School Holiday Traffic

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:46 am

Driving in to work this morning, the traffic was blissfully sane. As it always is during school holidays. It occurred to me that, rather than spending billions on new roadworks to ease traffic congestion, simply getting the majority of the ‘school run’ off the road would make a very dramatic difference to Brisbane’s traffic flows.

There are two parts to a solution:

One is a massive public education campaign to get more kids travelling to school on foot, bicycle and public transport. It *is* safe in Brisbane, but many parents seem to think it’s not, so they drive them to school. An associated piece of this puzzle is reinstating lockers at school so kids don’t have to carry all their books to and fro each day – something that would also have significant spinal health benefits.

Another is to separate the two morning traffic ‘bubbles’ – the morning peak hour as those who need to be in the office at 9 am head to work and the parallel rush with school starting at 8:30 or 9. If school started at 10 or 10:30 and went a bit later students would learn as much (or more – recent research shows that teens learn better when they get to sleep in in the morning) but the traffic congestion would be eased considerably.

The latter step would also to some extent ‘force’ the former, since parents would be at work already and unable to drive kids to work.

I reckon the whole proposal has a lot of things going for it.


Something I’ve been thinking about

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:11 am

First, check out this amazing video. You might have seen it before, but watch it again anyway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ve4M4UsJQo&feature=search

Now, God could have just walked over to the car and switched it on, metaphorically speaking. But how much more amazing and awe-inspiring to do it this way!

Similarly, he absolutely has the power to speak and have the universe appear just as it is: but how much more amazing and awe-inspiring to speak it all in potentia in the one great word of the Big Bang, and then have all the parts connect in precise, incredible ways over nearly 14 billion years of connections to have us here to marvel at it all.


A Film about how we have all become Richard Nixon

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:45 pm


It outlines our current societal malaise perfectly… but doesn’t really provide a solution.

Here’s mine: reject the fear. Understand the evidence.


Church and the Semiotics of Space

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:58 pm

Here’s an iPhone photo that I sneaked this morning of the interior of the church:

The church was built in the 50s, and I think the pews and many of the other furnishings are original. The small thing I noticed was the little decorated (with different shades of wood) wooden stand in front of the pulpit. It currently has a small LCD monitor on it, so that those singing at the front can see the lyrics that are being projected on a screen above and behind them. Presumably it’s been pressed into that service fairly recently, and it’s intriguing to think about what its maker intended it to do.

The bigger point is that all of the services are conducted from the lower stage, which stands maybe 10 cm (4 in) above the floor of the church. A narrow pulpit – just a shelf on a stand – is used to hold the speaker’s Bible and notes. No-one ever goes up unto the higher part of the stage, which is maybe 60 cm (24 in) above the floor.

Presumably that’s because it is felt that the speaker ought to be on a level with those spoken to, rather than ‘speaking down to them’ in a literal sense from the higher platform, as would have been the original design. I’d bet money that there’s a massive and solid wooden pulpit a metre and a half (4 ft or so) wide somewhere in storage.

I guess it could be seen as progress, but (a) it ignores the fact that, without a raked floor, having the speaker low down means it’s hard for the people at the back to see him (or, rarely, her) but (b) it’s actually still a rather archaic process to have one person preach for half an hour to a large number of people. We try to do less of that in school these days, and although obviously there can be very excellent preachers as well as very poor ones, as I say, the approach itself seems maladaptive… perhaps the next egalitarian step will move us away from this centre-periphery model entirely…



Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:56 pm

As well as being a decent possible band name, this word that I coined on my bike ride this morning seems to me to be a decent descriptor of some aspects of our society. It’s jamming together ‘pathology’ and ‘idolatry’, and I take it to mean something like ‘worship of sickness’.

I don’t mean that in a puritanical, Moral Majority (sic) sort of way, but just to suggest that it’s the flaws and psychopathologies of the participants that are the key selling points of most of the reality TV out there. I shouldn’t be blind to my own, more drama-based, viewing habits, either: House’s pathologies definitely are part of what makes that show interesting. In news, too, it’s the stories of the parents who do horrible things to their kids, and other kinds of sickness, that seem to get the ratings and attention.

