Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
American Express has this neat commercial where they've created happy and sad faces out of everyday objects:
It's easy to do, of course, because human brains are more or less programmed to identify faces; almost any upside-down triangle arrangement has a chance to trigger this sort of recognition. Amex did a clever job of choosing unexpected objects to represent the faces, but they were able to make them quite clear.
Sometimes you come across a natural arrangement that isn't quite so perfect, yet still triggers recognition - an even stronger indication of just how prone we are to finding faces. For example, this goofy, but happy, tree:
Friday, December 25, 2009
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
From Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics:
What distinguishes the paranoid style is not, then, the absence of verifiable facts (though it is occasionally true that in his extravagant passion for facts the paranoid occasionally manufactures them), but rather the curious leap in imagination that is always made at some critical point in the recital of events. John Robinson's tract on the Illuminati followed a pattern that has been repeated for over a century and a half. For page after page he patiently records the details he has been able to accumulate about the history of the Illuminati. Then, suddenly, the French Revolution has taken place, and the Illuminati have brought it about. What is missing is not veracious information about the organization, but sensible judgment about what can cause a revolution.
L.B. Namier once said that “the crowning attainment of historical study” is to achieve “an intuitive sense of how things do not happen.” It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop.
This was written in 1964, but while Hofstadter has been criticized for being condescending, his criticism of "pseudo-conservatism" -- pseudo, because it lacks the moderating preservationist quality of 'true' conservatism -- read as if they had been written in 2009 (other than the emphasis on Barry Goldwater and Robert Welch, that is). For an exhibition of the paranoid style, try this response to a previously-obscure thesis written at the US Army's School of Advanced Military Studies, entitled Strategic Implications of American Millennialism.
The author reaches some rather obvious conclusions: people who think in absolutes may be ill-equipped to make subtle judgments; people who attend too closely to Israel's interests may mistake America's; people who long for Armageddon might be poor keepers of the peace. Really, nothing exceptionable there, except that he actually names premillennial dispensationalist Christians as the baleful influence.
To the paranoids at the Worldview Times, this is cause to declare an Emergency! "This report blames all the world evils on believers!" claims John McTernan, although it doesn't really blame all the world's ills on anyone at all. McTernan got himself so worked up that he called the officer listed on the Monograph Approval page and, apparently, barraged him with so much nuttery that the poor Colonel began to lose his patience:
He refused to tell me what this study was used for and who within the military was sent copies. I believe that it represents an official military view of Bible believers as Col Banack said there was no study or article refuting this one. This is directly from a Hard Left reprobate mind set.
THIS MUST BE CHALLENGED ON ALL LEVELS. I am contacting all the influential people that I know within our circles to sound the alarm. I am going to contact my elected officials to have this report refuted and stricken.
I am not exaggerating that after reading this report you will see that the next step for us is concentration camps to stop our evil influence on society and the world.
Someone thinks we shouldn't be allowed to influence foreign policy; we're obviously just a short step from the prison camps. Suddenly, the French Revolution. Mere rationality cannot make such leaps.
I tried to post a comment to that effect at the site, but it didn't pass moderation. Characteristically, the people at Worldview Times don't tolerate contrary opinions very gracefully. Or maybe they just didn't appreciate my kind reassurance that "if anyone ever locks you in a room, I promise you it will have comfy padded walls."
[PS. I notice now that a few critical comments have indeed made it past the moderator, so I'll have to be a little kinder to Worldview Times and take more blame myself. They can tolerate a little dissent, but no snark at all.]
I just learned about a nifty new reference resource from Michael Heath, in a comment at Dispatches from the Culture Wars. It's a Firefox add-on that allows you to hover over or highlight a piece of text in your browser and instantly get a pop-up description from answers.com. Here's what it looks like:
I showed this to a couple of coworkers and they were suitably impressed, although we couldn't help musing over our declining patience in the internet age. It's true - even though I can look up almost anything by opening a new browser tab and running a Google search, I'm excited to find something that will save me all that time (!) by letting me pop up a cursory definition in the same window. On the other hand, how often did I run to the dictionary or the encyclopedia, back in the good ol' days, when I came across something unfamiliar? Quite often - but not as often as I run those Google searches that usually land on Wikipedia or some dictionary site. And now, when I encounter an unfamiliar word or person, I can get a quick definition even faster than before, which means I'll probably go the effort of doing it more often. So, yeah, it panders to a certain laziness, but if I'm addressing my ignorance more frequently than before, isn't that a great thing?
Labels: information seeking By Scott Hanley
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
A former South Dakota lawmaker serving a prison sentence for raping two foster daughters has sent a copyright notice to news organizations that seeks to prevent the use of his name without his consent.
Sorry, you can't copyright your name, no matter how badly you want it out of the news. For one thing, you can only claim copyright for an intellectual product that you have authored, so your name doesn't qualify. You also can't copyright factual information - such as your name.
I'm not sure, but I think you have an automatic trademark in your name, which allows you to retain the right to be accurately and uniquely identified. In Mr. Klaudt's case, of course, that's exactly the problem ....
Friday, December 11, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
PZ Myers mentioned the blog NCBI ROFL, which is currently mocking one Bruce G. Charlton, who asks Is Atheism literally a delusion? and claims he can prove it's true.
