Saturday, January 19, 2013

the tabernacle

wikipedia | A tabernacle is the fixed, locked box in which, in some Christian churches, the Eucharist is "reserved" (stored). A less obvious container, set into the wall, is called an aumbry.

Within Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and in some congregations of Anglicanism and Lutheranism, a tabernacle is a box-like vessel for the exclusive reservation of the consecrated Eucharist. It is normally made of metal, stone or wood, is lockable and secured to its altar to prevent the consecrated elements within from being removed without authorization. The "reserved Eucharist" is secured there for distribution at services, for availability to bring Holy Communion to the sick, and, especially in the Western Church, as the center of attention for meditation and prayer. The term "tabernacle" arose for this item as a reference to the Old Testament tabernacle which was the locus of God's presence among the Jewish people - hence, it was formerly required (and is still generally customary) that the tabernacle be covered with a tent-like veil or curtains across its door when the Eucharist is present within.

By way of metaphor, Catholics and Orthodox alike also refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Tabernacle in their devotions (such as the Akathist Hymn or Catholic Litanies to Mary), as she carried within her the body of Christ in her role as Theotokos.

the ciborium - oddly shaped "chalice" for the host

wikipedia | The ancient Greek word referred to the cup-shaped seed vessel of the Egyptian water-lily nelumbium speciosum and came to describe a drinking cup made from that seed casing,[1] or in a similar shape. These vessels were particularly common in Egypt and the Greek East. The word "'ciborium'" was also used in classical Latin to describe such cups, although the only example to have survived is in one of Horace’s odes (2.7.21–22).[2]

In medieval Latin, and in English, "Ciborium" more commonly refers to a covered container used in Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and related churches to store the consecrated hosts of the sacrament of Holy Communion. It resembles the shape of a chalice but its bowl is more round than conical, and takes its name from its cover,[clarification needed] surmounted by a cross or other sacred design. In the early Christian Church, Holy Communion was not kept in churches for fear of sacrilege or desecration. Later, the first ciboria were kept at homes to be handy for the Last Rites where needed. In churches, a ciborium is usually kept in a tabernacle or aumbry. In some cases, it may be veiled (see photograph below) to indicate the presence of the consecrated hosts. It is typically made, or at least plated, in a precious metal.

Other containers for the host include the paten (a small plate) or a basin (for loaves of bread rather than wafers) used at the time of consecration and distribution at the main service of Holy Eucharist. A pyx is a small, circular container into which a few consecrated hosts can be placed. Pyxes are typically used to bring communion to the sick or shut-in.

the eucharist



nonduality | The ultimate and best and only really legit form of Eucharist is the entheogenic form.  Eucharistic doctrine is strongly formed and constrained and shaped by the entheogenic nature of the Eucharist.  If there is an entheogen-shaped hole at the center of religion, this is truest of Eucharistic writings.  Where does Christian doctrine come closest to the entheogenic truth?  In the Eucharistic writings.

For example, the debate over the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is effortlessly solved by removing historical Jesus and replacing him by the entheogen as the true "logos/word made flesh".  In *general*, it's very clear that true Christianity (and ancient and Judeo-Hellenistic religion in general) was and is centered around the entheogen -- that puzzle is solved, but a minor puzzle remains: why is there no *explicit* discussion of entheogens in the Christian writings?

Writings on Eucharist are clearly talking about the entheogen, but it's not clear why they always talk implicitly rather than explicitly.  Suppressing the open discussion of the entheogenic nature of Eucharist and of Jesus "the drug of immortality", a financially profitable monopolistic franchise was established.  Entheogens evidently were widely known and widely influential in Christian doctrine, but effectively suppressed.

