Where have I been?

Damn, no posts here in over a month. Did not mean for that to happen.

This is not to say I haven’t been blogging. Most of my writing has just been shifted to Canadian Atheist, where I’ve tried to consistently get at least a couple posts per week there. Of course it’s mostly on atheism/freethought/skepticism but there are still a lot of political opinions I have but time is always short, so they’ve fallen by the wayside.

It makes me tempted to advocate for splitting CA up a bit into more of a blog aggregator like Science Blogs where each author gets their own space to talk about anything they want and the front page simply highlights the different topics/authors. Then I could basically park this blog over there and say everything I want. However, ideas always seem to come with work in the volunteer sector, so unless I work on the implementation it may not happen. And maybe it is just better to keep these blogs separate for now.

In terms of politics, I’ve been quite busy launching Reason Vancouver, and after this past weekend where I attended a productive Olympic Dialogue (which I’ll try to write up later), I think may be the right thing at the right time for this city.

I also have to admit that after my initial scepticism of the “Big Listen” project, I’m really starting to like the direction the Alberta Party is headed and with the potential success evidenced by Naheed Nenshi’s win in Calgary, I think they’re really on to something. Although I may never come around to using the buzz phrase “post-partisan politics,” I do think they are on to something (which is another post I need to write up).

As for graduate studies, despite my committee meeting being thrice rescheduled, things are progressing well, and I was happy to receive the second place award (first for visuals) for student seminar talks this term (out of 10 talks) in my department, losing only to my fiancée. Perhaps if I really feel like I have too much time on my hands I’ll write that talk up with the slides so there can at least be a text-representation of it (I won’t just post the slides since they are almost meaningless without a dialogue to follow).

So don’t take this as a pledge that I’ll write more often here, since bloggers often make the false promise of “I’m going to post here more often” and then you don’t hear from them for another 6 months, but merely take this as a “I’m still alive, writing and busy, and if possible I may post some more here, but no promises.”

I’m a Canadian Atheist

I’ll probably be posting a lot less on religion/atheism here (unless I want to get really defamatory), since over the past week I have joined the new Canadian Atheist group blog.

I can’t promise how much more I’ll post here, since I like the communal, grassroots nature of this new project, and it’ pays off with more page hits than my own site. I also have my personal blog, which covers more mundane aspects of my life which leaves little space for this site, although I may still do the occasional overtly partisan rant here.

So check out the new site, it has a lot of great writers, and I have a series of posts coming up on the intersection of politics and atheism in anticipation of the VanSecular Party meeting on Tuesday.

Calm before the storm

I won’t be posting much here (or at my other site) till next week since I’m off to Victoria this weekend with some of the Vancouver Skeptics in the Pub people. We’ll hopefully be meeting up with some fine island-folk while we’re out there.

The other reason for a bit of calm is that I’ve been recruited into a group blog that I’m hoping to have a bit of content filled in for Monday when we publicly announce it. It should be good, so stay tuned for the announcement.

CFI Vancouver on-track

A small crowd of about 8 people showed up for the CFI Vancouver volunteer meeting that was held this morning, but a lot of great ideas and plans were generated.

A few key committees and positions were formed, including my new role as secretary (which now has me taking minutes at both BCHA and CFI now).

There’s some great speakers coming up including PZ Myers, Christopher diCarlo and Harriet Hall.

Further, Sonia and I will be launching our freethinker book club on August 14th at The Grind Cafe on Main St. We’ll be discussing Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s first book Infidel, so grab a copy from a bookstore or the library soon. We’ll follow this up with Nomad in the future, but Physics of Star Trek (spare copies available through CFI Vancouver) will likely be for September and potentially The Armageddon Factor in October leading up to a potential talk by author and journalist Marci McDonald.

Things are definitely looking promising.

Fixed my personal site

I’ve rebuilt my personal website at http://ian.bushfield.ca since I’ve finally given up on Drupal and am now a WordPress-only junkie.