It goes like this: believers have more babies than atheists; having more babies is evolutionarily adaptive; psychologists define delusion as a belief that is false and maladaptive; if atheists' beliefs are maladaptive in an evolutionary sense, they're maladaptive in the psychological sense; therefore we can state that atheists' beliefs are also false. Because they don't have enough babies.
Which leads incontrovertibly to this conclusion:
Monday, December 7, 2009
Today is December 7, a date which lives in infamy. In two different countries, in two different ways, but both involving the United States.
Of course you remember Pearl Harbor. Even Americans who've forgotten the Alamo remember Pearl Harbor. But most of us don't know about Student Day in Iran; I certainly didn't know anything about it until I heard it mentioned in the news the past couple days.
Student Day commemorates the day in 1953 when three students were gunned down by security forces of the new Shah of Iran, who had just come to power through a US-approved coup. Commemorating Student Day is a way of protesting dictatorship, but since the Revolution it's been easy to turn that into an anti-American direction. This year, it's in the news because Iranians are more concerned with the dictator at home than the ones across the ocean.
I find it ironic that Dec. 7 is noted as a day when Americans feel aggrieved and when others remember grievances against us. What's perhaps not at all ironic - utterly predictable, if you ask me - is that both parties commemorate only the trespasses against themselves.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Central European blackcap warblers that spend the winter in the birdfeeder-rich United Kingdom are on a different evolutionary trajectory than those that migrate to Spain. The population hasn’t yet split into two species, but it’s headed in that direction.*snip*
“This is reproductive isolation, the first step of speciation,” said Martin Schaefer, a University of Freiburg evolutionary biologist.
About 30 percent of blackcaps from southern Germany and Austria now migrate to the United Kingdom, shaving 360 miles from their traditional, 1,000-mile Mediterranean voyage. Because they’ve less distance to travel, they tend to arrive home first in the summertime and to live in prime forest-edge spots. All this makes the U.K. migrants more likely to mate with each other than with their old-fashioned brethren.
Schaefer says he doubts that birdfeeders will be around long enough to complete the task, but it's a fascinating prospect nonetheless.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Hard to believe, but I just read a creationist's letter-to-the-editor in which I agree with several of the writer's claims. In particular, these two:
I contend that some of the things Mr. Bowers says the church knows nothing about are actually part of the church's core theology.and
And if evolution has been proven true, then I must have been living under a rock somewhere, because I heard none of this "conclusive proof" that Mr. Bowers refers to.
Nothing to argue with there.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Apparently, this can happen in Canada, too: small-minded bureaucrats making medical decisions, instead of your competent doctor. As you can probably predict, it's not a government denying health care - it's the hack at the insurance company.
A Quebec woman on long-term sick leave is fighting to have her benefits reinstated after her employer's insurance company cut them, she says, because of photos posted on Facebook ....
She said her insurance agent described several pictures Blanchard posted on the popular social networking site, including ones showing her having a good time at a Chippendales bar show, at her birthday party and on a sun holiday — evidence that she is no longer depressed, Manulife said.
There's no indication that any medical professional was consulted before deciding to cut off benefits. Anyone competent in mental health could have told them that depression is episodic, or that a depressed person will put on a good face at times, or try to have fun even when it takes an effort. I can't imagine a doctor would try to make a clinical diagnosis based on a handful of photographs, especially non-representative party pics. But then, a doctor doesn't have a financial incentive to deny treatment.
Oh, just to make it creepier: Blanchard claims that she posted those photos under private settings, meaning they were supposed to be visible only to people she had approved. If that's true, every Facebook user ought to be asking how an insurance company managed to get access to them.
[via ars technica]
For many religious people, the popular question "What would Jesus do?" is essentially the same as "What would I do?" That's the message from an intriguing and controversial new study by Nicholas Epley from the University of Chicago. Through a combination of surveys, psychological manipulation and brain-scanning, he has found that when religious Americans try to infer the will of God, they mainly draw on their own personal beliefs.* snip *
The brain scans found the same thing, particularly in a region called the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) that's been linked to self-referential thinking. The mPFC is more active when we think about our own mindsets than those of others. Epley found that it was similarly abuzz when the recruits thought about their own attitude or God's, but lower when they considered the average American.I was going to make a quip about the research appearing in the Journal of Unsurprising Results, but I honestly find that last bit rather startling. According to Epley, people use a different part of the brain to infer what other people are thinking, but use the very same part of the brain to reflect on either their own thoughts or their inference about God. That would seem to suggest that creating God in one's own image isn't just an act of bad faith; it could be exceedingly difficult to avoid.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Since fall is drawing to a close and winter is about to arrive, I thought I'd offer up one last peek at autumn beauty. The groundskeepers at my apartment complex usually don't allow the leaves to remain on the sidewalk, but it had been raining for several days and the leaves were to heavy to remove with leaf blowers. For just a few days, I could enjoy God's gift of scuffable leaves.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I've made a couple comments on irony before, here and here. I'm especially amused at that phenomenon where the irony is as thick as the aroma on a pig farm, but - like a pig farmer - the people at the center of it all can no longer detect it.
Case in point: a man in Fort Wayne, Indiana, complains to a reporter that President Obama "isn’t governing, he’s still campaigning." He says this while taking a vacation day from work to stand in line at a Meier store and admire the woman who quit her governing job to go on book tours fulltime.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
An interesting article by Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen argues that DVR's allow viewers to pay more attention to their tv-watching - including the ads.