It’s probably just part of the human condition… but another part is ‘monkey see, monkey do’. Perhaps a little more emphasis on the healthy (and by that I don’t mean the fruit-and-vegie-and-lots-of-exercise sense, or the repress-and-hide-everything-real sense) in our culture would be… healthy.


Disciplined Eclecticism

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:12 am

Chatting in the car with Suzie the other day, and she asked me ‘what’s the key educational idea you’re all about?’1 The discussion was pretty much about ‘branding’ myself: Mr Piaget has his stage theory, Mr Kohlberg his moral reasoning, Mr Vygostky his ZPD and so on… What will be my legacy and what will I be known for?

So far I’ve written two books – ‘Weaving Narrative Nets’ and ‘Undead’ Theories. They’re both about educational research, and both talk about processes of pulling together bits from a variety of places to make something that’s well adapted to a particular purpose. I’ve used the term ‘bricolage’, borrowed from other people, before, but it doesn’t really capture it.

I’ve also used the term ‘disciplined eclecticism’ though, and that’s what came to mind when Suzie asked the question. There are a couple of things that get me to that point:

  1. There’s nothing new under the sun – all the gentlemen named above created their own theories and ‘brands’, but (and the best of them knew this and acknowledged it) they were really each taking up ideas that dated back at least to the Greeks, and probably much further 2
  2. I have always believed that all human situations – and educational situations are just a special subset of those – are too complex and multifaceted for a single theoretical perspective or approach to capture enough of them to be useful for our purposes3

So, ‘disciplined eclecticism’, then, is the approach of begging, borrowing and stealing ideas from as many sources as possible – other educational theorists, sure, but also artists and scientists and novelists and engineers – and combining them into makeshift but workable new tools to inquire into educational situations in ways that are well adapted to both the features of the situation and our educational purposes.

The ‘eclectism’ means we need to read very broadly4 and know a lot of possible approaches… but that could end up being messy and uncoordinated and unmanageable. That’s where the discipline comes in.

The term is used in two senses:

  1. Self-discipline: two or three frameworks, data sources, approaches or whatever can work well, maybe even four if you can juggle really well, but ten is going to be a mess for pretty much everyone
  2. The ‘discipline’ within which you’re working: the appropriate mix will be different in education than in psychology, and even different in science education than in second language education

I’ve thought about disciplined eclecticism as an approach to research, and written a few things about that, and I think I have some road still to cover – and probably a book or more still to write – on that topic. But it occurred to me that it’s actually also the approach I follow and advocate in teaching: don’t adopt one theory, one approach, one strategy. Instead, learn about a heap – expand your repertoire – and then choose the appropriate mix for this school, class, subject, time of day, your own personal style and all the other relevant variables.

Choosing the appropriate mix is both art and science, and – like prescribing drugs – it is not only the individual effects of each of the ‘treatments’ that needs to be considered but their possible interactions…

I’ve got lots more thinking and writing to do, and it’s probably still too diffuse as a ‘brand’ and a concept to slip my name up there with the Big Guys, but it’s definitely a concept I can get behind as representing some of what I’m here to share with the world.

  1. Conversations like this are some of the many, many reasons she’s awesome
  2. It’s just that the Greeks got really good at writing stuff down on less perishable media so we know more about what they thought
  3. Let alone ‘The Truth’ about them
  4. And ‘read’ here includes ‘listen to’ and ‘view’ and ‘play’ – there might be great tools in movies, songs and games


Evidence, Eminence and Vehemence

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:51 am

Heard the tail end of a very interesting story on ABC Radio National yesterday afternoon. It was based on some ideas from Peter Heimlich, the son of the Dr Heimlich who gave his name to the Heimlich Manoeuvre for helping people who are choking. Here’s a link to the program: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/healthreport/stories/2010/2768800.htm.

Something that particularly caught my ear, though, was a comment along the lines “that’s not evidence-based practice, it’s eminence-based or maybe vehemence-based”.

