This entry was originally a post over at Skepchick, but it got me thinking....I should expand on this a little.

I used to work in a big-box-chain of bookstores here in Canada (Canadians know which one...it's the BIG chain that swallows up its competition and is run by a militant neo-zionist who funds people to fight in Israel). I had to quit after nearly a year of being told to keep my critisism of new age and religious books to myself in order to make the sale. (I was hired on as an 'expert' in history and politics, so I should stick to those sections, I was told)

I lost track of how many people insisted that their witches spell-books, astrology and angel therapy could really help me with my pain (I was walking with a cane, the result of a broken hip). I was handed various versions of various bibles with various passages just 'for peace of mind'.

But it was The Secret that REALLY got under my skin (after a day of seeing Sylvia Browne's ugly-mug, my skin would already be pretty thin). I refused to 'sell' that book....that is to say that I would refuse to extoll its virtues, let people know that it was on Oprah, or forward good things that other customers had said about it....I wouldn't even say that its one of our biggest sellers. The most I would do is direct people to the section where the book is (sadly, it's in the already-lame Self-Help section).

One woman in particular, told me she was going to buy three copies, as she already owned a copy for herself and was going to give them out as gifts (what a crappy birthday that must be!). She winked at me after finding them and said "It's working, you know!"

"No it isn't, that's just your own confirmation bias" I said as politely and salesman-y as I could.

"Have you read it? How can you say that unless you've read it? You must not have read it seriously or you wouldn't say that" was her indignant response as she trotted off towards the register.

The next day I talked a woman out of buying a Kevin Trudeau book, and got in trouble for it.

The day after that, I quit.

Working in a bookstore, you'd think that it might be a decent job. And the perks were indeed nice: being surrounded by books all day, getting a decent staff-discount on books, and having most of my co-workers all similarly interested in books, reading, and the like.

But the crap I had to peddle was beyond the pale. When I was hired, the store didn't really have anyone positioned to be knowledegable on the social sciences (or any sciences, for that matter). I, being a joint-major in the social sciences, was an ideal candidate for a section of the store whose subsections included (but not limited to): U.S. history, Canadian History, British History, World History, Biography, U.S. Politics, Canadian Politics, Politics General, Cultural Studies, New Age, Astrology, Wicca, Paganism, Christianity, Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Islam, Philosophy, Science General, Science-Evolution, Science-Biology, Science-Astronomy, Animals, Trees, Plants, Grammar, and a whole-crap-load-of-computer stuff that I don't understand.

It's hard to imagine that anyone would have a deep knowledge of ALL these fields. However, being that I grew up Catholic, I had a handle on the christian-stuff. My current education well-qualifies me for the history and politics part, and my skeptical side gives me a decent grounding in the various sciences. But I also had to suck it up and deal with every single Sylvia Browne book....being that she (or her team) came up with a new book seemingly every friggin month, they were constantly on prominent display...right at ugly-eye level.

Some customers would ask me my religious denomination (which my employers rightly agree with me that I have no obligation to answer....were I religious, I might take offense....but as an occasionally dickish atheist, I like to see how far down the crazy-rabbit hole they want to take me), and I would reply "I'm an atheist, actually". Some would shrug their shoulders, as if to signify that the conversation is over (which I was only too happy with), but others would be shocked (one woman said "Atheist??? But you're such a nice young lad!"), angered ("well, could you get me a salesperson who is familiar with Christ?".....I shit-you-not....they did talk like that), and sometimes disbelief would set in ("That's impossible. No one can be truly atheist").

As an interesting side-note, one of the most enjoyable conversations I had in that section (the Christian section, which was, by the way, hilariously opposite the aisle from the Science section, full of Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan books!) was with an 82-year old baptist minister who knew full well that I was an atheist, and we had a great, cordial, funny, lively conversation about science, religion, culture, and education....and we agreed on almost every front. Sadly though, of the people I talked to in that section, he was in the minority....the nice-person-who-respected-me-minority.