reliquaries...,


wikipedia | The use of reliquaries became an important part of Christian practices from at least the 4th century, initially in the Eastern church, which adopted the practice of moving and dividing the bodies of saints much earlier than the West, probably in part because the new capital of Constantinople, unlike Rome, lacked buried saints. Relics are venerated in the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and some Anglican Churches. Reliquaries provide a means of protecting and displaying relics, which many believe are endowed by God with the grace of miraculous powers. They range in size from simple pendants or rings to coffin-like containers, to very elaborate ossuaries. Many were designed with portability in mind, often being exhibited in public or carried in procession on the saint's feast day or on other holy days. Pilgrimages often centered around the veneration of relics. The faithful often venerate relics by bowing before the reliquary or kissing it. Those churches which observe the veneration of relics make a clear distinction between the honor given to the saints and the worship that is due to God alone (see Second Council of Nicea). The feretrum was a medieval form of reliquary or shrine containing the sacred effigies and relics of a saint. In the late Middle Ages the craze for relics, many now fraudulent, became extreme, and was criticized by many otherwise conventional churchmen.

16th-century reformers such as Martin Luther opposed the use of relics since many had no proof of historic authenticity, and they objected to the cult of saints. Many reliquaries, particularly in northern Europe, were destroyed by Calvinists or Calvinist sympathizers during the Reformation, being melted down or pulled apart to recover precious metals and gems. Nonetheless, the use and manufacture of reliquaries continues to this day, especially in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian countries. Post-Reformation reliquaries have tended to take the form of glass-sided caskets to display relics such as the bodies of saints.

shameless crumb-hustling by the csmonitor...,

csmonitor | Atheists and agnostics, Jews and Mormons are among the highest-scoring groups in a 32-question survey of religious knowledge by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. On average, Americans got 16 of the 32 questions correct. Atheists and agnostics got an average of 20.9 correct answers. Jews (20.5) and Mormons (20.3). Protestants got 16 correct answers on average, while Catholics got 14.7 questions right.

How will you do on the quiz?

Friday, January 18, 2013

the bad man...,



shtfschool | I knew a guy before SHTF who was nobody. Ordinary worker from one of the industrial machine parts factory. Actually I did not really know him other from usually “hello” on the street, or football discussion sometimes in the neighborhood.

He lived alone, looked decent, and had a typical work and afterwards “coffee house / bar with friends” life. If someone asked me to describe him, I would say “just a guy from the neighborhood” or typical “normal dude”.

When SHTF, he emerged as one of the leader of local groups. And he was popular, he had something that make people want to follow him. Problem was that he had something that make bad kinds of people follow him. He was pretty much something like psychopath.

Murders, rape, robbing and everything else that goes with that was their way of life in that time. And to make things clear here I need to say that whenever I met him and his group out on the street I would go and hide even I knew him from his “former life” as normal guy.

This guy was now someone very different.

It was not a movie, I was prepared to confront them and fight only as a last option, but Batman was not living in the city in that time, even if he was there he probably would have given up so chances of superhero versus group of bag guys was not realistic.

How bad?
They liked to catch sometimes a guy and make him run over the open space where snipers were active, if the guy survived that (rarely) then they shoot at him. If he survived that shooting too, then he would live. He called that “God will decide are you going to live or die”.

Some people have certain type of charisma, and he had lot of it. When you add fact that he was bad, or evil if you like you got explosive combination. He was something like bad kind of hero, man who weak people want to follow. And they will obey his command. Also when you add fact that he provide security and food for them that counts too.

I was once in their nest, or headquarters if you like to call it like that. That was place like taken from weird fairy tales, or like some drug induced nightmare.

a tale of two cities...,

zerohedge | New York City has a well-deserved reputation as the country’s financial and cultural center — and that’s great.

What is not so great is that, for a growing number of its residents, simply surviving in New York has become an increasingly difficult proposition.

As shown by a report issued last year by the city controller, the so-called “Capital of the World” is also the capital of income distribution inequality in the nation.

...
Even though the research precedes superstorm Sandy, this year’s NYC Hunger Experience report (below) reveals a tale of two cities, wherein the struggles of low-income and unemployed New Yorkers to keep food on the table have intensified even as the circumstances continue to improve for those who are better off.