It’s a nice play on words, of course, but it encodes some useful ideas. I’ve talked here before about the notion of evidence-based practice, as well as some of my misgivings about it, but the idea of basing what we do on the best available evidence is a sound one. And recognizing that a couple of the less-sound alternatives include basing it on the prestige and reputation of the people advocating the idea (eminence) or on how loudly they yell (vehemence) is useful.

Maybe we can add a false (or even true) sense of urgency – imminence – to the mix. Anyone else want to play? Letting the aging Baby Boomers make all the decisions – senescence-based practice!


Progress or Symptom?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:13 am

So, Ms Smith and Mr Jones are in love, and have the big white wedding. But it would too, too archaic for Ms Smith to take his name and become Mrs Jones. How patriarchal! So they keep their own names, which is entirely fine.

Then they reproduce… young Master… well, there’s the rub. He can’t be simply Jones… how patriarchal! So the simple and obvious solution is the double-barrell. Sounds kinda classy, too. Young Master Smith-Jones, and a little later his sister, Miss Smith-Jones… or possibly Jones-Smith, just to keep the author order fair.

This is all terribly egalitarian and good, and I’m a big fan of it.

But time passes on, as it will. Young Master Smith-Jones has grown up, gone out into the world and fallen in love… with the daughter of similarly enlightened parents, Miss Knightsbridge-Humperdinck.

They marry, keeping their names, and in due course reproduce. Young Miss Knightsbridge-Humperdinck-Smith-Jones. A bit of an issue at school, and filling in forms in the space provided, but doable, I guess… Until, in the course of time, she too grows up, meets and falls in love… with young Mr Allibrandi-Tompkinson-Edwards-Fahd.

And they marry and give birth, and…

Clearly this system needs a little more work.


Different Worlds

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:27 am

Different people see the world in different ways. One of those differences is that some people recognise that this is the case and others don’t.



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:32 am

I lubed the chain on my bike this morning, and it felt much happier on the ride in. I’d been trying to get around to doing it for a week or so, but I was away for 3 days, and left home before it was light another couple of days, and just never got around to that brief but messy job. Worth doing though, to make my newish $400 chain and sprockets last longer. Plus the bike just purrs when it’s freshly oiled.

Similarly, the light globe in our bathroom blew about a week ago, and I haven’t replaced it. My bedside lamp is in the bathroom as a makeshift solution, but that’s not satisfactory either there or because I can’t read in bed properly. It’s a pain, and only a 5 minute job to fix, but I just haven’t managed to get it done. Pathetic, I know.

Not sure what makes for this kind of petty procrastination, where the irritation caused by *not* fixing something is greater than the hassle of fixing it… and yet it doesn’t get fixed. Just a human thing, I guess… or maybe it’s just a ‘me thing’?



Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:47 pm

One of the local newspapers included in today’s edition free small Australian flags to be flown from cars, so there were lots of them about on the weekend. Lots of flags everywhere else as well, including on clothes and even bikinis.

I had a bit of a rant-ette to the family in the car about it being ‘unAustralian’ to fly the flag too aggressively, and later chatted with some South African friends about the issue as well. I wasn’t sure of the reason for my unease with it, but spent a bit of time thinking about it later.

Part of it is just discomfort with any too-aggressive displays of nationalism. There were race-related fights on the Gold Coast yesterday as some idiots got too aggressive in their ‘love it or leave it’ rhetoric and got in the face of perceived ‘foreigners’ – most of whom are loyal Australians. Nationalism has caused more than its share of trouble in the past century and a bit.

But that’s more of an afterthought. I think what I was really reacting to was just the old thing about security: if someone feels the need to proclaim his masculinity too loud and long, you have to figure he has some doubts about it. And so on. So my feeling is that Australians should just *know* we live in one of the best, freest, most beautiful and blessed countries on earth, and just quietly, laconically, Australianly recognise that. Protesting too much, waving the flag too hard, just looks like trying too hard and like insecurity.


Religion is like Alcohol

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:49 pm

So, it seems to me like alcohol, particularly in large quantities, just exacerbates (or disinhibits) a person’s existing personality characteristics. If someone is already belligerent they’re likely to get in a fight, if they’re happy and mellow they’ll be more happy and mellow, and so on.

