December 07, 2011

Trimming the tree

Tonight we set up the Christmas tree, and discovered that the lighted snowflake we've had as a topper for the last several years doesn't light up any more. Pat commented that trying to figure out which little mini light bulb was burned out was more trouble than it was worth, and we should just buy a new tree topper. Which statement immediately brought to mind this post from the original AWV, originally published in December of 2007:

We put up the Christmas tree today. As the wife was trimming it, she mentioned that we needed to get a new angel to put on top. As I recall, the conversation went something like this...

Paul: Can we get one that shoots lasers out of her eyes?
Paul's wife: Lasers? That wouldn't be very angelic.
Paul: Can we get one riding a shark?
Paul's wife: Get serious.
Paul: I am serious. I think an angel riding a shark with lasers shooting out of her eyes would be all kinds of awesome.

December 04, 2011

Banana Mocha French Toast

Chop one banana into a blender. Add four eggs, and a dollop of milk. Season to taste with salt, sugar and vanilla. Blend until smooth. Heat your pan, and melt some butter in it. Soak bread in the banana/egg mixture and fry. I used a plain white bread for Matt, and a multi-grain bread for me. The white bread was far more successful for this recipe. I'll have to try it again with a light egg-bread, or maybe a croissant - I think that would work well.

When you've plated the french toast, dust it lightly with Starbucks Mocha Powder, and drizzle with pure maple syrup. Garnish with fresh chopped banana and stawberry, or perhaps fried banana slices and mint. Experiment.

Makes 4-6 slices.

Let me know how it came out for you. I had seconds.

November 30, 2011

Welcome to the Internet, Dr. Burzynski

All the cool kids in the skeptical blogosphere are talking about Stanislaw Burzynski, and I didn't want to be left out. Never heard of him? I hadn't either, until yesterday, when the Internet, as we know it, exploded on Dr. Burzynski's head.

Here are the salient facts, as I understand them:

Dr. Burzynski owns and runs The Burzynski Clinic, in Texas. The Burzynski clinic specializes in "Alternative Cancer Treatments." According to its website, the clinic also offers conventional, FDA approved cancer treatment, but that's not what they are currently in the spotlight for. One of the modalities they offer is something called "Antineoplaston" therapy. It is this treatment that everyone seems to be talking about right now.

Antineoplastons were "discovered" by Dr. Burzynski, himself. Dr. Burzynski has published the results of several clinical trials of this therapy which appear to show effecacy. These studies were published in fringe journals with questionable peer review policies and, often, questionable professional detachment from the subject (they are journals whose purpose is the publication of studies supporting alternative medicine). Other researchers have been unable to reliably replicate Dr. Burzynski's findings. In fact, 100% of properly blinded, randomized, placebo controlled, peer reviewed trials published in reputable journals have been negative - that is, they all fail to show any benefit at all of Antineoplaston therapy in the treatment of cancer. The FDA has not approved Antineoplastons for use in cancer treatment in the USA. That means that doing so is against the law.

It is not, however, against the law to administer Antineoplaston therapy if it is done as part of a registered clinical trial. Dr. Burzynski has been running "clinical trials" of Antineoplaston use in the treatment of cancer for over thirty years. People travel from all over the world to the Burzynski Clinic to receive treatment participate in a clinical trial, and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so.

Recently, several prominent medical and skeptical bloggers have published articles critical of Dr. Burzynski and his Antineoplaston therapy, and calling into question Dr. Burzynski's research, and the ethics of his practice of charging patients exorbitant amounts of money to receive treatment participate in a clinical trial of a drug that has not been demonstrated to be effective at all. In most instances, when faced with criticism or questioning of their research, scientists respond by presenting the evidence which supports their work, but that doesn't seem to be what's happened here.

Instead, these bloggers were contacted by a gentleman by the name of Marc Stephens, claiming to "represent the Burzynski Clinic, Burzynski Research Institute, and Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski," and threatening legal action if the "libelous and defamatory information" was not removed from their websites. It turns out Mr. Stephens is not a lawyer, but an employee of The Burzynski Clinic who may or may not have overreached in his zeal to defend his employer. In what has become known as "The Streisand Effect," an attempt to suppress criticism on the Internet has resulted in that criticism becoming far more widespread than it ever would have. Virtually every skeptical blog I read has posted an article about Burzynski over the past two days. Well done, Marc.