“Now, we have the additional hardships brought about by Sandy,” Stampas said.

Many of the report’s findings are truly worrisome. For instance, between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of households with annual income below $25,000 that had trouble affording food increased a whopping 30%, though the total number of city residents who reported difficulty affording food in the same time period actually decreased by 9%.

No less serious is that, according to the Food Bank, “low income families are making the difficult decision to reduce the nutritional quality of their meals by purchasing less expensive and unhealthy foods in order to afford the mandatory expenses that would keep a roof over their heads.”

Not surprisingly, low-income residents — especially Latinos and African-Americans, women and the unemployed — are more likely to experience difficulty affording the basics than other groups.

The picture painted by the report is nothing short of alarming:
  • The percentage of unemployed New Yorkers reporting difficulty soared from 41% in 2011 to 54% in 2012. To make matters worse, the city’s unemployment rate continues to trump the national average.
  • As of last November, the city’s unemployment rate was 8.8% (approximately 351,000 people), compared to 7.8% (approximately 12.2 million people) in the country as a whole.
  • In fact, the report adds, three years after economists declared the end of the Great Recession in 2009, unemployment rates in the city have yet to recede to pre-recession levels. Participation in government food assistance programs continues to rise, and demand for emergency food programs continues to intensify.

Again, not a pretty picture.

what the labor pool collapse means

businessinsider | “If today, the country had the same proportion of persons of working age employed as it did in 2000, the U.S. would have almost 14 million more people contributing to the economy. Even assuming that these additional workers would be 25% less productive on average than the existing labor force, U.S. gross domestic product would still be more than 5% higher ($800 billion, or about $2,600 more per person) than it actually is.”

Makes sense.

The larger question concerns how and why this happened. I have my own theories about this, but let’s first look at the evidence that Vedder himself comes up with to show that most of this can be explained by transfer programs like food stamps, disability insurance, student subsidies, and unemployment payments.

Let’s look at each.

Food stamps were a slightly goofy subsidy to the big agriculture lobby back in the 1960s, fobbed off on the public as somehow essential to ending hunger. Today, food is cheaper and more plentiful than ever, and American waistbands reveal this fact. People talk about the plight of the hungry, but it is mostly a myth. We are the most stuffed society in the history of the world.

Yet even now, 47.5 million people are receiving food stamps, with an average benefit of $125 per month. That’s 15% of the population. That’s some pretty serious grocery purchases there. Big Ag is very happy about this. Must be nice to a have a pool of guaranteed customers who live off others.
Vedder makes the point that a major reason people work is to eat. If the eating part is guaranteed, why bother working?

With disability benefits — the government program most famous for massive fraud and abuse — it’s the same story. Back in 1990, only 3 million people took checks. Today, that number is through the roof, so much that almost 8.6 million people get checks that provide the equivalent of a full-time income. And this has happened at a time when medical technology is better than ever at dealing with real disability.

Next comes the whole student racket. Back in 2000, not even 3.9 million young people received Pell Grant awards to go to college. Today, the number is approaching 10 million. Going to school is a great way to avoid having to work. Hey, but maybe all these desk sitters are absorbing fabulous information that they will soon spring on society in the form of dazzling innovations and productivity, and we will look back and say, wow, that was worth it after all.

OK, stop laughing.

Next comes unemployment. In the past, it was never possible to stay unemployed for a full year and still receive benefits. Now it is normal. Congress just keeps extending benefits, probably out of fear that if these people are pushed into the labor market, unemployment will go up and wages will fall and there will be a revolution. It’s literally the case that government is paying millions of people to shut up and stay at home.
What are we to make of Vedder’s picture of the workforce? One gains the image of many millions of people sitting at home drawing checks, pretending to be students, stuffing their faces with tax-funded potato chips, and otherwise just living it up. If that’s really true, that’s not really suffering, is it? The data reported above indicate no real disaster, except for those of us footing the bill.