And it seems to me as though religion serves a similar role, in that it disinhibits people and lets them take their existing characters to much more extreme lengths than they would feel able to without religion. If they’re good, loving, caring people – and I have many wonderful Christian friends who are – their faith supports them in that and gives them extra avenues and communities in which to enact it. On the other hand, if someone is fanatical, or judgemental, or filled with hate, or scared of their own sexuality… they can find a branch of religion that will allow them to take those things to extremes… even to the extent of killing or dying for them.

Religion claims to be about stories of transformation… but it seems as though sometimes it’s more about the same kinds of energies being directed in slightly different directions: the most fanatical sinners become the most fanatical saints, but they’re still fanatics, and their faith just allows them to go to extremes.

Atheism and humanism, by contrast, seem more modest, and to keep people to less extreme attitudes and behaviours. That’s a generalisation, and I know someone will be sure to throw communist atheism and purges at me. I guess in a sense it’s a matter of definitions and semantics, but to me by the time you get to a place of killing for a lack of ideological purity, you’re back around to religion in some form.

As I said above, I’m not saying that religion is always, or even on balance, a negative force in the world. There are many medical missionaries and people running orphanages and soup kitchens, enabled by their faith, as well as smaller but still very important embodiments of grace. But I do think the analogy with alcohol is at least of passing interest…


Random Notes and Incidents

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:23 pm

Been too busy to post for a while, so here’s a rapid catch-up:

  • Brisbane has had 3 wild storms this week, leading to over 320,000 houses losing power and many being destroyed. And there’s another one forecast for tomorrow. So far we’ve been rainswept but undamaged.Alex mused that although they’re devastating, these storms are good for us, because they remind us that no matter how much we try, we can’t control everything.
  • Went to Cassie’s Year 12 graduation this morning (for some reason it was from 7-9 am). A lot of fun, and good to congratulate her on this milestone. She has applied to a couple of the local unis and they are courting her with phone calls, letters and email. Guess she’ll see which offers she actually gets in a few weeks.
  • Cassie went to her senior dance on Tuesday night – one of the stormy nights, so there was lots of protecting frocks and hair from the rain, but she had a good time. Six of her friends came back to our place to sleep over, so it was a late and somewhat noisy night, but at least we knew they were all safe.
  • And, in the final Cassie news, we drove her down to the Gold Coast, with the same group of friends (minus one who was sick) this evening for ‘Schoolies Week’ – basically an end-of-school week of celebration at the beach. Schoolies itself sometimes gets a bit wild, but the girls have rented an apartment some distance from the centre of Surfers, and will basically just hang out as friends and go to the beach and so on. At least, that’s what the parents are meant to know about… 😉 They’ll be fine, they’re a great group of girls.
  • My bike had just suddenly died a couple of days ago, in an undercover car park, miles from my mechanic’s shop. I thought I’d have to transport it there, which would be expensive, but instead did a little bit of sleuthing myself and got help from people on a couple of web forums who know about bikes. They tentatively diagnosed it as just a dead battery, so I grabbed a new battery, dropped it in and all was well. $63 for a battery (and a bit of running around) was much better than a couple of hundred to transport it to the mechanic and get it checked out – and there was a fair bit of satisfaction in fixing it myself, too.
  • Working on revising some chapters for the NSW ‘Science Focus’ series of junior high science textbooks at the moment, and just fired off one chapter yesterday. It’s fun, and pays OK, and I learn a lot from the process. Must upgrade that list of my published books on my home page.
  • On the drive home this evening, Suzie was half asleep and I was listening to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’. I discovered that album on a cassette I bought from a schoolmate, Wayne Dobson (who I believe has since suicided), in Year 10 (so about the age Alex is now) in 1980 and listened to hundreds of times. Still love it, and (as I discovered this evening) still know every lyric, every incidental sound, every guitar solo, almost 30 years later. I kind of get what the punks claimed about Floyd’s massive budgets and spectacular shows, but you only have to listen the ‘The Wall’ to know that the band themselves were thinking seriously about those same issues. And making great music.


