Opportunity International

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:18 pm

Yesterday we attended Kenmore Baptist Church, a local church in our area. The sermon was by a woman who is a director of development for Opportunity International. It’s a Christian organisation that provides ‘micro-finance’ assistance for people in developing countries. That means things like loaning a women in India $100 to buy a market barrow where she can sell garlic and pineapples. She then pays back the loan over time and builds a business, and the same money (originally a donation) is loaned to someone else. Little or no interest is charged, and Opportunity International is essentially helping people to help themselves in quite simple but very powerful and productive ways.

Seems to me that this gets us past the old arguments between left and right – it’s very obviously a capitalist, not a socialist, approach to solving the problems of poverty. It focuses on individual property ownership and enterprise. But at the same time it actively targets poverty and attempts to find ways to help people out of it, rather than simply leaving everything to the market and dog-eat-dog.

I like it a lot – it gets away from a welfare mentality and the problems engendered by handouts, but also avoids forcing the poor of the world to lift themselves by their bootlaces when they can’t afford boots.


Underneath The Radar

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:25 pm


Writing, Hands and Brains

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:15 am

I was listening to the Book Program on the ABC this morning and they were discussing writers who also paint or produce other kinds of visual arts1. Kurt Vonnegut was talking about his paintings, and quoted Max Ernst, who said that what he liked about sculpture was that he got to use both hands.

The discussion between Ramona Koval and her two guests then moved on to the transition from writing with a pen to writing on a computer. I think I might have mused here before about ‘electronic writing’ and how the ability to easily cut and paste and move the text around has changed the way I write. But the specific issue I got thinking about today was the whole ‘sides of the brain’ thing.

I realise (as some people seem not to) that in many ways it’s just a metaphor. The left half of our brains are not solely concerned with logic and numbers and linear thinking and the right side with art and music and the abstract. But it is a compelling metaphor for thinking about our minds in our bodies (and vice versa, as Mark Johnson reminded us).

So – does ‘getting to use both hands’ when writing, as opposed to writing in longhand2, draw on more of the other side of our brains? Are things written on the computer more fully integrated and fully human than things written longhand?

  1. I kept hoping they’d talk about Douglas Coupland, one of my favourite novelists. I and some of the Wigbers went to see a visual art installation he did in Vancouver a while ago.
  2. Neal Stephenson wrote the immense Baroque Trilogy in longhand with a quill – and boy is his hand tired!


The Terror Trap

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:05 pm

Bruce Grant, writing in The Age, gets it exactly right about terrorism and why the GWOT is exactly the wrong response:



Patience 2

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:01 pm

I wrote a post about patience, and used Guns ‘n’ Roses’ song of the same name, about two years ago. But this particular one is categorised under ‘Bike Stuff’ for reasons that will become obvious.

After all the polling and canvassing of opinions, after all the ideas and discussions and vacillation and budget calculations, I went and had a look – including a test ride – at a bike on Thursday. I’m not going to tell you what it is yet, because I want to be absolutely sure before I make any big announcements, but I did put a deposit on it. That was ‘subject to mechanic’s check’, and that’s what this post is about.

If this had been a normal weekend I’d likely have been able to pick up the bike on Friday, or at least Monday. But it’s the Easter long weekend, so basically nothing at all can happen from when I talked to the seller on Thursday afternoon until at least Tuesday morning.

So I’m loving the longer break to spend with the family, definitely not wishing my life away… but just keeping on reminding myself that the anticipation is the best part. 😉


Basic Parenting for Beginners

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:39 pm

Started this thread in, of all places, the motorbike forum.


Lots of great suggestions from others.


Which bike?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 1:40 pm

You may want to check out the photos and discussion in this thread I started on the William Gibson Board and then weigh in here. Have to admit, at the moment I’m really tossing up between these two, the Suzuki VStrom 650:

and the Suzuki Bandit 1200S

No particular preference for Suzuki, although my current bike is also one, these just seem like the best two solutions for two-up riding around. I can afford a much newer VStrom than Bandit, but it would come down to the individual bike.

You can certainly over-rule me and pick one of the other bikes from the thread, or anything else you fancy…


Fun With Words

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:43 am

Reading a student’s confirmation document (PhD students are confirmed as candidates after a year of their programs if they can show that they’re ready to start their research) over the weekend for a meeting today. He’s writing about Christian schools and how they retain their distinctive values over time.

He used the word ‘themelic’ for these schools – apparently it means something like ‘faith-based’. I thought to myself “does he mean “thelemic”? I’m sure I’ve heard of the word ‘thelemic’, based on ‘thelema’, before”. It bugged me for a couple of days, then I googled it.

