor General, someone as influential and as present as she is on the public scene, now a days, might be uttering those words, make me think that we are not too far from the day where we will see everyone as equals, will allow race, sex, language, religion AND the lack thereof, to be seen as a normal thing, to be understood as mundane and unworthy of a headline anymore, for it to become transparent in the eyes of our nations and allow them to focus on reality and the very real problems that it brings.

As desert arrives, let me conclude and say that, it is uplifting to see in the media swamp of war thorn countries, job loss and economic down times, a small oasis for the evolution of the human mind and more so over, for tolerance, nay acceptance of all our differences

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Strength Through Transparency- Freedom Through Doubt

Good day, night or evening,

Welcome to the first installment of my web log entitled: The Shield of Glass.

My name is John-Frederic and after many sleepless nights toiling about life, the universe and everything, I have decided to create this immaterial piece of medium to present, push and promote critical thinking, to generate, expand and/or resume on a myriad of ideas and concepts revolving around subjects such as the media, science, its evil twin* pseudoscience and the repercussions they all can have on the inhabitants of this pale blue dot we call Earth.

I first started wanting to create this type of popular communication beast years ago. Back then, my motives were very different from today. My main focus was on creating a forum or blog that would gather accounts of supernatural events, conspiracy theories and correlations that could find the links hidden in the dark recesses of their genesis…that was then and this is now.

Tracing back the steps I took to be here now, I can write with certitude that it all started a year ago this march as I was listening to Steve Mirsky on the SciAm podcast. The interest I had in Scientific American has been present in me at a very young age because my mother, being a Microbiologist by trade, had them around the house. In any case, Mr Mirsky was mentioning a group that he had podcasted with not too long ago, The Skeptic Guide to the Universe, that they were a great fun bunch and that we should go check them out.

Now my first thought here was, “Great, skeptics! Those guys who can’t see through the web of lies the government spins and are close-minded about everything. Still it could be a laugh to hear what they have to say and I should still see what lies on the other side of my point of view”.

To make a long and winding story short, I slowly but surely saw the light in the darkness I had surrounded myself in and finally found a clear path to being open minded: the best way to be open minded, is to be open minded enough to consider the possibility that IT, what ever it may be, might not exist!

Getting back to the core of this entity, the aim these entries will be taking will be of an informative nature, first and foremost, yet will not shy away from taking a provocative, nay controversial, even sometimes humorous tone, by going down roads, paved in science, facts and empiricism, yet seeming wild and less traveled.
I will welcome comments, be it opinions, questions or constructive criticism, as long as they do not degenerate into plain, empty, blatant defamation. Through these comments I am sure I will learn and grow as much if not more then those who will read the two cents I have to put out in this World Wide Web that we weave.

On a final note, I would like to thank the many people that have motivated and inspired me to hammer the Shield of Glass into existence:
1)people I admire greatly like George Hrab, James Randi, the aforementioned Skeptic's Guide crew, Brian Dunning , Penn Jillette, and many more, the list could go on for a while too long.
2)people who have supported like my dear wife, my daughter, the ever interesting Iopha, CE791102, therapsid, Belfana, and many more who even without them knowing pushed me to strive for new hights, new endeavours.

*(although the use of the word twin here might be too strong since it would implicate a close genetic relation between the two; after thinking it through, arch nemesis seems to be better suited to describe the relation those two concepts share )