I actually don’t think this is entirely the right way to look at it. The reality is that the labor market is broken today because it is not really a market in any normal sense. Many people are shut out due to more substantial problems. People are saddled with debt, terrified to lower their wage expectations, and completely shut out of a system that doesn’t seem to accommodate the old expectations.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

how much can kids learn by themselves?

technologyreview | Have you watched a two-year-old use an iPad?

The meteoric rise of modern instructionism, including the misguided belief that there is a perfect way to teach something, is alarming because of the unlimited support it is getting from Bill Gates, Google, and my own institution, MIT. While Khan Academy is charming and brilliantly nonprofit, Salman Khan cannot seriously believe that he and a small number of colleagues can produce all the material, even if we did limit our learning to being instructed.

One Laptop per Child (OLPC), a nonprofit association that I founded, launched the so-called XO Laptop in 2005 with built-in programming languages. There are 2.5 million XOs in the hand of kids today in 40 countries, with 25 languages in use. In Uruguay, where all 400,000 kids have an XO laptop, knowing how to program is required in schools. The same is now true in Estonia. In Ethiopia, 5,000 kids are writing computer programs in the language Squeak.

OLPC represents about $1 billion in sales and deployment worldwide since 2005—it’s bigger than most people think. What have we learned? We learned that kids learn a great deal by themselves. The question is, how much?

To answer that question, we have now turned our attention to the 100 million kids worldwide who do not go to first grade. Most of them do not go because there is no school, there are no literate adults in their village, and there is little promise of that changing soon. My colleagues and I have started an experiment in two such villages, asking a simple question: can children learn how to read on their own?

To answer this question, we have delivered fully loaded tablets to two villages in Ethiopia, one per child, with no instruction or instructional material whatsoever. The tablets come with a solar panel, because there is no electricity in these villages. They contain modestly curated games, books, cartoons, movies—just to see what the kids will play with and whether they can figure out how to use them. We then monitor each tablet remotely, in this case by swapping SIM cards weekly (through a process affectionately known as sneakernet).

Within minutes of arrival, the tablets were unboxed and turned on by the kids themselves. After the first week, on average, 47 apps were used per day. After week two, the kids were playing games to race each other in saying the ABCs.

Will this lead to deep reading? The votes are still out. But if a child can learn to read, he or she can read to learn. If these kids are reading at, say, a third-grade level in 18 months, that would be transformational.
Whether this can happen has yet to be proved. But not only will the results tell us how to reach the rest of the 100 million kids much faster than we can by building schools and training teachers, they should also tell us a great deal about learning in the developed world. If kids in Ethiopia learn to read without school, what does that say about kids in New York City who do not learn even with school?

Barriers to Better K-12 Math Education: Poverty and the Inadequate Undergraduate Education of Prospective K-12 Teachers

aera-l | ". . . . .why do we as mathematics educators - I'm talking about the research community and us higher education types - focus so much our attention on the secondary years? If I was building a fourteen story high rise and skimped on the first six floors, things would be problematic indeed. Is it because we think secondary teachers can fix students who struggle through those six years? Is it because we don't really care and it is survival of the 'fittest'? Is it because we have, in a sense, dumbed down the elementary school mathematics education curriculum to the extent that elementary school teachers, in their collegiate years, come away unsure and ill prepared and we, in effectively a vicious cycle, write them off?"