Turns out he was right and I was wrong, but in an amusing way: ‘thelemic’ is the branch of magic described by the Satanist Aleister Crowley, whose main theme was ‘do what thou wilt’.

So probably not the relevant term for describing Christian schools…


The Potion

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:38 pm

Sue had been swearing by a health food drink she’s been using. It’s pretty simple – two teaspoons of honey and two teaspoons of cider vinegar (the good cloudy stuff, not that wimpy clear filtered stuff) in a glass of distilled water.

Have to admit I’d been sneering at it a bit as ‘magical thinking’ – vinegar is strong tasting so it must be strong to defeat illness, and so on. And the idea that it would lose all its power if it was made with tap water rather than distilled water contributed to that.

But last week I had a bit of a chest infection that was making me feel sick, and making my breath smell awful. She decided to make a glass for me morning and night when she had hers… and I drank it, and the infection is gone.

It’s not scientific, because who knows whether it would have gone anyway, but hey, it doesn’t taste too bad either, so I guess I’ll be joining her in a glass of potion now and then.


Don’t Leave Your Boots Outside

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:10 am

‘cos I did, and there was one of these babies in one of my boots!

Redback spider

Left my old lawnmowing boots outside the door, and as I went to put them on noticed some webs on them. Shook them and nothing came out, but I wasn’t satisfied so I put my hand in (smart, huh?) Felt something and took my hand out quick smart, but still expected a daddy longlegs. Shook the boot and out tumbled a redback! Toxic and nasty.

Can’t show you that one ‘cos it’s a largish splatter on the front verandah. Guess my boots will be sleeping inside from now on.

(and dang, probably further dissuaded our Canadian friends from coming to see us with this post!)


Syncretism and the Myth of Purity

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:49 am

‘Syncretism’ just means the process through which religions absorb into themselves parts of other religions, and also of the surrounding culture. Christianity’s embrace and re-imagining of the old pagan festivals that used to happen at Christmas time is one example.

It’s usually thought of as a bad thing, a dilution of the old purity of doctrine. But I’d suggest that it’s almost an inevitable thing: people change, societies change, and ideas mix themselves together and come forth in new ways.

Any serious look at Christianity in its early years when Paul was preaching, in the Middle Ages, at the Reformation, in the 1850s, in the 1950s and now would show massive changes and differences – and most of those changes are in one way or another the result of syncretism. Christianity itself could be seen as the result of syncretism between Judaism and the new teachings of Jesus and Paul.

Robert Pirsig has a nice image of Jesus (and other great religious teachers such as Buddha and Mohammed) as bursting open old ways of thinking and looking at the world and bringing new light. Pirsig then suggests that organised religion exists to kind of ‘ratchet’ that new progress in human belief and understanding of God. They stop us from sliding backward, but ironically they can also slow us down from moving forward. The goal of churches is almost always to keep everything the same.

But it never works – as the poem I posted below suggests, something always manages to creep in. It’s resisted and seen as corruption, and yet it happens.

What should be our attitude then? Resistance? Resignation? Embrace of syncretism?


Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:41 am

It seeps in, you know?
You think you’ve sealed it
With silicone and prayer
And clenched idolatry of text

But at the edges
And the heart
Something new
(Yet nothing’s new at all)
Erodes, perhaps corrupts or
Anyway, intrudes

Too full, perhaps, of meaning
Power, ritual, belief
The ions float, and
Membranes thought impermeable
Were semi after all

This undesired osmosis
Slips in life


Genius and Exclusivity

Filed under: — Bravus @ 10:58 am

Would you? If you could? And would it matter if everyone else could too?

I’m currently reading ‘Genius’ by Graham Masterton. It’s a decent action novel, but its premise is (I’m not giving away too much because this comes out maybe 100 pages in) that a scientist has invented a drug that can, without any side effects, turn anyone into a genius. Maths, science, any academic field, but also musical playing and composition, painting, design… anyone can be amazing at everything they turn their hand to.

So two questions arise:

  1. Would you take such a drug if it was available? If so, why? If not, why not?
  2. Would it matter whether you were the only person in your circle of friends who could do it, versus everyone having it?

One of the points Masterton makes, through some of the characters in his book, is that genius, like gold, is largely valued because it’s rare. Where’s the prestige and value in being a genius if everyone else is too? You’d just be average, albeit at a higher level.

Lots of intriguing questions, there, I think.