The New Age section was particularly trying. Even just LOOKING at the myriad of spell-books, astrology books, psychic books, UFO books, conspiracy-theory books....it makes me mad just TYPING it! It was so hard to not crack a smile (and sometimes I failed) whenever some hippy/goth/emo kid would come and ask for my opinion on some book about Satanism, witchcraft or how great Sylvia Browne is. Oftentimes i could see where the kid gets it: the mother! Of all the sections in that store, and the various permutations that a parent-sibling could share a book with earnest in a master-apprentice relationship, The New Age section definatley takes the cake (with the exception of the Children's section.....duh. Also, possibly the Mystery section...I was amazed at how many really-elderly people loved their mystery-stories, as did their not-quite-as-elderly-but-still-elderly children). It was a little sad to see their kids (usually in their teens) stray towards the science sections and their mothers call them over eagerly with some dip-shitty thing in those goddammned spellbooks.

Anyway, long story short, if you ever work in a bookstore, stay away from the social science section: the history/philosophy/politics might be great to look at, but if you read this blog, chances are you have a similar attidude towards New Age and Religion as I do, and don't like being preaced to.

I do miss the cheap books though.

Taint misbehavin'

Within the past two days, my two favourite (the 'u' is correct spelling in Canada...I know that some people get really uppity about that, so I'm going to place a 'u' in many words in this entry...it's funnier that way. Trust me.) skeptical blogs, Skepchick and Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy, have had a recent spat of ill-behaveud rabble-rousers talking smack and generally tryuing to start (or finish) flame wars.

As an ill-mannerd cranky-curmudgeon, even I take exceptioun to this activity. We'ure all skeptics here! I woun't get into the specific details regarding whuo and whuat did/said whuat to piss people off, but I just don't get it! Do Skeptic-blogs really promote the sort of debating that we might see in the comment section of Chocolate Rain or the Numa-Numa guy on youtube? I don't remember seeing such vitriol a few months ago. I think I noticed it for the first time (at least, within the skeptical community) at the end of March when Skepchick and SGU'er Rebecca Watson got some mad-hate over a silly-little gender/sex semantic battle -- people were either hating on Rebecca for speaking her mind (regardless of the fact that she was right, and vindicated), or hating on Jay Novella for being closed-minded and naive, which is itself, rather closed-minded.

In all my travels among various occupations/movements/communities (and there have been LOTS), I was always drawn in by the collegiality of the Skeptics -- we all seem to be good-natured, thoughtfull, respectful people with a good sense of humour. All of a sudden there seems to be a bit of a groundswell of bickering, name-calling and assholiness. The way I see it, there are two likely reasons for this: 1) The skeptical community/movement is becoming more and more prevalent, and therefore it inevitably draws in the 'haters' just by the sheer influx of people, or 2) its just chance that one or two comments really struck a sensitive nerve with a person, who may or may not be in a particular mood at that particular time.

Hopefully, it's a cherry-picked combination of both: the skeptic community is drawing in more people, AND these were relatively isolated incidents.

I know full well what it's like to be taken out of context, insulted, ostricized and flayed, online and institutionally (my university can bite me....at least 3 professors in particular), and I know how deeply it can affect a person at the recieving end. It sucks, and it's not neccessary.

Writerdd, Rebecca, Jay, and Phil are great skeptics, skeptics that I measure myself against. They should be constantly be praised and thanked for all they do for getting people (like me) to think, and act more skeptically.

Moreover, lets not lose focus here: Sylvia Browne, Kevin Trudeau, John Edward, Tom Cruise, John Baird, Rona Ambrose, and every astrologer ever are the real enemy, and collectivley, are a taint on society. I don't mean that figuratively in that they are a poisonous stain in our culture...I mean that they are the anatomical area between the testicles and the anus. You're welcome.

Anyone who knows anything about my academic tendancies, knows full well my hatred of post-modernism. I find it to be the most intellecually dishonest and lazy form of narcissistic navel-gazing to have come out of the academy in the 20th century. So naturally I was overjoyed to find this link. It's a post-modernist essay-generator. Just keep clicking refresh and enjoy the very realistic portrayal of the pomos.