Ed Wall's complaint about the "dumbed down the elementary school mathematics education curriculum" is on target, but not IMHO because "the research community and us higher education types - focus so much our attention on the secondary years." Instead it's primarily because of poverty in the U.S. - see e.g. "The Overriding Influence of Poverty on Children's Educational Achievement" [Hake (2011a)]; and secondarily because U.S. Mathematics Education Researchers (MER's) have not devoted enough attention to the postsecondary years

Do We Learn All the Math We Need For Ordinary Life Before 5th Grade?

aera-l | "Although about 70% of students entering the non-calculus-based Indiana University (IU) courses . . . . have completed a university calculus course, almost NONE SEEMS TO HAVE THE FOGGIEST NOTION OF THE GRAPHICAL MEANING OF A DERIVATIVE OR INTEGRAL. Similar calculus illiteracy is commonly found among students in calculus-based introductory physics courses at IU. In my judgment, these calculus interpretations are essential to the crucial OPERATIONAL DEFINITIONS of instantaneous position, velocity, and acceleration: the term 'substantive non-calculus-based mechanics course' is an oxymoron."

Regarding Guy Brandenberg's recommendation of Berlinski's (1997) "Tour of the Calculus," The publisher of that book states: "Were it not for the calculus, mathematicians would have no way to describe the acceleration of a motorcycle or the effect of gravity on thrown balls and distant planets, or to prove that a man could cross a room and eventually touch the opposite wall. Just how calculus makes these things possible and in doing so finds a correspondence between real numbers and the real world is the subject of this dazzling book by a writer of extraordinary clarity and stylistic brio. Even as he initiates us into the mysteries of real numbers, functions, and limits, Berlinski explores the furthest implications of his subject, revealing how the calculus reconciles the precision of numbers with the fluidity of the changing universe."

Compare the above with to Susan Ohanian's "I never seemed to gain any insight from this exercise. . . . [[of solving calculus problems in Courant's text]]. . . , which struck me then as plodding and now I don't have any idea what any of it means."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

two thousand first signer for a space odyssey

Fist tap John Kurman


This issue available to read for free online

facebook's scary engine of unintended self-disclosures...,

Facebook's scary engine of unintended self-disclosure.
Fist tap Dale.

is the indispensable cognitive object not so indispensable after all?

abcnews | A book-less library.

It sounds like an oxymoron, but come the fall of 2013, San Antonio's Bexar County is going to be home to the BiblioTech, the country's first book-less public library. Of course, there will be books -- just e-books, not physical books.

The 4,989 square-foot space will look like a modern library, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who was inspired to pursue the project after reading Walter Issacson's Steve Jobs biography, told ABC News. (A glance at the photo shows that its inspired by Apple in more ways than one.) Instead of aisles and aisles of books there will be aisles and aisles of computers and gadgets. At the start, it will have 100 e-readers available for circulation and to take out, and then 50 e-readers for children, 50 computer stations, 25 laptops and 25 tablets on site.

"We all know the world is changing. I am an avid book reader. I read hardcover books, I have a collection of 1,000 first editions. Books are important to me," Wolff told ABC News. "But the world is changing and this is the best, most effective way to bring services to our community."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

collective security club membership certification?

Excerpted from "The World Until Yesterday"
salon | Virtually all religions hold some supernatural beliefs specific to that religion. That is, a religion’s adherents firmly hold beliefs that conflict with and cannot be confirmed by our experience of the natural world, and that appear implausible to people other than the adherents of that particular religion. For example, Hindus believe there is a monkey god who travels thousands of kilometers at a single somersault. Catholics believe a woman who had not yet been fertilized by a man became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, whose body eventually after his death was carried up to a place called heaven, often represented as being located in the sky. The Jewish faith believes that a supernatural being gave a chunk of desert in the Middle East to the being’s favorite people, as their home forever.

No other feature of religion creates a bigger divide between religious believers and modern secular people, to whom it staggers the imagination that anyone could entertain such beliefs. No other feature creates a bigger divide between believers in two different religions, each of whom firmly believes its own beliefs but considers it absurd that the other religion’s believers believe those other beliefs. Why, nevertheless, are supernatural beliefs such universal features of religions?

