This Weeks Reader Feb 10, 2008  

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sorry this is a day late this week, but the podcast has taken up more of my time than I thought it would. But I'm having a blast, so I can't complain.

The difference between the East and the West in pictures
I found these pictures brilliant, as they explain the differences between the East and West in a way that words never could. Although Yang Liu orginally made them to show the differences between Germany (where she lives) and China, Germany could easily be the West and China could represent the East. At times I have used the term West instead of Germany and East instead of China, but this may not necessarily be so. Quite a few of the pictures used to represent China could represent the Indian way of life pretty well.

Seen and unseen parenting responsbilities
Older male colleagues (there are no older female colleagues) are so accommodating to the Active Dads. They praise the guys' involvement with their children's lives. Yet these same older male colleagues don't understand why myself and the one other mom don't want to do things like have all-weekend retreats or 5 pm meetings. Women's parenting responsibilities are completely unseen by our senior colleagues.

Video games, the male brain, and addiction
There was no difference in motor performance-that is to say that men and women both had the same skill, but male volunteers were significantly quicker to pick up on how the game worked, and scored better than their female counterparts. Using fMRI scanners, the authors then generated brain activation profiles for the gamers, and they discovered a significant difference between male and female brains: the male brains showed a greater activation of the right nucleus accumbens, right amygdala and the bilateral orbitofrontal cortex. In addition, there was a positive correlation between success in the test game and male brain activation, but not in female brains.

GamePro hypes Gears of War 2 coverage, delivers speculation
We're sure that there's work being done on Gears of War—games that are successful don't end with only one title—but no one has any information to report, and teasing your readers by saying you do is a little... well, shady. One has to sell magazines, granted, but why not try to be a little bit more forthcoming about what information you actually have?

Another editor down: Ryan Davis leaves GameSpot
Torres also provided some new insights into GameSpot's past conflict between editorial and sales/marketing. It seems that after former editor-in-chief Greg Kasavin left for a position at Electronic Arts back in January of last year and the editor-in-chief position was still vacant, CNet (GameSpot's parent company) executive Josh Larson was put in charge of both the business side as well as the editorial side. "Last year, because we didn't have that position, he was kind of like straddling–he was trying to do business and kind of support editorial," Torres noted. "Clearly there needed to be a better line drawn, so that's why the EIC position came up and that's what I'm doing."

Cock the vote: Gamecock gets political
Gamecock Media Group, so far better known for its absurd marketing tactics than for actually making games, is continuing this tradition with its Cock the Vote campaign.

The project is affiliated with Rock the Vote, a program that attempts to encourage young people to vote, but it's clear that this is more about getting the Hail to the Chimp name out there and less about raising social awareness. Still, any attempt to politicize gamers by dressing up like furries is worth... something.

Percentage of M-rated titles halved since 2005. What gives?
So why isn't the number of M-rated title increasing as fast as the rest of the gaming market? It's possible that the drop in percentage of M-rated games is purely a financial decision. Anecdotally, it appears as if many of the successful M-rated games are sequels, games that are a part of a proven franchise. Assassin's Creed may have been new IP, but that game also enjoyed a huge marketing budget and was hyped for years before release. With outsized budgets, M-rated games that don't live up to sales expectations have become riskier endeavors for developers.

Drink the Kool-aid: get Left Behind Eternal Forces for "free"
To enter, navigate to the promotion page and select either "download" or "ship." Though the game itself is free, you'll still have to fork out a few bucks. Selecting the download option will prompt you to pay a $4.99 processing fee, while the ship option requires you to pay the shipping fees. Left Behind: Eternal Forces normally retails for $24.95.

American Jacobin
First, the Bible is not at all a political revolutionary book. Jesus (or his disciples like Paul) did not abolish one social or political institution. Not tyrannical government, not chattel slavery, not rule of Kings, not one. Today social liberals who preach the “social gospels” I believe misuse the Bible as do the Christian Marxists who advanced “liberation” theology. However, American Whigs who used the Bible in revolt against Great Britain were just as guilty of advancing something the Bible does not support: the right to political revolution. Be it the American or French (or quite frankly any political) Revolutions, Marxist governments or a modern social welfare state, none of these notions is “biblical.” And all who would use the Bible in support of such are equally guilty of misusing the good book.

What price social cohesion?
Dr Williams says that the idea, that one law should apply to all, is dangerous. So, let me try and understand this. You want to create separate legal systems so that whatever little interaction or participation that the Muslim community does have with the British mainstream can also be eliminated? Nice one!

What next? Separate MPs for Muslims? Oh, wait. They won’t need any MPs. Nobody needs to legislate once the Sharia is adopted into the British law. It is God’s word or something, isn’t it?

