28 May 2007

Freebirth Nonsense

I saw an msnbc story the other day on a growing trend called Freebirthing. Freebirthing is where a soon to be mother chooses to give birth by herself at home, without drugs, doctors, or midwives. If it sounds dangerous and insane, well, that's because it is.

Freebirth proponents in the article insist that having a baby is as intimate an experience as having sex, thus should not be witnessed by anyone except the parents. They claim the current culture of requiring medical assistance is a product of fearmongering by the medical establishment.

The article does interview concerned doctors and other parents who think the freebirthers are nuts. Dr. Crippen from British National Health Service says “giving birth is the most dangerous thing that most woman will do during their life.”

What do the freebirthers think?

"It didn’t make sense to me that something that ensures the continuation of the race would be a dangerous and scary event.”

“We’ve been giving birth for thousands of years and we’re still in this world. If it was that dangerous we wouldn’t be here.”

Morons. You're expelling a living organism with a head the size of a cantaloupe out a small opening in your body; of course it's dangerous and scary! And it doesn't need to be safe to continue the species; all the species needs is more births than deaths, so as long as lots of women are having babies, it doesn't matter to the species if many women and babies die. According to the Wikipedia article, a good estimate of the rate of maternal deaths during childbirth without medical help is 1.5%. With modern medical help, the rate is 0.03%. I don't know about you, but giving birth without medical help looks like a damn foolish idea just from the mother's perspective. I haven't even bothered looking at what happens to the babies. The above mentioned Dr. Crippen wants all freebirth babies with problems to sue their mothers when they grow up.

The piece ends with Mary Siever, an Albertan, saying:
“I can’t claim to know why they feel this way, but my belief is that the majority of them — doctors and health authorities — truly do not think women are intellectually capable of making their own decisions when it comes to birth.”
I'm going to go out on a limb here and speak for the health authorities:

Mary, we don't think women aren't intellectually capable, we think that you aren't intellectually capable.

First off, many, many doctors these days are women - self-sufficient and fully feminist at that - and if this was just an oppression of women thing it would have been eliminated by now. Second, and much more importantly, women can make all the intellectual decisions about their births they want, but you can't just decide not to have complications. You'll get complications whether you want to or not.

You say, "I'll decide to have a nice home freebirth with no help and no complications, and everything will be great." That's nice. Then when the baby starts coming out the wrong way, or you find you can't dilate enough and what looked to be a 8 hour delivery starts to stretch to 20 hours, what then?

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25 May 2007

Big Tacky Jesus Revisited

I've just been doing more research into the big tacky watery Jesus statue I saw in Ohio. The town it's in is Monroe, and the church is the Solid Rock Church. The statue (which is officially called the 'King of Kings Statue') goes by many names, including 'Big Butter Jesus,' 'Touchdown Jesus,' 'Quicksand Jesus,' 'Ivory Soap Jesus,' 'Cheese Jesus' ('Cheesus'), and 'Drowning Jesus.'

And I thought Jesus could walk on water.

The name 'Butter Jesus' comes from its faintly yellowish colour, reminiscent of the colour of butter. And apparently at state fairs in the area they actually make Jesus sculptures out of butter. This is just a really big one.

It's a tourist attraction that 75% of Monroe residents think is a major eyesore. There's a Wikipedia page on it. There's even a song about it by comedian Heywood Banks.

What an eyesore. I'm glad I don't have to see it everyday.

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The Simpsons

I finally saw the Simpsons episode where the schools start teaching creationism. It made me angry.

"We had a quiz and all the answers were 'God did it.'"

At least the show was accurate.


24 May 2007

What Kind of Atheist Are You?

Good for me. I was expecting my angry to be a little higher though.
You scored as Scientific Atheist, These guys rule. I'm not one of them myself, although I play one online. They know the rules of debate, the Laws of Thermodynamics, and can explain evolution in fifty words or less. More concerned with how things ARE than how they should be, these are the people who will bring us into the future.

Scientific Atheist


Militant Atheist


Angry Atheist


Apathetic Atheist


Spiritual Atheist






What kind of atheist are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

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23 May 2007

Ohio: There and Back Again

Over the 2-4 weekend, a nerd party consisting of me, my brother, my dad, and my wife took a trip to the States for something to do. We left Friday morning and just got back Monday night after midnight (so technically Tuesday), hence the lack of posting/commenting for the past few days.