Let Karma Take Care Of It

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:47 am

I started out mostly thinking about it in relation to bike riders, and the things drivers do to them. For some reason on one particular trip home last week people pulled out in front of me 3 times. I had my lights on as usual, was doing everything the same as usual – just one of those odd statistical clusters, I guess. The final one, just before home, was close enough to double my heart rate. And then on the way home yesterday I split past a truck and he yelled ‘Oh, you idiot’ out his window as I went past.

In that last case I just gave him a cheery wave and rode on. I could have given him a different sort of gesture, but I do tend to think that the more birds you set free in the world, the more you get back! And he was in a truck and I’m on a bike – enraging him is probably not a particularly smart survival move.

I was also thinking about it because one of the riders who posts on the Netrider forum had had a taxi pull out on him without indicating. He stopped and got off the bike to go and have a few words with the taxi driver when the opportunity presented itself – and almost got done for assault by the cops who magically appeared. And having got off the bike, he’d kind of left himself open to it.

I’m not talking about karma in any mystical sense, and I apologise to any Hindu or Buddhist readers who think I’m just appropriating an idea. I’m talking about it more as the simple operation of cause and effect.

I could remonstrate with someone who pulls out in front of me without looking, but yelling at them is only going to lead to conflict, and the potential of me getting beaten up or arrested or my bike damaged. Not to mention stressing me out. But really, if they have the consistent habit of pulling out without looking, then sooner or later it won’t be a bike they’re in front of but another car, or a truck. Then I hope the other driver is as alert as me, and all the puller-outer gets is enough of a scare to remind them to be more careful.

So karma takes care of it – people who are consistently pleasant will, on average (but not always) find other people to be more pleasant in return, while people who are agressive will encounter aggression – and eventually it will be from someone bigger or tougher than them. People who drive carelessly will keep driving carelessly – and encounter the consequences.

I do like the core concept of ‘karma’, at least as Wikipedia describes it – we’re each responsible for our own lives and our own actions. If we consciously take that to heart – being responsible for acting in good ways in the world, and not worrying too much about correcting others’ actions – it seems to me that the world would be a better place.

So on the bike or wherever else – let karma take care of it.


Religion and Truth

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:32 am

I need a big book to take on a big flight, and as I think I mentioned here before, I’m enjoying Neal Stephenson’s ‘Anathem’ on this trip. It’s over 900 pages of fairly small print, so I only read about half of it on the trip up, and have plenty to keep me occupied on the trip back.

It’s excellent and highly recommended to those who enjoy dense, philosophical science fiction. Lots of the ideas have struck me, and extended things I’ve been thinking about, but one quote from page 577 really hit me. I need to offer a bit of background so it will make sense for you. Some of the characters were using a simple gas stove to cook a meal. Erasmas, the main character, asked why they were using such a simple cooker, when there were much more hi-tech ones available, and they replied that because they often travelled in isolated, difficult environments, they preferred to rely on things that they could understand, and that they could pull apart and repair if necessary (I often have the same reaction under the bonnet (hood) of modern cars…).

So here’s the passage:

Later, Cord [Erasmas’ sister] began to share her views about what had happened, and it became obvious that she was interpreting the whole thing from a Kelx [a fictional religion in the book] point of view. It seemed that Magister Sark had got himself a convert. His words, back in Masht, might have made only a faint impression on her, but something about what we had lived through at Orithena made it all seem true in her mind. And this didn’t seem like the right time for me to try to convince her otherwise. It was, I realised, like the broken stove all over again. What was the point of my having a truer explanation of these things if it could only be understood by avout [kind of secular philosopher-monks] who devoted their whole life to theorics [kind of science/philosophy]? Cord, independent soul that she was, wouldn’t want to live her life under the sway of such ideas any more than she’d want to cook breakfast with a machine that she couldn’t understand and fix.1

OK, so leave aside for a moment Erasmas’ automatic assumption that his own explanation is ‘truer’ than hers, and the implied condescension. This passage just got me thinking about ideas and explanations and our insistence on forcing our ‘truer’ interpretations on others.