The main point: DVR's give people control over their viewing, so they're more active about what they watch. Passive viewing generally means paying less attention to what's on the screen.
To escape ads before, people would use the time to use the bathroom, make a sandwich, make a phone call, or check email (more recently). In fact, there was once an urban legend about plumbing problems being cause during commercial breaks during the Super Bowl. Running at normal speed, commercials allowed for 2-3 minutes of activity away from the television. Sped up using a DVR, people don’t leave the room.
Viewers have to watch the ads to use a DVR effectively. You have to know when the ads stop and the show resumes, which means watching the ads as they go by. Even at a high speed, the ads register. And people do watch carefully. As Hammock puts it so nicely, “Often, the person with the control is being judged by a second party for their finesse in stopping the fast-forwarding at the precise time it needs to stop, so, therefore a second party is also engaged in looking at the sped up commercials.”
Anderson is certainly right that few people were really watching all those ads anyway. Most of us are multitasking like mad when the tv's on. It's a rare program that has my undivided attention.
As an aside, I don't have a DVR, but I have found that I pay far more attention to a Netflix program streaming to my computer than I do to a DVD playing on the television. This seems to have more to do with the size of the screen than to any other factor. To watch on the computer, I pretty much have to keep the laptop on the lap, and I can't really surf the net or browse a book at the same time. I do like being able to carry it into the bathroom with me, though.
It's a sad fact of life that, outside of Tennessee, most college sports fans wouldn't recognize the players from the women's basketball team. But how obscure do you have to be before your own cheerleaders lead the other team onto the floor before the game?
Saturday, November 14, 2009
A few months ago, I found a set of miniature books at Mom's house that looked rather old and which I don't recall ever seeing before. They were sitting in the garage, which has the typical lack of climate-control - so I brought them home for better care.
They turned out to be a set of books from the Little Leather Library, which published over a hundred classic titles from about 1916-1926. The brown book in the photo is one of the earlier editions, but the rest (with the green covers) would date from between 1920-1924. I had imagined that Mom's parents bought these for their kids sometime while they were growing up, but they actually predate her parents' marriage in 1925.
I don't know whether it was my grandmother or grandfather who bought them, but they would have been affordable to a young adult or a newlywed couple. They were mainly sold in sets, at prices that came to about 10¢ per copy. Early editions were sold through Woolworths department stores, but later they were marketed directly through the mail. I expect these were a set, because otherwise it's hard to imagine my conservative grandparents choosing two Oscar Wilde titles. LLL also published many books of the Bible, but grandma and grandpa would have already had Bibles.
The Little Leather Library was all about bringing classic literature to the masses, at as cheap a price as possible. Classic literature, of course, meant out-of-copyright, royalty-free literature; to further reduce costs, the original leather covers were quickly replaced by cheaper synthetic covers. However, the expensive look remained, as the publishers understood that middle America not only wanted good literature to read, but wanted nice things to display in their homes. One of the publishers even later coined the term "furniture books" to describe volumes which sold on appearance as much as literary content.* Their success can be gauged by the fact that the little books aren't rare: you can find them on E-Bay for about $3-4 dollars per book.
As a point of interest, LLL founder Albert Boni went on to found the Modern Library; the men who bought the company from him, Harry Scherman and Maxwell Sackheim, later started the Book-of-the-Month Club.
For more, see Janice A. Radway, A Feeling for Books: the Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire , or Little Leather Library
Robert Browning, Poems and Plays
Robert Burns, Poems and Songs
Samuel T. Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems
W.S. Gilbert, The "Bab" Ballads
Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Addresses
Thomas Babington Macauley, Lays of Ancient Rome
Thomas Babington Macauley, Lays of Ancient Rome (misidentified on the cover as Longfellow's Courtship of Miles Standish)
Maurice Maeterlinck, Pelleas and Melisande
Olive Schreiner, Dreams
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Alfred Lord Tennyson, Enoch Arden and other Poems
Henry David Thoreau, Friendship and other Essays
George Washington, Speeches and Letters
Oscar Wilde, Ballad of Reading Gaol and other Peoms
Oscar Wilde, Salomé
Multiple authors, Fifty Best Poems of America
* No to accuse my grandparents of mere pretension, however. Grandma was the daughter of a newspaper publisher and raised a family that valued education.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
You don't see many snakes in Yellowstone; the winters are too cold, I think. But I found this fellow about half a mile into Glen Creek. Autofocus is easily confused by a scene like this, where it doesn't know what to pick out as the subject. This was the best of several attempts.
I can't see the backside enough to tell if it has the three white stripes down the back that would identify it as a Wandering Garter snake, but that's probably what it is.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
One of these designs will become the new Yellowstone quarter next year:
According to the news story at the Billings Gazette, the Commission of Fine Arts didn't like any of them and declined to make a recommendation, while another committee preferred the one with the bison. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner gets the final decision, since the two groups didn't agree on an endorsement.
I still haven't figured out what the upper-left design is supposed to show. Apparently we're looking down the concrete pathway toward Old Faithful, but is that a crowd of people at the end of the path, or the little theater that almost no one ever notices? It almost looks like some sort of
Shinto shrine or something, although I'm pretty sure no one would actually put one in a Yellowstone image.
The other two are nice, but predictable. I suppose predictability isn't bad for this sort of purpose, but I can see why a fine arts commission would stick out their collective tongues at them. I might have chosen a tourist feeding a marmot, but that probably wouldn't win, either.