We crossed the border in Windsor and got a really jerky border guard. The first thing we visited was the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. They have a vast collection of mechanical wonders and oddities there, including huge steam trains, all manner of ancient automobiles, and a portable house designed by Buckminster Fuller. So why was I most excited about seeing the Oscar Mayer WeinermobileWienermobile?

The next day we went to the Ohio Caverns and saw some cool stalactites and stalagmites. Despite being in pretty much hillbilly country, the tour guide and the facility itself make no bones about the fact that the caverns are over 200000 years old and that it takes a very long time indeed for the calcite deposits to form. No Old Earth Creationists here.

Sunday, after a series of navigational errors by my brother which took us to Kentucky, we went to the Cinncinati Museum and saw an Omnimax movie about the Alps (Omnimax hurts my head) and then toured their Museum of Natural History. They have a great exhibit on the ice age and have numerous casts of Pleistocene megafauna like giant ground sloths. For no good reason, here's a photo of the hind end of a mastodon.

Finally, on Monday, we went to the National Air Force Museum at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base. We didn't see any aliens (the Roswell remains were rumoured to have been sent there for analysis back in the '50s) but we did see all manner of fantastical engineering marvels, most of which were at American taxpayer expense. This is a Goblin - a short-range escort fighter meant to be carried by the larger plane it's escorting.

As a Canadian, the following signs were very disturbing and otherworldly, yet they were all over the place in the States. This one was located at the cavern ticketbooth.

And finally, on the way to the Air Force Museum, we saw this:

It's a giant statue of Jesus rising out of the water that's so tacky even my wife thinks God would not approve. America: sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

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Evil Overlord List

From Bronze Dog, a list of things I need to keep in mind for my future plans: Evil Overlord List


22 May 2007

World War Prophesy based on Hallucinogenic Ramblings

My wife has a hard time remembering stuff from history class - afterall, the last time she took history was over a decade ago - so she likes me to remind her about when major events happened and why they are important. On the weekend, I was reminding her about the world wars, namely when they took place and who the primary conbatants were, when she sullenly proclaimed, "There will be another world war eventually..." I steeled myself for what I figured she was going to say next, and I was right. "...At the End of Days," she eventually followed up with, fulfilling my little self-prophecy.

Evidently, I didn't do a good enough job steeling myself, for I blurted out something about not choosing to get my predictions of the future from the hallucinogenic ramblings of some guy almost 2000 years ago.

She then said that they weren't hallucinogenic, but I'm pretty sure she's never read Revelations. I know for a fact that neither her bible study group nor herself independently have gotten to the end of the bible yet. Independently, she's still halfway through the OT while her bible study started in the NT but is only in John. In fact, I'll go out on a limb and guess that her knowledge of Revelations comes from the Left Behind movie and maybe a church sermon or two.

For the record, Revelations contains mentions of:
- ...four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings.
- ...locusts looked like horses prepared for battle. On their heads they wore something like crowns of gold, and their faces resembled human faces. Their hair was like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth. They had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the thundering of many horses and chariots rushing into battle.
- ...And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. He had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on his horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion.

These among many, many other similar things. Hallucinogenic? You tell me.

By the way, a great (though not yet completed) fun resource for Revelations is Apocamon: The Final Judgement.

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17 May 2007

Letter to a New Atheist

Vjack at Atheist Revolution has a great letter for those on the brink of atheism that I thought I'd link to. I don't need it of course, but someone out there might.
Remember that movie, The Matrix, that was so popular? Well, you are sort of like Neo once he was freed from the matrix of religion. Reality might not have been quite as appealing as the matrix (or your pastor) made it our to be, but it is real.
Truth is more valuable than any delusion, no matter how comforting.

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Heart Attacks: A Satanic Coincidence

My sister-in-law's father just had a heart attack. So did another guy in his church men's group. Both men are surviving but are not doing particularly well. Both these heart attacks occured within a couple of days of each other.

I say it's quite a coincidence. My wife and her religious friends think it's a concerted attack by Satan on the men's group.

She says I'm too practical, but what else is there but practical?

Both men are in the same age group (old), with similar interests and lifestyles. Based on what I know about the sister-in-law's family, a healthy diet has never been a strong suit of theirs. In other words, both guys are at elevated risk of a heart attack.

