Category Archives: politics

Tough To Watch; Important to Watch

I saw this video a few minutes ago. It’s a moving, disturbing, anger-provoking piece. I hope you’ll watch it.

The young woman who wrote and narrates the poem, Nessrriinn, is an ex-muslim. You can find her YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/Nessrriinn

I encourage you to pass the video along. I’ve included the words of the poem below the video.

sharia law
she’s buried chest high
her arms can’t stop the stones that fly
or wipe the tears that have already dried
for a crime she so persistently denied
she’s buried chest deep
the moderates asleep
no matter how hard she weeps
worth half of a man, her testimony’s cheap
Allah subhana wa ta3ala has come up with such a fair rule
dictators of history couldn’t be so cruel
told by mohammed sallahu 3alhe wa salam
teaching us allah’s divine referendum
what becomes of those who have a sip of rum
drinks to forget or wants to be numb
or those who play the game of chance
poker buddies escaping the religious trance
allah’s prescribed in his merciful script
their flesh be ripped their blood be dripped
at the tip of a muslims whip
she’s buried chest high
her arms can’t stop the stones that fly
or wipe the tears that have already dried
for a crime she so persistently denied
and this is allah’s eternal reply
1400 years of backwards law
a tragic flaw of the primitive claw
the tribe of homosexuals
koum lot as they say
sharia is clear on how they should pay
the price for their gay display
life doesn’t matter which way
abu baker got them with a tumbling wall
ali muhammad’s cousin and son in law
had people burned for their sexual call
an entire village children and all
she’s buried chest deep
the moderates asleep
no matter how hard she weeps
worth half of a manher testimony’s cheap
apostates remember those who have bled
to speak the word Muslims leave unsaid
killed for the sake of those mislead
submit now or be left dead
allah subhana wa ta3ala has come up with such a fair rule
the devil himself couldn’t be so cruel
she’s buried chest high half way deep
while the moderates are still fast asleep
while the world stands silent
her testimony’s cheap.
stones thrown by religious sheep.
witches were burned long ago
til the flame of freedom began to glow
and we learned to say the word ‘no’
no know that your laws are unjust
not worthy of respect only disgust
beheading those with a knifes thrust
oh but in Allah we blindly trust
she’s buried head high
in a heap of stones.
no more crying no more moans
all that’s left is skin and bones
Allah has come up with such a fair call
the true justice of sharia law
by nessrriinn.

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Sigh. Religion Fueling Hatred One More Time

Well, here we go again. Some of you have probably heard about the homophobia that is being whipped up in Uganda by Christian leaders — including American evangelicals who have been exporting their vitriol.

ABC’s nightline did an expose of this hate-filled movement and discussed the recent bill that is being considered by Uganda’s government which would make homosexuality a criminal offense involving significant jail time, and in certain cases execution by hanging.

I don’t claim that religion always creates the hatred people express – but it often gives it legitimacy.

Here’s the ABC story:

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Ray Comfort Strikes (Out) Again!

Back in February of this year, I had the opportunity to debate Ray Comfort on one of our local Toronto radio stations. The occasion was the anniversary of Darwin’s 200th birthday. You can listen to that debate here.

Comfort has no understanding of evolution, biology, cosmology, or seemingly much else when it comes to science. He is most famous amongst atheists and skeptics for the (unintentionally) hilarious “Atheists worst nightmare” video, in which he and Kirk Cameron attempt to demonstrate how the modern banana is an unassailable proof of God’s love and special concern for humans.

Well, Comfort and Cameron are teaming up once more.

This November 24th will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s best known work, On Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection. Universities, science agencies, museums, skeptic, atheist, and secular humanist groups around the world will be celebrating the publication of this hugely influential book.

Comfort is going to celebrate in his own unique way. He has been able to get financial backing to publish 50,000 copies of the Origin of Species that will include a 50 page introduction he has written that will supposedly demonstrate the fallacies of Darwin’s theory and the evil impact it has had on the world. Cameron is serving as his front man, appearing in a video promoting this event. The plan is to distribute these copies on numerous university campuses in the U.S.

A Facebook friend of mine posted a youtube video done by a young Romanian woman named Cristina that is absolutely wonderful in dissecting and lampooning Cameron’s video and the fraudulent claims it makes about Darwin and his theory. I’m re-posting it here. I hope you enjoy it.

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Vegans Are NOT Wimps!