Friday, November 6, 2009
This photo comes from one of my favorite moments, ever. I was hiking near Hellroaring Creek and sat down on a rock for a brief rest, when I spotted this coyote. He (or she, I didn't look that closely) began to trot straight toward me, apparently rather curious about this stranger. But not too careless, despite the curiosity - as I raised my camera to take a photo, the motion startled him and he ran off. Dang, I thought, lost a chance at a good shot.
But the critter didn't go very far and I decided to wait around and see if he would get used to my presence. For the next hour or so, I walked around, scuffed rocks, sat down, and generally did everything I could think of to convince the coyote that I had my own business to mind and that it didn't include him. Meanwhile, he amused himself trying to snatch flying insects out of the air.
Eventually, I was able to edge closer and closer, still avoiding eye contact or direct movements in his direction. It worked perfectly and the coyote lost all concern over me. In fact, he finally flopped down in the grass and closed his eyes. I had set up the camera on the tripod and, every time his eyes closed, I would scootch the camera closer and take a couple more photos, up to about eight feet away, when I decided I probably shouldn't push my luck any further.
As I began to reach the end of the roll of film (and realized I didn't have a spare, dammit), I started testing the animal's calm by scuffing the ground noisily. His head would jerk up, he'd quickly look around, then stare at me and put his head back down. That "Oh, it's just you" look is what you see in this photo.
I'm too much of a rationalist to get much into "being one with nature," but there's no denying that I usually feel more of an outsider than I wish when I encounter wildlife in their own habitat. At this moment, though, with a wild coyote that showed no hostility or fear toward me (or begged any food), but viewed me as a tolerable part of the landscape - I felt just a little less alien.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Grizzlies home on range – again. By Karl Puckett. Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer.
Is anyone interested that grizzlies are abundant enough and northern Montana empty enough that grizzlies are spilling out onto the plains?
Friday, October 30, 2009
Turkey Run is a beautiful state park in west-central Indiana, full of forests and sandstone canyons. It is probably the best-loved park in the state, also, but I've rarely found it to be oppressively crowded. More than anything else, my childhood vacations here probably set the stage for my love of nature.
On this occasion, I brought the tripod but forgot the shoe to attach it to the camera. The photo was handheld in low light and so isn't quite as sharp as I would prefer.
The sandstone is the remnants of a river delta from about 300,000,000 years ago, whose sand deposits eventually compressed into rock. More recently - way more recently - the retreating glaciers of the late Pleistocene era created heavy stream flows that carved out these gorgeous gullies. The water flow is pretty light nowadays, but it doesn't take much to make for some treacherous footing on the trails.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Indiana has long claimed basketball as their very own game. Oh, sure, it was invented in Massachusetts, but that's just a trivial accident. Would Gene Hackman star in a film called Bay Staters? Hardly. Indiana is basketball's true home and we all know it.
Want proof? Check out this map from the Atlas of American Sports, tracking collegiate basketball players per capita from 1958-1988, by county of origin:
Okay, it's 20 years old now, but look at that Hoosier dominance! Yeah, baby!
By comparison, here's the same mapping of collegiate football players, showing a preponderance of southerners, who labor under the delusion that any other game could be better than basketball :
Labels: sports By Scott Hanley
Friday, October 23, 2009
Taken from Lake Butte, one of the best overlooks in Yellowstone, rising about 600 feet over the northeast end of Yellowstone Lake and offering a view of Mt. Sheridan at the south end and, on a clear day, all the way to the Tetons. Obviously, this was not a clear day, due to the now-famous forest fires that seemed to burn in all corners of the park in 1988. None of those fires came very close to Lake Butte (although it has since burned, in 2004 or so), but the cold lake always caused the smoke to settle over it. This evening, it was so smoky that you couldn't see the four miles to the other side.
It got much worse in August, though. At this point, the fires probably combined for a couple hundred thousand acres, which seemed extreme almost beyond imagination. Before it was all over, the total would be a million acres "affected" (although not necessarily burned or burned severely) and the smoke had become oppressive. The day before I left, I took some pictures of one of my coworkers standing on the bluff over the lake, right in front of the hotel; the water, only thirty feet away, couldn't be seen in the photo. I rather scorned the employees who ostentatiously wore bandannas over their mouths and noses in that last week before the hotel closed, but some months later I realized that my sense of smell had been greatly diminished and I've always believed it was an effect of breathing wood smoke for over a month; maybe they were smarter than me after all.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Has any company in the world ever inspired so much fear through the phrase "new and improved" as Microsoft does?
The 7 Deady Sins of Windows 7
(I was a bit taken aback at the reference to Windows' "leaner, meaner predecessors." As I recall it, Windows 95 was already considered a resource hog.)
Labels: technology By Scott Hanley
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Back in July I wrote about a case where ASCAP is suing Verizon, claiming that musical ringtones on cellphones are a "public performance" and Verizon should pay performance fees; this depite - no, in addition to - the fact that Verizon already pays fees to ASCAP for selling these ringtones.