Word is Mr. Stephens is no longer employed by Burzynski. He appears to have been thrown under the bus by his former employer in a desperate attempt at damage control as this story spirals out of control across the World Wide Web. And Dr. Burzynski is learning a valuable lesson. If your particular form of pseudoscience has been the subject of criticism on the Internet, either bring the evidence, or, if you don't actually have any evidence, lay low and hope it all blows over. Making lame and empty threats is only going to turn you into a deer in the headlights of the monster truck that is the web.


To read more about this topic, I recommend you start here, here, and here, and then go on from that.

November 24, 2011

Wifi protest in Aurora

Yesterday, a group of concerned parents held a protest at the local school board offices, demanding to have wifi internet routers removed from public schools in York Region. Click here to watch video news coverage from the local media. Happily, it appears there was a very small turn-out, perhaps 5 or 6 mothers with their children in tow. That's a positive sign that the majority of local residents have their heads screwed on straight, and aren't fooled by the silly mumbo-jumbo being spewed by these anti-EM radiation groups.

The video shows three people addressing the camera. The first is what appears to be a concerned parent who has simply been mis-informed by her peers about the issue. The second woman has all the smug, self-satisfaction of the true activist. She has all her talking points down, and her rant so smoothly practiced that she can effectively prevent anyone from getting a word in edgewise to rebut her claims. This is a standard tactic of those who do not have the facts on their side. If you do not ever let your opponents speak, they can never correct you.

The third person to speak is one of the children. This is the part that brings tears to my eyes, and rage to my heart. "It's our human rights," he says. "They're experimenting on us," he says. "In ten years, we're all going to have cancer," he says. Can you believe that? This poor child has been told, by his mother no less, that he's going to get cancer if he goes to school. That's abuse, as far as I'm concerned. The kid's going to have nightmares for the rest of his life. Who does that to a child? Number one: it's a lie. Number two: it doesn't matter if it's a frickin' lie, or not; it's an horrific thing to say to a child. That's a parent whose own personal crusade is more important to her than her child's emotional health, and it makes me insane.

End of rant. We now return control of your internet to you.

September 26, 2011

Weekend Breakfast

Weekend Breakfast

Multi-grain toast, Sliced Avocado, Chopped Tomato, Soft Boiled Egg, Grated Asiago Cheese.

Coulda maybe used a touch of salt.

Served with hot, fresh coffee.

September 24, 2011

Blogroll blues

Today I noticed that the link to my blogroll no longer works. (Over there... to the right. Scroll down a bit, see under where it says, "The Links"? No, don't click on it - I told you, it doesn't work anymore.) I guess Bloglines, where it used to be hosted, is defunct. The service was taken over by a company called Merchant Circle, but clearly the functionality is different. So, you currently cannot see my blogroll - that is, the list of blogs that I read regularly.

I don't know, is that still a thing? Do people still want to see that? Let me know.

Also, let me know if you have any ideas or suggestions for replacing the blogroll with another service or widget to display it. What do you do on your blog?

September 22, 2011

The hazards of WiFi in our schools

HavasFlyerMedEarlier this week, as I was taking Shadow for his evening walk, I came upon this flyer tacked to a hydro pole in front of the local elementrary school (click here for a larger, easier to read version).

I'm not quite sure exactly how to describe my emotional reaction to this poster. Exasperation is probably as close as I can come. I wish I could call what these people are doing, 'beating a dead horse,' but, unfortunately, this horse ain't quite dead yet. Allow me to attempt to provide another bullet for the gun of reason.

First, perhaps, a little bit of background would be helpful. About a year ago, there was a minor kerfuffle in the local news over parents concerned about WiFi internet in classrooms. The school boards involved provided the correct response to the alleged concerns, that being there is no health danger from WiFi signals. This position is backed up by all the available scientific evidence, and fully supported by Health Canada.