One suggested answer is that supernatural religious beliefs are just ignorant superstitions similar to supernatural non-religious beliefs, illustrating only that the human brain is capable of deceiving itself into believing anything. We can all think of supernatural non-religious beliefs whose implausibility should be obvious. Many Europeans believe that the sight of a black cat heralds misfortune, but black cats are actually rather common. By repeatedly tallying whether or not a one-hour period following or not following your observation of a black cat in an area with high cat density did or did not bring you some specified level of misfortune, and by applying the statistician’s chi-square test, you can quickly convince yourself that the black-cat hypothesis has a probability of less than 1 out of 1,000 of being true. Some groups of New Guinea lowlanders believe that hearing the beautiful whistled song of the little bird known as the Lowland Mouse-Babbler warns us that someone has recently died, but this bird is among the most common species and most frequent singers in New Guinea lowland forests. If the belief about it were true, the local human population would be dead within a few days, yet my New Guinea friends are as convinced of the babbler’s ill omens as Europeans are afraid of black cats.

A more striking non-religious superstition, because people today still invest money in their mistaken belief, is water-witching, also variously known as dowsing, divining, or rhabdomancy. Already established in Europe over 400 years ago and possibly also reported before the time of Christ, this belief maintains that rotation of a forked twig carried by a practitioner called a dowser, walking over terrain whose owner wants to know where to dig a well, indicates the location and sometimes the depth of an invisible underground water supply. Control tests show that dowsers’ success at locating underground water is no better than random, but many land-owners in areas where geologists also have difficulty at predicting the location of underground water nevertheless pay dowsers for their search, then spend even more money to dig a well unlikely to yield water. The psychology behind such beliefs is that we remember the hits and forget the misses, so that whatever superstitious beliefs we hold become confirmed by even the flimsiest of evidence through the remembered hits. Such anecdotal thinking comes naturally; controlled experiments and scientific methods to distinguish between random and non-random phenomena are counterintuitive and unnatural, and thus not found in traditional societies.

Perhaps, then, religious superstitions are just further evidence of human fallibility, like belief in black cats and other non-religious superstitions. But it’s suspicious that costly commitments to belief in implausible-to-others religious superstitions are such a consistent feature of religions. The investments that many religious adherents make to their beliefs are far more burdensome, time-consuming, and heavy in consequences to them than are the actions of black-cat-phobics in occasionally avoiding black cats. This suggests that religious superstitions aren’t just an accidental by-product of human reasoning powers but possess some deeper meaning. What might that be?

beijing hardens subways for nuclear attack

freebeacon | China recently upgraded its subway system in Beijing and revealed that its mass transit was hardened to withstand nuclear blasts or chemical gas attacks in a future war, state-run media reported last month.

The disclosure of the military aspects of the underground rail system followed completion and opening of a new subway line in the Chinese capital Dec. 30, along with the extension of several other lines. The subway upgrade is part of an effort to ease gridlocked traffic in the city of 20 million people.

According to Chinese civil defense officials quoted Dec. 5 in the Global Times, a newspaper published by the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, the subway can “withstand a nuclear or poison gas attack.”

A U.S. official said the disclosure of the subway’s capabilities to withstand attack is unusual since it highlights Beijing’s strategic nuclear modernization program, something normally kept secret from state-controlled media. The strategic nuclear buildup includes the expansion of offensive nuclear forces, missile defenses, and anti-satellite arms.

China is building new long-range mobile missiles, including the DF-41, and plans to deploy up to eight new ballistic missile submarines. Reports from Asia indicate the Chinese military is also planning to build new long-range strategic nuclear bombers.

Russia too is expanding its nuclear forces with new submarines and missiles. Moscow announced last year that it is also constructing some 5,000 underground bomb shelters in Russia’s capital in anticipation of a possible future nuclear conflict.

By contrast, the U.S. government has done little to bolster civil defense measures, preferring the largely outdated concept of mutual assured destruction that leaves populations vulnerable to attack and building only limited missile defenses that the Obama administration has said are not designed to counter Chinese or Russian nuclear strikes.