On Wednesday the judge ruled in the case and, wise public servant that she is, entirely agreed with me. Although the words were measured, the upshot was that ASCAP's case was ridiculous and was a misreading of both law and fact in virtually every aspect. A ringing phone is not a "public performance" by either the customer or the provider, signalling the phone to ring is not the same thing as playing a recording, and no amount of wishful thinking allows ASCAP's lawyers to redefine legal standards and the physics of wireless communications to their convenience. They still get paid for ringtone sales, but they don't get to doublecharge by pretending Verizon is both a music store and a radio station.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
This is too cool for words, so I won't waste many:
This image comes from the International Space Station, via NASA. The wind seems to be solidly out of the north rather than the more usual southwest.
[Tip to the Yellowstone Insider, although I don't see this on their site. I got the link from their email newsletter.]
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Patricia sent me this link of Ohio as a piano. Andy Woodruff at the Cartogrammer.com blog has seized on the coincidence that there is exactly one Ohio county for each key on a piano and mapped the sounds to the map so that clicking or mousing over a county plays that note.
Where it gets interesting is that you can remap the sounds, according to the available GIS data. Low values play low notes, high values play high notes. Most of the music is too John Cagish for my taste, but I liked the Crop Acr97 mapping, where you can literally hear Ohio grow more farmable as you move southeast - northwest.
Friday, October 9, 2009
I don't know how else to interpret the Nobel Committee awarding the Peace Prize to Barack Obama, other than hoping to tell America, "Please don't ever elect another George Bush." It's perfectly in line with awarding the 2002 prize to Jimmy Carter and then flat-out saying, "[This] should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current [U.S.] administration has taken. It's a kick in the leg to all that follow the same line as the United States."
Like almost everyone else, I'm scratching my head wondering what he's accomplished that is so noteworthy, and not coming up with anything. But he does treat the rest of the world like adults, and that's a huge improvement over the years 2001-2008. During the Bush years, the rest of the world had only two roles available - enemy or toadie. America dictated and you were supposed to obey; "America expects" was the constant refrain. Obama doesn't take that approach, much to the world's relief. So he gets the Peace Prize for merely being a slightly better citizen.
Of course, this also demonstrates that the Nobel Committee doesn't understand American politics. The conservative movement in America, far from being embarrassed for their support of GWB, will see this as further proof that they're in an existential battle against atheo-communo-fascist-boogedy-boogedy Anti-Americanism. It will only inspire them to new heights of hysteria.
What you need to know about the conservative movement is summed up in John 15:18-19: If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Merging Christianity with nationalism, which is the hallmark of conservatism today, you can immediately infer that if you're an American, the world will hate you; conversely, if the world doesn't hate you, then you're not an American. Ergo, still more evidence that Barack Obama is not an American, that he in fact hates America, and will do anything to destroy (real) America.
Let the screaming begin.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Is it time to put Christ back into Christianity? Not according to Jan Markell at Worlview Times, who rails against "red-letter Christians"* who pay more attention to the words of Jesus than to the more hateful - and apparently, more important - passages in the Bible.
They feel it is convenient to blot out the words of Paul on homosexuality and focus in on the good deeds Jesus talks about. Most are pacifists who reject an "eye for an eye" (Leviticus 24:19-20). They focus on Jesus' words about helping the poor, ministering to "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40), loving our enemies, etc. That justifies abandoning hundreds, even thousands of condemning verses in the Bible they choose to wish away. That makes homosexuality OK and war wrong!
Of course, Jesus himself rejects "an eye for an eye" in Matthew 5:38. He goes on to say things like "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away," and, in the parallel passage in Luke 6, "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned."
Jan Markell hates these verses and the people who quote them:
It is also tragic that these folks are frequently called "the evangelical Left." They don't have even 1% of evangelical theology in a single bone in their body. They cherry- pick the verses they like, almost exclusively the red letters of Jesus.I expect she wishes those verses weren't in the Bible at all, since Jesus can't possibly have meant them. When Matthew 5:39 reports him saying, "resist not evil," that can't be an endorsement of pacifism, surely? That would contradict the entire Religious Right worldview (a favorite word of theirs), which is based on judging and condemning, warring against one's enemies, and despising all acts of mercy. If you listen to Jesus, "that makes ... war wrong!" Inconceivable!
Conservative Christians have traditionally couched their lack of mercy in more careful words, such as "love the sinner, hate the sin"(which sounds good, but in practice there doesn't seem to be much difference). But the mask is slipping. The hateful style of religion is growing so intense that its practitioners can barely disguise themselves any more. Jan Markell doesn't want you emphasizing the words of Jesus, because they don't say what she wants to hear, and she's no longer even embarrassed to say so.
* Since, in many traditional Bibles, all the words of Jesus are printed in red.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Ralph Maughan points to this account of a lecture by Doug Smith (USFW's head of the wolf recovery project). Interesting tidbits:
- Yellowstone's wolves, being protected from hunting, have older and more experienced pack members, so their dynamics aren't necessarily the same as other North American wolves;
- when hunting, fast females tend to lead a chase and secure a victim, while heavier males follow up and help finish the kill more effectively (I didn't know that there were gender roles in hunting!);
- Smith believes that elk and wolf populations will eventually attain a more stable equilibrium than they now have, one at which there may only be half as many wolves as there currently are.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Many developing countries have connected their people with telephones by skipping the land-line phase and going directly to cellular phones. The Economist predicts that world-wide access to the internet will arrive in similar fashion, via mobile broadband technology.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
From the Maps listserv, here's a Google Maps plotting of banned books ( as compiled from the ALA's "Books Banned and Challenged 2007-2008," and "Books Banned and Challenged 2008-2009," and the "Kids' Right to Read Project Report"). How does your neighborhood compare?