The claims of the local parents groups were carefully examined, and disassembled by the blogging community at the time, as were the identities and possible ulterior motives of the groups' leaders, spokespeople, and alleged experts. The story slowly faded from the public view over the next several months. But, as we are so seldom reminded, just because the media isn't reporting a story anymore, doesn't mean it's gone away. As can be clearly shown by the above flyer, the proponents of this tempest in a teapot are still on the offensive, trying to spread their delusions to more and more people.

So, is there anything to it? In a word, no. The cartoon included on the flyer pretty much explains the entire case these folks are trying to make: The radiation produced by a microwave oven and a WiFi router are exactly the same. Putting your head in an operating microwave oven would be bad for you. Therefore, putting your head in a room containing an operating WiFi router would also be bad.

ovengirlfinishMy response to that claim can best be summed up by this excellent cartoon, provided by Russ from Inner and Outer Demons.

You wouldn't allow what's going on in the top panel for even ONE SECOND.

But it's okay to allow the radiation in the bottom panel for 6 or 7 HOURS, and DAY AFTER DAY?!

After all, those are two examples of exactly the same type of radiation. No, really, hear me out. An electric oven contains an element made of metal. When an electric current is passed through the metal, the electrical resistance causes the element to heat up, emiting radiation in the form of heat and light. An incandescent light bulb contains a filament (a very small metal element). When electric current is passed through the filament of the light bulb, it emits radiation in the form of heat and light. So, in real world terms, a common light bulb is exactly as dangerous to you as an oven element.

What's that, you say? There is a difference between those two scenarios: the oven element is way hotter than the light bulb, and it's also way closer to the little girl. Give yourself a gold star. You've hit upon the lie in these two cartoons. There is a difference between the radiation emitted by an electric oven and a light bulb, and between a microwave, and a WiFi router. That difference is one of scale. The element inside an average electric oven operates at about 2500 watts. The average bulb in a reading lamp, at about 40 watts. So, the light bulb is about 60 times less powerful than the oven element. As well, in the top panel of my cartoon, the little girl's head is barely six inches from the oven element. When you're reading, your head is more like two feet, or more from the light bulb.

We know how Electromagnetic Radiation behaves over distance. It has been studied in great depth for centuries, and described by what we call the Inverse SquareLaw. The Inverse Square Law explains that the intensity of EMF decreases by the square of the distance. So, if we are twice as far from an EMF source as someone else, we experience four times less radiation. If we are ten times farther away, we experience 100 times less radiation. So, in the case of the light bulb, which is about four times farther away than the oven element, it's radiation would be decreased by a factor of 16. Multiply that by the difference in starting intensity, and we find that the radiation hitting the little girl reading her book is almost 1000 times less powerful than the radiation hitting the little girl with her head in the oven. So, as long as she doesn't actually reach up and touch the bulb, we are confident that she is safe sitting under its light.

Let's compare that to our microwaves. The power of an average microwave oven is about 1000 watts. The power of an average WiFi router is about 0.1 watts. So the router is already 10,000 times less powerful than the microwave oven. As well, in the classroom setting, the little girl is going to be much farther away from the router than she would be from the emmiters were she inside a microwave. She's probably somewhere between five and fifteen feet away from the router, compared to about six inches away from the radiation emissions in a microwave oven. So, let's say she's five feet away from the router, which would be 10 times farther away in the classroom than in the oven. So the strength of the radiation is reduced by a factor of 10², or 100. Which means, when you do the math, that the radiation hitting the little girl in the classroom is on the order of one millionth as strong as the radiation inside the microwave oven. One millionth.

Here's an experiment for you to try. Take a cold cup of Tims, or water, or a piece of steak, if you like. Check its temperature with a thermometer. Put it in the microwave for 60 seconds, then check its temperature again. There's a pretty significant difference, isn't there. Now, put that same cup of Tims (OK, not the exact same one, 'cause it's hot now, right?) - put another cold cup of coffee, or whatever right beside your wireless router. Turn the router on. Leave it like that for a week. Then check the temperature of the coffee again. What will the temperature be? Room temperature. Now, don't get me wrong, the microwaves from the router are definitely heating the coffee, it's just that the coffee is re-radiating that heat faster than the router can produce it. That's what is happening to our brains from exposure to WiFi. They are being heated by a miniscule amount - so small we need sophisticated scientific machinery to even measure it - and our bodies are redistributing and re-radiating that heat far faster than it can even accumulate. In fact, the effect of the WiFi on our bodies is thousands of times less than the effect of that light bulb on our bodies. You can actually feel the warmth of that.

