Aug 222012
 

Warning: the language of this post is offensive. I find ordinary words insufficient to express how I feel about Iran’s latest, a broad ban on female attendance at Iran’s universities.

When my wife asked the obvious question, “why?” I could only offer a very crude answer: because the ayatollahs had trouble jerking off last night and needed to find another way to get a hard-on. There really is no sensible way to describe this medieval theocracy that has been Iran’s curse for the past several decades.

There is a silver lining though: by depriving themselves of a capable, educated work force (quite capable, in fact, as women routinely outperformed men), perhaps they are hastening their moronic regime’s imminent demise. Cannot happen too soon, if you ask me.

 Posted by at 12:05 am
Aug 022012
 

Congratulations to Mariam Sultana, reportedly Pakistan’s first PhD in astrophysics. (Or in the subfield of extragalactic astrophysics, according to another news site. Either way, it’s a laudable achievement.)

I knew women scientists have an especially difficult time in very conservative Muslim countries.

I didn’t know astrophysicists (presumably, both male and female) had to pass an extra hurdle: apparently, illiterate Islamists don’t know the difference between astrophysics and astrology. The practice of astrology, like other forms of fortune telling, is considered haraam, a sin against Allah.

Am I ever so glad that I live in an enlightened, secular country.

One of Dr. Sultana’s (I am boldly assuming that Sultana is her last name, though I am well aware that Pakistani naming conventions do not necessarily follow Western traditions) examiners was James Binney, whose name is well known to anyone involved with galactic astrophysics; the book colloquially known as “Binney and Tremaine” (the real title is Galactic Dynamics) is considered one of the field’s “bibles”. (Darn, I hope no religious fanatic misconstrues the meaning of “bible” in the preceding sentence!)

I wish Dr. Sultana the brightest career. Who knows, maybe I’ll run into her one day somewhere, perhaps at the Perimeter Institute.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Jan 082012
 

Neutrinos recently observed by CERN’s OPERA experiment may have been traveling faster than light. Or may have not. I have been discussing with physicists a number of possibilities: the role of statistics, errors in time or distance measurements, comparisons to SN 1987A, Cherenkov radiation, or the necessity for a Lorentz-violating theoretical framework.

Fortunately, there is one thing I did not need to discuss: How faster-than-light neutrinos relate to the Koran. Physics educators in Pakistan, such as Pervez Hoodbhoy writing for the Express Tribune, are not this lucky: they regularly face criticisms from fundamentalists, and if they choose to confront these head-on, they provoke ominous reader comments that call on all Muslims to “reject this evil experiment”.

Yet, there is a glimpse of hope: a Pakistani reader mentions Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, one of Sagan’s last books, and a superb one about rational thinking versus superstition. I don’t know how popular Sagan’s book is in Pakistan, but I am glad it’s not forgotten.

 Posted by at 5:29 pm
Apr 252010
 

So a few days ago, I wrote a blog entry about Ontario’s new grade school curriculum. The one that has since been withdrawn due to objections by conservative groups. I have to concede: they may have a point. I used no words in my blog post that were not used in the curriculum itself, yet the result was apparently too strong for Facebook; their automated software did not pick up and paste the entry onto my Facebook page.

Still, I stand by what I said: after I looked at the actual curriculum (as opposed to the sensationalized headlines about it) there really was nothing in it that a sane person could possibly object to. It’s not about sanity, of course, it’s about politics, which is why Ontario Liberals decided to abandon the updated curriculum after all. They can only fight one battle at a time, they say, according to the Toronto Star. I just wish that the battle they chose to keep fighting was this one, as opposed to the astonishingly braindead idea of messing up pharmacies by blocking payments to them by generic drug companies. Or the HST… which would have been a good idea back when the GST was introduced, but now, it’s just a badly disguised tax grab.

 Posted by at 11:36 am
Apr 222010
 

If you listened to Canadian news recently, like I did, you could be forgiven if you got the impression that Ontario’s liberal government released a 208 page curriculum that will teach first graders about masturbation and anal intercourse.

I actually took the trouble this morning and looked at the document in question. I was curious, has Ontario really become Liberal Hell?

Yes, the document does mention masturbation. Once. (Grade 6).

And yes, it does mention anal intercourse, not once, but three times (Grade 7). The context? Delaying sexual activity and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases.

While sexual education is an important subject in these 208 pages (Human Development and Sexual Health being one of the topic titles) the curriculum is not about sex. It is titled Health and Physical Education, and that’s precisely what it is about, with sexuality being a prominent, but certainly not dominant, part.

For those who are upset that children might learn about the genitalia of the opposite sex at school, from (presumably) responsible and respectful teachers, all I ask is this: would it be better if they learned the same from Playboy? Hmmm, silly me, who cares about Playboy anymore. How about learning about said body parts from your friendly neighborhood Internet predator. Be realistic and consider what children have access to (and who has access to children!) every time they sit down in front of a computer with an Internet connection, or just browse the Web on a smartphone. Perhaps hearing about “sexting” first from a teacher is not such a bad idea after all.

I would be horrified if grade school teachers were required to give graphic demonstrations to first graders about anal sex. But the idea that a 12-year old might learn about the function of his or her own body parts, might even learn, o horror of horrors, that said body parts can be a source of pleasure, that people might choose to live together in part because they have sex together, that there are, heaven forbid, people who prefer the company of people of the same sex, and that knowing some of the “dirty details” might enable even a 13-year old to make better decisions and avoid making life-altering mistakes way too early in their lives… no, that does not frighten me.

 Posted by at 11:39 am
Mar 312009
 

When the Texas Board of Education votes, the whole US listens, as due to its size, Texas dominates the textbook market. And, sadly, the Texas Board of Education appears to be dominated by ignorant yahoos who are no better, only less violent (so far!) than their ignorant yahoo Taliban friends who blow up thousand-year-old statues and schools full of young girls just because the facts happen to disagree with their religion.

Get it through your incredibly thick, incredibly tiny heads, you incredibly stupid morons (and yes, I do mean it: show me a person from the Texas Board of Education who voted against the proper teaching of science, and I don’t care if she is a hard working mother of five who never meant any harm to anyone, I am willing to use the same words in her face, with the intend to offend, in the hope that I might get through): the Universe is 13.7 billion years old (at least; as a minimum, we know that there was a surface of last scattering 13.7 billion years ago.) Humans and apes descended from the same primitive life forms that have been on this Earth for at least about 3 billion years. The climate is changing, even if there may be legitimate debate about the extent to which this is caused by man, CO2 in particular, and whether or not a warming is indeed bad for us. If you want to hide from hard science, go and crawl back to your stupid little church and leave the Board of Education. Unless your true intent is to take Texas (and America) back to the Middle Ages, just like your little Taliban friends over there in Afghanistan.

 Posted by at 1:56 pm