I notice that not every item on the source lists seems to be plotted, so maybe Utah isn't as clean as it looks. Still ... didn't you think there'd be a few markers there? Maybe I should give more credit where credit is due.
Despite a certain incompleteness, someone has made the map pretty informative. As you mouse over the markers, it pops open some copied-and-pasted text that describes the incident behind the listing. Some of the usual suspects are there, including Philip Pullman and JK Rowling; also, someone considered Craig Thompson's Blankets too sexy and had it moved from a young adults section. Someone else thinks Of Mice and Men is an offensive load of crap and shouldn't be read. In general, bad books are those that mention sex, contain swear words, and don't flatter Christianity.
Of course, I'm not always completely on-board with the banned books lists, as they tend to lump every type of "challenge" together in a single category. Some parents question whether a books is age-appropriate, not whether it has any value. I might disagree, but it's a fair question.
I'm also slightly open to complaining when books are assigned reading. I'm not really opposed to children being
forced required to read things they might not otherwise encounter, but even a schoolteacher doesn't have complete authority to override parental wishes. I think it's a bad impulse to complain - giving a child a book is not an effective brainwashing technique, but shielding them from any message but your own is. So I disapprove , but the parents aren't necessarily outside their rights.
Then there are the demands that books be removed from library shelves. That's entirely wrong, period. You don't have the right to demand that no one else's child be allowed to read a book.
Here's an interesting court decision that came down recently: investigators who are searching a computer under a search warrant may not seize files that provide evidence of a different crime than the warrant provided for.
It's another example of established law running into confusion when it encounters new technology. Search warrants are made out for specific purposes, so if the police come to search for evidence of one crime, they can't seize on evidence of a different crime - unless the evidence of that other crime is in "plain view." Its a fuzzy standard, but the purpose is clear enough - if the searchers happen to see a corpse in the hall or drugs on the coffee table, they're not obliged to ignore them; but they aren't supposed to use the warrant as a pretext for a fishing expedition to see if they can find something, anything, to charge a person with, either.
So the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has slapped down an attempt to claim that every file on a computer is in "plain view" when it is being searched. Otherwise, any computer search would automatically acquire unlimited scope, regardless of the warrant. That seems like a reasonable application of the law. However, the article hints that the Justice Department might consider appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court, which might be deferential to police claims that constitutional rights interfere with their jobs. So maybe nothing has been settled yet.
(via the Archives listserv)
Friday, September 25, 2009
French publishers have brought suit in Paris to stop the Google settlement, because the newly-digitized collection certainly contains many French works without their publishers' permission. The rhetoric is a wee bit hyperbolic: the president of the publishers group Syndicat National de l’Edition refers to the settlement as a "cultural rape," from which you would think scanning books is comparable to, oh, Napoleon filling the Louvre with the pillaged treasures of Europe or something. Ridiculous.
I had to search several articles before I could discover that Google is scanning books from a French library, which is the only avenue I can see for thinking French courts would have any jurisdiction at all; my (shallow) understanding of the Berne Convention is that French books in America fall under American law (the main point of the convention is that they do get the protection of the other country's laws and are not fair game for plagiarism and republishing). So I dunno - it might be a stretch to have Paris courts weighing in on the settlement. But in any event, the challenges are mounting and we may be much farther from that wonderful electronic library than we need to be.
This photo was taken in a city park, so I was a bit closer than the geese in Yellowstone would normally allow me. It's a nice example of that watchfulness typical of geese - anytime you see a flock, there will be two or three standing watch with their heads high in the air, while the rest have their heads down in the grass eating. I have no idea how they decided who eats first and when to trade shifts, but somehow they have that cooperation stuff all worked out, which means my siblings and I were much sillier than geese.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
This seemed worth commenting upon: in Des Moines, Iowa, which witnessed a small to-do over atheist signs appearing on city buses awhile back, someone has decided to respond with their own pro-God signs on the same buses.
Let's compare the slogans. First, the atheists: "Don't believe in God? You're not alone."
Now the Christians: "Only fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.' " That is a slight, but tellingly less restrained, paraphrase of Psalm 14:1.
On the live-and-let-live scale, I'd say the atheists win by a huge margin. No person insults, no mockery, just a little statement that "we exist," far more respectful of others' viewpoints than the several church signs I pass on the way to work every day.
The Christians, on the other hand, went immediately to belittling, personal insults. And probably expect us to admire their restraint in not threatening eternal hellfire.
Now who would you rather try to build a civilized society with?
Labels: religion By Scott Hanley
A colleague just forwarded an email conversation about bad health information on the internet, in which someone had included a link to this wonderful spoof site about custom cloning services.
This site is very skilfully done and some poor students have been taken in by it*. The testimonials are terrific, but you really should read the FAQ's, because the authors have gone to a lot of effort to correct some common misperceptions, such as:
- no, you can't clone yourself and live forever
- if you make your clone a slave, you're violating his/her human rights
- if in-vitro-fertilized babies have souls, there's every reason to think your clone will have a soul, too
- no, your copy of a celebrity's genetic material will not produce someone who is exactly like that celebrity; environment and experience play a part in development, too.
[PS. The company services for surrogate mothers to carry the clone to term, but to me, the use of the expression "surrogate birther" suddenly calls to mind images of someone attending one of these right-wing Tea Parties because his crazy buddy has a conflicting appointment.]