Is that it, then? Are the heating properties of microwaves the only cause for concern? Well, not to hear the anti-WiFi crowd tell it. They spin a great yarn about as-yet undiscovered dangers of which they are somehow aware, while the rest of the entire scientific establishment remains unenlightened. The group that are hosting the event advertised in the poster have a website at which they link to a couple of articles in the British Columbia Teachers' Federation Newsletter. These articles tell us that:

The wireless signal, oscillating at 2.4 to 5 GHz, moves much too fast for the body to recognize. So this wave isn’t doing the damage. However, anytime any data or information is transmitted, say through our voice, through text messages, or through the sending of information, the data is packaged and “piggy-backed” onto the first wave. This creates a second carrier wave and this wave is called the information-carrying radio wave, or ICRW. It is the information-carrying radio wave that is producing the harm.
This is, to put it bluntly, poppycock. Whoever wrote that paragraph has been watching far too much Star Trek, because that is what we call Techno-Babble of the highest order. It sounds science-ish, but it means nothing. The idea that information can be "piggy-backed" onto a radio wave or microwave by somehow attaching a second radio wave is so far from the way the world works it's what we call 'not even wrong.' There is no second carrier wave; the microwaves themselves are the information. In much the same way as you can communicate using morse code via either radio or light, by simply turning the signal on and off again using a specific pattern, the microwaves used by WiFi routers, and cell phones, and cordless phones, among many other devices, communicate their information via the modulation of the frequency, amplitude and phase of the waves themselves. In this case, the old cliché from Marshall McLuhan is literally true: the medium is the message.

So should I be concerned, or not? I'll end this the way I began it: In a word, "no." There is no evidence to show that there is any harm, whatsoever, from WiFi signals. And any alleged evidence the anti-WiFi community claim to be able to produce can be very easily shown to be nonsense by a simple examination of the laws of reality. And that, as they say, is that.

Do I think this will be the last bullet that puts the horse out of its misery? Hardly. As long as there are people, there will be credulous people, who will believe almost anything, regardless of how unlikely or unrealistic it is. As a skeptic, critical thinker, and proud member of the reality based community, I consider it my responsibilty to vocally point out where people like the anti-WiFi community are mistaken, or sometimes flat-out wrong. Sure, we're not going to convince the hard-core fringe element out there, but if we can speak out loud enough, with reason and evidence on our side, perhaps we can keep the fringe to the fringe, and keep the average Jane and Joe from being led astray.

(Note: this article has been edited since it first appeared to reflect more accurate numbers regarding the intensity of the radiation from various sources. As well some minor changes were made to the wording of the final three paragraphs in order to reflect a more general point of view. -- Paul)

September 10, 2011

Let's play a game

Apparently, this blog is the first result in a Google search for the phrase, "npr penguin poem mary poppins asks do you like kids and the penguin says yes in a red wine sauce."

Ima let that sink in for a little bit. According to my stat package, someone actually visited AWV from a Google results page for that combination of words. I cannot image why someone would Google that combination of words. That's where you come in.

Please feel free to speculate in the comments what you think the person who typed in that search criteria was really looking for.

August 13, 2011

Nothing to see here

Clearly I have neglected this spot for far too long. My last post garnered no more than fifteen views, and a solitary comment. My own fault, of course. One doesn't leave a blog lying fallow for four full months. I'll try to do better. I swear.

August 11, 2011

It's another list...

NPR (National Public Radio in the United States) has published a list of the "Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books OF ALL TIME!!!ZOMG." They collected nominations from over 5000 people, had an in-house panel of "experts" pare that list down to 237(?), then collected over 6000 online votes to create a top 100 list.

Like any of these lists, the results cannot be said to be definitive, merely a starting point for discussion. So, let's discuss. What doesn't belong on that list? What doesn't appear, that should? My thoughts below in the comment thread.

April 20, 2011

A fine dining experience

I decided to make an Epic Meal Time inspired dinner tonight: Steak and Bacon Tacos!

