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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Churches, germs, and technology

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

Who says that the Catholic church frowns on innovation?

A number of churches are installing a little device from an Italian inventor, in the hopes of cutting down on the spread of disease.

It functions like an automatic soap dispenser in public lavatories – a churchgoer waves his or her hand under a sensor and the machine spurts out holy water.

That’s right. A touchless holy water dispenser. And they’re being installed to stop the spread of disease that would be passed on by the old-fashioned communal bowls or sponges of the blessed fluid.

No word on where the Vatican stands on these changes.

Read the article from the Telegraph.

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Animals, self-interest, rewards, and fairness

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

Interesting research about how animals seem to have a sense of fair play.

We would offer a pebble to one of the pair and then hold out a hand so that the monkey could give it back in exchange for a cucumber slice. Alternating between them, both monkeys would happily barter 25 times in a row. The atmosphere turned sour, however, as soon as we introduced inequity. One monkey would still receive cucumber, while its partner now enjoyed grapes, a favourite food with monkeys. While that monkey had no problem, the one still working for cucumber would lose interest. Worse, seeing its partner with juicy grapes, this monkey would get agitated, hurl the pebbles out of the test chamber, sometimes even those measly cucumber slices. A food normally devoured with gusto had become distasteful.

Discarding perfectly fine food simply because someone else is getting something better resembles the way we reject an unfair share of money or grumble about an agreed-upon rate of pay. Where do these reactions come from? They probably evolved in the service of cooperation. Caring about what others get may seem petty and irrational, but in the long run it keeps one from being taken advantage of.

And if the system of rewards gets far enough out of balance, the animals getting the poorer rewards may make life tough for the critter with the better rewards. While acting in self-interest is the default, the tendency can be overridden in cases where there might be repercussions from greed. In other words, spreading the wealth, at least a little bit, might be advantageous and part of the make-up of social animals. The concept is at least interesting enough for further research.

Read the article from New Scientist.

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Large Hadron Collider having trouble again

Posted by c. wagner on November 12, 2009

Too funny.

The Large Hadron Collider, the giant atom-smasher that’s supposed to destroy the world, was shut down this week after overheating.

The cause?

A bird dropped some baguette onto an exposed heat vent.

Read the story from CNN.

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Texas execution and the Bible

Posted by c. wagner on November 10, 2009

Texas (“Famous for Executions”) killed another man November 5. I’m not bringing this up because there was evidence the guy was innocent (haven’t heard of any) or because I have a serious problem with the death penalty (I do), but because of how jurors arrived at his sentence. The jury consulted the Bible to choose the sentence for the convicted murderer.

And what passage out of all of the Bible did the jurors close in on? Not the bit about “turning the other cheek”. Not the bit about “forgiving seven times 70 times”. Not the bit about casting the first stone. Nooooo. They picked Numbers chapter 35, verse 16:

And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.

That’s right. They chose the death penalty, not necessarily because of the nastiness of the crime (a shooting during a burglary), but because a line of the Bible said it was the fitting penalty for killing someone with “an instrument of iron”, like a gun.

One of the jurors was interviewed later by a Danish reporter.

He told the journalist he believed “the Bible is truth from page 1 to the last page”, and that if civil law and biblical law were in conflict, the latter should prevail. He said that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible, “I would have left the courtroom”.

I’m officially terrified. Where is my separation of church and state? Why didn’t this get thrown out on appeal? Is there a loophole here that I don’t know about?

I’m also glad that I don’t live in Texas. Of course, I was already glad about that.

Read the article from Amnesty International.

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Did she have a key?

Posted by c. wagner on November 9, 2009

Some folks are determined not to go to jail.

A drunk woman in Ohio managed to get out of handcuffs three times after cops picked her up playing in traffic. They finally had to tase her to get her to the police station.

She could start an act as an escape artist. And earn some beer money.

Read the (very short) article from the local TV station.

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This female rules.