I'm FINALLY feeling better. After a week of really strong anti-biotics and delicious bacteria-replenishing strawberry yogurt, I'm nearly up to 100%.

Forgive the following American content (no offense to Americans, of course....but this is supposed to be a Canadian-content blog....but whatevs).

A recent gallup poll was posted portraying the 'net-positive' opinion of Catholics in the United States. After scrolling down a bit, I noticed a fantastic development: Atheists are no longer the most unliked religious identity in America! U-S-A! U-S-A! According to the chart, atheists have an 'approval rating' (a down-and-dirty term, I'll admit, but it works) of 13%, whereas the Scientologists e-meter-scrape the thetan-barrell with a 7% Xenu-approval Tom Cruise-rating.

Enough people have (rightly) ragged on Scientology, so I'll forward you to a great site, Operation Clambake...a site I came across a few years ago during the South Park-affair/wet-dream-for-Steve. These guys are among the greatest anti-scientology activists (them, and the hacker community, 'Anonymous') out there and I highly recomend you familiarize yourself with just about anything on that site.

Instead, I want to point something out about the statistic of Atheism....according to the poll, 13% have a positive opinion of atheists.....13%????? Why so friggin low? Now, I always knew that Americans hated Atheists, but here's the rub: last time I checked, atheists/agnostics comprised anywhere from 15%-20% of the American population...talk about self-hating atheists!

Fucking Tom Cruise.

On sickness and absence

I'm keeping this short.

Sorry for not updating lately. I went to the hospital yesterday and was diagnosed with a really frakkin-bad bacterial infection in my sinuses. It feels like me head has 2 litres of fluid shaking around in there.

I'll update more when I'm feeling better.

The Skeptologists

I just recieved this posting on the Skeptologists facebook page:

Raise your voice! Let it be known that it’s time for a TV series that focuses on
the real, the intelligent and important advances in science, critical thinking
and skepticism. The Skeptologists will be pitched to major networks soon, and we
want to give the programming executives a sense of what kind of support they can
received if they invest in a TV series of this kind.

We have started an email campaign to have fans of the show write-in in support of this show idea and let us know why you would watch a show about critical thinking, science and skepticism! We will compile the emails and present to the executives along with our all-star cast, entertaining pilot program and solid production background to seal a great TV deal to give the Skeptics of the world a show they can stand behind, and be proud of!

take a moment, and send a brief email to skeptologists@newrule.com. You email will be collected and will help support the show.

Thank you very much,-Ryan C. Johnson, Director



I think this show is really going to be a fantastic opportunity to spread critical thinking and combat the forces of woo on mainstream television, so do your part, and send the email!

Here's a link for ya. It's not, strictly speaking, a skeptical link, but it's just messed up enough to be sufficiently creepy and enjoyable.

Secondly, I've always found the bible to be one of the funniest, most Dungeons and Dragons-like book in all of human history (except, of course, for the PHB and the DMG....players will get that reference). The folks over at neatorama recently posted a great entry on old testament ways to get a wife. In a related vein, here are the most badass quotes in the bible. I've checked them all out (and a friend did as well), and they're ALL legit.

Finally, in keeping with what is supposed to be a Canadian-skeptic theme of this blog, is Canada in the bible? No. It's not. Don't be stupid.

I'm gonna go play with my cat now.

Vive l'evolution!

Despite my occasional rantings against some facet or another with Toronto, it definatley does have it's perks.

This past weekend, I spent the weekend in Toronto for a much-needed and well-deserved 'time-the-crap-out-of-Peterborough'. It's been a really bad week, and I needed to get out of town, and not to my hometown. The added benefit was that Toronto had a good friend, and lots to see in Toronto that I have not seen before. I finally got to bum around both Chinatown and Kensington Market, with tasty results!