Step 1: meat.

Chop a fine piece of steak. Chop several slices of bacon. Combine in a bowl. Cover with beer. Add some sugar. Mix well and let marinate in fridge.

Step 2: toppings.

Peel and chop cuke. Chop tomato. Chop garlic. Chop green onion. Chop cilantro. Chop Jalapeno pepper. Combine in a bowl. Season with salt, sugar and lemon juice. Voila: cucumber salsa.

Chop tomato. Chop garlic. Chop green onion. Chop cilantro. Chop Jalapeno pepper. Scoop out avocado. Combine in a bowl. Season with salt and lime juice. Voila: guacamole salsa.

(I chose to leave the tequila out of the salsas tonight. It's kinda a game-time decision.)

Grate cheese. I like cheddar. White or orange, it doesn't matter as long as it's good cheese. I'm a personal fan of Balderson's.

I also put out a little bowl of sour cream, and a little bowl of taco sauce.

Get your mind out of the gutter!

Step 3: meat again.

Heat some oil in a pan. Strain the beer marinated steak and bacon and brown. Strain again, add one cup clear water and one pouch of premade taco seasoning (OK, so I'm lazy). Cook at a low boil for about five minutes, or until liquid cooks down a bit.

Serve those puppies!

April 19, 2011

A song of feis and ire

Am I the only one in the world who is not interested in the new HBO miniseries "Game of Thrones," and the multi-part series of novels upon which it is based? Can anyone explain to me the attraction of this piece of media?

Here's the way I see it. "A Game of Thrones" is the first of four novels published by George R. R. Martin as the "A Song Of Fire And Ice" trilogy. Yes, you read that right. Martin was writing a trilogy. There are four books. So far. There are, according to published reports, at least three more novels to come in the saga. Publication dates for the fifth novel have come and gone multiple times now, with each successive date, including the latest one, being touted as absolutely the real deal. To date, there are still only four novels available.

Anyone who has read the four novels currently extant will gush about them ad-nauseum. Their list of positive attributes includes, as far as I can tell: a long, rambling plot that leaves narrative threads dangling at inopportune moments, and then doesn't return to them until the next book, or possibly even the one after that; a cast of characters so extensive it requires a large Excel spreadsheet to keep track of them; a propensity to kill off main characters at the drop of a hat; and a use of language so exotic and arcane as to require one to keep the Kindle dictionary loaded in the background at all times. I'm afraid to ask readers what they didn't like about the books.

My wife read the first four books, and did nothing but grumble, moan, and complain all the way through them. She then proceeded to recommend them to me. Did she forget that I was sitting right there beside her while she read them?

So, aside from the fact that I can't find the silver lining in anything anyone I've ever spoken to about the books has said about them, I'm not really interested in picking up a series of books so epic even the author doesn't know how many there are going to be in the end. Especially considering the fact that the guy's sixty-something years old, and might not live to complete the work. No, really, think about it. The first three novels were published in increments of two years. It then took five years for the fourth book to come out. If - and that's a pretty big if, I'd say - if the sixth book comes out according to the latest pie-in-the-sky prediction of July 2011, that'll be a span of six years since the last one. On that schedule it could be anywhere between twelve and twenty years from now before he finishes. Did I say he's sixty-something?

Listen, I'm the guy who's read the First and Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant five or six times each, and still won't buy any of the books of the Third Chronicles until Donaldson has finished them all. He's got one more to go, but I'm not buying the first one, even in paperback, until I can be assured that I can read all the way to end of the series uninterrupted.

So, seriously, can someone explain all this to me? Because I just don't get it.

April 13, 2011

Are you aware?

Apparently, it is World Homeopathy Awareness Week. As is my wont during these occasions, I would like to direct you to my post explaining exactly what homeopathy is. That post, dated June, 2009, is a repost of an article originally written in May of 2006 on the original AWV.

