F**k Safe Space

I never heard my mom swear until I was in my twenties. Then one day out of the blue, she said ‘shit’. It was a shock to me, I admit, but what I most remember was the sly smile she had after she said it. She KNEW. My mom was messing with me, and she knew it.

Since then she has been more free with the swear words, but as a child my parents were pretty strict about swearing. I remember being at a friend’s house listening to his family swear like sailors and being amazed, awed even.

According to reports, more than a dozen Carleton facilitators were protesting those rules. Zach Petendra, who self-identified as a facilitator in a tweet, wrote on Twitter that facilitators were wearing the shirts in protest against a restriction on not being allowed to swear.

Uh oh.
I think its more than a little ridiculous to expect university students… many of whom are still teenagers to abide by such a rule. No swearing? Fuck that. It is stupid and parochial. And the students were right to protest it.

Julie Lalonde of Hollaback Ottawa, a group that strives to improve street safety for women, says the idea of protesting the school’s Safe-Space policy is inherently problematic.[..] Lalonde explains the incident is one that speaks to a larger cultural issue regarding sexual violence.

And this speaks to why many people have trouble taking feminists seriously of late. A swear word is not sexual violence. A t-shirt is not sexual violence. Even putting them in the same ball park with sexual violence, regardless of whether your feelings are hurt… fuck that.

Is that problematic? Good. The world is a shitload more problematic than that, and the kids are there to learn… and learn how to express themselves. We should let them.

International Association of Free Thought

The International Association of Free Thought (IAFT) held its IVth congress in London, England on August 11th. David Rand. president of Atheist Freethinkers (AFT) and IAFT spokesperson has posted a brief report on the AFT website. Rand’s report focuses on the efforts of Christianity, in particular Roman Catholicism, to undermine secularism:

The first talk of the day, given by Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society (UK), addressed a major theme of the day: crimes committed by Catholic clergy and hierarchy, i.e. child rape and sexual, physical and psychological violence against children. He explained that his organization is particularly interested in cases of abuse from within the Catholic Church simply because, for decades, the number and importance of such cases discovered there far exceed those in all other religions combined. . . . [Wood] made two recommendations to be implemented in each country: (1) encourage groups of abuse survivors to submit formal complaints to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child; and (2) adopt legislation that criminalizes inaction if one has a reasonable suspicion that child abuse has occurred; in other words, make it mandatory to report such cases to civil authorities.

Subsequent speakers stressed the negative effects of the Catholic Church’s influence in Poland, Spain and Argentina.

Rand reports that David Silverman, president of American Atheists, discussed

his association’s strategy for coalition-building [which] is to deliberately act as “pushy,” more radical atheists in order to make it easier for other associations of atheists, humanists, secularists, etc. with very similar goals to present themselves as more moderate and “nicer” and thus achieve those goals.

and that Silverman pointed out

Islam is not yet a threat in his country because it is always Christianity which tries to impose itself as the only legitimate viewpoint. The significance of his statement is concentrated in those two little words “not yet.” Indeed, the Congress might have paid more attention to the thorny issue of Islamofascism and how to respond to it.

Rand concludes his report by acknowledging

This summary of the event is very brief, touching only a sample of interventions. The transcript of all talks given at the congress will be available shortly on the IAFT website, in all three association languages to the extent that resources permit.

However, Rand’s report is excellent and is worth reading in its entirety.

Jesus Challenge on WEIT

On the Why Evolution Is True (WEIT) site, guest post writer and frequent commenter, Ben Goren has posed a thorough six step challenge to those who believe that Jesus was a historical figure:

  1. Start with a clear, concise, unambiguous definition of who Jesus was. Do the Gospels offer a good biography of him? Was he some random schmuck of a crazy street preacher whom nobody would even thought to have noticed? Was he a rebel commando, as I’ve even heard some argue?
  2. Offer positive evidence reliably dated to within a century or so of whenever you think Jesus lived that directly supports your position. Don’t merely cite evidence that doesn’t contradict it; if, for example, you were to claim that Jesus was a rebel commando, you’d have to find a source that explicitly says so.
  3. Ancient sources being what they are, there’s an overwhelming chance that the evidence you choose to support your theory will also contain significant elements that do not support it. Take a moment to reconcile this fact in a plausible manner. What criteria do you use to pick and choose?
  4. There will be lots of other significant pieces of evidence that contradict your hypothetical Jesus. Even literalist Christians have the Apocrypha to contend with, and most everybody else is comfortable observing widespread self-contradiction merely within the New Testament itself. Offer a reasonable standard by which evidence that contradicts your own position may be dismissed, and apply it to an example or two.
  5. Take at least a moment to explain how Jesus could have gone completely unnoticed by all contemporary writers (especially those of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Pliny the Elder, and the various Roman Satirists) yet is described in the New Testament as an otherworldly larger-than-life divine figure who was spectacularly publicly active throughout the region.
  6. Last, as validation, demonstrate your methods reliable by applying them to other well-known examples from history. For example, compare and contrast another historical figure with an ahistorical figure using your standards.

If you’d like to participate in the discussion or just read what people are saying, head over to the site.

If you want to know more about the historicity of Jesus, Richard Carrier is probably one of the best scholars to consult. A search at his site will reveal his thoughts on the topic.

Soviet Space Dogs Laika, Belka and Strelka

Today, I received my very own Russian commemorative stamp celebrating the soviet DianasBelkaAndStrelkaStampspace dogs Belka and Strelka. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union sent many dogs into sub-orbital and orbital space to determine if space flight would be safe for humans. The first dog to go up was Laika in the spacecraft Sputnik 2. I feel bad about Laika because Sputnik 2 was not designed for a return journey to Earth, which meant that the humans that launched Laika into space intended for her to die. There was outrage at Laika’s death, however, and one of her trainer’s Oleg Gazenko, speaking at a Moscow news conference in 1998, admitted that:

The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it… We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.

LaikaThe poor mongrel from the streets of Moscow died of fright and overheating immediately after launch on November 3, 1957, even though the USSR had claimed that she had survived in orbit for four days (she had oxygen enough for ten days). Laika now has a monument in Star City, Russia which depicts her standing on top of a rocket (see image on left) and there is an idealized story book about Laika’s life.

Belka and Strelka’s story is more cheerful as these dogs made it home after spending a day in space aboard Sputnik 5 on August 19, 1960. Strelka even went on to have puppies and Krushchev even gave one, named Pushinka, to JFK’s daughter Caroline in 1961.

For more information about Soviet space dogs, check out A Ball, and a Monkey: 1957 – The Space Race Begins or Soviet Space Dogs.

Where Does Canada Stand on Science?

On August 28, 2014, an expert panel, formed through the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA), released an in-depth report about where Canada stands on “science culture”. Who are the Council of Canadian Academies and what is “science culture”? They describe themselves on their web site as:

…an independent, not-for-profit organization that supports independent, authoritative, and evidence-based expert assessments that inform public policy development in Canada. The Council’s work encompasses a broad definition of science, incorporating the natural, social and health sciences as well as engineering and the humanities.

The CCA considers that a society:

…has a strong science culture when it embraces discovery and supports the use of scientific knowledge and methodology. Such a culture encourages the education and training of a highly skilled workforce and the development of an innovative knowledge-based economy.

Canada actually does pretty well. The full report is available here and I’ve included some of the key findings below. One note of caution: wherever Canada is compared to other countries, the Canadian data are brand new, where the other countries’ data collection years vary. In other words, it is conceivable that Canada’s rank could move relative to these other countries if their data were collected at the same time.

The info-graphic below shows that Canadians view science favourably with 93% of us expressing an interest in new scientific discoveries and 74% of us agreeing that science and technology will bring future opportunities.

Compared with other countries, Canadians rank high in science interest and science literacy; we also visit science and technology museums more than most other countries (we are 2nd to Sweden). However, we don’t seem to formalize our science interests as Canadians rank low in obtaining first degrees in science or working in science and technology occupations.

Other notable findings: the more educated and wealthy you are, the more you are interested in science. Sadly, women are less interested in science (come on ladies – you’re also less atheist – what can I do to win you over?!)

The following two tables are a nice summary of the report but you take a look for yourselves as well by following this link: Council of Canadian Academies | CCA | Science Culture: Where Canada Stands.

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