An odd encounter

Filed under: — Bravus @ 4:42 pm

Found a message in my email Inbox this morning from someone named Karol Karolak with the title “Fw: Run for your life, lesbian Kathleen Wynne hired Dr. Karen Mock hate crime expert to address gender-based violence, sexual assault and homophobia issues at schools.”

It was spammed to a large number of my former colleagues at the University of Alberta. Below is the gist of the message, and the dialogue that followed, although I have omitted huge swathes of copied-and-pasted newspaper articles and other screeds for space reasons.

Karolak’s message:

If you happen to have some time on your hands would you be willing to search email addresses of people working for school boards and forward them email below?

—– Original Message —–
To: kwynne.mpp@liberal.ola.org
Sent: Monday, March 10, 2008 2:38 PM
Subject: Fw: Run for your life, lesbian Kathleen Wynne hired Dr. Karen Mock hate crime expert to address gender-based violence, sexual assault and homophobia issues at schools.

Dear Ms. Wynne,

I just received Dr. Marty McKay’s comments regarding your newest initiative on how to solve problems of “gender-based” violence, sexual assault, and according to sexual deviants in charge ultimate sin of “homophobia” in Ontario schools.

I do not know how to convey it to you Madam but according to Canadian health statistics homosexuals have between 500 and 750 times higher rate of AIDS/HIV infections than heterosexual males (see attached letter). That being the case, your personal quest to force our children to somehow accept and abet deviant sexual practices of your son and his homosexual friends run contrary to public interest of prevention of spreading deadly and sexually communicable disease.

Just in case that you have missed latest statistics regarding prevalence of homosexuality in different age groups in Canada, these statistics indicate that lifespan of homosexuals is on average twenty years shorter than that of heterosexual males.

I find it mind boggling that Ontario provincial government would enact legislation that bans smoking in cars transporting children under a guise of protecting these children from developing lung cancer as result of exposure to second hand smoke (highly contentious connection not well supported by scientific findings) and at the same time same government tries to actively promote sexual behaviours that pose alarming risk of contracting deadly incurable disease and result in drastic shortening of lifespan of individuals practicing such sexual behaviours.

I am not a psychologist so I am not about to try to add to Dr. McKay’s comments, but I keep on wondering what does it really take to shake you out of your utter madness Madam???


Karol Karolak P. Eng.

—– Original Message —–
From: Dr. McKay
Sent: Monday, March 10, 2008 11:34 AM
Subject: RE: Run for your life, lesbian Kathleen Wynne hired Dr. Karen Mock hate crime expert to address gender-based violence, sexual assault and homophobia issues at schools.

I think that it is creepy that Kathleen Wynne wants to delve into the sex lives of adolescents and presumably pre-sex lives of younger children. Should we not be assured that Kathleen Wynne, aged 51, has dealt with her personal issues before we let her loose on a cohort of children and adolescents who are going to be the “lawyers and doctors” of the future generation. Given that she grew up in another less diverse era, she could be struggling with issues of her own and be prone toward overcompensation, using others in order to exorcise her own personal demons. While I cannot say that this is the case for sure (she may have been in psychoanalysis for 25 years for all I know), I do think that it is a sufficiently reasonable hypothesis, and sufficiently high risk that we shouldn’t endorse this program. No one should be allowed to use their position of power to work out their neuroses.

I was also concerned that Kathleen Wynne stated that the answer to violence was not suspension so that the kid can “go to the mall.” She seems intent that no child or youth skip the indoctrination camp. The concerns about this program run more deeply than this, however. She is suggesting that violence be dealt with at the school which has led, in the past, to covering up crimes (for instance the reported sexual assaults of muslim girls). We as citizens should absolutely resist this closed shop because it will foreseeably lead to cover-ups and obstruction of justice and silencing of victims, especially non-preferred victims, e.g. heterosexual male victims of homosexual assault, for instance. The police and other arms of the justice apparatus should strenuously oppose any such initiatves. If a crime has been reported, it is not the school’s job to investigate it, it is the police’s job.

It is not for her and Dr. Mock to ferret out the causes of violence in the school and indoctrinate all the students. If there are assaults, let them be reported to the police as is their duty. Students are entitled to the same laws as adults and should not have to access their rights through doctrinaire school personnel. This is what we define as a cult-a closed system in which the cult authority figures come between the individual and his/her societal rights.

Dr. M. McKay

My first response, which I sent to ‘reply all’ because I thought it was useful to speak up. The whole discussion so far has been sent to the whole list:

I certainly will not be sending this crap onward to anyone, and will do my level best to stop it in its tracks. I hope all of you will do likewise.