The Obama administration instead is seeking deep cuts in U.S. nuclear forces as part of President Barack Obama’s policy of seeking the elimination of all nuclear arms.

why is china stockpiling rice and other commodities?

joemiller | Yesterday, it was reported that China – not currently suffering from any food shortages – is amassing rice stockpiles. This past year, the country mysteriously imported four times the rice over 2011 purchases:
United Nations agricultural experts are reporting confusion, after figures show that China imported 2.6 million tons of rice in 2012, substantially more than a four-fold increase over the 575,000 tons imported in 2011. The confusion stems from the fact that there is no obvious reason for vastly increased imports, since there has been no rice shortage in China. The speculation is that Chinese importers are taking advantage of low international prices, but all that means is that China’s own vast supplies of domestically grown rice are being stockpiled. Why would China suddenly be stockpiling millions of tons of rice for no apparent reason? Perhaps it’s related to China’s aggressive military buildup and war preparations in the Pacific and in central Asia.
Yesterday’s revelation follows reports over the past several years of the Chinese amassing commodities in warehouses through out the nation. For example, Reuters reported last year that
At Qingdao Port, home to one of China’s largest iron ore terminals, hundreds of mounds of iron ore, each as tall as a three-storey building, spill over into an area signposted “grains storage” and almost to the street.
Further south, some bonded warehouses in Shanghai are using carparks to store swollen copper stockpiles – another unusual phenomenon that bodes ill for global metal prices and raises questions about China’s ability to sustain its economic growth as the rest of the world falters.
Several months ago, at least one analyst speculated that a commodities buying spree involving 300,000 tons of metals in another Chinese province was motivated by an attempt to keep local smelters running, thereby ensuring continued tax revenues to government. But that doesn’t explain the rice-buying.

What we do know is that the world may be headed – led by the United States – toward a period of significant inflation if sovereign debt crises lead to additional “quantitative easing” and other expansions of the monetary supply.

In other words, China may be hedging its bets. Better to buy commodities than U.S. Treasuries that may ultimately be worth pennies on the dollar.

Monday, January 14, 2013

the world until yesterday

Guardian | Anthropology was born of an evolutionary model by which 19th-century men such as Lewis Henry Morgan and Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest", envisioned societies as stages in a linear progression of advancement, leading, as they conceived it, from savagery to barbarism to civilisation.

Each of these phases of human development was correlated, in their calculations, with specific technological innovations. Fire, ceramics and the bow and arrow marked the savage. With the domestication of animals, the rise of agriculture and the invention of metalworking, we entered the level of the barbarian. Literacy implied civilisation. Every society, it was assumed, progressed through the same stages, in the same sequence. The cultures of the world came to be seen as a living museum in which individual societies represented evolutionary moments captured and mired in time, each one a stage in the imagined ascent to civilisation. It followed with the certainty of Victorian rectitude that advanced societies had an obligation to assist the backward, to civilise the savage, a moral duty that played well into the needs of empire.

Oddly, it took a physicist to challenge and in time shatter this orthodoxy. Frans Boas, trained in Germany a generation before Einstein, was interested in the optical properties of water, and throughout his doctoral studies his research was plagued by problems of perception, which came to fascinate him. In the eclectic way of the best of 19th-century scholarship, inquiry in one academic field led to another. What was the nature of knowing? Who decided what was to be known? Boas became interested in how seemingly random beliefs and convictions converged into this thing called "culture", a term that he was the first to promote as an organising principle, a useful point of intellectual departure.

Far ahead of his time, Boas believed that every distinct social community, every cluster of people distinguished by language or adaptive inclination, was a unique facet of the human legacy and its promise. He became the first scholar to explore in a truly open and neutral manner how human social perceptions are formed, and how members of distinct societies become conditioned to see and interpret the world. Boas insisted that his students conduct research in the language of place, and participate fully in the daily lives of the people they studied. Every effort should be made to understand the perspective of the other, to learn the way they perceive the world, the very nature of their thoughts. Such an approach demanded, by definition, a willingness to step back from the constraints of one's own prejudices and preconceptions.

