MonthOctober 2006

Masons struggle with racial separation

Nationwide, Masonic groups operate in a separate-but-supposedly-equal system in which whites typically join one network of Masonic groups, called Grand Lodges, and blacks typically join another, called Prince Hall.

But in the South, it goes further: White-controlled Grand Lodges in 12 Southern states do not even officially recognize black Masons as their brothers – the Masonic term is “mutual recognition” – and in some cases, black lodges have taken similar stands.

Full Story: Associated Press.

PZ Meyers on Richard Dawkins

The rest of The God Delusion is generally more speculative. If God or gods almost certainly do not exist, then why is religion so embedded in human culture? Dawkins sketches a review of some possible answers, but his preferred hypothesis is this: Religion does not confer a direct adaptive advantage, but is instead a byproduct of some other property that is useful for survival.


Dawkins, however, is no crank, and he is not proposing the abolition of religion, but rather that we acquire a proper perspective on it. Religion is a cultural heritage that should be appreciated for its contributions to history, literature, and art, and Dawkins actually advocates more education in the subject. At the same time, its promotion as a guide to absolute truth, as a dogmatic and authoritarian prescription for behavior, and as a substitute for scientific thinking, leads to catastrophic excesses and false conclusions, which he documents at length. We can respect poetry as a window on the human mind and an outlet for the expression of beauty, but we’d laugh at someone who claimed that poetry explained cosmology, was grounds for declaring war, or could cure cancer. But religion makes these kinds of claims, and a dangerous majority accepts them. Dawkins asks that we recognize religion as a legitimate expression of human feeling-but that we avoid overendowing it with powers it does not possess.

Full Story: Seed Magazine.

Nagi Noda’s time dispersal commercial

Nagi Noda has directed this Coca-Cola ad, which I believe is airing in the U.K. and Australia. We witness a girl drinking cola then progressing in iterative static poses down through the house and out into the garden. Here other people are encountered in similar sequential mode, providing a dizzying display of colour based on the Coke branding. The characters interact and the static scenes are seamlessly intercut with live action throughout the continuous long shot.

For anyone familiar with The Invisibles, by Grant Morrison, Noda’s commercial struck me as extremely reminiscent of the issues in which Ragged Robin gets stuck in and outside of time. Interesting to watch if you’re a fan of the comic or the concept in general.

Watch an embedded video via the jump.

Human-Elephant Conflict

I’m really disheartened about all this. While I don’t know a lot about elephants, I always grew up with a reverence of them. Knowing their emotional capacity and their complicated rites and dealings with their own dead, how they work as groups and families, has always enforced my empathy with them.

Lately, I’ve been coming across some very peculiar articles dealing with these noble creatures. Via The New York Times:

All across Africa, India and parts of Southeast Asia, from within and around whatever patches and corridors of their natural habitat remain, elephants have been striking out, destroying villages and crops, attacking and killing human beings. In fact, these attacks have become so commonplace that a new statistical category, known as Human-Elephant Conflict, or H.E.C., was created by elephant researchers in the mid-1990’s to monitor the problem. In the Indian state of Jharkhand near the western border of Bangladesh, 300 people were killed by elephants between 2000 and 2004. In the past 12 years, elephants have killed 605 people in Assam, a state in northeastern India, 239 of them since 2001; 265 elephants have died in that same period, the majority of them as a result of retaliation by angry villagers, who have used everything from poison-tipped arrows to laced food to exact their revenge. In Africa, reports of human-elephant conflicts appear almost daily, from Zambia to Tanzania, from Uganda to Sierra Leone, where 300 villagers evacuated their homes last year because of unprovoked elephant attacks.

Still, it is not only the increasing number of these incidents that is causing alarm but also the singular perversity – for want of a less anthropocentric term – of recent elephant aggression. Since the early 1990’s, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg National Park and the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in South Africa have been raping and killing rhinoceroses; this abnormal behavior, according to a 2001 study in the journal Pachyderm, has been reported in ??a number of reserves” in the region. In July of last year, officials in Pilanesberg shot three young male elephants who were responsible for the killings of 63 rhinos, as well as attacks on people in safari vehicles. In Addo Elephant National Park, also in South Africa, up to 90 percent of male elephant deaths are now attributable to other male elephants, compared with a rate of 6 percent in more stable elephant communities. […]