Thinking this way is anathema to Christians (and presumably to followers of other religions too): evangelism is all about convincing others to accept our explanations. It’s seen as a sacred duty in most religions. And not only religions, of course: we try to encourage, and when that fails coerce, others to see the world in accordance with our political and scientific and philosophical views, too. But I dunno… it seemed to me that perhaps what we need to look at is (again) the Dr Phil test: “How’s that workin’ for ya?” If other people’s world views seem to be making them happy and fulfilled, and leading them to make the world a better place by caring for others and the world around them, how about we leave them alone, and focus on those whose beliefs are obviously (in their frame of reference, not ours) making them miserable or making them act in evil ways toward others?

Hmm, that might change who is the evangelist and who the sinner in need of salvation, in quite a few cases, I suspect.

  1. Hmm, didn’t realise quite how many explanatory notes I’d need to insert when I started this!



Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:54 am

The pastor at church this week was talking about our value in God’s eyes, and said something about God’s regard for us telling is we’re awesome every day. Then he said something like “How long is it since someone told you you’re awesome?” (my paraphrase).

My response (to myself) was “Not that long, actually!” I couldn’t remember the precise instance, but I’m absolutely sure that in the past day or so Sue or one of the girls would have told me something very close to that.

That’s because it’s just the pattern in our family – we give one another affirmation, encouragement and praise constantly. We’re always telling one another that we’re smart, beautiful, talented and fun to be with. And if someone doesn’t come through with the praise when we feel we deserve it, we’re not shy about asking for it!

It seems to work for us. I don’t think we’re particularly arrogant, although we’re confident. I think people sometimes avoid praising their children because they worry that the kids will get a ‘swollen head’ and be impossible to be around. But my observations lead me to think that arrogance is much more often a result of insecurity than of security.

I think that particularly as young women, our daughters are better protected against jerks and manipulators. They’re not subject to flattery because they’ve heard about their good qualities before (and more sincerely), and they have a healthy concept of their own value, so they don’t put up with any crap.

How about it – how often do you praise the ones you love, and focus on their good qualities? It’s really not that hard… and it’s actually really nice to be able to say “Not that long” when someone wants to know how long it is since you’ve been affirmed.


Fundamentally Flawed Numbers

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:04 am

Some of us in the School of Education did an activity last week where we had to look at some statistics about our programs and compose a response to be sent to the Faculty and the University. There were all sorts of stats, on enrolments and attrition (students who start but don’t finish courses), grades, student satisfaction and so on.

If there were any places where our stats were unusually low we were required to explain the reasons for it. So for one semester – the first semester of this year – the student satisfaction surveys were unusually low. For the immediate preceding semester last year they had been unusually high.

As we tried to figure out the reasons for these odd results, we realised that we tend to administer those surveys to only some courses each semester, not to every course. It’s almost random which courses and lecturers and students are included in the average scores for each semester.

As anyone who understands anything about statistics will tell you, that makes the results almost useless, and certainly not able to be meaningfully compared with one another semester by semester. We understand this. The people we are going to report to also understand it. And yet, here we are, in the position of having to explain ourselves.

Look, I have no problem with issues of accountability. I don’t even have a real problem with a numbers-based approach to accountability, although I think a mixed-method approach that mixes numbers with some narrative or other description is probably richer.

But what I really object to – and it happens at all levels, including use of student results to rate schools and teachers – is when everyone concerned *knows* very well that the numbers are fatally flawed, but yet because the numbers are there just treats them as though they are facts and need to be accounted for – in some way other than through actually recognising that they are meaningless.

(I like to think I would have written this rant even if the numbers showed us up in a good light…)


Breeding Contempt

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:03 pm

It happens in lots of places and on lots of issues, but the place I notice it most is in the response letters in the local newspaper, the Courier-Mail. The web-based version of the paper allows people to comment on stories, kind of like blog comments, and a lot of those comments just show that certain Australians hold other Australians in contempt.

