This Weeks Reader April 6, 2008  

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Book Reviews
The real uses of enchantment
Some boast that science has ousted the incomprehensible; others cry that science has driven magic out of the world and plead for "re-enchantment". But it's clear that Charles Darwin lived in as wondrous a world, as full of discoveries, amazements and profound mysteries, as that of any fantasist. The people who disenchant the world are not the scientists, but those who see it as meaningless in itself, a machine operated by a deity. Science and literary fantasy would seem to be intellectually incompatible, yet both describe the world; the imagination functions actively in both modes, seeking meaning, and wins intellectual consent through strict attention to detail and coherence of thought, whether one is describing a beetle or an enchantress. Religion, which prescribes and proscribes, is irreconcilable with both of them, and since it demands belief, must shun their common ground, imagination. So the true believer must condemn both Darwin and Rushdie as "disobedient, irreverent, iconoclastic" dissidents from revealed truth.


Foolish April
Holy Frottage, Batman!
Indeed, love is the word. To the uninitiated, your typical Sunday service at Crossfire appears to erupt in what can only be described as a display of passion as members of the congregation throw their arms around each other and grind against the person or persons nearest to them. It was described by one witness as, ‘a frenzy of uninhibited testament to the Power of God.'

Another Goddamned Podcast #8:
March 27, 2008

Ex is pissed off that atheists seem to have chosen red as our color; he thinks it makes us look too "gullible." Philly explains the color wheel. We all weigh in on our favorite colors, then discuss songs with colors in their titles. Evo sings his rendition of "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." And OG gives an amazing performance of "Purple Haze" — on the accordion!

The God-Gene: An Evolutionary Reality?
About a year ago, there was an unfortunate incident with Dr. Chaim Nogoyim, who is of the Jewish faith. He wears a Star of David, rather than a cross, so Fofo offered him one of hers. Trying to make Fofo realize that there are many paths to the same God, Nogoyim signed “God,” then “no” (or “not”), and “Jesus.” Since then, Fofo has refused to “speak” with him any longer.

New Space Station Robot Asks to be Called "Dextre the Magnificent"
In a surprising and potentially troubling request, the new space station robot known as Dextre demanded that astronauts refer to it in the future at "Dextre the Magnificent." Brandishing power tools that would make any handyperson blush, the mobile servicing system thanked humans for creating it and promised a glorious future where humans would retain an important role in the new robot order.

Fools, Fish, and Fun

Ubisoft gets Steamed: 40 games incoming
Ubisoft has announced that they will be bringing their library of games to the Steam digital download service. The publisher will be bringing more than 40 titles to the service, including the Tom Clancy series, the Heroes of Might & Magic series, the IL-2 Sturmovik collection, Far Cry, and the upcoming PC version of Assassin's Creed. This deal will give Ubisoft more games on Steam then any other single publisher.

Game Review: Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII (PSP)
Aside from the somewhat dry combat, there's a ton to do in Crisis Core. The staple mini-games and side missions are present and enjoyable. Crisis Core also has a hearty number of "missions": sectioned off, standalone battles that offer special reward items. These missions are accessible at any save point, and offer bite-sized challenges perfect for portable play.

Booksellers incensed over sexual content law
"The way we read this bill, if you stock a single book with sexual content -- even a novel or a book about sex education -- you will have to register as a business that sells sexually explicit material," said Chris Finan, president of American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.

"This is just outrageous from our standpoint, and we believe it is a violation of the First Amendment."

A Natural History of Anarchy - Part I
Even in the Republican systems that emerged out of the Enlightenment, the premise that there must be a class of rulers and a class to be ruled is the established norm (the modification being that the ruler is approved first by the populace rather than chosen through nepotism). Totalitarian regimes are predicated on the assumption that humans are innately selfish and easily swayed by rival factions thus requiring a unitary executive that, through his singular and enlightened moral vision, will fashion social life in the public’s best interests. [1] State communism (as implemented by Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong or Pol Pot) followed many of these totalitarian illusions and further assumed that human beings were infinitely malleable and thus able to be forged anew through “reeducation camps” that would benefit society by molding human will around the interests of the state. [2]

8-year-old suspended for sniffing marker
Harris used a black Sharpie marker to color a small area on the sleeve of his sweatshirt. A teacher sent him to the principal when she noticed him smelling the marker and his clothing.

"It smelled good," Harris said. "They told me that's wrong."

Eathan's father, John Harris, says the school overreacted for treating Eathan as if he was huffing, or inhaling, marker fumes.


The things I can’t believe I once believed…
Looking back, it’s amazing at the ridiculous things I believed in. Norvel, for example, preached that headaches were caused by little devils wrapping themselves around your head, that promiscuity was caused by the demon of lust getting inside of you, and that homosexuality could be cured by exorcism. I believed if you spoke to a disease you could cause it to die. I thought that the Bible was a supernatural book that gave me power over the physical universe. I thought I could “move mountains” with my words.

When I die, hallelujah
Listen to those words: When I die, hallelujah by and by. No wonder the Church has to make suicide a mortal sin. Who, truly believing that, wouldn't want to die?