Gay Bradshaw, a psychologist at the environmental-sciences program at Oregon State University, [notes] ??Everybody pretty much agrees that the relationship between elephants and people has dramatically changed. What we are seeing today is extraordinary. Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relatively peaceful coexistence, there is now hostility and violence. Now, I use the term ?violence’ because of the intentionality associated with it, both in the aggression of humans and, at times, the recently observed behavior of elephants.” […]

Typically, elephant researchers have cited, as a cause of aggression, the high levels of testosterone in newly matured male elephants or the competition for land and resources between elephants and humans. But in ??Elephant Breakdown,” a 2005 essay in the journal Nature, Bradshaw and several colleagues argued that today’s elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma. Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss, they claim, have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture.

It has long been apparent that every large, land-based animal on this planet is ultimately fighting a losing battle with humankind. And yet entirely befitting of an animal with such a highly developed sensibility, a deep-rooted sense of family and, yes, such a good long-term memory, the elephant is not going out quietly. It is not leaving without making some kind of statement, one to which scientists from a variety of disciplines, including human psychology, are now beginning to pay close attention.

Any thoughts? Has this been happening anywhere else in the animal kingdom? I don’t mean to seperate us from nature by claiming we’re removed entirely from the animal kingdom, but as I said, elephants are widely considered highly intelligent creatures. Is this the start of something that may become more widespread?

E. O. Wilson and God vs Science

I received the new issue of Seed today in the mail and in it is an interesting article on E. O. Wilson and his attempts to create a truce between science and religion. He is best known for his seminal work Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge – which I am definitely going to be picking up to read as it deals with some concepts I am hugely interested in, namely syncretism of knowledge – as well as his new book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. The whole November issue of Seed takes an interesting look at the religious right’s fight against science and evolutionary theory. It’s a good issue.

You crazy Americans. I just learned that out of a butt-load of developed nations on the planet, you rank at the bottom, along with Turkey, in believing in Darwin. I mean, hey, I have some esoteric theories I subscribe to. But c’mon, Darwin has something going on there. You guys…

This is officially an open invitation for everyone that thinks – just thinks in general – to move on up to Canada. Our doors are always open.

Pink reads hermetic book in latest video


Full Story: the Wild Hunt.

(via Notes From Somewhere Bizarre).

Performance: Researchers Test Meditation’s Impact on Alertness

Meditation is often credited with helping people feel more focused and energetic, but are the benefits measurable?

A new study suggests that they are. When researchers tested the alertness of volunteers, they found that the practice proved more effective than naps, exercise or caffeine. The results were presented at a recent conference of the Society for Neuroscience.

Full Story: New York Times.

(via Danny Chaoflux)

Battle of the New Christendom

“What’s up everybody out there? Stevie B is rollin in the Lords Lounge in the name of Jesus and being a hardcore soldier for Christ has never been this much fun.”

Full Story: The Lord’s Lounge

Admit it: You want to join up too. What has atheism ever done for you?

Battle of the New Atheism

My friends, I must ask you an important question today: Where do you stand on God?

It’s a question you may prefer not to be asked. But I’m afraid I have no choice. We find ourselves, this very autumn, three-and-a-half centuries after the intellectual martyrdom of Galileo, caught up in a struggle of ultimate importance, when each one of us must make a commitment. It is time to declare our position.

This is the challenge posed by the New Atheists. We are called upon, we lax agnostics, we noncommittal nonbelievers, we vague deists who would be embarrassed to defend antique absurdities like the Virgin Birth or the notion that Mary rose into heaven without dying, or any other blatant myth; we are called out, we fence-sitters, and told to help exorcise this debilitating curse: the curse of faith.

The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it’s evil. Now that the battle has been joined, there’s no excuse for shirking.

Three writers have sounded this call to arms. They are Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. A few months ago, I set out to talk with them. I wanted to find out what it would mean to enlist in the war against faith.

Full Story: Wired.

The two writers that have really made me come down on the side of atheism are Trevor Blake, who posts frequently about religious issues at American Samizdat and Douglas Rushkoff who recently wrote that faith is a disease.

Famous writers write six word stories

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
– Alan Moore

I’m dead. I’ve missed you. Kiss … ?
– Neil Gaiman

The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
– Orson Scott Card

With bloody hands, I say good-bye.
– Frank Miller

Read Them All: Wired.

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