7. Old Christmas Traditions; New Christmas Toys

Dec-20-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: xkcd looks at popular Christmas songs, and finds it’s all the Boomers’ fault. Brilliant research. Meanwhile David Sedaris has a very funny 15 minute monologue on the Netherlands strange traditions. A wonderful site (Thanks, Wilder!) called Know Your Meme will let you look up the latest trends and their history (look at what they do with the hip new phrase “yolo” for further enlightenment!) And David Pogue lets you find new gadgets under $100 to buy yourself  your beloveds, if you’re still searching.

* Xmas Tradition xkcd

* Six to Eight Black Men David Sedaris  YouTube

* December 21st, 2012  Know Your Meme

 Learn about why some people have been predicting the end of the world on 12/21/12 for over 56 years, and who the authors were who popularized the story.

* David Pogue’s 12 Days of Gadgets

Why can’t somebody invent a little beeper for your key ring? If you walk away from your smartphone (iPhone, Android phone or BlackBerry), your key chain beeps to alert you.

And it could work the other way, too. If you leave your keys somewhere, the phone beeps to alert you as you walk away!

That’s exactly the point of the Cirago iAlert Tag



4. Religious News

Oct-26-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: A fairly wide topic, but the pieces are fascinating. Shalom Rav looks at the fallout over 15 Protestant leaders not supporting aid to Israel; a prominent Catholic theologian calls for a revolt against Roman Catholicism’s hierarchical structure, and there’s interesting evidence that human beings are born believing in an afterlife. And, in an effort to leave no feather unruffled (the bird doesn’t like this metaphor) Robert Fulford speaks out in praise of blasphemy. (There’s a fine old relevant Wiccan saying, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Just remember, no one likes an asshole.”)

* More Fallout from the Protestant Leaders’ Letter on Aid to Israel by Rabbi Brant Rosen

The first comes from the Daily Beast’s Andrew Sullivan:

It seems to me that aid of all kinds should have basic human rights strings attached to it. I would have suspended all aid to Israel when it refused to stop its settlement policy on the West Bank, but that’s a little like being in favor of an immediate space station on Mars, given the Greater Israel lobby’s grip on Congress.

So let me just reiterate something that has no chance of ever happening, but I might as well put on the record: we should treat Israel as any other recipient of US aid. If a country is occupying and settling land conquered through war, if it’s treating a minority population with inhumanity, the US should stand up for Western values. It should not single Israel out; but we have to stop treating Israel as the exception to every other US foreign policy rule.

Rev. Jim C. Wall (Contributing Editor of the “Christian Century”) in an unflinchingly honest blog post:

To begin with, the 15 church leaders are heavyweights, top officials for their denominations. They include the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, not including the Catholic Council of Bishops.

These are not just leaders of a few religious groups, which a Protestant version of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs could corral into an interfaith dialogue meeting. These are the major-domos of American Protestantism, which raises the question of what exactly gives the JCPA and its scattered letter signers, these “outraged Jewish groups” as the Times calls them,  the right to claim religious standing in this conversation. Many of these Jewish groups are secular and function as part of the Israel Lobby, a collection of lobbying organizations that have Israel, not Judaism as their primary client…

* Catholic Theologian Preaches Revolution To End Church’s ‘Authoritarian’ Rule  The Guardian

One of the world’s most prominent Catholic theologians has called for a revolution from below to unseat the pope and force radical reform at the Vatican. Hans Küng is appealing to priests and churchgoers to confront the Catholic hierarchy, which he says is corrupt, lacking credibility and apathetic to the real concerns of the church’s members….

“The only way for reform is from the bottom up,” said Küng, 84, who is a priest. “The priests and others in positions of responsibility need to stop being so subservient, to organize themselves and say that there are certain things that they simply will not put up with anymore.”

* Believe in an Afterlife Comes Hardwired in Humans The Atlantic

In a significant study the psychologists Jesse Bering, of the University of Arkansas, and David Bjorklund, of Florida Atlantic University, told young children a story about an alligator and a mouse, complete with a series of pictures, that ended in tragedy: “Uh oh! Mr. Alligator sees Brown Mouse and is coming to get him!” [The children were shown a picture of the alligator eating the mouse.] “Well, it looks like Brown Mouse got eaten by Mr. Alligator. Brown Mouse is not alive anymore.”