* Okay, that's not huge praise, I know. But when you see the site, you'll be less surprised.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
This came through the archives listserv a few days back and I meant to blog it, but it slipped my mind. ArchivesNext has the story.
In sum, Wikipedia has a policy against organizations filling their articles with links to themselves; that sort of self-pimping is deeply frowned upon and the links usually get deleted rather promptly. Unfortunately, this entirely reasonable policy was also sweeping up some well-meaning archivists who were trying to improve the documentation in Wikipedia by linking to the sources they knew best - their own archives. Their work was being deleted as illicit self-service.
The good news is that the Wikipowers-that-be have granted a desirable exception to their rules against self-promotion, which can only improve Wikipedia's reliability. Assuming they don't abuse their new privileges, archives will be allowed to link to their own relevant holdings. Thank goodness! The reference section of your average Wikipedia article tends to be an utter embarrassment, a small collection of links to random websites with dubious credentials. Letting archivists in on the act can only make the product stronger.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Two years after federal officials announced their "amazing" recovery, grizzly bears near Yellowstone National Park have been given renewed federal protections by a federal judge who expressed concern that climate change, among other factors, could impair the bears' hopes for survival.Only a short announcement, but you can read a little more here. And a longer article here.
The grizzly bears in Yellowstone seemed to be in real trouble in the early 1970's, when a crash program of closing the garbage dumps that they loved to frequent, plus a hyper-aggressive program of removing bears that spent too much time in campgrounds, combined to eliminate some 88 bears in the years 1970 and 1971. This was out of population that numbered somewhere from 150 to 300, depending on whose numbers you believed*; either way, those kinds of losses were clearly unsustainable and the Yellowstone grizzlies went on the Endangered Species List in 1975.
The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem now contains some 500 bears, the target level for considering grizzlies to be "recovered," and that is indeed a great success story. The bears were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2007. However, the judge agrees with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition that the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the corresponding state agencies, have failed to establish a plan that has any legal teeth to it, should the bear population start to fall again. So back on the list they go, at least until a more solid management plan can be devised.
* The dispute over the most accurate bear census was extremely bitter. You can read about the whole fracas in Paul Schullery's The Bears of Yellowstone and Frank Criaghead's Track of the Grizzly.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Yellowstone Lake, lying 7733' above sea level, is covered in ice for about half the year, unseen by summer tourists. This photo was taken in front of Lake Lodge, where I worked that summer; however, at this time we were probably six weeks from opening and no one but the maintenance staff was around. There must have been a recent snowfall, because even animals haven't marked the snow here, and the clouds hint at another storm to come - although I don't recall whether one did. Between the snow cover and the clouds, you wouldn't even know the lake was there except for the lines created by the lighter-colored ice.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I'm back at a certain small Midwestern University and we have a new stats-tracking database - no more check marks on paper. During the summer,when things were slow, librarians were careful to record their transactions in some detail, and my coworker has pointed me to this one:
Q: Best question ever - "Do you have books on vampires?"
A: "Novels or more like non-fiction history?"
"Non-fiction. I've been bitten by a vampire"
"When was this?"
"A couple weeks ago in my room"
"Did you have it checked by a medical professional?"
"No, I have not"
That was recommended, along with a few books in GR830.
(GR830, btw, is where you would shelve books on folklore and magical creatures; I'm guessing it takes up more shelving at Hogwarts than it does here.)
I posted awhile back about the UM Museum of Natural History's 50-year-old dioramas of Native Americans and how badly they reflected an earlier era. I've just learned that the museum is finally going to retire them in January of 2010. However, they won't disappear suddenly, with no trace; there will be a transitional exhibit explaining why the dioramas are being removed and how this reflects changing scholarship and sensibilities. Never miss an educational opportunity - nice job.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters, testified before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday and she is quite skeptical about the legality of Google's plan to scan books and create a registry of authors for future compensation. The crux of her concern:
Ms. Peters said that in granting something like a “compulsory license,” a requirement that rights owners license works to others, the settlement essentially usurped the authority of Congress and skirted deliberations.
“In essence, the proposed settlement would give Google a license to infringe first and ask questions later, under the imprimatur of the court,” Ms. Peters wrote in her prepared testimony.
This has always been the biggest legal sticking point in Google's digitization scheme - do they need to negotiate approval first (the opt-in position), or can they go ahead with their scanning and then later restrict books whose rights-holders step up and ask them to stop (the opt-out position). Getting prior permission for millions of books is impractical, to say the least, so Google has always preferred opt-out: we'll scan it, but let us know if you don't want us making it available.*
Peters is arguing that, practicality be damned, the law just doesn't allow it. Like it or not, you need permission first.** The Google registry essentially creates a compulsory license system, much like how songwriters get paid but can't make a radio station stop playing their songs. The latter system, of course, came about by an act of Congress and there's the rub - Google isn't Congress, even if they do have a stronger bank account.
You can read my contemptuous views on the so-called Google "monopoly" here, but the registry is a more serious matter. Even if it's a good solution - and I believe, for the most part, it is - it might not be legal without federal legislation. Unfortunately, so long as it appears only one company is in a position to benefit, that won't happen. Amazon may be building a digital library under an opt-in system, but that leaves an enormous amount of literature - the orphan works - untouchable.