The extra benefit of Toronto was the Royal Ontario Museum's special exhibit on "Darwin: The Evolution Revolution". Regretablly, visitors were prohibited from taking pictures in that particular exhibits, so you'll just have to use your ample imagination. The exhibit contained incredibly rare artiftacts comprising of Darwin's original notes! That's not the kind of thing that one can typically find in Toronto, or Canada for that matter. My one major complaint was that the exhibit spent comparitively little time on the evolution of humanity, despite the fact that it was indeed one of the cornerstones of Darwin's work. There was, on this note, a fascinating display of the various skulls going down the evolutionary tree of humankind. I've seen the skulls of Homo Habilis, A. Robustus, Neaderthal etc.. before in many pictures, textbooks and videos, but it was quite another thing to see them in front of my face, so that I could identify the stricking similiarities for myself. The exibit spent a disproportionate amount of time/space discussing the personal life of Darwin, which, aside from being in slightly bad taste, is not what I went there for. But all-in-all, a good exhibit, which I hope to see again.


The rest of the ROM is a huge building, and we couldn't get in the entire museum in the time allowed...maybe if we had an entire day and a case of red-bull. Rather than visit the more cultural-themed exhibits (though we did visit the 'European' section), we spent most of our time in the natural history sections. Including, DINOSAURS!











I forgot how giddy I could be around these things. I haven't been to see dinosaur skeletons since I was in the 5th grade, but now that I'm old and educated enough to appreciate it!

If I lived in Toronto, I fully expect I would have a ROM membership, and head there at least once a week. Peterborough just doesn't have anything like this (although, the Canadian Canoe Museum is a real treat!

I'm gonna go make a pizza now. With tasty results!

Add, and subtratct

This post isn't about a skeptic issue per se, but bear with me...

For the first time in years, I yelled at a total stranger. It was some kid, early 20's, in the parking lot of my local strip-mall. When I pulled into my parking spot, all the surrounding cars had a piece of paper on their windshield. We've all had them: those annoying, litter-enabling advertisment flyers for some local what-ever-it-is that just pissed us off, and usually makes us throw it on the ground in frustration, or take it home, and throw it out with our regular garbage. I went into the store, was gone for literally 6 minutes (that was how much time passed on my ipod) and found a flyer on my windshield.....after 6 minutes! I took a few moments to find a garbage can to dispose of the nonsense (with the melting snow, there's already a winters-worth of garbage everywhere) and drove off feeling angry.

As luck would have it, I drove past the kid putting the shit on the windshields....trolling the parking lot looking for cars that he hasn't tagged. I rolled down the window, yelled at him for leaving shit on people's windows, and that there is enough garbage already. "It's advertising!" was his response. I know. I know it's advertising. That is precicely why I'm upset with it.

You don't get to use my personal property to advertise your shit. Wanna advertise? take out an add like everyone else. Unless you pay me, you don't have the right to use my car as addspace. Advertisements are friggin EVERYWHERE these days, and, as obnoxious as I find it, they have the right to, because the people who own the property, sell the space for add usage. That's how it works. It's ugly, offensive and tacky, but it's allowed. Not my car. My car is not yours to showcase your shit (in this case, I think it was kickboxing lessons...which leads to the question as to why you put these adds on a car parked in the handicapped spaces, but whatever).

Fuck off, and leave my car alone.

Chance, 1992-2008

This afternoon, my 16-year old black lab, Chance, was put down. She was a very happy dog and a well-loved member of the family.

Afterwards, I looked online for some material to help me cope (poetry, stories, mourning-tactics etc...), and I was aghast at the sheer volume of psychic nonesense relating to pets. I would be willing to look the other way if all the people said was "my pet is with me in spirit, and that gives me strength" (or something to that effect), but for some sites, that's not enough. For these people, even the pets of us 'non-believers' follow us around, because belief in an afterlife for animals is not a prerequisite for its veracity. I was furious.

Just like the Mormons who convert people to Mormonism after they died, these new-agers try to co-opt the memory of everyone's well-loved pets to further their own nonsensical agenda. I recognize the pain-killing affect of such a belief-system, but that system is for you. Not me. You can't invoke the memory of my pet to heal your own pain. It's a bit proprietary of me, I'll admit, but fuck-off....don't insult me, by belitting my love for my pet.

Bad day.

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