In 2007, I helped found the University of Alberta Atheists and Agnostics. That student group that is still running today. A rare accomplishment as many student groups, particularly those for the non-religious, struggle to survive for more than a few years as the students who established the group graduate, move aaway and lose touch.
In the hopes of making sure groups like UAAA are able to continue and be supported, and at a time when the US-based Secular Student Alliance began withdrawing their support to international groups (as they had limited resources), I registered SecularStudents.ca. I spoke with people at SSA and sought to establish a Canadian Secular Student Alliance.
Unfortunately, I’ve never really had the time or focus to build the website into anything and every 12 months I get a reminder to renew the domain. It’s now that time of year again and I need to decide what to do with the domain.
For now, I’m happy to cover the $10 or so it costs to renew the registration and can even host a simple website off the same server this site is on. But I want to see something happen with it.
So if you have the time, interest or even just some good ideas for the site, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It could be something as simple as maintaining a list of active non-reliigious student groups in Canada or a new blog or a full resource centre. The site currently has mediawiki but I’m happy to change that to anything else. I just really want to see something happen with it.
Last month, an undercover CBC investigation exposed that a number of spas and health clinicas around Metro Vancouver were offering botox injections illegally. Botox in Canada can only be administered by a physician and these clinics didn’t have any doctors on staff.
Today, Health Canada announced that it has seized unlabeled botox jars from Art Nails, a Vancouver spa.
The store owner claimed the product was Botox that had been administered to consumers. Potential risks associated with injecting an unauthorized version of a health product such as Botox, can range from mild local paralysis to death.
While the shop remains open, and none of the shops mentioned in the CBC exposé have been closed, it’s good to see Health Canada intervene.
My second (and last) editorial in The Gateway while at the University of Alberta, salvaged via the Web Archive. The paper had a policy where writers were forbidden from submitting letters or opinion pieces if they were the subject of the news due to perceived conflicts of interest. I called them out at the time for the absurdity of such a policy.
Continue reading Republished: Religion poll is a waste of paper
This was the first article I wrote for a student newspaper and in a way it’s somewhat historic. In 2008, the University of Alberta Atheists & Agnostics started campaigning for a secular convocation charge. When our initial request was ignored, I raised the issue with the student newspaper, The Gateway, and they recommend I write an editorial to push the story forward. This is that editorial.
Continue reading Republished: There’s no ‘God’ in graduation
Another old article, this one a review of Marci McDonald’s 2010 expose on the influence of the Christian Right in Canadian politics. Still relevant given that Harper has since gained his majority government and faces another election in October.
Continue reading Republished: The Christians are coming!
As part of my attempt to get back into writing this blog, I’ve been going back through my list of published articles and making sure they’re all still live. Many of the links have changed in the years since I wrote many of those articles, but luckily I copied most to this blog. A few were missed, so here is one of the first republished articles.
Continue reading Republished: Let’s bring reason back to politics
Last night, I attended a discussion hosted by the pan London Humanist group on what new opportunities there are for greater democratic engagement following the Scottish referendum on independence. It featured Ian Scott and Gary McLelland from the Humanist Society of Scotland (Ian is Acting Chief Executive and voted yes in the referendum, Gary is the Policy & Public Affairs Officer and campaigned for no), Andrew Copson (Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association), Will Brett (Head of Campaiggns at the Electoral Reform Society) and Alex Runswick (Chief Executive of Unloock Democracy). Anoosh Chakelin (Deputy Editor of New Statesman) stepped in as the chair for the evening.
It was an interesting discussion despite being, as Alex said, “in danger of everyone agreeing with one another.” That agreement included:
- Electoral reform
- Lowering the voting age to 16
- A citizen-led constitutional convention for the UK
While some non-humanists see tradition as a way to keep society structured, the humanists on the panel agreed that we should critically evaluate our political structures and apply a more rational design, based on evidence and tested against other countries. Humanism is about rejecting dogmas and putting the state in service of the individual. We should ask what we can do to enhance one another’s lives.
They also worried about some of the bitter nationalism seen during the referendum debate. Andrew Copson reminding us that Bertrand Russell frequently spoke out against nationalism, saying that it offered simple silver bullet solutions to all of life’s problems (like Scottish Independence or leaving the EU). Nevertheless, the speakers were optimistic about the engagement generated by the referendum.
The most disagreement in the night came from the questions posed by some members of the audience. One worried that we are just “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” by not dealing with the problem of big business’ influence on politics. Another said we should have compulsory voting – to which Gary said he was against anything compulsory as a humanist and Alex pointed out that compulsory voting in Australia had failed to drive up turnout rates at the local level (where it isn’t compulsory). Another questioner asked how you keep small parties out of government in in proportional representation, and he pointed to Israel where (in his words) the Jewish far right has wielded so much influence their airlines can’t even fly 7 days a week – the answer is given by countries across Europe which have threshold levels before a party gains any seats.
The bet comment of the evening though has to go to Andrew Copson, who said the venue, the Palace of Westminster, “was the least democratic building in the Western world, architecturally.” A point I tried to illustrate recently.
I passed a billboard today advertising the British Medical Association (BMA)’s new media campaign. It calls for all political parties to stop playing games with the NHS.
I’ll give them credit – it’s catchy and many people (myself included at times) think politicians too often use promises of reform to the healthcare system as a way to score cheap points. But what does #NoMoreGames actually mean?
We should want, and expect, politicians to lay out their plans for what they’d do differently if elected. It’d be one thing if the BMA were campaigning for specific pledges but instead they’re headline is a shallow complaint that politicians are campaigning too much.
Granted, the BMA expands a bit on their website about what they’d want to see, but overall the message is as shallow as they’re blaming politicians for.
I really don’t see what they’re hoping to accomplish.
But at least there’s already a good theme song for their campaign.
Many legislative debating chambers have been designed and built in the past 50 years. Living in the UK, I’ve been able to travel to and see a number of them.
Continue reading Rounded democracy
Okanagan Specialty Fruits is a small biotech company from central BC. For the past twenty years they have been trying to get their main product to market, jumping regulatory hoop after hoop. All they have been trying to sell is an apple.
But their apples are special.
They don’t brown like a normal apple when sliced because they have been genetically-engineered to not produce the chemical that in most apples oxidises when exposed to air. Because GM techniques were involved, it took nearly 20 years to finally get USDA approval to grow their apples in the US (Canada is expected to grant permission soon).
This means that these are the most scientifically tested apples ever grown by humans.
Much of the GM debate focuses either on unfounded claims about the safety of GM foods or, when those are debunked, the concern that GM tech is being dominated by a few small big-agri companies (argumentum ad Monsantum). But both of these arguments completely miss the fact that small companies are spending absurd amounts of money and time, to an unreasonable degree, the safety of their food and that there is a large amount of public-sector research into GM happening.
So congrats to Arctic Apples on being deregulated in the US (and hopefully soon making it to shelves) and let’s hope their steadfast efforts pave the way for other novel foods to make it forward.