Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Anonymous Scientology Recruiting

We attended a multi-cultural festival at Victoria Park in Kitchener yesterday (June 21, 2009). It was refreshing to see so many people with different ethnic backgrounds together. Festivals like this go a long way to helping groups respect each other.

There was one booth that did not seem to fit... an unlabeled tent that simply advertised "Free Stress Test". Under the canopy were two "stress-test" stations. Each station had one person operating the test, and the other held two shiny hollow cylinders, one in each hand. Each cylinder had a wire that connected to a gadget that looked like this:

It's the infamous e-meter, and the booth was recruiting suckers to join Scientology. I could tell because one of the operators wore a shirt that said "Dianetics" in large letters. Oh, how I wanted to take the test and experience the lunacy first-hand. But I didn't think it would be fair to my wife to leave her with 3 young kids while I indulged my skeptical nerd hobby.

But next year, I'll jump into the line if I see that tent again.

The Scientologists tried to recruit me years ago. In the early 90's, I was walking down a street in Ottawa and someone asked me (and my friend) if I'd like to have a personality test. We both agreed to take the test, and followed into an adjacent building. The test was multiple-choice; unfortunately, I can't remember the substance of the questions. It was graded by a guy with a template (I noted that he was a heavy smoker). After the grading, my friend and I were ushered separately into back rooms to talk to the person who could interpret the results. And -- wouldn't you know it -- we were both low on the happiness scale. The counsellor-person suggested that I would benefit greatly from their program. That was enough for my friend, but I agreed to come back for a trial session.

In the follow-up session, I was in a small room with a person (I don't know what to call them). They asked me to tilt my head back and describe a traumatic event. We went over a few such traumas. The person told me that we all have the potential to remember our own conception. Yes, our OWN CONCEPTION!! I'm happy to say that I rejected that notion immediately. But the person insisted that our life traumas are what stop us from recalling that far back ("That, and the fact that a one-celled organism has no brain", I thought to myself). All I had to do, according to this counselor, is address one trauma at a time, each one allowing me to remember further back than before.

Eventually, the person asked me if I had any questions. I asked them what education they had. I can't remember the answer, probably because it wasn't a clear answer. If they'd said, "I have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology", I would have remembered that. Or at least a bachelor's degree of any kind. I expect they spouted some internal Scientology qualifications... meaningless in my world.

We left the small room and the person emphatically urged me to sign up for their "counselling sessions". They showed me the fee schedule, and I noticed that the fees increased over time. The further advanced you were, the more expensive the sessions. I said "no", and the small group of people in the office draped sad looks on their faces, and said, "Well, at least you can buy this book." They showed me what must have been the book Dianetics; it's basically the bible for Scientologists. I declined, and they issued their good-byes with a somber tone.

I feel good knowing that I was targetted, but not captured by the Scientology movement. As far as I'm concerned, Scientology is a religion that has gone over the line into cult territory. Their policies on collecting money is a big hint. But even bigger is how they treat insiders that dissent and leave the faith. They unabashedly try to intimidate those who criticize them. They denounce scientific evidence in favour of their own ideas of mental health. These are all indications that they are -- ultimately -- selling promises of happiness that they cannot fulfill.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Vaccination myths

The Waterloo Regional District School Board (WRDSB) requires its students to be vaccinated against the diseases tetanus, diptheria, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, Pneumococcal conjugate, Meningococcal C conjugate, and Varicella (chicken pox). You can see some of the details of the policy in this memo issued by the Region of Waterloo in 2001, and this memo issued in 2005. Basically, if your child is not vaccinated against those diseases, they will be expelled from school until you can supply documentation that they've had the vaccinations, OR you supply documentation of their exemption on medical or religious (yikes) grounds.

This kind of enforced vaccination gets people like Jenny McCarthy up in arms. She is utterly convinced that vaccines gave her son autism. And she's on an emotional anti-vaccine crusade. I guess we should all listen to her, given her scientific and medical training?

What's that? She has no scientific or medical credentials? Oh, that's right... she got her start in Playboy. But she does have her self-proclaimed "mommy instinct". And she has evidence... her son's autism symptoms emerged shortly after he received the needle. Hey, that's the same logic as "My computer crashed right after I put my shoes on. Damn you Nike!"