Therefore, I'm willing to put it down to coincidence that both attacks occured within a couple of days of each other. What happens when someone gets a heart attack but no one else they know gets one too? No one thinks the single heart attack is a Satanic plot. But many people do get heart attacks, and if heart attacks occasionally coincide, what's the big deal? (As an added bonus, a very good post on coincidences was in a recent Carnival of the Godless from Greta Christina's blog.)

Add to the fact that, for a men's group of almost a dozen people, two heart attacks doesn't exactly seem like an all-out assault.

Also, when was Satan's plan of attack giving people heart attacks? I though Satan was supposed to tempt people to sin, not try to kill them.


15 May 2007

Concrete Canoes!

This year the Canadian National Concrete Canoe Competition was held at my old university over the Mother's Day weekend. Already home for the weekend to visit my mom, my wife and I decided to pop by for the finals. The fact that it was being filmed for the Discovery Channel and hosted by Survivorman Les Stroud just added to the cool factor. I love Les's show, mainly for his continual assurances that he "hates killing wildlife, but in a survival situation, all life is fair game" just before he whacks some little critter on the head and eats it.

The concrete canoe compeition is exactly what it sounds like. Teams of civil engineering students build a canoe out of concrete and race the suckers. And yes, they do float - they just have to displace more than they weigh. In the past, we were actually able to make concrete that was less dense than water but the rules have changed a little and the artificial aggregate we used to help accomplish this is now illegal for health reasons.

I competed back in 2002 at the island in Toronto. Me and one other guy who is just finishing his belated masters now (and was actually one of the organizers of this year's competition) were the first people to set foot in our school's boat. It was quite frightening, but very quickly we found out how good our canoe was. It was very robust and handled just as well as a real canoe. Being there brought back a lot of memories, though the weather this year was a lot better than cold, hypothermia-inducing rain we had in 2002.

The good news is that the Discovery Channel will be airing a segment on the concrete canoe race tonight on Daily Planet (7:00 and 11:00 Eastern), and the whole event is up on the website.

The best news is that I got to have my picture taken with Survivorman!

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11 May 2007

Would you give a religious birthday card to an agnostic?

My wife would.

It's her sister's birthday (or rather, it was a week ago, but we're only able to go visit now) so my wife bought her a card. It's a religious card - typical stuff about "being blessed" and "God's love" etc. Inside, she followed suit and wrote more stuff about God and included a favourite bible verse.

The problem is that her sister is not a Christian. She's dabbled in religion a bit before but is overall not religious. That is why I've decided to call her agnostic here: it may not be appropriate (I don't know her beliefs that well) but it's at least in the right ballpark. Regardless, I doubt she'd appreciate a religious card and I have serious reservations about my wife giving it to her. To make matters worse, we're being cheapskates so the card is not only from my wife but from me and one of her brothers who lives nearby as well. Of course, I'm an atheist and she knows that. Meanwhile, that brother is in largely the same situation as the sister, though possibly even more of an unbeliever. He's only gone to church a couple of times and that was with the sole intention of trying to pick-up (he failed).

I called her on this: "Don't you think giving a religious card is inappropriate when your sister and two of the three of us are not religious?"

Her reply? "Yeah, I guess." Then she continued writing in the card and put it in the envelope without a second thought.

Is there something about religion that makes believers really insensitive in these situations?

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08 May 2007

He can't be racist, he's religious!

For all the hockey fans out there, there is a big political farce going on right now about the captain of Canada's world championship hockey team, Shane Doan. Two years ago, Doan (of the Phoenix Coyotes) was playing a game in Montreal and a referee from Quebec alleges that Doan made anti-french remarks to him during the game, something to the tune of "F--king frenchman." Despite an investigation by the NHL which found the allegations to be unfounded, several politicians are complaining that Doan should not have been selected to the team due to the slur.

First off, it is simply a farce that our leaders would waste so much time drumming up debate over a non-issue. This is your tax dollars at work, folks.

Thankfully, Hockey Canada, most journalists, hockey players, and many, many Canadian citizens have all come down against the politicians in this case.

Now, the interesting thing to me is how Doans supporters have defended him. It's all about character: Doan would never say such a thing. Against standard hockey player type, Doan is well known for not swearing.