Karolak’s reply:

Why would you as an educator use this kind of language in your email to a total stranger??? If you got offended by use of word lesbian and homosexual in relation to Ms. Wynne and her son you have to realise that these terms were used by Ms. Wynne to describe herself and her son on her own website.

Karol Karolak P. Eng.

Ps. You might be well advised that before you decide to speak out on matters social policy facing Canadians, you could at least try to educate yourself and read Ms. Wynne confessions that were originally posted at link listed below:

Some of it is still posted at that link:


Kathleen Wynne is a politician who happens to be a lesbian.

My response (I didn’t think at the time to reassure him that I don’t consider ‘lesbian’ to be a pejorative term, just a descriptive one):

I didn’t object to the language you used, I objected to the smears and fear and the notion that protecting the victims of homophobes is something from which we should ‘run for our lives’. I apologize if you were offended by the word ‘crap’, but please believe me that it was with considerable restraint that I didn’t use much, much stronger language. I’m disgusted by everything the chain of e-mails that you forwarded represent, and I didn’t feel I could stand by silently while it was passed on to others. I felt it was important to say something.

I spent 5 years living in Canada and only returned to Australia 18 months ago. I know Canadian society and the Canadian political landscape very well.

I don’t want to get into a long dialogue, spamming all of the innocent people on the list, but I couldn’t let your message to me (a total stranger too, as it happens) go by unchallenged.

Karolak’s final response – I hope and assume you’ll be able to see why I think the defense can rest:

You seem to have great difficulty with English comprehension. You wrote quote, “I objected to the smears and fear and the notion that protecting the victims of homophobes is something from which we should ‘run for our lives’.” David, everybody else who reads my message understands it the way I wrote it that; we (heterosexual majority of Canadian population) should run for our lives away from raging lesbian with homosexual son and an axe to grind.

I just received from Dr. Marty McKay, psychologist with 30 years of experience, comments on Ms. Wynne biography. I decided to share them with you knowing that her comments once again will blow over your head. Should I provide her with your memories of bullied high school boy that you posted on the Internet??? Should I ask her to psychoanalyse you as well???
Since psychology does not seem to be one of your strongest point and you pride yourself to be well educated math teacher I have a very simple test for you.
Can you solve following integral without resorting to iterations of any kind?? To simplify matters assume value of a=1.
Karol Karolak P. Eng.

(edit: d’oh, the maths symbols didn’t come across. He asked me to integrate the function e-ax2 with respect to x between -infinity and infinity)

Here is message from Dr., McKay;

Thanks for sending that bio on Kathleen Wynne. It is psychologically very revealing. Her rationalizations are not very subtle or advanced. Her ideas of “heterosexual privilege” are interesting from an ideological point of view as that could be used as an argument for why children, especially in middle-class neighbourhoods would need help in identifying their homosexuality—blinded as they are by living lives of heterosexual privilege. The gay movement needs more members, and this is one of the reasons that I believe that they are going after early identification of children and promoting the “equity” of homosexuality. She may be using her own child to advance her platform.

I noticed that Kathleen Wynne’s son is reported to have realized that he was gay when he was in the 4th grade, conveniently a couple of month before she came out so she didn’t, of course, influence him. A child is about 9 years old when he is in grade 4. How did he know that he was gay at that age? Was he having sexual urges at this age? How else would a 9-year old come to the conclusion that he was gay? I can’t think of any off-hand If so, how did those urges come about? Was he sexually abused?. How old is this boy now? There is no statute of limitation on childhood sexual abuse. If he was having sexual urges at age 9 and his mother did not ensure that he had not been sexualized (a normal question that would come to a parent’s mind if their 9-year old comes up to them and announces he is gay), was/is this a child abuse reporting situation.

I has nu adickshun

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:35 am

These days I visit I Can Has Cheezburger almost every day.


Posted without comment

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:24 pm

…except immense kudos to the Twilite Minotaur in Hawaii, whose work it is:

Imbalance of Power

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:21 am

Fantastic sermon yesterday from Dr Juan Carlos Ortiz. It was very cool because he talked about a conception of God very similar to the one below, which I had discussed with Cassie’s class last week. I arrived at mine from the perspective of physics – General Relativity to be specific – while he got there from theology and studying the Bible. Cassie got to hear both perspectives within a few days, which was also very cool.