Who, believing that, could really care about anything but death?

It's true, most Christians aren't that focused on it. But every time I listen to that song, chills run down my spine.

“Everyone Believes in Something”
But it’s part of a larger problem: People who are used to operating on beliefs can’t imagine living without them. They gain an emotional reward and a sense of narcissistic control by imagining that their opinions actually mean something. They feel something, and it is SO. They’ve essentially made themselves non-accountable for responding to anything going on outside themselves. This works OK until physical reality intervenes: "Gee, a concrete block just landed on my foot. I don’t believe it." But they still have to go to the hospital. Amazingly, such a person might still cling to their other "less concrete" beliefs even though their brush with reality has left them severely injured. They rationalize that "maybe their angels were on strike" and left them vulnerable. Anything but take simple responsibility for failing to get out of the way of the physical hazard.

Evolution Gets a Boost: No Cost for Complexity
"I think the main broader impact of this work is on the evolution-creationism debate," wrote Wagner in an email. "I would say the only intellectually interesting argument that the creationists are using, at least the scientifically more sophisticated ones, is that random mutation can not lead to the evolution of complex organisms. And there are interesting mathematical arguments that have been made to support that. But our results show that organisms found a way around that problem by restricting mutational effects on very narrowly confined parts of the organisms."

The chimp who thought he was a boy
It was terrifying. One graduate student described the response that all the [research] chimps had [upon being reintroduced to other chimps] as a nervous breakdown. Nim's brother [and the subject of another study] Ally was so terrified and upset that he suffered a kind of paralysis for a while. They often pull out all their hair; they refuse to eat; some get beaten up by other chimps because they don't know how to respond to them.

The former graduate students in New York believe that Nim had no idea he was a chimpanzee. One of them suggested to me that Nim might have thought he was going to grow up, lose all his facial and body hair and eventually look like the people who were around him. That would be a reasonable supposition. Throughout his life, Nim preferred to be with humans.

All Dad
Androgenesis, it turns out, transforms fatherhood into a parasitic invasion. It begins like normal fertilization, with a sperm fusing to an egg. But then the egg's DNA gets hurled out of its nucleus, so that the sperm's genes are the only ones left in the egg. The egg begins to develop into an embryo, but only after it has lost the mother's DNA.

First movie of 'tsunami' on Sun
Last year's solar tsunami, which took place on 19 May 2007, lasted for about 35 minutes, reaching peak speeds about 20 minutes after the initial blast.

Co-author David Long, from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Ireland, commented: "The energy released in these explosions is phenomenal; about two billion times the annual world energy consumption in just a fraction of a second.

"In half an hour, we saw the tsunami cover almost the full disc of the Sun, nearly a million kilometres away from the epicentre."

Cities at Night, an Orbital Tour Around the World

The Keyhole
Throughout history, the technological trend has been toward faster, more accurate and more accessible copying of information. There can be no doubt that this trend will only accelerate, and that is a good thing. Fast, easy copying takes power away from the elites and distributes it among all people. On a global scale, it is no longer realistically possible to suppress any idea. We now truly have a democratic marketplace of ideas: anyone can speak their mind to the world, and if their ideas have merit, others will be able to adopt them and put them into practice.

Cuss Free Zone
Years ago there was a song called I’ll Make Love to You. It was a huge hit and played on the radio everywhere. A few years later a song called Closer by Nine Inch Nails hit the airwaves cut up and edited because Trent Reznor said “I want to fuck you like an animal.”

Where’s the difference between the two songs? Both are about how much the singer would like to have sexual intercourse with somebody else, but one gets played unedited and the other received giggles and bleeps. Sex is sex and the terms used to describe it are based on the user’s mood, period.

It’s Simple. Stop Lying to your Kids!
I (like most people) am severely distrustful of government control. I have always had strong libertarian leanings, and ironically used to read Thomas Sowell regularly at Capitalism Magazine. Lately I’ve become less inclined toward that school of thought. What’s changed my mind is that libertarians tend to ignore secondary impacts of their actions, as well as the intangible benefits they receive from society. True individualism requires that we keep ourselves in balance with the larger world, paying the hidden costs of our consumption (externalities), and reimbursing society for hidden benefits we receive.

Favor Yourself & Ethical Behavior
Many people, from what I can tell, care deeply about what others think of them. Caring about what others think of us is a waste of time, unless there is something in it for us, some type of gain. In other words, I’m not going to stroke your ego unless I know I can get something from you. For most people, though, they’ll compromise between themselves and their ethical principles. They need attention, and they know they’ll get attention by compromising (i.e., sacrificing or otherwise completely abandoning) their integrity and even their own credibility.

A visit to Mamallapuram - a photo essay
Mahabalipuram, which is now known as as Mamallapuram, is about an hour’s drive from Chennai (Tamil Nadu) and is a tourist town famed for its ancient sculptures and temples. The monuments in the city were mostly built during the 7th - 9th century A.D. during the time of the Pallava dynasty. The place has scores of temples and monuments, but some are more important than others.

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