February 10, 2011

Another retro playlist - All Canadian Edition

My last retro playlist was predominantly Canadian in flavour, but I decided this one would be exclusively so:

This Beat Goes On/Switchin' To Glide, by The Kings

Mama Let Him Play, by Doucette

Fly At Night, by Chilliwack

I Like To Rock, by April Wine

The Boys In The Bright White Sports Car, by Trooper

Armageddon, by Prism

(Make Me Do) Anything You Want, by A Foot In Cold Water

(Sitting On A) Poor Man's Throne, by Copperpenny

Signs, by Five Man Electrical Band

Takin' Care Of Business, by Bachman Turner Overdrive

Enjoy, eh?

February 03, 2011

Ogle my bookshelf

I came across this at Byzantium's Shores. Jaquandor picked it up from someone else and passed it on, so I shall do the same. It's called, "Ogle my shelves!" (I don't know how mandatory the exclamation point is). Forthwith, to follow, numerous pictures of my bookshelves, close up. No hiding here; it's all out in plain view, embarrassing or not. Feel free to peruse. If you'd like a closer look, click on a pic to see it larger at Flickr.

Here is our bookshelf. Pat and I are book buyers. We both love books, and would rather own them than borrow them, great resource though the local library is. Pat is also, however, a rather organized person, who keeps a fine house. Left unchecked our book obsession would easily lead to a house with every horizontal surface piled high with reading material. So we check...and balance. We keep one set of bookshelves, and we allow ourselves to keep only the books that will fit on it. Once a year we hold a garage sale, and we thin out our books rather mercilessly each time, in order to preserve space on the shelf for valuable personal favourites, and new acquisitions.

Below is the bookshelf in its entirety. If it ain't on that, or stacked on a bedside table, it's in a box in the crawl space, ready to be sold off cheap at the next yard sale.

Ogle my bookshelf 011

Mostly big books below: hardcovers and trade paperbacks. You can see the notable presence of at least 9 volumes by Guy Kay here. In fact, the only one of his novels missing here is A Song For Arbonne, which, for some reason that escapes me right now, I do not seem to have in hardcover. Also, I see a book I borrowed from Brent and never gave back. And the DaVinci Code, that's kinda embarrassing.

The cats are not mine.

Ogle my bookshelf 001

Look, it's a scene from Tigana (another Kay novel) immortalized in paint. If you look closely you can see the red hair, that identifies this as Catriana. The hands are out of frame through the window, so you cannot see the single matching glove. This was painted by a friend and sent to me as part of a Secret Santa gift exchange.

Also, there's some books that Pat read.

Ogle my bookshelf 002

Bottom shelf is populated by Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side, and Bloom County, oh and a whole bunch of high school yearbooks.

Ogle my bookshelf 003

Below are some of the books I've owned the longest, including Gulliver's Travels. I can't find a date in it, so I'm not sure exactly when this edition was published, but it was given to my Father on the occasion of his eighth birthday, in 1945. He gave it to me when I was studying it in University. Also, a King James Bible, presented to my Father, by my Mother, in 1959. They passed it on to me in 1975. I've read most of it. (I kinda skimmed the begets).

The big, black thing isn't a book. It's a speaker.

Ogle my bookshelf 004

Wow! That's a few National Geographics. They span January, 1988, to April, 2001. The bottom shelf is all photo albums.

Ogle my bookshelf 005

Here's the start of the paperbacks. The corner section of the bookshelf used to be all knick-knacks and pretties, but you can see it has been somewhat taken over. You can just see the Twilight books sticking out of there. They'll be in the next garage sale for sure. Also, a couple of my antique cameras are on display there.

Ogle my bookshelf 007

A Daily Mail Tobacco tin. And a piece of wood off an old crate of HighLiner Jumbo Fillets. Oh, and some books.

Ogle my bookshelf 008

Ooh, the Mythic Tarot (insert spooky dramatic music here). Also, Kurt Vonnegut, who is another one of my favourite authors. And, tucked in the back there, yeah, Harry Potter.

Ogle my bookshelf 009

But, what, you may ask, about the bottom section of the shelves? What's hidden behind closed doors, you might well demand. Oh, that's not books.

Ogle my bookshelf 010

And didn't I see a bunch of stuff on top of the shelves, you ask? Well, here are my Sinners' Brier Mugs.... Yeah, don't ask. The explanation would be long, and not really all that interesting.

