MonthOctober 2009

Strange Cloud Formation Spooks Moscow Citizens

Atheism 3.0 finds a little more room for religion

Bruce Sheiman doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in religion.

Setting aside the question of whether God exists, it’s clear that the benefits of faith far outweigh its costs, he argues in his new book, An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off With Religion than Without It.

“I don’t know if anybody is going to be able to convince me that God exists,” Sheiman said in an interview, “but they can convince me that religion has intrinsic value.”

The old atheists said there was no God. The so-called “New Atheists” said there was no God, and they were vocally vicious about it. Now, the new “New Atheists” — call it Atheism 3.0 — say there’s still no God, but maybe religion isn’t all that bad.

Faith provides meaning and purpose for millions of believers, inspires people to tend to each other and build communities, gives them a sense of union with a transcendent force, and provides numerous health benefits, Sheiman says. Moreover, the galvanizing force behind many achievements in Western civilization has been faith, Sheiman argues, while conceding that he limits his analysis, for the most part, to modern Western religion.

USA Today: Atheism 3.0 finds a little more room for religion

(via Disinfo)

See also Scott Atran’s contributions to this discussion at the Edge.

Who owns the United States’s debt?

who owns america

From: Financial Services Technology: Federal deficit: who owns what?

(Via Contexts via Brainsturbator)

Fast Internet access becomes a legal right in Finland

Finland has become the first country in the world to declare broadband Internet access a legal right.

Starting in July, telecommunication companies in the northern European nation will be required to provide all 5.2 million citizens with Internet connection that runs at speeds of at least 1 megabit per second. […]

In June, France’s highest court declared such access a human right. But Finland goes a step further by legally mandating speed.

CNN: Fast Internet access becomes a legal right in Finland

(via Disinfo)

It’s unclear to me – does this mean that telecom companies are required to provide this service for free, or does it mean it has to make it available to everyone (including people in remote areas)?

How Plagiarism Software Found a New Shakespeare Play

Plagiarism-detection software was created with lazy, sneaky college students in mind – not the likes of William Shakespeare. Yet the software may have settled a centuries-old mystery over the authorship of an unattributed play from the late 1500s called The Reign of Edward III. Literature scholars have long debated whether the play was written by Shakespeare – some bits are incredibly Bard-like, but others don’t resemble his style at all. The verdict, according to one expert: the play is likely a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd, another popular playwright of his time.

Sir Brian Vickers, a literature professor at the University of London, came to his conclusion after using plagiarism-detection software – as well as his own expertise – to compare writing patterns between Edward III and Shakespeare’s body of work. Plagiarism software isn’t new; college professors have been using it to catch cheats for more than a decade. It is, however, growing increasingly sophisticated, enabling a scholar like Vickers to investigate the provenance of unattributed works of literature. With a program called Pl@giarism, Vickers detected 200 strings of three or more words in Edward III that matched phrases in Shakespeare’s other works. Usually, works by two different authors will only have about 20 matching strings. “With this method we see the way authors use and reuse the same phrases and metaphors, like chunks of fabric in a weave,” says Vickers. “If you have enough of them, you can identify one fabric as Scottish tweed and another as plain gray cloth.” (No insult intended to Kyd.)

Time: How Plagiarism Software Found a New Shakespeare Play

(via Jorn Barger)

The software used, Pl@giarism, is free (as in beer, not open source).

Pay your bills on time? There’s a fee for that.

You floss regularly, yield to oncoming traffic and use your credit cards judiciously, dutifully paying off your balance every month.

You may believe that your exemplary behavior shields you from unexpected credit card fees. Sadly, that is no longer the case.

Starting next year, Bank of America will charge a small number of customers an annual fee, ranging from $29 to $99. The bank has characterized the fee as experimental. But card holders who have never carried a balance or paid late fees could be among those affected.

Citigroup, meanwhile, has started charging annual fees to card holders who don’t put more than a specific amount on their cards, typically $2,400 a year. Other banks are charging inactivity fees if customers don’t use their credit cards during a specific period of time. You heard that right: You could be spanked for staying out of debt.

USA Today: Pay your bills on time? There’s a charge for that.

Also: Citibank is randomly closing credit cards without warning.

Study: States can’t afford death penalty

according to a new report that concludes that states are wasting millions on an inefficient death penalty system, diverting scarce funds from other anti-crime and law enforcement programs.

“Thirty-five states still retain the death penalty, but fewer and fewer executions are taking place every year,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “But the overall death row population has remained relatively steady. At a time of budget shortfalls nationwide, the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole.”

His group commissioned the study released Tuesday.

A privately conducted poll of 500 police chiefs released with the report found the death penalty ranked last among their priorities for reducing violent crime. Only 1 percent found it to the best way to achieve that goal. Adding police officers ranked first.

CNN: Study: States can’t afford death penalty

(via Bill)

Governments have been maintaining other policies that not only can they not afford, but are amoral – for example, the drug war. This hasn’t stopped them yet. Still, one can hope this report will lead to some reversal of policy.

Fascism Watch: Police and Military Lining Up Against Obama

Launched in March by Las Vegan Stewart Rhodes, Oath Keepers bills itself as a nonpartisan group of current and retired law enforcement and military personnel who vow to fulfill their oaths to the Constitution.

More specifically, the group’s members, which number in the thousands, pledge to disobey orders they deem unlawful, including directives to disarm the American people and to blockade American cities. By refusing the latter order, the Oath Keepers hope to prevent cities from becoming “giant concentration camps,” a scenario the 44-year-old Rhodes says he can envision happening in the coming years. […]

It’s the “cross-pollinating” of extremist groups — some racist, some not — that is of concern, Potok said. As evidence that the danger is real, he points to several recent murders committed by men with anti-government or racist views.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reached a similar conclusion in a report earlier this year about the rise of right-wing extremism. The report said the nation’s economic downturn and Obama’s race are “unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.”

