November 11


32214Remembrance Day again…  we can take a sigh of relief that we have “done the right thing”, take the poppies off our coat, and begin shopping in earnest for Christmas.   In our public sphere… the offices and malls… Remembrance Day is marked by the small donation box on the counter, while the merchandise and activity everywhere else screams Hallowe’en, or Christmas!

In Ontario this November our media focussed, not on the men we served to protect our freedoms, but on two atrocious political scandals that demean their sacrifice. The three disgraced and temporarily suspended senators apparently fiddled with their expense accounts.  The monetary amounts were trivial compared to the sin of being in the wrong party at the wrong time…  the turmoil over the scandal is just more proof that our Canadian senators, appointed for life, do not have enough real work to do. The problems surrounding Toronto Mayor Rob Ford are quite different.  The man is intemperate, dishonest, unreliable… and there is no constitutional means to bar him from office.

There is a connection, at least for me, to Remembrance Day.  Ford admited to smoking crack cocaine and uttering death threats in a furious foul-mouthed tantrum… all caught on tape and initially denied. He excuses this behaviour as having occurred in one of “his drunken stupors”.  My father and the men he served with in the RCAF in WWII undoubtedly drank… frequently and in quantity. I never saw or heard tell of my father, his brothers, or any of his friends “in a drunken stupor”. Undoubtedly it happened, but it was a mark of shame.  A real man was supposed  to “hold his liquor”, to “know his limits”. Anyone who could not or would not do so was a pathetic fool. Rob Ford admitted that he was too drunk to even remember that he had taken crack cocaine…but probably just once, mind you, experimentally, because he is not an addict!!!

fordgifHere is one of his more shining moments… the man who was dismissed as a high school football coach falling on the field!

I wrote about both Remembrance Day and Rob Ford last year.  The links are in the next two blob posts.

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Remembering Sagan

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence: 2

I wrote about Carl Sagan last year as well.  Here are the links.

Michael Shermer and his colleagues are keeping Sagan’s valuable work alive. The website and the skeptic blog are worth visiting frequently. Here is Shermer’s elaboration of the baloney detection kit inspired by Sagan and directed against “junk science”:  the false … Continue reading →

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence: 1

Carl Edward Sagan ( November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences.   You may remember the 1980 PBS television series, Cosmos, the novel and … Continue reading →

Pale Blue Dot

… words of wisdom from Carl Sagan… who narrated the video and who writes so eloquently about the home we share… On the View of Earth From 3.7 Billion Miles Away as a Pale Blue Dot “Look again at that … Continue reading →

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A Universe Not Made for Us

Carl Sagan was born on November 9, 1934.  This year would have marked only his 79th birthday. After suffering from a kind of leukemia, and receiving three bone marrow transplants, Sagan died of pneumonia at the age of 62.  An astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences, he is sorely missed… no one has been able to take up where he left off!

The video opens with an image of the famous Flammarion engraving that I used in a recent embroidery project.  I blogged about that here.


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The Berlin Wall

November 9th is a remarkable anniversary in many ways.  This entry from the BBC lists other key stories besides its detailed review of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But what we remember most is the incredible surprise and elation that marked the opening of that infamous border!

Where were you in November 1989?

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Vatican asks for lay opinion

synodlogo1 Really!

They need to take a poll?  I can only hope that this is widely advertised, so that those who have left the church out of frustration will hear about it and find a way to participate. Even then, I am not optimistic because of the way statistics can be skewed for interpretation.

Without an expensive and intrusive poll I can give them the answer right now… most people enjoy sex; they will get as much as they can, wherever and whenever they can; if they can avoid the biological consequences, so much the better. Many people think that the church has really messed up in this area; many people also think this is none of the vatican’s business… and many of them have left.

I used a story  in my classroom. It applies equally to discussion of the effects of peer pressure or a study of democracy and world history.  “One day a child brought a pet rabbit to kindergarten class for show and tell.  Someone asked whether it was a boy bunny or a girl bunny. The brightest little girl immediately called out her answer… ‘Let’s take a vote!'”

Enough said! Click here to read the story from a leading catholic newspaper.

Vatican asks for parish-level input on synod document | National Catholic Reporter.

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Hallowe’en 9 … Monster

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Hallowe’n 8… The War of the Worlds

Doesn't it look like a spider?

Doesn’t it look like a spider?

PBS broadcast a new documentary about the Hallowe’en radio broadcast 75 years ago of The War of the Worlds. H.G.Wells wrote a good story, and the story of Orson Welles’ radio adaptation is a good story also.

Was there really a nationwide panic? Were people really that gullible, conditioned by experience to believe an alleged “news bulletin” when there were so many obvious indications that it was a dramatization?

Was it a cruel hoax, or an artistic endeavour that was so convincing that it took on a life of its own?

According to the documentary, people sincerely reported eye-witness accounts that matched the details of the script… they saw the Martians and smelled the black gas. In their panic,  imagination overtook common sense and actual physical senses.

So I wonder … what is the power of language… thought, read, spoken, heard, in any format or any medium… to deceive us, distort our sensory perception, and inhibit rational response.  With film and television so brilliantly capable of special effects, auditory and digital manipulation… with it so ubiquitous and so easy to replicate and pass on… who and what can we trust.

Would I have been one of the people who believed and panicked, or would I have had the nerve to say, “Hey, it sounds pretty good, but this is the time the radio broadcasts those outlandish stories.It’s late. I’ll see you in the morning.” Would you?

I watched the news footage of the Kennedy assassination and the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald. I saw the moon landing and the Challenger explosion. I saw film coverage of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the stand-off with the tank in Tiananmen Square.  On 9/11 I watched “in real-time” as the second plane crashed into the tower. I saw the big wave as the tsunami hit the coastline of Japan. I have seen footage of riots and demonstrations and battles around the world. If I were to turn on the television right now, there would doubtless be more horrific and “unbelievable” material.

These were all true. So if a television broadcast were to simulate a catastrophic event in order to manipulate belief, would I be able to resist it?

We refer to the information highway and get our information from the Internet, off the web. Are we, like Frodo in the battle with Shelob we saw yesterday, bundled in to a cocoon, senseless and unable to escape. What happens when we cannot discern the difference between lack of information, valid information, misinformation, and disinformation.

This is scary, really scary!

Read these two articles, one from Slate, the other from the Huffington Post.

And the original broadcast is here as well…Wells. Welles. Well done!

The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic

The War of the Worlds: Could It Happen Again? It Does… All the Time.

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