The experimenters asked the children a set of questions about the mouse’s biological functioning—such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, will he ever need to go to the bathroom? Do his ears still work? Does his brain still work?”—and about the mouse’s mental functioning, such as “Now that the mouse is no longer alive, is he still hungry? Is he thinking about the alligator? Does he still want to go home?”

As predicted, when asked about biological properties, the children appreciated the effects of death: no need for bathroom breaks; the ears don’t work, and neither does the brain. The mouse’s body is gone. But when asked about the psychological properties, more than half the children said that these would continue: the dead mouse can feel hunger, think thoughts, and have desires. The soul survives. Andchildren believe this more than adults do, suggesting that although we have to learn which specific afterlife people in our culture believe in (heaven, reincarnation, a spirit world, and so on), the notion that life after death is possible is not learned at all. It is a by-product of how we naturally think about the world.

* In Praise of Blasphemy Robert Fulford National Post

…We should be praising blasphemy, in fact proclaiming its many virtues, rather than sheepishly apologizing for it as a necessary evil we must reluctantly tolerate because of our belief in the freedom of speech.

Bernard Shaw may have been overstating the case when he gave to one of his characters the pronouncement that “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” But not by much.

Blasphemy, the challenge of official doctrine, helped create freedom over the centuries — and still needs to create it in many countries, such as Pakistan and Indonesia. Blasphemy is a corollary to freedom of religion. It expresses the right to have no religion, in fact the right to disdain all religions.

The creators of Protestant Christianity were all denounced for blasphemy; so were generations of scholars in a dozen countries who campaigned for the critical examination of the Bible. Without the courage of those who were called blasphemers there would be only one acceptable religion in every country today. Certainly that’s how the royal and church authorities of the 18th century saw the future. As late as 1766, as the Enlightenment was proceeding, a freethinking 20-year-old Frenchman, Jean-François de la Barre, was tortured for blasphemy. He had his tongue cut out before he was burned to death, his copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary thrown on the fire with him. Today there’s a statue of him in Montmartre, as the last person executed for blasphemy in France.



4. Perspectives on the Middle East

Oct-12-2012 | Comments Off

Bird’s Eye: Three Middle East pieces, all on conflict. Rabbi Rosen, familiar to Tikkunistas, has a book out on his struggle to reconcile Judaism and Zionism. In Afghanistan, the government is falling even before NATO withdraws. And War Tard puts on his unique persona to give a fascinating answer to the question of would happen if Turkey and Syria do go to war.

* My “Wrestling” Interview with Truthout Rabbi Brant Rosen

Mark Karlin: …When you talk of your Palestinian solidarity, some critics accuse you of abandoning Jewish solidarity and not sufficiently condemning those Arab extremists who are in the “destroy Israel” industry as much as Netanyahu is in the suppression-of-Palestinian-rights industry. How do you respond?

Brant Rosen: At the end of my book (“Wrestling in the Daylight”) I addressed this issue directly

As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.

For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.

In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.

…Does my solidarity mean that I agree with everything that is done by Palestinians in furtherance of their liberation? Of course not. When you stand in solidarity with a people, it is inevitable that you will find yourself standing next to some people whose actions and beliefs you will find odious. That comes with the territory when you choose to take a stand. And I might add that this is the case for liberal Zionists who stand in solidarity with Israel as well.

* Afghanistan ‘Sliding Towards Collapse’  The Guardian

Afghanistan is increasingly violent, its police and army will struggle to secure the country when foreign forces leave, and it faces a corrupt presidential election in 2014, the Red Cross and a think tank have warned, .

At stake is the limited and fragile stability that has insulated Kabul and most other urban areas from over a decade of escalating aggression since the US invasion. There are growing fears the country could face a full-blown civil war after Nato troops hand over security to the Afghan police and army, and leave.

“Time is running out,” warned Candace Rondeaux, of the International Crisis Group think tank. “Steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse.”

“Plagued by factionalism and corruption, Afghanistan is far from ready to assume responsibility for security when US and Nato forces withdraw in 2014,” she said in a blunt report about the handover from coalition to Afghan troops.

* Syria: Fantasy war in the desert! War Tard

The First Casualty of War is Photoshop

This Western portrayal of the rebels as oppressed freedom fighters fits with the whole Arab Spring narrative the West likes to push whenever there’s energy in the vicinity. Democracy and all that other funny talk. These days, democracy is just a feel good word the suits on TV say when they want you to know who the good guys are….

