My CONvergence schedule – 2014

It’s gotten so’s I gotta put a year in the title to make it unique! How weird is that.

My CONvergence schedule is a bit thicker this year than in years past — I’m invited to participate in six panels. That’s a record for me! One of them is even my own brain-baby — the Superheroes in our Modern Day Pantheons panel.

And as usual, I’ll be hanging out in the FtB / Skepchicks “party” rooms wherein we’ll not actually be partying, but rather fending off constant attacks from the encroaching Royal Manticorian Army and Klingon rooms. Also, there will be science sandboxes, commisserating with like-minded individuals, and modest amounts of alcohol to lubricate the conversation. I might also provide hilariawful Bible games on the big-screen TV, e.g. Super Noah’s Ark 3D, if I can manage a better setup than last year.

The panels are:

Friday, July 4 • 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Alien Conspiracy Theories

The truth is out there, and we’ll help you find it! We’ll cover a wide range of alien-centric conspiracy theories and discuss the implications these have on individuals and society at large.

Panelists: JD Horn, Jason Thibeault, Nicole Gugliucci, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch

Friday, July 4 • 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Superheroes in Our Modern-Day Pantheons

Nobody really worships Hercules or Thor as Greek and Norse gods anymore, but don’t despair, because now they’re both members of The Avengers. This panel will explore the commonalities and differences between our ancient and modern pantheons.

Panelists: David Schwartz, Jason Thibeault, Roy T Cook, Jonathan Palmer, Ryan Consell

Friday, July 4 • 11:30pm – 12:30am
It’s (Not) Written in the Stars
We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science.

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeu, Dan Berliner, Matt Lowry, Nicole Gugliucci

Saturday, July 5 • 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Criticism and Empathy Online

When people abuse anonymity to give hurtful, damaging criticism, is this merely a failure of empathy, or is there something more there? How do you criticize people without triggering a flame war? Should you even TRY to avoid flame wars?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Wesley Chu, Kameron Hurley, Ted Meissner

Saturday, July 5 • 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down?

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6 • 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Urban Legends: Myths, Facts, and Half-Truths

From alligators in the sewer to clowns in the attic, urban legends walk the line between total absurdity and being just so outrageous that they might be true. Where do these stories come from, and why do they capture our imaginations so effectively?

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Anne Sauer, Naomi Kritzer, Bug Girl, Shawn van Briesen

Ontario public health policy under review, religious exception for doctors debated

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario has written the current public policy, adopted by Ontario in December 2008, which binds physicians to provide Human Rights Code-mandated services without discrimination for any reason, including religious or moral beliefs of the physician.

This means that physicians cannot make decisions about whether to accept individuals as patients, whether to provide existing patients with medical care or services, or whether to end a physician-patient relationship on the basis of the individual’s or patient’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status and/or disability.

That code is currently being reviewed, and people are being asked to submit comment:

The College recognizes that religious and moral beliefs are central to the lives of physicians and their patients. The current policy addresses situations in which physicians’ personal, moral or religious beliefs may affect or limit the medical services they provide. The policy provides physicians with an overview of the relevant legal obligations and factors related to these situations. The policy also articulates the College’s own expectations for physicians who limit their practice, refuse to accept individuals as patients or end a physician-patient relationship on the basis of moral or religious belief.

Have Your Say

We would like to hear your thoughts on the current policy, along with suggestions you may have for how the policy could be improved.

In particular, we are interested to know:

  • Does the policy provide useful guidance?
  • Are there issues not addressed in the current policy that should be addressed? If so, what are they?
  • Are there other ways in which the policy should be improved?

Please provide your feedback by August 5, 2014.

[...]

The feedback obtained during this consultation will be carefully reviewed and used to evaluate the draft. While it may not be possible to ensure that every comment or suggested edit will be incorporated into the revised policy, all comments will be carefully considered.

Obviously, this is a cultural touchstone for reproductive rights activists, as religious folks have primarily held the anti-abortion banner and their current assault on those reproductive rights in Canada — fully legal since Morgentaler, mind you — are presently being eroded via a series of legislation changes that allow religious doctors to refuse to provide medically-indicated services that conflict with what they believe their religion contraindicates.

We can safely assume this is entirely a concern as pertains abortion, and not some other religious mandate, because not one single instance of a Jehovah’s Witness doctor refusing to give a blood transfusion has hit the press, whereas Jehovah’s Witness patients refusing blood transfusions abound (often despite legal challenges initiated by doctors).

The issue is reportedly largely being ignored in Ontario; the religiously-motivated anti-abortionists are spreading disinformation and getting a disproportionately loud voice on what channels do exist, likely owing to the word being spread through anti-abortion camps. Since we around these parts happen to believe that women deserve basic human rights and that bodily autonomy is one of those rights, I figured it might be good to get the word out and try to tip the scales back toward the only morally justifiable stance on abortion: any time, by any woman, for any reason.

