Canadian bluenoses

Those Canadians have got a few prigs running things up there, and they’ve apparently trying to pass some laws to slap down those darned naughty artist types. There’s just one line from the sour old prude that’s worth mentioning, the rest is the usual noise.

A well-known evangelical crusader is claiming credit for the federal government’s move to deny tax credits to TV and film productions that contain graphic sex and violence or other offensive content.

Charles McVety, president of the Canada Family Action Coalition, said his lobbying efforts included discussions with Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, and “numerous” meetings with officials in the Prime Minister’s Office.

“We’re thankful that someone’s finally listening,” he said yesterday. “It’s fitting with conservative values, and I think that’s why Canadians voted for a Conservative government.”

I’d like to make a distinction here.

“I will not watch movies with graphic sex scenes” is a good moral value; it’s defining a standard of behavior for yourself. If McVety, Day, and Nicholson wish to abstain from watching movies with sex, then that’s fine. Personally, I am unperturbed if someone else wants to watch porn, as long as they don’t force me to watch it too, and I think that’s a reasonable value as well.

Conservative values don’t seem to have anything to do with personal standards, at least as they are expressed by politicians and the media. “You will not watch movies with graphic sex scenes” is not what I would consider a moral good. It’s the imposition of values on someone else, not yourself. There really are only two possibilities here: 1) McVety, Day, and Nicholson already do not watch movies with graphic sex scenes, in which case this law causes them no hardship and they can’t be said to be acting for their own good; or 2) McVety, Day, or Nicholson do watch movies with graphic sex scenes, in which case they are hypocrites imposing a standard on others to which they do not adhere themselves.

We’ve been living with “conservative values” here in the US for a long time now, and they rarely seem to have anything to do with a social good, or with people actually setting exemplary moral standards for themselves. It’s always about narrowing experiences, constraining others to a single permissible range of behaviors, and punishing others outside your domain of accepted social norms.

You know, it is possible to be a liberal, progressive sort of person who doesn’t do any of the “bad” things that conservatives detest — who doesn’t drink to excess, use addictive drugs, or gamble, who is faithful to a single spouse and doesn’t spend time on pornography or prostitution. That people don’t do those things is not the distinguishing characteristic of conservative vs. liberal at all. The real difference is that conservatives take sanctimonious pleasure in requiring everyone else to be just like their ideal, and seem to be less interested in measuring up to their own standards themselves than in demanding that others do so; liberals are people who put first priority on abiding by their own standards, and a second priority on allowing others to live their lives as they see fit.

Leap tomorrow!

The two most amusing explanations for why we have leap years that I’ve heard came from creationists:

  1. Those scientists can’t even measure the length of the year accurately! They have to keep fudging their numbers every few years to make everything add up, so why should I trust them?

  2. We have leap years because the earth is slowing down in its orbit, which proves that the earth can’t be old — a million years ago the earth would have been whirling around the sun so fast it would have flown out of orbit!

Phil’s detailed explanation isn’t quite as funny. My simple answer: the earth goes around the sun in 365 days plus a fraction. We carry the fraction each year until it adds up to one, and then we add a day to the year. We know with great precision how long a day is and how long a year is, and the adjustment is not to “fudge” the numbers, and we also know the rate at which both the day length is changing and the orbit is changing, and those numbers are miniscule and are not the reasons we have leap years.

Reality hurts farmers’ feelings

A few weeks ago, you may have heard about that interesting study that showed that using cropland to produce biofuels was actually more damaging to the atmosphere than using fossil fuels — among the reasons was that tying up productive cropland to produce alcohol meant other land had to be deforested/plowed/burned to produce food. It turns out that a couple of University of Minnesota faculty were involved in that study. Their reward? Agriculture groups that had funded them to the tune of about $1.5 million suspended their grants.

The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council decided to stop paying additional research money until they meet with Allen Levine, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and other officials.

“The university hurt the farmers’ feelings, OK? That’s probably the best way to say it,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the two groups.

Some people, even prominent, wealthy people, simply don’t understand the fundamental concept of basic research. The goal isn’t to get answers that make you feel good; it isn’t to find ways to rationalize continuing damaging practices; it isn’t even to pat you on the should and salve your delicate feelings. It is to find out the actual answer to a problem, no matter what it may be. Don’t fund research if you’re afraid of the truth.

Those two agriculture groups really ought to be ashamed of themselves. This is like getting together with your friends to play baseball, but threatening to take your ball home if they don’t let you win.

Exploding wind turbine

This is something that will cause a few heart palpitations at UMM — we’ve begun this big push towards being a green university, exploring alternative energy and conservation, and we are very proud of our campus wind turbine, with plans to build more. This story of a wind turbine that lost a rotor and exploded in a storm is a wee bit unsettling.

However, I’ve never seen our turbine blades move that fast, even in the high winds we sometimes get around here, so I suspect we must be working with a newer and I hope better design here, unlike the ten-year old turbine in the video.

Oh, and our turbine is off campus, and if it did blow like this one, at worst it might kill a few cows.

(via Page 3.14)

Inappropriate children’s book covers

Where it doesn’t descend into bad poop jokes (the good poop jokes are funny), this collection of photoshopped book covers has its moments.

I like this one: it’s the book Brockman told Dawkins that he’d never get published, because it’s too controversial — although, of course, it would probably provoke exactly the same cries of outrage his last book did, for exactly the same reasons.


This book, on the other hand…what’s inappropriate about that? I want to own this!


Texans of Fort Worth, Parker, Ellis, and Johnson counties: Vote for Pat Hardy!

There’s a school board election in District 11 of Texas that has a clear choice: Pat Hardy is the pro-science candidate, despite being a conservative, religious Baptist, while her opponent is a deranged lunatic who is quietly outspending her 12:1 while avoiding the public eye altogether. You do not want to vote for Barney Maddox — he is an “ill-informed nutcase”.

Isn’t this weird? Here in Minnesota, we’re affected by the outcomes of local school board races in Texas — allowing ignorant, raving lunatics to make textbook decisions there is going to shape the choices we get to make here. So if you know any Texans, spread the word: Barney Maddox is bad news.

Which one of you little rascals Sokaled AiG?

Answers in Genesis started this so-called peer reviewed journal called Answers, and the latest publication therein is such a confused mess that I’m wondering if it could be a hoax. Here’s the abstract, but I think just the title alone would be sufficient to tell this is codified lunacy: An Apology and Unification Theory for the Reconciliation of Physical Matter and Metaphysical Cognizance.

[Read more…]

Kowtowing to the worst

John Hagee is one of the most contemptible people to have an unwarrantedly prominent voice in our country. He’s an obese, smug televangelist whose claim to fame is a terrifying dedication to the apocalypse, war and death, and prophecy and damnation. He is a perfect example of how arrogant ignorance can slide directly into evil. The man is a walking talking nightmare, and even more frightening, some people take this raving nutcase seriously.

The latest to bend over and praise this demented fuckwit is none other than John McCain.

It’s unbelievable. The Republican party is still in thrall to these vile goblins of the religious right.