Our Friends, the Egyptians
The arrests began in October 2007, when police stopped two men having an altercation on a street in central Cairo. When one of them told the officers that he was HIV-positive, police immediately took them both to the Morality Police office and opened an investigation against them for homosexual conduct. The two men told human rights defenders that they were slapped and beaten for refusing to sign statements the police wrote for them. They spent four days in the Morality Police office handcuffed to an iron desk, sleeping on the floor. Police later subjected the two men to forensic anal examinations designed to “prove” that they had engaged in homosexual conduct.

This brings us to Monster, which, like all Asylum films, is a copy of another film, with superfluous changes and a much lower budget. This one is set in Tokyo, but otherwise the structure and plot are the same – some attractive folks are shooting on a consumer camera and end up making a documentary about a monster attacking a giant city. Instead of a bunch of hipsters, our characters are just two incredibly cute Americans who planned on making a documentary about global warming. The fact that the one scene in which they do this is almost entirely inaudible is sort of a blessing in hindsight – it would have been a shame if they had made their entire documentary, then went to edit it and discovered that they should have invested 60 bucks in a boom mike.

Nonbelieving Literati
A Plague of Carnivals. No, Wait! A Carnival of Plagues!
The current book under discussion is Albert Camus‘ The Plague, a novel about…well, I’m getting ahead of myself. One of the prime directives of the Nonbelieving Literati is to read a book picked by one of the participating blog members within the alloted time, and write an essay about it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight forward review of the book, but can be on anything that uses the book as a starting point of discussion. Due to time constraints and a backlog of other reading material, I failed to read or participate this time around. Having read the essays submitted so far, I thought it would be a good idea to make my contribution a mini-Carnival where all of the essays could be accessed from a central location. Actually, it wasn’t my original good idea, it was the Exterminator’s, which I freely swiped (I did say he was the original original, didn’t I?).

Nonbelieving Literati: The Plague
Camus isn't using 'humanist' in the sense of, say, the Humanist Symposium. I suspect he is referring to something closer to Renaissance humanism, and more specifically to the notion that men and women are, or should be, free to control their own destinies. We think we're free, he says, and we go on making plans, but in fact we are not free; certainly not so long as there are pestilences or invading fascists. The use of a plague -- a natural phenomenon -- as an allegory for an occupation -- a human phenomenon -- is interesting here. Whatever he thinks of the moral issues surrounding the behaviour of the German government and army, they are not the focus of this book. This book is not arguing that we should create a world which does operate the way we want it to. This book takes it for granted that there are pestilences of all types, at looks at how we deal with them.

Sick of The Plague
The reporter trapped in the town was supposed to, I guess, give me some sense of urgency. Being cut off from his lover in Paris he’s motivated to try and find a way to circumvent the bureaucracy and be allowed to leave. I felt more that he was driven by a sense of entitlement than any true feeling for his lover.

How The Middle Class Fucked Itself in This Gilded Age
The illusion of wealth in the middle class is much greater than the reality they truly face. Their real wages are down, their health care costs are astronomical, and their personal debt load would make previous generations shocked beyond belief. Now we are seeing the value of their homes, the single greatest source of wealth for the middle class, dropping in many areas of the country. Things are not good. Prosperity has been replaced by economic uncertainty and panic in some sectors. Foreclosures are higher than they have been in a generation. Banks are losing their ass right now. The Fed just dropped the prime lending rate 1.25% to stave off a recession, inflation be damned. The government is pumping $150 billion (as tax cuts) into the economy right when we owe the fucking Chinese our ass in government bonds to pay off our already astronomical national debt. The dollar isn't worth shit. This is all fucking scary, folks. It's 1929 all over again. Or maybe worse.

Mitt Romney: Secularist… Kind of.
Earlier on in the speech (alright, yeah, this is not in chronological order…), he said another very curious thing.

Again, I’m not quoting verbatim here, but…

“The people in this country believe in something. For some people that’s faith. For those who don’t have faith, that’s their ethnicity or their communities…”

Again, I don’t really support Mitt Romney, but I was very surprised to hear him say that. When the secularists got outraged by his faith speech, I think he learned a lesson, and for once, politicians seem to be acknowledging that there are non-believers in this country.

Granted, I didn’t pay much attention to how secular presidential candidates were in the past, and I haven’t heard in full any of the other candidate’s speeches, but after hearing all the Republicans and Democrats take so many opportunities to talk about their faith, it was a (refreshing) surprise to hear one mention that there are people who don’t have faith.

The Wrong Experience
This is the problem with Hillary Clinton. She is highly intelligent, has real experience and is an attractive candidate. But she is terrified to act on her beliefs. In fact, she seems so conditioned by what she sees as political constraints that one can barely tell where her beliefs begin and where those constraints end.

