Monthly Archives: November 2011

Ada Lovelace Day – LIVE!

This recording is from the final event from Ada Lovelace Day hosted by the BCS Women on October 7, 2011.

This recording includes talks from a variety of women on a variety of topics. It was hosted by Kate Smurthwaite and included talks from: Maggie Philbin, Sara Pascoe, Sue Black, Gia Milinovich, Helen Arney and the person who started it all Suw Charman-Anderson. Helen Keen and Maggie Alderin-Pocock also gave talks at the event but they are not included in this recording.

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Boring Conference 2011

A few weeks ago, your intrepid editor and myself traipsed over to Hackney to take in the Boring Conference. We arrived slightly late, as we were interviewing Marcus Chown that morning but still managed to hear about Budgens, About a Boy, bar codes and the sound of vending machines. All this was topped off by Adam Curtis talking about the bits of video between videos on the BBC and wondering if we are experiencing cultural stagnation akin to the end of Soviet Russia.

The Boring conference wonderfully pokes fun about the attendees and speakers own geekiness and love of the obscure, pedantic and in any other hands, the boring. It was delightful and each talk was a surprise either through making the otherwise beige content interesting or often very funny, though some elements didn’t work for me: the possible post-modern jokes in between speakers (but maybe I’m missing something because of my innate foreignness); the venue’s acoustics from way in the back; and the venue was rather cold after the afternoon sun started to dip.

Those, though, are ephemeral notes compared to the content of the conference which was excellent. Matt Parker was on top form (as usual) giving an extended talk about bar codes. If you’ve seen him at the Uncaged Monkey tour or other events, you may have seen it part of the act before. However, he expanded on the original theme and ventured into the wonderful world of QR codes which was amazing for its capacity for redundancy. A highlight for me was the improbable yet prodigious amounts photographs from location research for Stanley Kubrick, the talk given by Jon Ronson. As James said at the time, it was like the equivalent of Google Streetview from when Eyes Wide Shut was filmed. It was absolutely ridiculous. I found myself oddly fascinated by the vending machine noise talk given by Felicity Ford, recent PhD graduate from Oxford-Brookes.

The finale with Adam Curtis turned the very idea of the Boring Conference on its head, wondering if the concept of the Boring Conference fit it with the idea of cultural stagnation. Perhaps not the best way to end the night, giving a overall critique of our inability to escape from our current predicament, but definitely food for thought.

Who knows if there will be a Boring Conference 2012, perhaps the cultural malaise and stagnation will have taken us through boring and into ennui. I’m not sure what kind of conference that would make. But congratulations to James Ward for making the Boring Conference 2011 thoroughly enjoyable.

Polygamy Update: British Columbia rules on test case.

At Pod Delusion live at the inaugural QED conference, I did a rather different report (for me, anyway) on the then current case in the Supreme Court of British Columbia about decriminalizing polygamy.

There are a few things you may need to know before I continue.  One, Canada has legalized gay marriage (indeed was the fourth country in the world to do so and the first in the Americas); and two Canada has a very large Mormon community in Bountiful, British Columbia who practice polygamy, though they haven’t been successfully charged with polygamy over their many years in British Columbia.   Indeed, the test case was launched because of failed prosecutions under the current law for those in the Bountiful community.

Why are the two related?  One of the criticisms of allowing gay marriage in Canada was that it would lead to the decriminalization, or more generally, acceptance of alternative forms of marriage – the slippery slope argument as it were.  However, this is not what has happened.  Instead the BC Supreme Court has ruled that it basically comes down to harm as BC Chief Justice Robert Bauman states in the ruling: “More specifically, Parliament’s reasoned apprehension of harm arising out of the practice of polygamy. This includes harm to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage.”  There are also many other interesting aspects to the ruling, so I encourage you to have a read to at least the ruling (possibly not all 335 pages of it though!)

There is a polyamory association in Canada (not affiliated with the community at Bountiful) that was also giving evidenced at the trial – but I’d argue that the issue of not getting married is probably not as necessary for those in the polyamory community as it is with the Mormon community and so the former are not affected as much by the ruling.   Indeed, the spokersperson for the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association stated “the formality of marriage is really not a big issue in the polyamorous community”.    Though, if there is a ceremony it still may criminalize these unions – an area which the CPAA would like clarified.   It would be nice to see the liberalization of laws that protect binaries in marriage – which the ruling more or less explicitly states – but at this point, I agree with the judge in that it would cause harm.  He specifically states that minors who find themselves in polygamous unions should not be charged.  This is telling in itself and a good reason why the current law should have been upheld – the issue of child brides in Mormon communities.  But it wasn’t just about marriage, there was a lot in Bountiful that also made polygamy a harmful practice; one being the expulsion of young men as there weren’t enough women to go around to furnish them all with multiple brides.  There is now the question of what happens to the excess brides of such illegal unions (many who might be illegal immigrants in part of a wife trade between Mormon communities in the US).