Here’s a reprint of an article from Canada’s Globe & Mail newspaper about Montreal Canadiens’ tough guy, Georges Laraque.

Sean Gordon

MONTREAL — From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 17, 2009 12:45AM EDT

First, the eyebrows arch quizzically, then the legend’s nose crinkles in disapproval.

“Ferguson never would have accepted it,” huffs Henri Richard,

George Laraque

George Laraque

11-time Stanley Cup champion, uber-competitor, the Pocket Rocket himself, speaking of John Ferguson, the former Montreal Canadiens tough guy.

It’s a natural enough reaction from a man whose off-season preparations used to consist of switching from golf to tennis in early August.

He has just been informed that Canadiens forward Georges Laraque, boulevardier, animal-rights activist and perhaps the most feared pugilist in the NHL, is a vegan (“a what?” Richard said), a militant one.

No dairy, no poultry, no fish, no more leather shoes or animal byproducts, Laraque has been on a strict diet of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes since June 1.

While he says he was partly motivated to improve his health for the hockey season, Laraque insists the decision was made primarily for political, rather than nutritional, reasons.

Everything changed, Laraque said, after he saw Earthlings, a 2006 documentary that is widely celebrated in animal-rights circles.

“It’s unconscionable what’s happening to animals in this country and the way we treat animals we eat. … I realized I had to make some big changes,” Laraque said.

Though Laraque said he will no longer buy leather of any kind, he hasn’t rid his closet or hockey bag of previously purchased leather products because, “that would be a further waste. And this way I don’t forget.”

Laraque, who also does yoga daily, an activity he picked up as a member of the Edmonton Oilers, said he’s never felt better and reported for training camp at a comparatively svelte 245 pounds.

“I’ve lost some weight, but I’ve been working with a really great nutritionist and I’ve never had this much energy,” he said.

“I think it’s also important to break the stereotype that all vegans are skinny people with long hair,” added Laraque, as unlikely a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as the NHL has ever seen. (This summer he sent a letter on the group’s behalf to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, protesting the Canadian seal hunt.)

Laraque couldn’t think of any other vegan NHLers off the top of his head.

But the burly winger finds himself among a vanguard of current and former pro athletes who are eschewing most meats.

Laraque cites Major League Baseball player Prince Fielder, former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, NFL tight end Tony Gonzalez and retired NBA player John Salley as vegetarians who inspired him.

Richard, who readily admits that he’s often astonished at the lengths to which today’s hockey players go to train, hails from an era when Guy Lafleur prepared for the season by cutting back from three packs of cigarettes a day to two, or so the legend goes. (“It didn’t matter, he was always faster than everyone,” Richard joked.)

And though Laraque is undoubtedly an outlier in the Canadiens dressing room and in the league, he’s not alone in his approach.

Mike Cammalleri, who joined the Habs as a free agent in the summer, strives to eat organic, fresh and local foods.

“I find it helps my energy levels stay high throughout the season,” he said.

Cammalleri also regularly practises Pilates and occasionally will throw in a few yoga exercises, “but I don’t really have the patience for yoga.”

Not all the Habs are in tune with the new ethos. Fourth-year forward Guillaume Latendresse, who has overhauled his off-season regimen in each of the past two seasons, says he switched to a high-protein diet, but that he’s not willing to renounce meat altogether.

“[Laraque] has invited us all out to a vegan restaurant … but if I go, I’m bringing a steak in my jacket pocket,” he joked.

So in a tough-guy, famously hidebound culture like pro hockey, Laraque remains a curiosity, but he’s resolved to carry on spreading the word.

“People still think it’s kind of funny, but I’m not doing this to be funny,” he said. “There are more puppy mills in Quebec than anywhere else in Canada, and no laws to shut them down. People get slapped with a fine and six months later they reopen. Do you think that’s funny?”

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Are you more science-savvy than the average American?

There is a  brief survey at the Pew Center for Research that will allow you to judge your level of basic science awareness. It’s fun and interesting. Let me know how you did.

(Not to brag, but I got 100%.)

_______________________________

THE SCIENCE KNOWLEDGE QUIZ

Take the quiz and find out

To test your knowledge of scientific concepts and recent scientific findings and events, we invite you to take this 12-question science knowledge quiz. Then see how you did in comparison with the 1,005 randomly sampled adults asked the same questions. You’ll also be able to compare your Science IQ with the average scores of men and women; 1276-frontwith college graduates as well as those who didn’t attend college; with people who are your age as well as with younger and older Americans.