Let's consider what would happen if we followed her advice.

Years ago, before vaccines, children were dropping like flies to diseases like rubella, measles, polio, etc. Should we bring back those good ol' days? Not on my watch!

The truth is that vaccination has been one of the most successful modern-day medical technologies ever implemented. Today, those diseases are almost unheard of. Why? Because of a quiet army of doctors and nurses administering these amazing needles over the years.

The program has been so successful that many people have lived their lives blissfully unaware of the horrors that these illnesses cause. Enter Jenny McCarthy. Her fear-mongering tactics point to anecdotal "evidence" that vaccines might cause neurological problems in rare cases (scientific consensus overwhelmingly indicates that there is no link between vaccines and autism). In my books, anecdotes do not comprise strong evidence. Besides, even if there WAS good evidence that vaccines sometimes caused neurological problems, it's far better than a 30% infant mortality rate.

I support vaccination, and those that don't should be thankful that their ancestors did because without vaccines they probably wouldn't be here.

If you're interested, someone is keeping track of the deaths caused by failure to comply to vaccination standards. It's called the "Jenny McCarthy Body Count".

Get WidgetThe Body CountJenny McCarthy Body Count

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Infection of the Mind

I just listened to a really good TED talk. In case you haven't heard of TED, it stands for "Technology, Entertainment and Design". Every year (and increasingly more frequent, it seems), they hold a conference in California, inviting an eclectic ensemble of top-notch field leaders to give a brief talk. You can view all the talks online at

In this talk by Diane Benscoter, she describes the mental state of being in a cult (she was a Moonie for 5 years). I love the virus analogy. She says that some people are more susceptible to the cult virus than others; it depends on how strong their immune system is. That "immune system" is skepticism.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fractal Flower

These flowers belong to a plant that grows nicely beside our sandbox. The stalk splits into multiple, smaller stems. Then each of those stems splits into stems that are smaller still. Eventually, the sequence ends in a flower on each branch. Cool.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Voicemail gotcha!

I noticed that the message-waiting indicator was illuminated on my office phone. So I checked my voicemail, and a recorded woman's voice said,

This is a test of the emergency system. Please go to the web page to find out more. Do not use voicemail during an emergency.

What a strange thing to say. And while we're at it, DON'T READ THIS LINE!

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Today's weight: 172.0 lbs.

My rate of weight loss seems to have declined. Maybe "cheat-day Saturdays" aren't such a good idea. Perhaps I should scale it back a little.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stroller Diving

No, it's not a new sport. But I'm sure it looked pretty cool.

On Friday, I was pushing Addie in the stroller to drop her off at preschool. She likes me to run down this grassy hill. I've always been aware that it's a little dangerous. And Friday was the day it finally happened. The little front wheels of the stroller either hit a bump or fell into a little hole... and stopped dead. Naturally, our momentum just kept right on going. The stroller flipped forward and Addie toppled out. I had to jump a little -- and dive and roll -- to avoid landing on Addie and the stroller.

Luckily, the banana I had in my backpack was none the worse for wear. I can't say the same for the stroller. The next day, I discovered that a bit of the frame was bent. In the photo, that gray tube is supposed to be straight.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 6 Weight: 170.6 lbs

That's a nice surprise after my last weigh-in's slight disappointment. Of course, it should be noted that I am eating according to a 1.5 lb.-per-week weight-loss schedule. According to today's weight, I've lost 4 lbs. in the last week. I expect it's as much about hydration as anything else.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Today's weight: 172.4 lbs

I hopped on the scale after breakfast this time. It seems that shaving most of my beard off didn't really make much of a difference. :-)

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Sometimes I just feel the urge for change. I'm lucky to have enough facial hair that I can claim to have a beard, because a beard is an easy thing to change. So, I recently decided to shave off my beard.

I've had it since, oh, I guess 2005. When I look back at pictures, I don't really like the way I looked. But, then again, I was somewhat heavier then and my clothing choices were uninspired (not that I'm a fashion-plate now, but I've improved). I ran the idea past Trish first, and she suggested that I stop at the goatee. So here we go....




Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Chicken vs. Egg: finally settled

You've heard the question, "What came first, the chicken or the egg?"

I was listening to a podcast that I love to hate, Intelligent Design the Future, and was reminded of that age-old conundrum. In case you're not familiar, Intelligent Design (ID) is a world view that posits that life could NOT have evolved, but instead must have been designed by an intelligent agent (translation: ID is good ol' creationism gussied up with a new suit and a new name). ID proponents spend most of their time fighting off their inevitable hostile takeover by the amazing theory of evolution. Though they call their theory scientific, they offer little science; it's mostly about trying to punch tiny holes in evolution so that they can continue believing in their religion.

One particular argument they spout is that evolution has never been observed. Evolution, by its very nature, takes a long time. The reason it even had to be discovered in the first place (as opposed to being dismissively obvious) is because it takes so much longer than a human lifetime.

Oh, I'm sorry. ID proponents don't categorically denounce evolution; they DO concede that micro-evolution occurs. That is, they agree that selective breeding can lead to changes in gene frequencies in a population, and cause certain traits to become exaggerated. Dog breeding is a canonical example.

However, they draw the line at macro-evolution, the idea that small changes in a population's genome can accumulate over time and create a new species. The most compelling reason for this denial is a lack of imagination. They have difficulty imagining how a bird could evolve from a dinosaur, so instead they focus on silly distractions like, "Has anyone ever seen a dog give birth to a duck? Of course not, so evolution is a fraud!" The podcast was talking about how SARS, the bird flu, and swine flu all failed to cause a pandemic. Their argument is that since the viruses didn't evolve even that little bit further to cause a pandemic, then nothing ever evolved. To point out how wrong this is, let me apply the same logic to a different scenario: I didn't have a heart-attack today, therefor I will never have a heart-attack.

It seems inevitable that small alterations in the genome of species "A" will, over time, accumulate until it no longer seems appropriate to call it species "A" anymore. That's called speciation. In fact, it's actually more difficult to imagine speciation NOT occurring.

OK, back to the chicken and the egg. I expect that the ancient ancestors to chickens also laid eggs. So, every chicken must come from an egg. What's not so clear is that every egg has to yield a chicken. For a sexual-reproducing species like chickens, every offspring is different from its parents. At some point in history, a species of birds accumulated enough genetic changes from its ancestor species to warrant a new name. The first organism of that new species must have first been an egg. Hence, the egg came before the chicken.

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Weight update: 172.2 lbs.

Slowly but surely...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Financial advice, Las Vegas style

One of my ex-financial advisors sent me a chain e-mail today. One of those life-lessons messages with gems of wisdom like "When you lose, don't lose the lesson". OK, that one seems fine. But how about this one, "Say 'bless you' when you hear someone sneeze"? Many people follow that rule, but it seems utterly useless to me. I see no purpose for it, other than to satisfy someone's superstitious itch.

The message also claims that "It has been sent around the world ten times so far." Not sure what that means, since the internet makes such a task trivial.

And here comes the icing on the cake... the message ends with,
Send this to at least 5 people and your life will improve.

1-4 people: Your life will improve slightly

5-9 people: Your life will improve to your liking

9-14 people: You will have at least 5 surprises in the next 3 weeks

15 and above: Your life will improve drastically and everything you ever dreamed of will begin to take shape.

Thoughts: How can my life improve slightly, but not to my liking? What would happen if I forwarded the message to exactly 9 people?

I have a personal policy that I NEVER take part in e-mail chain letters. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to figure out that if everyone sent it to 5 of their friends within 6 minutes (as the e-mail directs), it would take only 90 minutes to reach every living human being. Of course, not everyone has e-mail, so what it really means is that this silly chain letter will fill the internet (and your inbox) with superstitious dribble.

I can't help wondering if sending this message to more than 15 people is this particular financial advisor's best strategy for financial success. I think I made the right decision in making them my EX-financial advisor.

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Today's weight: 172.8 lbs

To be fair, I hadn't had breakfast yet.