The homeland security report added that “disgruntled military veterans” might be vulnerable to recruitment by right-wing extremist groups.

That warning was enough to make Rhodes feel paranoid.

“They’re accusing anybody who opposes Obama of being a racist or a potential terrorist,” he said. “What they’re saying is, ‘We’re coming after you.'”

Las Vegas Review: Ready To Revolt: Oath Keepers pledges to prevent dictatorship in United States

(via Nick P)

To their credit, the “Oath Keepers” acknowledge the Patriot Act’s erosion of civil liberties as well. But where were they during the 8 years that Bush was president? Obama gets 400% more death threats than Bush but still lets people carry assault rifles around him, and the Oathers think that they’re being persecuted? Bush had people hauled away for wearing the wrong t-shirts.

I have little good to say about Obama, but I can’t say that his administration is less tolerant of dissent than Bush’s.

From the Oather’s Declaration of Orders We Will NOT Obey: “We will NOT obey any order to conduct warrantless searches of the American people, their homes, vehicles, papers, or effects — such as warrantless house-to house searches for weapons or persons.”

I take this to mean they will start refusing to do warrantless searches for drugs? For 28 years the federal government has waged war on its people (a disproportionate number of them black), using militarized civilian law enforcement agents, and it’s only now that a not-right-wing-enough black president has been elected that they are worried?

Now, there have been militia movements before, and they got particularly scary during the Clinton years. But most of those fears were overblown. The Oklahoma City bombing was used to justify the proto-Patriot Act: the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. So it’s worth while to reiterate that this should not be a call for more repressive laws.

These latest developments – Oath Keepers, assault rifles at Obama rallies, violent attacks on pro-health care demonstrators – do seem particularly more frightening than those of the Clinton-era. And those Clinton-era movements did have a real result. Not the assassination of a president, or a legitimate insurrection by right-wing militias. The result was the sharp right-wing turn the country took during and after the Clinton administration.

And that’s what’s scariest now. Even if the current movements don’t end in, say, a Blackwater coup (and the chance that something like that would happen this time around does seem greater), we’re still probably in for darker days.

Update: Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes opines on the drug war and the Bush administration here (via Jesse Walker in the comments):

The Pentagon and its close allies, the defense contractors, turned to the “war on drugs” and “terrorism” as the new cash-crop reason for the bloated Pentagon budget. We even had shrill warnings about the grave dangers of “narco-terrorists” who actually combined those two horrid evils (shudder) and we were told that only the military could stop them! Thus a new mission was born for the U.S. military which has steadily pushed its way into law enforcement, starting out in support roles, just like in Vietnam, but getting closer and closer to in-your-face and hands-on direct action. There has also been a corresponding and complimentary steady militarization of law enforcement such that the two are now hard to tell apart.

Is Rhodes position the official position of the Oath Keepers? As of now (10am PST 10/25/09) there is no official position on the drug war recorded on their site by Google. The question is posed here in the comments and not answered.

Still, I’m impressed with Rhodes’s position and encouraged by the fact that he’s “writing a book on the dangers of applying the laws of war to the American people.” (See Radley Balko’s paper Overkill for more on this subject.)

35 Years of the World’s Best Microscope Photography

1981: Collapsed bubbles from an annealed experimental electronic sealing glass

2003: Filamentous actin and microtubules (structural proteins) in mouse fibroblasts (cells)

Wired: 35 Years of the World’s Best Microscope Photography

“Why do they hate us?” revisited

Glenn Greenwald:

Note, too, the vast gap between how Americans perceive of their actions (mere “aberrations”) and how so much of the rest of the world perceives of it, especially those in the targeted regions. So much of this disparity is explained by a basic lack of empathy: imagine if every American spent just a day contemplating how they’d react if some foreign army from a Muslim nation invaded and bombed the U.S., occupied the country for the next several years with 60,000 soldiers, killed tens of thousands of citizens here, set up secret prisons where they disappeared Americans for years without charges or even contact with the outside world, imposed sanctions that blockaded food and medicine and killed countless children, invaded and ransacked our homes at will, abducted Americans and shipped them halfway around the world to island-prisons, instituted a worldwide torture regime, armed their allies for attacks on other Western nations, and threatened still other invasions.

Do you think Americans might be seething with rage about that, wanting to kill as many of the people from that country as possible? Wouldn’t it be rather obvious that the more that was done to Americans, the more filled with hatred and a desire for violence they would be? Just consider the rage and fury and burning desire for vengeance that was unleashed by a one-day attack on U.S. soil, eight years ago, by a stateless band of extremists, that killed 3,000 people.

Along those lines, a new poll from The Washington Post today reveals that 42% of Americans favor bombing Iran’s “nuclear development sites” (49% of Republicans; 38% Democrats; 42% Independents), while 33% of Americans favor “invading with U.S. forces to remove the Iranian government from power” (40% Republicans; 32% Democrats; 30% Independents). Although majorities oppose that, that is a rather substantial group of Americans that favors having us bomb and invade our third Muslim country in less than ten years, not counting the places we bomb covertly or the countries bombed by our main Middle East client state. And just imagine how much that support among Americans will increase if the U.S. Government ever starts advocating it and, therefore, the U.S. media even more loudly than now beats the drums of war against Iran.

Glenn Greenwald: David Rohde on the “why do they hate us?” question

© 2022 Technoccult

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