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Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking

Stephen William Hawking, 1942‑2018.

I remember my first brush with Stephen Hawking’s work. It was a special Scientific American volume that included his 1977 paper, “The Quantum Mechanics of Black Holes,” detailing his how black holes can emit radiation and evaporate away, given enough time. The book is my sister’s, and I don’t remember when I first read it. I am certain that I didn’t understand most of it at the time but what I did understand made a life-long impression on me. It’s a fascinating article.

As an aside, I never did give the book back to my sister and I still have it. Sorry Sis.

Through the years, Hawking revealed more of the universe to humanity and made it understandable to the non-physicist. I firmly believe the pursuit of knowledge and pushing back the boundaries of ignorance is among the noblest of professions.

Hawking was a giant among those in that profession and we’re less without him.

Photo courtesy of NASA.

Seth’s Candy Diet

The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.

Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the “L” stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the “History” stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more.

The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed for a century. This is not new. What is new: A fundamental shift not just in the profit-seeking gatekeepers, but in the culture as a whole.

Seth Godin,
The Candy Diet

This crushes me with sadness. Where will it lead? Where does it end?


Any time there’s a news story about some sort of religious issue, the comments eventually erupt into theist versus atheist argument. I suppose it’s bound to happen. Then, a theist claims that atheists believe there is no God, and since they have belief, atheism is just another religion. Frankly, it’s tiresome.

Atheists don’t believe that there is no God. Rather, atheists do not believe there is a God. I don’t hold a belief, but rather an utter lack of belief. It’s an important distinction.

I’ve read an amusing thought that suggests a lack of belief is as much a religion as not collecting stamps is a hobby. That sums it up pretty well for me.

Ghomeshi on trial

I’m still flummoxed about the whole Jian Ghomeshi trial. Not about the facts, but more about my feelings regarding the case and how it unfolded.

Initially, I thought the defense would be crushed. I heard interviews with some of the accusers and they sounded credible. There was enough in common with their stories to make them easily believable. Once the trial started, a number of things came out that hadn’t been mentioned in the interviews. Like the day after Ghomeshi aledgedly assaulted her, Lucy DeCoutere sent him an e‑mail message that said,

I want to fuck your brains out. Tonight.1

That doesn’t sound good at all. Weeks later, she sent him flowers with a note that said, “I love your hands.” In an interview, she explained these messages,

I wasn’t even thinking about after because I didn’t think it mattered — because it shouldn’t matter. Now I understand that it matters because it measures your memory. I didn’t know my memory was on trial.2

This makes no sense to me. If you remember all the stuff that helps your case and forget everything that damages it, you think it doesn’t matter? Further, what you remember defines your experience as you tell your story in court. Of course it matters!

Is it any wonder the judge found the witnesses for the prosecution unreliable and even deceptive?

The CBC wrote of the judge:

And while he acknowledged that victims of abuse may rely on one another for support, he said the 5 000 messages exchanged between DeCoutere and another complainant sounded like they could be plotting to ruin the former broadcaster.

“While this anger and this animus may simply reflect the legitimate feelings of victims of abuse, it also raises the need for the court to proceed with caution,” he said. “Ms. DeCoutere and S.D. considered themselves to be a ‘team’ and the goal was to bring down Mr. Ghomeshi.“3

This is when the trial was over for me. I recall that there was even discussion among commentators about the possibility of collusion charges, though that didn’t happen. Regardless, when two witnesses exchange such an incredible volume of e‑mail about the case and state they’re going to get Ghomeshi, the goal of the legal action is no longer to get to the truth of what happened. And as such, it really has no place in a courtroom. It was really no surprise to me that the judge found plenty of reasons to doubt the witnesses and therefore find Ghomeshi not guilty of the charges.

After the verdict, supporters of the witnesses held a rally in front of the Toronto Police headquarters. Linda Redgrave, one of the witnesses, spoke to the assembled crowd:

I’m glad it’s over, but it’s really not over. It’s now time to keep these conversations going and to stop the way that these sexual assaults are tried. It’s barbaric, it’s antiquated, it needs to change and it needs to stop.4

While I understand her emotions and anger, let’s not overstate things. What’s barbaric and antiquated is the treatment rape victims suffer in some parts of the world when not only is the victim blamed, but she’s punished by stoning or killed by family members.