This blog will keep going as a place for me to rant about science/religion/politics while that blog will deal with my personal activities, including my goal to develop a business plan for a freethought cafe. I probably won’t cross-post anything, so if you follow both you won’t get overwhelmed.

I signed the HST petition

I just got back from the Kitsilano Community Centre where the line-up to sign the anti-HST petition was out the door (about 20-30 people). The line-up was continuous with people showing up as others left.

While they said that they only have a few hundred signatures for Vancouver Point-Grey (my riding, which is represented by premier Gordon Campbell), they only just started collecting here on Thursday. Meanwhile, a few interior and northern ridings have already surpassed the 10% requirements.

Regardless if you like the HST in principle, or even this specific implementation of it, it is a great sign that despite dropping voter turnouts, democracy hasn’t died in Canada. This petition is especially important since this implementation was not debated or mentioned in the election last year, but was brought forward within days.

Meanwhile, businesses and the government are skirting the law attempting to defend the HST, despite the fact that none of them officially signed up to oppose the initiative. If they wanted to speak they should follow their own rules.

So it is starting to look to me like this petition may actually succeed and result in a public referendum on the legitimacy of the HST. If it makes it to that, you can bet that the government is going to lose it bad. After that, if the Liberals still don’t repeal it, they’re likely going to start losing their seats in recall initiatives (potentially including my own slim-margin winning MP).

Finally, the last thing I learned today was that the HST is coming into effect as early as May 1st for advance purchases for this summer. This includes airline and sporting tickets and community centre recreation passes.

So go find a location to sign the petition if you haven’t yet.

The Peak explodes

Lots of controversy in this week’s issue of the SFU weekly newspaper, The Peak.

After my column last week attacking creationism, I sparked two text responses:

Hey Bushfield: know before you speak.

Well said Ian Bushfield!!!

Opinion editor Graham Templeton attempted to defend his editorial record over the past couple terms, trying to emphasize that he had published more left than right wing articles, but he included this nifty quote that will likely incite some responses.

Not everything can be published, of course, and I have certainly received well-written articles that I’ve refused to publish due to the utter inanity of their thesis. This is called editorial discretion, and its inherently arbitrary nature is what leads to these sorts of controversies. I have turned away some creationist articles which are simply full of falsehoods, while I have published others (see: this week’s opinions section,) with which I simply disagree strongly, but which do not contain outright lies. [emphasis added]

Speaking of creationist articles, here’s Isaac Seo’s, international piano-e-competition champion, rant responding to my last article. I won’t respond to it in print (paper’s rarely publish a back and forth between two authors), and his arguments are repetitive and lame so I won’t respond here unless there’s demand in the comments.

There’s also an article by Dan McPeake (yes that’s his real name) about secularism and the burqa in France. I have to grant his thesis to him, although he glazes over the fact that many Islamic women are not making a choice and that it is rather being made for them, but it’s a fine line between secularism and defending an egalitarian society.

Finally, my latest piece is in regards to recent minor vandalism of the SFU Skeptics’ “There’s probably no God…” banner.

Only cowards censor
By Ian Bushfield

The SFU Skeptics have had a banner hanging around campus in various locations for the past month, but on the evening of March 11, someone decided that this banner was so offensive that they had to attempt to censor the student group. The banner was found crumpled under a railing the next morning.

So what phrase was so objectionable that it needed to be suppressed? Simply, “There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

This is the same slogan that Richard Dawkins plastered across buses in London,which subsequently run in cities across the world from Barcelona to Christchurch. Many other transit authorities and city councils attempted to ban the upbeat message, as though the phrase was as objectionable as “fuck Jesus.” But by trying to block the message, the censors unwittingly gave the atheists a platform to cry foul in the media.

It is almost hard to imagine this phrase as being so offensive. Having an enjoyable life should not be that offensive of an idea, so it must be the fact that there are some of us who are willing to state publicly that we do not believe in a higher power.