You can leave feedback here, or better yet, take the online survey.

There is also a poll, which at time of writing was already heavily tipped by others’ efforts in the atheist community:

Do you think a physician should be allowed to refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician’s religious or moral beliefs?

No (81%, 5,575 Votes)
Yes (18%, 1,247 Votes)
Don’t know (1%, 22 Votes)
Total Voters: 6,844

Feel free to tip that even further toward the side of more perfect morality, as well!

Huge tip of the hat to George Waye. Cheers, mate.

The specific gravity of cold-press coffee

Okay, a bit of a misleading title, but I like it nonetheless.

I just had a minor bit of unpleasant SIWOTI, only in meatspace instead of On The Internet. I don’t think I handled it entirely appropriately but that’s mostly because as a nerd, these things do matter to me. But interacting with other people also matters to me.

Caribou Coffee is a local answer to Starbucks that falls about halfway between Tim Horton’s and Starbucks on the scale of fancy-fancy frou-frou (which is a scalar value, obviously). They have a trivia question on a chalkboard next to their menu every day, and getting it right will knock ten cents off your order. It’s not a big deal, but it’s a fun little thing. Today’s question was: “What is Mars’ gravitational pull (relative to Earth’s)?”
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Why I distrust Apple, in one short video

Okay, seriously. I know that WWDC is a sales pitch moreso than a tech demo. But this supercut of superlatives tweaks every nerve I have as regards manipulative language.

There’s not a lot of actual innovation in their new iteration, that I can see, just a nice coat of paint slapped on the same old stuff. “This changes everything” was true when iOS first got introduced, but now it’s all “this keeps everything the same except for a prettier wastebasket.”

Why are YOU here?

I’ve had this question rattling around in my head for almost a year now: why am I here, in the skeptical and atheist communities? Why do I include the labels “skeptic” and “atheist” in bio blurbs, and why do I cover topics and follow discussions associated with those labels? Why, given how little commonality I have with many of the folks who work full-time in these communities, given that some of the causes I care about the most are derided by vast swathes of the people with whom I’m expected to break bread, should I spend my time and effort on parts of my identity that I don’t find assaulted on a daily basis?

And more importantly, why are others in these communities? What do their reasons for being here say about the makeup of these communities?
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Viewer discretion is advised

Trigger warning: I’m going to talk about trigger warnings. If you’re the type of person to flip your shit about people using trigger warnings, you might not want to read this post unless you have the resources to attack me for defending the use of trigger warnings.

That opening paragraph is at least half serious. Guess which half?

Recently, much has been made about a recent request that college courses provide trigger warnings for those courses that might contain discussion of racism, violence, rape, etc. And by “much has been made”, I mean that, once again, a great many people are arguing against straw dummies and complete misunderstandings of the topic at hand.

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The video game that would REALLY keep you up at night

I’m no stranger to losing sleep over video games, though usually in a positive context, e.g. that the game is fun and I don’t notice the time. But what if I was to tell you the story of a video game that was literally designed to steal your ability to sleep… among other things? Sounds far-fetched, right? Read on, gentle reader.

In 1981, Atari had created an extraordinarily innovative video game called Tempest. This game, originally imagined as a 3-D remaking of Space Invaders, had players pilot a spacecraft on the near end of a “tube” that extended into the distance on a display, using now-primitive but then new and innovative colour vector-based graphics (as opposed to raster-based graphics, the more traditional pixellated, hand-drawn art). Vector graphics weren’t new at the time, having been used for other games like Asteroids, but the addition of colour with Atari’s “Color Quadrascan” shadow mask technology, developed to compete with raster games, was a significant step forward. The game also featured differing playing boards at each level, with different geometric shapes making up the “tube”, rather than the usual incremental difficulty increases on an identical board that video games til then had used to ratchet up the pressure on players as games went on. And it even featured the ability to choose your starting level based on performance in a previous game, so veterans wouldn’t necessarily have to play through the initial levels over again while attempting to cause the game to roll the level or points counts over. This marked the first video game continue option — though a later raster game called Fantasy implemented it in its more traditional form.

This post isn’t really about Tempest, though. I’m really just setting the stage for what the state of the art was in 1981. If you’ll believe the urban legends, the US government, at about that time, teamed up with a German developer named Sinneslöschen (loosely translated: “Sense Erase”) in an attempt to turn the nation’s Pac-Man Fever into something a little more useful for the empire: mind control. They created a video game that kids would become addicted to, would play at every opportunity, until the mind control would kick in and they’d lose the ability to sleep or even lose their memories.
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