Further, our justice system is balanced to make conviction difficult. I’ve heard it said many times, both in regards to this trial and more generally, that Canadian jurisprudence is set up with the thought that it’s far better to let a guilty person go free than to put an innocent person in jail. I can’t help but support this relative weighting of the required evidence. People lie and innocent people have been accused of crimes. I have no problem with the mechanics of sexual assault cases being changed to protect the victim, but the standards of evidence must remain as they are. I don’t want to live in a society where only an accusation is enough to send the accused to jail. In my opinion, that would approach barbarism.

This event also makes it clear to me that we’ve got a long way to go in terms of treating women the same way we treat men. I watched an interview with Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, and she stated that she’s received no end of criticism and even hate-mail about this event. The real eye-opener to me was the claim that she betrayed all women when she won Ghomeshi’s case. What does this mean? A woman shouldn’t defend a sexual assault case? Textbook sexist. Or that Ghomeshi doesn’t deserve his day in court? Well, that would only be the case if he were guilty, which we don’t know until he has his day in court.

I recall people I know commenting about court cases in the past, saying, “Why bother with a trial? We know he/she is guilty.” That kind of talk scares me. It’s a step away from a mob hanging someone, and history shows us where that road leads. Those deciding these cases need to leave emotion at the courthouse door.

  1. Sarah Boesveld, “Exclusive: Lucy DeCoutere on the Ghomeshi disaster,” Chatelaine.
  2. ibid
  3. CBC News, “Jian Ghomeshi trial’s not guilty decision triggers outrage, march to police headquarters,” CBC News.
  4. ibid

Bullshit sexism

Lauren Wiggins is a New Brunswick high-school student who was doing nothing but minding her own business when she received a detention for breaking her school’s dress code. When she wrote a letter to the vice-principal expressing her opinion, they added a one day suspension to her detention.

Yes, she did break the dress code. That much is true. One can argue whether it is reasonable or not, but that isn’t what has me incensed. It’s what they told her. Unfortunately, the school is refusing to answer media enquiries, but the CBC reports that

says she was told the full-length halter dress she wore to school on Monday was considered “inappropriate” and a “sexual distraction” to fellow students.

The dress Wiggins was punished for wearing.

I call bullshit. High school is the last stage of preparation that young people receive before going out into the world or pursuing higher education. Telling a young woman that she can’t wear certain clothing because of how the boys will react is a big problem. The school is telling the boys that they are not responsible for their actions, and even worse, that the girls are responsible for the boys’ actions. This is a very dangerous message to give to young people. Not only dangerous, but absolutely wrong.

Young people need to understand that they are responsible for their own actions. More importantly, they need to realize where their responsibility ends and other peoples’ begins. The school has this one entirely wrong and they’re enabling the boys’ poor behaviour.

If her dress was inappropriate, that’s fine. Say so. Don’t blame her if the boys haven’t been taught how to behave. Teach the boys how to behave and stop enabling their poor choices! But on the topic of the dress, I saw much worse in my high school days. I might be dating myself, but remember designer jeans? Like I said, much worse.

I’m also terribly disappointed that Wiggins was suspended for expressing her thoughts about the situation to the vice-principal. She posted her letter on her Facebook page and it’s entirely polite and reasonable. Suspension for expressing her thoughts politely is ridiculous. She ends her letter,

If you are truly so concerned that a boy in this school will get distracted by my upper back and shoulders then he needs to be sent home and practice self control.

Then she thanks the vice-principal and wishes him a nice day. Not only is she entirely correct, but she’s polite and eloquent… and for this she’s suspended? Ridiculous bullshit.

I’m glad she’s making a big stink about the situation and I hope the staff who handled this so poorly are taken to task for it. She deserves and apology and the way they handle things needs to change.

Photo from Lauren Wiggins’ Facebook page

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