While the ruling obvious impedes some freedom of religion (in this case that of the Mormons) it is allowed to discriminate based on the first clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

“1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Reasonable limits has been used before to curtail the Freedom of Speech of people who use it to promote hate as well.  However, I don’t know if this was the first time it was specifically used to limit Freedom of Religion.  It was the reason I speculated that the freedom of the Mormon’s to this specific aspect of their religion might be overruled in my original report.

I realize that such a term may lead to a conservative interpretation of what may be considered reasonable but I think thus far it has been largely a good force in Canadian law.  I imagine there is someone who’d make the argument for the opposite.  Indeed, this case could be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada – so the saga may not end.  It would be helpful for the non-Mormon poly community to have some safety in that their non-solemnized unions are perfectly safe and free from criminal prosecution.  I would support polyamorous unions per se, but as the largest vocal representatives of the practice so far has a proven record for:  trafficking minors for the express purpose of marriage; lack of good education; a huge lack of women’s rights; problems with physical and sexual abuse of women and minors; and the tendency to ostracize their younger, male members – which tends to weigh heavily against the poly community in Canada.  It’s a hard balance, I grant you that:  the limiting of damaging religious practices with the liberal, egalitarian ones. There is also the danger of Canada becoming a haven for those extreme religious groups that still practice polygamy.

It will be interesting to see if this goes to the highest court in the land and if there can be some sort of nuance brought to the existing laws or a continuation of what has been in place for the last 100 years or so.  It was certainly an interesting year to watch law proceedings in Canada!

Blog post by Liz Lutgendorff

Original report from Pod Delusion Live at QED

CineSci6 – Moon (2009)

CineSci6 is a series of events at Clapham Picture House exploring the science behind some classic films by first screening the film, and then having the science writer Simon Frantz discuss the film with an expert. You can find out more about how to attend the events on the Science in the Pub website (the next film on December 13th is Weird Science!).

In this third podcast, Simon Frantz discussed the 2009 film Moon with astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell and Moon’s Concept Artist & VFX supervisor Gavin Rothery. You can hear it below or subscribe to the special CineSci6 podcast.

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CineSci6 is organised by James Robson and Paolo Viscardi, and facilitated by Kate Coventry. The discussion is led by Simon Frantz.

Episode 112 – 25th November 2011

This week we take a journey across time and space as we look forward to the Mars Science Lab mission, and talk about a new play that takes a look back into recent history through the medium of former Labour MP Chris Mullin’s diaries. We also speak to Marcus Chown about his new book and are scared by news of what the SOPA act could mean for the internet.

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Mars Science Lab (1:40) by Kash Farooq (ft Claire Cousins)
SOPA (9:42) by James Firth (ft Cathy Gellis)
Darknet (19:07) by Salim Fadhley (ft Hose Manuel)
Curing Cancer (26:54) by Matt Kaiser
The BBC & Open Access (33:34) by Pete Hague
Tweeting the Universe (38:32) by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Marcus Chown)
A Walk On Part (47:11) by James O’Malley & Liz Lutgendorff (ft Steve Marmion, John Hodgkinson, Michael Crick, Diane Abbott and Don Foster)
Solipsism (54:57) by Sean Ellis
The sketch at the end is by David Lovesy & Brian Two
Thanks to Hayley Stevens and Dave for supplying the dogs (!)

Follow-Up Links:

Episode 111 – 18th November 2011

We speak to TOM MORELLO from Rage Against the Machine about Occupy, Mark Brandon the academic advisor on Frozen Planet, to Lewis Dartnell about Phobos-Grunt and much, much more!

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Tom Morello on Occupy (1:50) by James O’Malley & Liz Lutgendorff (ft Tom Morello!)
Phobos-Grunt (13:52) by Kash Farooq (ft Lewis Dartnell)
Frozen Planet by Liz Lutgendorff (ft Mark Brandon)
Microprocessors at 40 by Sean Ellis (ft Greg Yeric)
Political Lies (43:01) by Steven Sumpter
The Christ Myth Theory (50:51) by Salim Fadhley (ft Robert M Price)
Engaging with others (59:32) by Tannice Pendegrass
The sketch at the end is by David Lovesy & Brian Two

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