The most recent example was a story about teachers complaining that kids come to school with no manners, having not been taught manners by their parents. One respondent put this down to ‘single mothers and other bumwipes breeding’.

Leave aside the irony of someone commenting about manners by calling others ‘bumwipes’ – what is left is the strong taste of contempt.

It’s not limited to one side of politics by any means: those on the right typically have contempt for the poor, people of other races and anyone they perceive as needing anything from society. Those on the left tend to reserve it for the rich.

But my aim is to at least have respect for everyone. There are plenty of people with whose attitudes and actions I disagree, and some whose actions deserve jail. No problem with that – but they’re all still human, they all still have their own histories and backgrounds to deal with, and they all deserve at least the respect accorded to a human being.

Sadly, Christians, rather than being immune to holding their fellow humans in contempt, are often some of the worst offenders.

But as Jesus said “Whatever you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me”.

Or as someone else said more recently “You love God only as much as the person you love least”.


Have a nice day

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:08 am

We kind of know that any day on earth could be our last: sickness, accident, or even a lightning or meteor strike, and it’s all over for us. It makes life precarious and precious if we remember it.

But in reading and thinking recently, I’ve come up with my Top 10 candidates to end or dramatically change human life as we know it (in no particular order):

  1. large meteor strike – large enough it’s all over, slightly smaller it’s nuclear winter and lots of starvation
  2. random gamma ray burst from space – it happens, and could basically destroy all life on earth (not just human life) instantly with no warning
  3. pandemics – pick your fave: even just imagining a single Ebola carrier making it into any city of millions is plenty to give you the jibblies – 90% kill rate in a period of days, no cure
  4. global thermonuclear war – we act is if it’s off the table and it ain’t
  5. unforeseen dramatic positive climate forcings – if the ice sheet on Greenland melts underneath enough to get lubed and slide off the island, rapid 60-70 foot sea height increases would devastate basically all coastal cities. If there are massive methane pockets in the tundra and they start to outgas, dramatic heating would be very rapid. And so on.
  6. changes to ocean current and heat circulation lead to a rapid new ice age
  7. a mega computer virus that uses the distributed nature of the net and is able to physically damage every processor it hits – total web shutdown in a day, with all the things that are now web-controlled going with it
  8. the ‘gray goo’ problem of runaway nanomachines
  9. some unanticipated rupture in reality – or, less dramatically, massive explosion, massive gamma ray burst or the creation of a small but rapidly-growing black hole – due to the Large Hadron Collider or whatever other tinkering we’re doing
  10. ceased rotation of the earth’s core, collapsing the magnetic field and allowing in a lethal storm of solar radiation

But the one that gets us will most likely be one we haven’t even imagined.

Have a nice day. 😉


Ascription Errors

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:05 am

It started on Salon with a discussion about feminism, and how sometimes feminists can be unkind to women who decide that they want to be stay-at-home parents. Someone claimed that such unkindness should not be ascribed to feminism itself (since it is about allowing women to have choices), but to the individuals who do it.

I’m only partly sure I agree in that particular case – not least because feminism has many flavors. But it made me also think about how we ascribe things – usually negative things – to any framework or belief system or worldview.

Do we ascribe the judgemental behaviour of some Christians to Christianity, or to their own character and personality?

The extremes are fairly easy. The BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer was a pillar of his local church – but it’s pretty easy to decide that his actions were due to his own evil nature and choices, rather than to his faith.

But there are huge grey areas. What we tend to do is actually split off frameworks into smaller ones, in terms of the things we like and don’t like. So Fred Phelps and his ‘God hates fags’ church gets split off from the mainstream of Christianity, and we don’t ascribe his extremism to Christianity… even though it is not all that far from a lot of the beliefs in many mainstream Christian churches.

Then there’s the distinction between what is taught in the Bible and what is taught in some church congregations…

I’m not sure it’s even a useful question in every situation, but sometimes ‘is this the framework or the individual?’ might help to avoid stereotyping a whole philosophical perspective, religious faith or racial group with the actions and attitudes of a few.

The hard part is making sure we are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to those we disagree with, while holding those on ‘our side’ to a higher standard.