So it's entirely possible that, while there's no illegal monopoly here, the fear of one will prevent an allowable solution - Congress stepping in and creating a compulsory licensing scheme. It will be a tragedy if we lose a chance to make all these books accessible because only one company was bold enough to take on the task***, but that could well be the result. Is it really better to have no grand digital library than to let Google be the spearhead?
* Where major publishers are aware of what's going on, though, they don't hesitate to opt-out before the scanning takes place. At the UM libraries, the stacks are festooned with pink slips that read "Not scanned at publisher request."
**Unless, like Bobby Bowfinger, you're lucky enough to catch those publisher in some kind of embarrassing situation....
***Ayn Rand fan should be hearing, "Why should only Henry Rearden be allowed to make Rearden Metal?" Seriously, I've seen suggestions that Google should be forced to give away all the digital files they've made at enormous cost.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Monday, September 7, 2009
This month's National Geographic has an article featuring the Mannahatta Project, a recreation of Manhattan's natural environment. The project started by geolocating the still-extant sites on the British map of the island, prepared during the Revolutionary War, and built from there back to 1609, when Henry Hudson became the first European to see the place.
The website is built around the Google map of Manhattan, but with an extra layer representing a visual image of the landscape as it likely appeared in 1609, plus popup descriptions of the local ecosystem. You should definitely try it out.
I've posted a quickie-demo here.
The project was also featured in the New Yorker a couple years ago.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Opal Terrace is a young, but currently inactive travertine flow across the road from the main terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs. I wouldn't think of it as a comfortable divan, but this handsome fellow did.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
From The Scholarly Kitchen, an interesting comment on the "narcissism" of Facebook and other social media:
And this is where the real twist comes in — students, in general, don’t have anything other than themselves and their social lives to promote via social media. But once they’ve published books, established consultancies, started careers, invested in hobbies, etc., you can bet they’ll turn immediately to social media to promote aspects of these goods and services ... It might look like narcissism now, but really, it’s just practice.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
Sometimes you find that you keep encountering the same thought or issue, over and over and from different angles. Every few days, something pops up that seems to point at this same concept and you can't help considering them all together.
For the last few weeks, I have been encountering variations on a manichaean division of good people from bad people. It first cropped up in this Talk of the Nation program about Michael Vick, which discussed the problem of whether he should be allowed to get rich again playing professional football. Now, I happen to think that he was legally prosecuted, convicted, and served out his sentence, and that ought to settle the issue. If he's punished further, it should be for fresh crimes, not for the same crime over and over again. But a number of callers to the program disagreed; they seemed to believe that serving his sentence finished the prison portion of his punishment, but his suffering ought to go on ... well, for the rest of his life. If people convicted of felonies have trouble ever getting a job again, that was fine; it makes for a terrific example of what not to do. It's as if, should the punishment ever end, it's as if it never happened. Or, if you're no longer suffering, than you're no longer the object lesson that you ought to be.
Later, I encountered another public radio program - which I just can't locate online, sorry - about the one of the men charged with conspiring to commit terrorism by purchasing surface-to-air missiles for shooting down commercial aircraft. Basically, you had someone pretending he was an international arms smuggler, but was really a poser utterly incapable of acquiring any such weaponry; in order to seal the investigation, the FBI made up a harmless dummy missile for him to deliver to his client - a client who was also not a real terrorist, but an accomplice in the investigation. So no terrorists and no weapons, but he's being prosecuted in what is a rather obvious case of entrapment.
What jolted me was the prosecutor near the end of the program who - without using the word - essentially spoke out in favor of entrapment. The man under discussion was "the sort" of person who might harm people, we don't want "that type" of person running loose. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it's a principle of our justice system that a person is punished for what they do, not what they might do. That's why we have laws against entrapment: it's assumed that most people have more capacity to commit crime than they're ever likely to enact by themselves, so it's too easy to maneuver otherwise decent-enough people into doing something wrong, if you work at it.
This prosecutor rejects that. In his view, there are Good People and Bad People, and some of the people you think are Good are really Bad People who haven't been identified yet. Entrapment is a good way to smoke out those latter people and lock them up, just in case they were ever to act on their evil impulses.
That same weekend, the newspaper had an article on the anniversary of the Manson murders, which included this paragraph:
“Manson made a lot of victims besides the ones he killed,” said Catherine Share, who once lived with the Manson Family under the nickname “Gypsy.” “He destroyed lives. There are people sitting in prison who wouldn’t be there except for him. He took all of our lives.”
Some of my family sneered at this as an evasion of responsibility, which it likely is, but that doesn't make it a false statement. Did Manson really manage to find the few teenagers who could be so alienated as to finally commit murders? Or, to bring it closer to home, can those of us who have lived nice law-abiding lives feel so confident that we could never be turned to the dark side? I don't have that confidence; if I've always been incapable of murder, it might have more to do with cowardice than morality.
Here's my last example, a counterexample, which I found at Boing Boing:
My point here isn't about how to defeat hate, but simply that it can be defeated. Here's someone who has changed his views, is more generous and understanding than he used to be. Perhaps this isn't the best example, as it too easily fits the narrative of redemption, of turning from Evil to Good, when I'm really trying to break down Evil and Good as rigid dichotomies at all. But still - we're changeable. I hear a lot of voices which assume that bad people are Bad People, now and forever. But we're changeable. And if we're changeable, it's probably because we were never purely good or evil in the first place.