Putting Candidates' Religion to the Test
As much as possible, the presidential candidates should refrain from talking about their religious beliefs. Perhaps even a self-imposed ban on public avowals of religious would be wise. It's all too easy to cross the fine line between expressing faith and aggressively declaring it, and religious tolerance is, I think, inversely proportional to the latter.

Jesus Loves Sleazy Politics
The thing I find interesting is that, while Dobson has taken great care to meet his legal obligations to keep the entities distinct, he has been less careful about enabling his disciples to distinguish between the two groups. By carrying the familiar name over to the new organization, he has deliberately muddied the waters to such a degree that devotees of his ministry will be unlikely to distinguish his pastoral statements from his political pronouncements. Moreover, his continued involvement in both the ministry and the political group makes it clear that he wants to be identified with both. I can only conclude that his political group is merely a very thinly veiled mouthpiece for his ministry.

On Using Feminine Cultural Advantage
Well, it's true. The ability to show emotion and have people react sympathetically rather than scornfully is a cultural advantage that women have over men. And Clinton should have no more qualms over using it than a male politician should over using, say, a tough-guy image to try to attract votes. That is to say, it's silly image politics, but it happens all the time. Why should it be more wrong to use a feminine cultural advantage? Masculine ones are used every day and nobody blinks. And if the aim is to try to even the playing field, that doesn't mean that women should always try to conform to masculine methods of gaining respect.

Barack O-Bible
Just a few decades ago, the Bible Belt voted overwhelmingly Democrat. Christian morals and the Democrat political values were a natural match. The Democrats stood up for the poor and disadvantaged. But this lead to supporting the Civil Right movement of the 60's, and this was highly unpopular in the Bible Belt. And honestly, the Bible is not a great champion of Civil Rights.
But the Civil Rights movement worked very well for the Democrats, and so they became the party supporting women's rights as well, and this lead to supporting abortion, and even attracted supporters of gay rights and animal rights.

I'll make up for it, okay?
I mean, enough that God actually would care about who won the Super Bowl. But this story - that he killed Tyree's mother, and then - I dunno, felt bad about it? she badgered and/or begged Jesus into it? what? - made up for it by letting him win the Super Bowl?

Wilfred Laurier Loves Jebus - Freethinkers, Not So Much
A student named Tyler Handley, the president of the soon-to-be group, said in the comments over at The Frame Problem, "Our campus has 6 campus clubs of a religious nature." SIX groups that love Jebus or Muhammad or Buddha or some other fella of dubious paternity, existence, or distinction. You can bet your lunch money that those groups, "...respect and tolerate the views of others...." Especially atheists and agnostics. Religious folks are known for their tolerance.

Is Sex for Procreation?
These difficulties persist as long as one clings to the view that the only reason for sex is procreation. But if we discard that assumption, the matter comes into clear focus. An alternative explanation that accounts for the facts much better is that sex has two primary purposes: for procreation and also for pair bonding. And while pair bonding strengthens the family structure needed to raise healthy children, that is not its only purpose. In nature, it can also be used as a stress reliever, to strengthen group cohesion, as social currency, and simply for pleasure. Even homosexual sex exists in nature. Are animals violating "natural law" when they use sex for these purposes?

Building Blocks of Life Detected in Distant Galaxy
Esteban Araya is an astronomer at New Mexico Tech in Socorro and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

He said the discovery of methanimine in Arp 220, along with "abundant circumstantial evidence, such as the short time it took life to appear on the early Earth, suggest that life ... may be quite common in the universe."

Moreover, he said, the discovery shows complex organic molecules can exist in very inhospitable environments, such as starburst regions.

The shake-ups during rapid star formation probably created the molecules in the first place—but the chance that they'll yield complex life in such a wild scene is low, Araya pointed out.

Highly moral - yet highly irrational. Steven Pinker and the colors of morality
Let's think first about two distinct cultures - and I'll use Southeast Asian and Western European. It's very likely, as Pinker shows us, that different cultures would have distinct "colors" that are more heavily emphasized than others. We might expect that in Southeast Asia, the moral values of "authority" and "purity" are given higher moral emphasis. For the Western European cultural community, we might see "harm" and "fairness" as more heavily expressed moral features, while each may treat "group loyalty" approximately the same.

Within cultures you will have this same sort of dichotomy based on politics, religions, race, ethnicities, etc. One group may most heavily weigh "group loyalty", another "purity" and yet a third group views "harm" as the highest moral consideration (and so on).

Three Month Composite of Comet Holmes

I'll make up for it, okay?
I mean, enough that God actually would care about who won the Super Bowl. But this story - that he killed Tyree's mother, and then - I dunno, felt bad about it? she badgered and/or begged Jesus into it? what? - made up for it by letting him win the Super Bowl?

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