Posted by c. wagner on November 7, 2009

I’m breaking my policy of not posting on the weekend for this bit of news.

Today, a racehorse earned her place in history.

Her name is Zenyatta.

Fourteen races.

Fourteen wins.

And the fourteenth was the most impressive.

Facing males for the first time, she was dead last of 12 for almost a mile. Even the racecaller thought she had no chance for victory.

With a quarter of a mile to run, she was second last and jockey Mike Smith steered her to the rail. She sped past five horses in the blink of an eye.

With an eighth of a mile to go, she was three paths off the rail, behind a wall of six horses and still gaining ground. Smith was trying to find a clear path to the wire.

With a sixteenth of a mile to run, she was in the middle of the track, even with with the leaders and gaining rapidly. Smith was riding as if his life depended on it.

A handful of yards from the wire, Zenyatta was in front and drawing away. She pricked her ears, looking for more horses to pass.

One of the all-time greats.

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Do I really need to talk about dowsing?

Posted by c. wagner on November 6, 2009

I’ll keep it simple for those who haven’t heard it before.

Dowsing. Does. Not. Work.

Ever.

Dowsing has been tested dozens of times by scientists under controlled conditions and  it’s failed spectacularly every time.

Which makes it extra disturbing that right now it’s being used for something vitally important. Bomb detection in Baghdad. That’s right, the Iraqi army is using dowsing rods to “search” cars for explosives. Even though the U.S. Army, that bastion of reason, has said the rod isn’t worth the metal and plastic it’s made of.

Still, the Iraqi government has purchased more than 1,500 of the devices, known as the ADE 651, at costs from $16,500 to $60,000 each. Nearly every police checkpoint, and many Iraqi military checkpoints, have one of the devices, which are now normally used in place of physical inspections of vehicles.

This can’t end well, can it?

The suicide bombers who managed to get two tons of explosives into downtown Baghdad on Oct. 25, killing 155 people and destroying three ministries, had to pass at least one checkpoint where the ADE 651 is typically deployed, judging from surveillance videos released by Baghdad’s provincial governor.

Nope. Not good at all.

Read the full article at the New York Times.

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Body shape is a crime now?

Posted by c. wagner on November 6, 2009

I’m sorry, but stories like this piss me off.

No. I’m not sorry. Not sorry at all.

This is cruel and unusual crap. Especially coming from what’s supposed to be a modern, enlightened government.

Social workers have moved to take into care a baby born to an obese mother.

The mother — who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the children — gave birth by Caesarean section last week in a Dundee hospital but was told within 24 hours that she would not be allowed to keep the baby.

She has already had the youngest of her six children, aged 3 and 4, removed from her care because social workers feared that they were at risk of becoming obese. The 40-year-old mother weighed 23 stone [322 pounds] before falling pregnant.

The UK has been pulling this sort of shit for years and it never fails to boil my blood. Taking kids away from parents because the kids are “too fat”? This is the most egregious case I’ve seen yet. The kids are taken away because “they were at risk of becoming obese”. At risk. At risk. They weren’t “too fat”. They were taken away because they might, someday, maybe, possibly be “too fat”.

The story of the 3- and 4-year-olds is equally rage-inspiring.

Ms Price [the family’s lawyer] said that social workers acted after a series of small incidents, including one where care workers judged that the mother could not move quickly enough to take the youngest child down from a window-sill, despite the window being closed.

What! The! Fuck!

I’m sorry, there’s no way you could judge that just based on weight. My weight is fairly similar to the mom in the story and I can outsprint my skinny girlfriend across the yard, not just across the house. And I have better reaction time. A baby on a windowsill would be safer with my fat ass around than being left alone with my girlfriend. And I don’t even like babies.

Time for me to take cooling-down lap around the house. Razzafrazzafatfearinggovernmentfundedpeanutbraineddumbasses. Grrr.

Read about the baby from the Times Online.

Read about the two kids from the Times Online.

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