Ogle my bookshelf 012

So, there you have it, my bookshelf. I hope you had fun ogling.

What do your bookshelves look like?

January 06, 2011

Should religion be a government service?

I've been wanting to write about this issue for a week now, but every time I read the article in question, I get so angry I can't bring myself to set down my thoughts clearly. I've taken issue with the writing of Father Raymond J. De Souza before. The man's a bit intellectually dishonest, if you ask me, and this most recent article of his highlights that like none other to date.

As mentioned in the above linked piece, the Quebec government subsidizes daycare in the Province. Not all daycares are subsidized; there are private, unsubsidized daycare centers available to any who want what they offer. However, any daycare provider who follows government guidelines can offer customers daycare for only $7 per day, with the government picking up the balance of the tab (about $40).

Until recently, the government guidelines did not address the issue of religious instruction of children in daycare centers. I mean, why would they? We're talking about children under the ages of five years old here. Surely there isn't any serious religious instruction going on, is there? Well, it seems there is - at least in some centers. According to government figures, there are over 2000 subsidized daycare providers in the Province, and it has come to light that about 100 of them are religious in nature - that is, their purpose is primarily to provide religious instruction to specific cultural groups. So, the government has moved to stop the practice, and the religious people are all up in arms about it.

Father De Souza's December 30th column in the National Post is an example of the hyperbole being bandied about.

As far as I'm concerned, the Quebec government has taken the only steps they could have, given the situation. In disseminating government funded public services, whether they be unemployment benefits, or health care, or drivers licensing, or daycare, there are only two essential requirements: universality of access, and universality of experience. Government funded public services must be, as much as possible, available to all with the same level of access, and providing the same level of service, and the same service experience to all.

If I were Jewish, and my next-door neighbour were Muslim, and we both sent our children to the same neighbourhood daycare center, and we both paid the same price to do so, that constitutes identical access to the service. However, if the daycare in question is run by a Synagogue, and provides religious instruction in Judaism to the children, and no instruction in Islaam, then that does not constitute an equal level of service. The Muslim family would be right to complain.

"But," I might say, "you can take your children to the daycare run by the Mosque. It's only ten blocks away." That might be true, but while I could walk my child one block to the local daycare center, my neighbour would have to inconvenience himself by driving ten blocks to get the same level of service. In some communities, there simply isn't another alternative. We are no longer talking about universality of access. If a government funded public service does not provide equal access and equal services to every member of society, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual preference, it is unfair, and, quite frankly, unconstitutional.

That is what the government of Quebec is trying to fix. To hear Father De Souza tell it (and many other commentators around the web), the government is furthering some kind of anti-religion agenda.

The educational world in Quebec does not leave much room to breathe. The consensus position, as defined by the curriculum apparatchiks, must be taught without exception in all public schools, private schools and even at home. Until now, the preschoolers had escaped the stifling grasp of government. No longer.

This is, however, disingenuous. The government is not trying to prevent you from teaching your children your religion. They are simply trying to prevent you from teaching my children your religion, in a publicly funded venue, against my wishes. In order to ensure equlity of service experience in this situation, there are only two possible courses of action: either provide instruction to all children in every possible religion, or provide none. The former, being impractical, and virtually impossible, the latter becomes the only real option. To deny this is to deny a free and equal society.

The thing that makes me so angry, though, is that Father De Souza knows all this, and he doesn't care. He's trying to make it sound like someone's rights have been violated, when that just isn't the case. The entire purpose of secular government is to protect everyone's rights equally. He says:

The heart of every culture is its attitude to the big questions of human life and existence. That's why a sensible people leaves culture in the hands of the churches, the artists and the writers. Only a deeply insecure society entrusts culture to bureaucratic inquisitors. And only bureaucratic inquisitors see threats in the cradle.

But, Father De Souza, aren't you arguing in this piece that you want religious instruction in the government regulated daycares? Why don't you leave it to the churches, the artists, and the writers?

He's trying to turn the argument around, and make it sound like the the state is advancing an educational agenda, when, in truth, they are withdrawing one. Religious belief is a personal thing. Let's keep it where it belongs, in the homes and the churches of the believers, where, contrary to what Father De Souza would have you believe, it is not under attack.