This quiz was part of the Pew Research Center’s new study of science and its impact on society, conducted in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The analysis of the findings from the poll can be found in the full report. (No peeking! If you are going to take the quiz, do it first before reading the analysis.) The discussion of the knowledge quiz can be found in Section 7 of the report.

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The Curious Case of Phineas Gage

Having been distracted by extraterrestrials and the opposite sex in the last couple of entries, I want to return to my discussion of free will. In that regard, I’d like to start this entry by introducing you to the Curious Case of Phineas Gage (unlike the Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this is a true story).

TrainIn the year 1848, Phineas Gage was employed as the foreman of a railway construction crew that was building the railway bed for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad in central Vermont. The terrain required cutting through several large rocky outcrops. This was accomplished by drilling holes deep into the rock, and then filling them with explosive powder. A fuse would then be placed in the powder and the rest of the whole filled up with sand. The sand was “tamped” down to pack it tightly so the force of the blast would be directed against the stone. Gage was responsible for determining where the holes would be located and how much powder to use.

At 4:30 p.m on Wednesday, September 13th, Gage was preparing for a blasting near Cavendish, Vermont.
Apparently distracted, Gage began tamping the powder before the sand had

Left: Reconstruction of the trajectory of the tamping iron. Right: Gage's skull.

Left: Reconstruction of the trajectory of the tamping iron. Right: Gage's skull.

been poured. A spark, generated by the tamping iron striking the rock, ignited the powder and the tamping iron was propelled like a rocket out of the blasting hole, entering Gage’s head under his left cheekbone and exiting through the top of his head, ultimately landing some 25 yards (23 metres) away!

Remarkably, Gage survived the blast. His workers carried him to an ox-cart and he was driven to the Cavendish Inn where he was staying. Astonishingly, Gage alighted from the cart unaided, and, from a chair on the verandah, recounted his story to bystanders. Gage was attended to by Drs. Higginson Williams and John Marlow. Within three months, he had recovered sufficiently to be able to move back to his parent’s farm. By the end of 1849, he was ready to seek employment. Gage, however, was unable to return to his job as a foreman, and over the next several years worked a variety of jobs, including stints as an attraction at the Barnum’s American Museum in New York and on the lecture circuit at major cities in New England. He died in 1860.

For my purposes, what I want to focus on is the personality changes that occurred in Gage subsequent to his injury.

The damage to Gage’s brain seems to have been largely contained to his left prefrontal cortex, an area that is linked closely with personality. While he retained full possession of his reasoning abilities, his wife and others soon began to notice dramatic changes in his personality.

One of the doctors who had initially attended to him, John Harlow, wrote a summary report of the changes in Gage’s personality and behaviour subsequent to his injury, published in an 1868 issues of the Bulletin of the Massachusetts Medical Society:

His contractors, who regarded him as the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ previous to his injury, considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not his previous custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint of advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinent, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was ‘no longer Gage.’

Phineas Gage holding the tamping iron that shot through his brain.

Phineas Gage holding the tamping iron that shot through his brain.

Gage’s story is now famous for being one of the first documented cases using brain damage as a means of exploring neurology. It is also a remarkable example of the link between personality, behaviour, and the brain. Since Gage’s time, examples have multiplied of how brain damage or disease can lead to radically altered behaviour. Here is a very short list of some of these:

  • impaired decision-making capacity
  • impulsivity
  • inability to obey normal social conventions
  • hyper-spirituality in previously non-religious individuals
  • aggression, anger or hostility
  • inability to tolerate frustrations
  • lack of sexual restraint
  • excessive emotionalism

So, what has this got to do with my previous blog entry concerning free will?

Simply put, the dysfunctional behaviour that often results from brain injury or disease is strong evidence that the state of one’s “will” is directly controlled by the state of one’s brain. In other words, one’s will is causally determined not free. There is no “mind” that exists separate from the brain that is able to somehow override external and internal causation. Minds are what brains do. And what the brain is doing is entirely determined by both internal (genetic and neurological) and external (environmental) factors.

In the next entry, I’ll finish this tri-partite series on free will by exploring some common objections/concerns to the idea that we do not possess ultimate free will and some of the positive implications of this view.

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Do YOU believe extraterrestrials have visited earth? Take this poll and let me know!

Since so many of you seemed to enjoy my last post about my extraterrestrial visitors, I thought I’d let you have your say on whether or not you believe we have been visited by aliens.

Let the voting begin!

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