This ethnographic orientation, distilled in the concept of cultural relativism, was a radical departure, as unique in its way as was Einstein's theory of relativity in the field of physics. It became the central revelation of modern anthropology. Cultures do not exist in some absolute sense; each is but a model of reality, the consequence of one particular set of intellectual and spiritual choices made, however successfully, many generations before. The goal of the anthropologist is not just to decipher the exotic other, but also to embrace the wonder of distinct and novel cultural possibilities, that we might enrich our understanding of human nature and just possibly liberate ourselves from cultural myopia, the parochial tyranny that has haunted humanity since the birth of memory.

Boas lived to see his ideas inform much of social anthropology, but it wasn't until more than half a century after his death that modern genetics proved his intuitions to be true. Studies of the human genome leave no doubt that the genetic endowment of humanity is a single continuum. Race is a fiction. We are all cut from the same genetic cloth, all descendants of a relatively small number of individuals who walked out of Africa some 60,000 years ago and then, on a journey that lasted 40,000 years, some 2,500 generations carried the human spirit to every corner of the habitable world.

It follows, as Boas believed, that all cultures share essentially the same mental acuity, the same raw genius. Whether this intellectual capacity and potential is exercised in stunning works of technological innovation, as has been the great historical achievement of the West, or through the untangling of the complex threads of memory inherent in a myth – a primary concern, for example, of the Aborigines of Australia – is simply a matter of choice and orientation, adaptive insights and cultural priorities. There is no hierarchy of progress in the history of culture, no Social Darwinian ladder to success. The Victorian notion of the savage and the civilised, with European industrial society sitting proudly at the apex of a pyramid of advancement that widens at the base to the so-called primitives of the world, has been thoroughly discredited – indeed, scientifically ridiculed for the racial and colonial notion that it was, as relevant to our lives today as the belief of 19th-century clergymen that the Earth was but 6,000 years old.

the ghost in the machine?

Guardian | The origin of life is one of the great outstanding mysteries of science. How did a non-living mixture of molecules transform themselves into a living organism? What sort of mechanism might be responsible?
A century and a half ago, Charles Darwin produced a convincing explanation for how life on Earth evolved from simple microbes to the complexity of the biosphere today, but he pointedly left out how life got started in the first place. "One might as well speculate about the origin of matter," he quipped. But that did not stop generations of scientists from investigating the puzzle.

The problem is, whatever took place happened billions of years ago, and all traces long ago vanished – indeed, we may never have a blow-by-blow account of the process. Nevertheless we may still be able to answer the simpler question of whether life's origin was a freak series of events that happened only once, or an almost inevitable outcome of intrinsically life-friendly laws. On that answer hinges the question of whether we are alone in the universe, or whether our galaxy and others are teeming with life.

Most research into life's murky origin has been carried out by chemists. They've tried a variety of approaches in their attempts to recreate the first steps on the road to life, but little progress has been made. Perhaps that is no surprise, given life's stupendous complexity. Even the simplest bacterium is incomparably more complicated than any chemical brew ever studied.

But a more fundamental obstacle stands in the way of attempts to cook up life in the chemistry lab. The language of chemistry simply does not mesh with that of biology. Chemistry is about substances and how they react, whereas biology appeals to concepts such as information and organisation. Informational narratives permeate biology. DNA is described as a genetic "database", containing "instructions" on how to build an organism. The genetic "code" has to be "transcribed" and "translated" before it can act. And so on. If we cast the problem of life's origin in computer jargon, attempts at chemical synthesis focus exclusively on the hardware – the chemical substrate of life – but ignore the software – the informational aspect. To explain how life began we need to understand how its unique management of information came about.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

the secret history of the gun control agenda in america



theatlantic | The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there’s no resolution in sight.

The eighth-grade students gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must
take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.
Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.