For the Turks, losing an F-4 Phantom wasn’t exactly a major loss militarily. Sure, it’s a bummer the pilot didn’t bail out but Phantom’s are basically Vietnam era flying double decker buses with the maneuverability of a cement truck in rush hour traffic. That Turk pilot never saw it coming and was probably sucker punched by one of Syria’s Russian supplied S-300 SAMs (one reason NATO doesn’t fancy a rerun of Libya over Syria). One thing F-4s always had going for them even in Vietnam, despite their lack of cannon was a pair of serious get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here engines that allowed the Phantom to run from any engagement it didn’t fancy the odds in. To my mind, the Turkish F-4 incursion into Syrian airspace was a move designed to get the Syrians to turn their air defines radars on so they could be pinpointed for NATO airstrikes later on in the event Assad doesn’t fall in a timely manner.

…But this war is fun to think about.

   The tank on tank action would pit Turkey’s modern arsenal of German supplied Leapord 1s and 2A4s  against Syria’s aging but more numerous Soviet era T-72s, T-62Ms and believe it or not, T-55s (the most produced tank in history) but completely out of date. That’d make for a fun turkey shoot in the desert. Add in total Turk air superiority by way of US supplied F-16s and naval dominance off the coast and this war that’ll never happen becomes even less fantastic….



6. LDS, LSD, & DSL

Oct-05-2012 | Comments (1)

Bird’s Eye: Don’t know about his eye, but the bird’s beak curls with scorn, “These have nothing in common but their letters. This is pointless.” Your crow is not a postmodern creature, nor has he been sitting on two excellent stories for too long. But he may still be right.

* Mormonism’s History and Meanings Adam Gopnik The New Yorker

Stereotypes and pigeonholes can, in a stable multiethnic society, act as sanctuaries as much as cells. In the heyday of urban ethnic immigration, even anti-Semites allowed that Jews were good at selling dry goods and producing movies, just as Irish Catholics were known to keep a good saloon and walk a decent beat. The ugliest of these pigeonholes suggests a comparative advantage, anyway: to be thought to tap-dance well implies that you can, at least, do that….

A lot of this is standard minority-faith stuff, including the perceived power of popular entertainment to validate a whole group. (Recall how Nathan Zuckerman’s father swells with pride when the Andrews Sisters sing “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.”) It’s only later in the cycle of integration that the group comes banging on the door—as Jews and Catholics did, in the nineteen-fifties—for more general admission, not as cardboard stage-ethnic types good at one or two things but as people available to do everything, just like the ruling Wasps. That’s when everyone starts asking what it is these people really believe. So, right on cue, we find ourselves in the midst of an efflorescence of Mormon jokes, Mormon books, a Mormon-themed Broadway show—and four new scholarly books….

LSD research study, dosed scientists achieved creative breakthroughs Boing Boing

A wonderful long-read at The Heretic by Tim Doody, on 1966 LSD studies that took place as the US government’s position on acid research shifted from “sure, go ahead, scientists” to “nope, this is now banned.” The series of tests described in the article took place at the International Foundation for Advanced Study (IFAS) in Menlo Park, CA. Scientists from Stanford, Hewlett-Packard, and elsewhere participated. The volunteers each brought “three highly technical problems from their respective fields that they’d been unable to solve for at least several months.” They took “a relatively low dose of acid,” 100 micrograms, to enhance their creativity.

…In surveys administered shortly after their LSD-enhanced creativity sessions, the study volunteers, some of the best and brightest in their fields, sounded like tripped-out neopagans at a backwoods gathering. Their minds, they said, had blossomed and contracted with the universe. They’d beheld irregular but clean geometrical patterns glistening into infinity, felt a rightness before solutions manifested, and even shapeshifter into relevant formulas, concepts, and raw materials.

… But here’s the clincher. After their 5HT2A neural receptors simmered down, they remained firm: LSD absolutely had helped them solve their complex, seemingly intractable problems. And the establishment agreed. The 26 men unleashed a slew of widely embraced innovations shortly after their LSD experiences, including a mathematical theorem for NOR gate circuits, a conceptual model of a photon, a linear electron accelerator beam-steering device, a new design for the vibratory microtome, a technical improvement of the magnetic tape recorder, blueprints for a private residency and an arts-and-crafts shopping plaza, and a space probe experiment designed to measure solar properties. Fadiman and his colleagues published these jaw-dropping results and closed shop.

* DSLThe Cost of Bandwidth: Canada versus the World Infographic



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