(the title of this post will make sense, I promise, but we have to get there)

What I told Cassie’s class was this: in the theory of General Relativity that Albert Einstein proposed early last century, space and time are really all one thing – we have three dimensions of space, and time is the fourth dimension. So in General Relativity terms we talk about space-time. Also in General Relativity, matter and energy are in a sense the same thing. Each can be converted into the other: that’s what the famous ‘E = mc2‘ equation is all about. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. So as well as talking about space-time we can talk about matter-energy.

Now, General Relativity describes gravity, not as a force, but as a curve in space-time. Planets orbit the sun not because they’re attracted to it, but because that’s the way space-time is curved for them. They follow their path through the curve of space-time. But it’s the mass of the sun that causes the curvature of space.

One simple (!) way of describing the theory of General Relativity is:

Matter tells space-time how to curve, space-time tells matter how to move

So anyway, one implication of all this is that, where there’s no matter, there’s no space or time (nothing to tell it how to curve). That means that outside of the universe, and before the universe began, there was no space and no time. Space and time are local phenomena, caused by matter.

So then, if we understand that God is not made out of matter, then we understand that God is outside of (as well as within and through and permeating) space and time. God has access to all of time because He1 is not bound by or affected by time, not being made of matter. In a very real sense the universe (and potentially a large number of other universes) is contained within God.

Now the universe is seriously immense. I showed this bit of video to Cassie’s class to give them a sense of that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcBV-cXVWFw (just under 7 min, YouTube video)

That’s the end of what I told Cassie’s class – and I’d already talked to them about the Big Bang (not advocating or opposing, just a pretty straight telling of the best current scientific views on how and when it happened) and the origin of the universe. The rest of this post is musings based on yesterday’s sermon.

A God who contains all that and much more is truly awesome, and so, so much more than a white-bearded old white guy (or, as the movies increasingly suggest, Morgan Freeman). A God who is outside (within, through) space-time is indeed omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.

OK, now back to the title. One corollary of this understanding of God is that all the Hollywood and fictional (including Christian fiction) portrayals of the battle between good and evil that portray God and Satan as roughly equally matched combatants are a trillion miles off the mark. Satan is often called the ‘Lord of this World’ – but this world is unimaginably tiny and insignificant on the scale of our galaxy alone, let alone of our universe… and all of that is tiny compared to God. So Satan is more like … I dunno, an acne bacterium to God. He can cause minor and temporary pain, but is no threat at all to the totality.

Of course, it’s hard for us to see that when we live in the zit.

  1. Given that God is infinite, God is clearly not male – or not only male – but includes all possibilities of gender that we can think of and many that we can’t. I only use the masculine pronoun because it gets awkward to write sentences with no pronouns, and by tradition, and because people freak even more if I call God ‘It’ or ‘She’, though either is at least as accurate as ‘He’


Nationalism , Yorro-yorro and a little Leunig magic

Filed under: — Bravus @ 5:24 am

Michael Leunig is a living national treasure in Australia. He’s a cartoonist and occasional commentator, and although I guess he’d fit in the liberal/progressive end of the political spectrum, he always seems much more like a kind, open-hearted, open-eyed innocent wandering through the land and then ever so generously showing us the odds and ends he’s found.

Here’s a meditation of his on nationalism in Australia: http://www.theage.com.au/news/michael-leunig/our-flagging-enthusiasm/2008/01/25/1201157630672.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap2

If you can get hold of a book of his cartoons by all means do.


Mind Expanding Substances Ideas

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:24 pm

Went in to my daughter’s Grade 12 physics class as a guest speaker (her teacher is a former student of mine). Got to blow their minds for half an hour or so with General Relativity and the Big Bang as well as some oddball theology, and leave the teacher to mop the brains off the walls.


Doldrum Days

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:45 am

I love my job, because it gives me a lot of freedom. I decide when (and whether) I go in to the office, when and how I work, which projects to focus on and a whole lot more.

One problem with too much freedom, though, is that it can be paralysing; I have lots of work to get done, but it’s hard sometimes to decide what to do first. And it’s really easy to just mess about on the net and not do much. No-one will come in and correct me or tell me what to do – but the birds will come home to roost in a year or two when I haven’t been as productive as I need to be.

This is compounded because I know my own patterns, or biorhythms or whatever you want to call them. I know that sometimes I’ll be bursting with ideas and energy, highly productive, get a heap done… and other times it’ll be a struggle to do much of anything, and what I force myself to do will be uninspired at best.

I guess that’s one of the advantages of the flexibility, though: I can choose what to do, so if I’m not feeling creative I can always do some paperwork or something similarly uninspiring until the muse visits again.