But for many of the supporters, character is equivalent to religious:
Olympic speed skating gold medallist Catriona LeMay Doan, who's married to the hockey player's cousin, said it's almost inconceivable a deeply religious Doan would utter such words.
"It's a joke -- it's something that supposedly happened two years ago and he was cleared ... he doesn't have a racist bone in his body.... When it first came across the news back then, it was a big farce -- everybody here laughed about it because Shane's a fairly religious guy." - Halkirk's (Doan's hometown) Mayor Ross Elsasser.
Hockey Canada chief Bob Nicholson said a cultural slur was certainly uttered during the 2005 game - but said it was never uttered by Doan.

He would not say which Coyote actually called a linesman a "F**king Frenchman," but suggested the player involved might not even have been from Canada.

As for Doan, the head of Hockey Canada says he has known the star forward since he was a teenager and described him as a gentle-hearted, devout Christian who doesn't even swear.

"You should get to know Shane Doan," Nicholson said.

"You can talk to all of his teammates that have played with him. He says 'fudge,' a lot if he gets upset. He's a Christian and a person that I am proud to know."
What's this stuff about religion preventing him from being a racist? Maybe in his case he interprets Christianity in a way that doesn't degrade different looking people, but that's never been a strong point of Christianity. The Hamitic Myth, anyone? In fairness, a quick and not very thorough estimate shows that only about 1 out of every 5 positive support comments refers to Doan's religion preventing him from being racist, while the rest refer to it preventing him from swearing. Ok, I buy that. He's Ned Flanders.

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Dawkins on The Hour last night

For those of you who missed it (including me), the interview with Richards Dawkins on The Hour can be found at The Hour's website here.

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06 May 2007

Richard Dawkins on The Hour

Richard Dawkins will by on CBC's The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos on Monday to discuss The God Delusion. I'm not sure if I'll be able to watch tomorrow, but it should be cool. I don't watch The Hour that much (just a little if nothing else is on, plus I watched the one where The Hip came on to promote World Container) but George is a much better TV host than Bill O'Reilly.

Speaking of TV, I was just watching video game review show X-Play on the tube this morning (this is what I do when I'm at home alone waiting for hockey). They were reviewing the little-known game Darwinia. Darwinia is based on the premise of a virtual evolving AI world that you need to save, kind of a strategy game. Being that it mentions evolution, the host took a great deal of time bashing Kirk Cameron and has wacky creation science views. Nice to see that loser nerd boys are anti-creationist.

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03 May 2007

Very Busy

I've been ridiculously busy at the office recently, meaning blogging has all but vanished over the past week. I'm so far behind and I still have a meme or two that I've been neglecting. Today I had a three hour long meeting that I probably only needed to attend for the 20 minutes that it pertained to me, but I had to sit through the whole thing anyway. I need to learn how to sleep with my eyes open.

So in the spirit of work, today I'll quickly touch on two structural engineering items:

1) The elevated highway collapse in LA Oakland - The interesting thing of note here is that the fuel from the gas tanker actually caused temperatures to reach the melting point of steel ~1510ºC (note that the temperature isn't exact as it depends on the proportion of the elements in the alloy), though this temperature is unnecessary to cause a structural collapse. Here's what happens to the strength of structural steel as it is heated.As you can see, even at half the melting temperature, the steel gets very weak indeed; though still a solid, the steel may no longer be able to support the applied loads and the structure will collapse. This is what researchers believed happened in the World Trade Center.(Image cred here)

2) I've been working as a structural engineer-in-training for almost 2 years but it's only now that I've finally seen something large that I've designed (I've seen some barrier walls I designed but they aren't very impressive). The sad thing is, it's only a temporary structure, so once it's done its job, it's coming down. The sadder thing, I haven't actually seen it in person. It's on a webcam. Aww, crap, they've changed the direction of the webcam since yesterday so you can't see it. Good thing I took a screenshot when I had the chance. So what is it? It's a support tower for the large roof trusses of an arena in Kingston, Ontario. I've circled it on the screenshot. The roof trusses are too large to be assembled on the ground so they assemble each one in two parts. One part is installed with one end sitting on the tower, then the other part is installed and the two parts are connected together. Move the tower to the location of the next truss and repeat.

So now you know: if the arena collapses during construction, I'm probably to blame.

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