Yet we even admit that we may not be right by using the “probably” qualifier; you won’t get honesty like that in a Sunday morning sermon.

Perhaps people take offense to the concept that you can be moral without God. This should be an absurd notion, as countless atheists around the world, including myself, are not constantly murdering and raping. The fact that some theists believe that this is what would happen if they did not have a cosmic babysitter ought to tell you far more about their own personal morality than anything else.

Regardless of how offensive you find the banner or the justification for that offense, it does not change the fact that the banner was approved and sponsored by the Simon Fraser Student Society with a student group grant. The SFSS obviously believes in the right to free speech, and that every sanctioned group has the right to put a message across campus.

The right not to be offended does not exist in this country. The proper response to a message that you disagree with is dialogue, not censorship. This banner serves as a response to the countless religious clubs who are pervasive at this school and in society. It seeks to counter the notion that you cannot be good without God.

Alternatively, when your ideological adversaries are increasingly vulgar, sometimes the proper response is ridicule. My favourite counter-protests to Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps’s picketing of funerals are the ones with absurdist signs with phrases such as “I like donuts,” “God hates shrimp,” or “I have a sign too!”

The only other approach to take with such content is to simply ignore it. Had there been no fatwa against the Danish cartoonist for his portrayal of Mohammed, almost no one would have seen the relatively humourless depictions.

If we permit the silencing of someone’s right to free speech, we risk threatening the core of the democratic ideal. Only when ideas can compete with one another on fair footing do we have any hope of discovering which ones are closer to the truth.

Tearing down posters and crumpling banners is downright cowardly. Most of us come to university with an open-mind, ready to learn new things and hear different ideas. I guess some of us are just not ready for that intellectual challenge.

So to the miscreant who crumpled the banner I ask one thing: would Jesus vandalize?

While I keep saying that I’ll write one thing and then end up submitting another, for next week I had thought of submitting a piece about humanistic ethics to respond indirectly to Isaac’s article and general misconceptions, but instead I’ll likely be hoping to publish a piece defending The Peak from the upcoming graduate student referendum that seeks to cut all graduate funding from the Peak, which would thereby end my writing days as grad students wouldn’t get to publish if they weren’t paying for the paper.

Also, this Wednesday, as a multi-published writer I have the fortune to vote for the Peak’s editorial staff for this summer, so basically this summer I’ll have a hand in the blame if it isn’t remarkable. Leave a comment or email me if there’s any considerations I should be taking into account on this vote (since most SFU students who pay for the Peak don’t get a vote, I’m willing to take any opinions into account that have no influence).

Published in The Peak

Recent levels of conservative articles in SFU’s student newspaper The Peak prompted me to submit an article which got published today. While this isn’t my best writing (a few awkward sentences survived the editor), I am planning to write a bit more frequently for the weekly paper, so hopefully it improves.

It’s also worth noting that my story was one of the highlights listed on the front page.

My article, appearing on page four is reprinted here:

Conservatives are eroding Canadian values

Stephen Harper hates Canada, or at least he has indicated as much. He and his brand of Reform Party theo-cons have every intention of tearing down the institutions that make our country great.

The most recent evidence of this is Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s personal interventions to remove references to homosexual rights from Canada’s latest immigration brochures. Rather than have new immigrants know that Canada was among the first countries in the world to extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples, the Conservatives would rather paint a picture of Canada as they want to see it. Similarly, the brochure also omits any reference to health care and feminism, and plays up our history of armed conflict while downplaying our role as world peacekeepers.

Yet these Conservatives’ pasts haunts them. In 2003, as a member of the neoconservative group, Civitas, Harper stated that to achieve the goal of a conservative social policy, the Conservatives must win over immigrants and make “incremental” movements to the right, knowing full well that an abrupt change of course toward their true goals would scare most Canadians.

So after six years as leader of a minority government, we have watched Harper make deep cuts to our federal income streams. Lowered income from the GST, as well as corporate and personal income taxes has put the country in a deficit, to which the only available answer for the neoconservative is an attack on the foundations of our modern Canadian society – the welfare state.

In a similar vein, to reform our society, we have witnessed massive cuts and legislation changes to cripple several decades of progress fought for by this nation’s feminists. Status of Women Canada is a shell of its former self, and, after the 2009 budget, it is now harder for women to achieve equal pay for equal work.

Even our democratic systems suffer as our prime minister is in contempt of the will of Parliament, and thereby the will of the majority of Canadians, who are demanding documents that will confirm the claims of whistleblower Richard Colvin or clear the names of our soldiers. Rather than provide these documents, Harper again dishonestly shut the door on democracy and hid behind claims that the opposition hates our troops. If Harper truly cared about our troops he would present the documents that clear their names of what must be wrongful accusations. At least, they must be wrongful as that is what the government keeps saying.

But we don’t have to look as far as Ottawa to see the anti-progressives at work. Mirroring tactics that were used by Ontario campus conservative groups to destroy their Public Interest Research Groups; campus conservatives here have taken up a crusade against SFPIRG under the banners of “democracy” and “accountability.” The argument is that SFPIRG needs improvement, and few would disagree, yet the claim that they are arbitrarily appointing people to their board is absurd. Have these conservatives attempted to join SFPIRG and reform the group from the inside?

As was pointed out, if there are too few candidates for the board, acclamations are granted to those few who step forward to actually do the work. Otherwise you have shit disturbers who lobby the SFSS and student body to destroy a group that they have the ability to opt-out of.

But it is too easy to write these actions off as a grand right-wing conspiracy. Rather, we have a minority subset of society that hates the institutions we have fought for in this country, and is working incrementally at various levels to take away many of the things we take for granted.

Most of my future articles will be on skepticism / atheism / Humanism, and I’m hoping to have something to submit most weeks (I may post here even if it ends up on the digital floor of the Peak).

CFI Canada National Conference begins

I’m in Toronto for the first ever Centre for Inquiry national conference. I had to get up at 4 am in Vancouver yesterday to catch a flight out at 7 and had 15 minutes to change planes in Calgary and arrived around 4 in the afternoon local time.

Yesterday consisted of a few panels, one of which I was supposed to chair (but unfortunately I was up in the air (hey, that was a good movie (hey, nested brackets are fun))), followed by a banquet and small rewards ceremony. I was nominated for the first every Justin Trottier award, but lost to the worthy Derek Rodgers. The day ended with an atheist comedy line-up, hosted by sometimes Video On Trial comic Hunter Collins. After the programming we polished off the remaining beer from the banquet and then I checked into my hostel late into the night.

The Global Backpackers Hostel where I’m staying is actually pretty nice (and dirt cheap), especially since I got a twin room with no roommate and a view of the CN Tower.

Today’s focus is the freethought intersection between art and science, which hopes to be interesting.

My biggest complaint so far: awful small text powerpoints. Most of the presenters haven’t used slides, but so far we’re 2 for 2 that I’ve seen where there’s no use sitting behind the third row because you won’t be able to read the screen. Oh yeah, and Tim Horton’s in Ontario don’t take debit.

Nevertheless, great people and great weather, but it is still Toronto.

SkyShuttle Refund

Guess what came in the mail today (besides the notification that my tax refund will be at least $850 and my giant welcome package to Coast Capital Savings):

SkyShuttleRefund

That’s my $30 refund from Edmonton SkyShuttle. They also offered “apologies for the lack of service.”

While I still have no plans to use the SkyShuttle in the future (with three trips through the Edmonton Airport before May planned), it’s good to see that a Better Business Bureau complaint can still get resolved after some patience.

I’m still holding out hope that Edmonton Transit will get their shit together, work with the region, and get any kind of bus service to the airport.