Archive for February, 2014
28 Feb 2014

The Sword in the Stone

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The always-rewarding Madame Scherzo yesterday published this Tumblr image which, in the manner of Tumblr images commonly was totally unidentified.

I am afflicted with an excess of curiosity, and began searching, finding out eventually that this is a photograph of unknown source of the ruined Abbey of San Galgano. More photos here.


St. Galgano

St. Galgano and his Abbey, it turns out, have one heck of a story.

Galgano Guidotti was born in 1148, the son of a minor noble, and one of those punk, no-good young knights constantly looking for trouble and worldly pleasures. One day when he least expected it, Archangel Michael appeared before him and showed him the way to salvation, and kindly provided him with directions as well. Next day, Sir Galgano announced that he was going to become a hermit and took up residence in a cave. His friends and relatives ridiculed him, and Dionisia, his mother, bade him to wear his expensive nobleman’s clothes and at least pay a last visit to his fiancée. On his way there, his horse reared, throwing Galgano. Spitting road dust, he suddenly felt as if he was being lifted to his feet by an invisible force, and a seraphic voice and a will he was unable to resist led him to Monte Siepi, a rugged hill close to his home town of Chiusdino.

The voice bade him to stand still and look at the top of the hill; Galgano saw a round temple with Jesus and Mary surrounded by the Apostles. The voice told him to climb the hill, and while doing so, the vision faded. When he reached the top the voice spoke again, inviting him to renounce his loose, easy living. Galgano replied that it was easier said than done, about as easy as splitting a rock with a sword. To prove his point, he drew his blade and thrust at the rocky ground. With an ease that would impress even cinderblock-splitting sword dealers at Renaissance fairs, the sword penetrated the living bedrock to the hilt. Galgano got the message, and took up permanent residence on that hill as a humble hermit. He led a life in poverty, visited by the occasional peasant looking for a blessing. He befriended wild animals, and once, when the Devil sent an assassin in the guise of a monk, the wild wolves living with Galgano attacked the killer and, according to legend, “gnawed his bones.”

Galgano Guidotti died in 1181, at the age of 33 years, and was canonized four years later. His funeral was a major event, attended by bishops and three Cistercian abbots, including one who had got lost while on his way to Rome. The next year, the Bishop of Volterra gave Monte Siepi to the Cistercian monks, aware that they would build a shrine to Galgano’s memory. They began building in 1185, erecting a round chapel that became known as the Cappella di Monte Siepi, on the hill above the main abbey, with the sword forming the centerpiece.

The Cappella offers a breathtaking view of the Abbey, the neighboring buildings and the beautiful surrounding countryside. Galgano’s body was for some reason lost after the funeral, although his head, which is said to have grown golden curls for many years following his death, was placed in one side chapel, and the chewed bones of the arms of the assassin in another. Saint Galgano’s head is preserved as a relic in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Siena, while the skeletal arms are still in place. The crowds of pilgrims were so numerous that the Cistercians were authorized to build another monastery named after the Saint a short distance away. It was to be one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Italy, and one of the Cistercians’ two largest Italian foundations. The monastery soon became both powerful and respected. Monks from San Galgano were appointed to high offices throughout Tuscany. In the 14th century, a Gothic side chapel was added to the original Romanesque Cappella, and in the 18th century a rectory was added. The side chapel has the remains of some frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, including a faint picture of Galgano offering the sword in the stone to Saint Michael. The Abbey was sacked by the (in)famous English mercenary captain Sir John Hawkwood and his White Company, and by 1397 the abbot was its only inhabitant. The Abbey deteriorated over the centuries, becoming the impressive ruins seen today.


Galgano’s sword in the stone.

28 Feb 2014

Retired Venezuelan General Declined to be Arrested

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Retired General Vivas

The Wall Street Journal reports that a retired general’s resistance to the Chavista regime has defeated efforts to effectuate his arrest and set an example for resistance.

A gun-toting retired Venezuelan general has become a folk hero to the country’s opposition and galvanized a protest movement by defying the government of President Nicolás Maduro, engaging in a Rambo-like standoff with security forces sent by the president to arrest him.

Angel Vivas has been holed up in his home in a hilly Caracas suburb since last weekend, when Mr. Maduro, on live television, ordered his arrest for having backed student protests that have convulsed this oil-rich nation.

When black-clad officers from military intelligence went to the retired Army general’s house Sunday morning, he emerged wearing a flak jacket and armed with a semiautomatic rifle and pistol, warning that the only way he would be taken was in a body bag. Scores of neighbors came out in support of Gen. Vivas and heckled security forces, who eventually backed down.

“I have a right to self-defense,” Gen. Vivas said in an interview inside his bunkerlike home, which is decorated with family pictures and mementos to his 40-year career in the army, including old rifles and swords.

“At no time did I order anyone to commit violence,” he said, after the government said his tweet giving defense advice caused a death. “I was helping unarmed civilians defend themselves….A priest recommends prayer, a doctor recommends medicine, a military man recommends how to defend.”

In the days since, Gen. Vivas has become an inspiration to many of the protesters, who have risen up in past weeks against what they see as an increasingly authoritarian government and an economy savaged by high inflation and scarcity. …

Gen. Vivas’s Twitter account, where he regularly blasts the Maduro government as “illegitimate” and a stooge for Cuba, which has close ties to Caracas, surged to 233,000 on Wednesday from some 50,000 followers on Saturday. His 16-year-old daughter Natalia’s account went to 15,000 followers, from 200, after she posted YouTube videos of the standoff.

“He has the guts that a lot of people lack,” said Anessa Cafferata, a 21-year-old engineering student who takes part in daily protests across the capital. “He’s protecting his home, and we students are protecting the country.”

The short and stocky 57-year-old general symbolizes some of Venezuela’s deep divisions that have only hardened in recent weeks as protesters—largely backed by the middle and upper class—square off against a populist government.

In the upper-middle class enclave where the general lives, there is little affection for the government, blamed for a crumbling economy where ordinary goods are scarce on store shelves.One neighbor complained that he went four months without toilet paper. Another said car batteries were now a favorite target for thieves because Venezuela lacks the dollars to import new car batteries. The local school has been closed for two weeks due to the protests.

Neighbors take turns standing guard outside the general’s home, ready to raise the alarm if the government returns to arrest him. Access to the neighborhood is cut off by barricades manned by protesters, who have piled garbage, old tires and tree branches at main intersections to stop government officers from returning.

“He’s a one-man military rebellion,” said Ivan Monroy, an amateur historian who visited the general’s house this week to deliver a copy of his book.

28 Feb 2014

Snowmobiler Stands His Ground Versus Moose

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The shooter and the location of the shooting are nowhere identified on the Web. A lot of viewers are indignant and express criticism that the snowmobiler did not turn around or leave the trail, but snowmobiles have no reverse and it is really unlikely that he could have gotten his machine out of that tree-bordered trail. The YouTube version offers additionally the extenuating information that the shooter had a heart condition and was defending his son. Obviously the moose could have left the trail more easily and the moose clearly initiated a physical contest for possession of the right of way.

73% of respondents to a Wyoming radio station poll thought the shooter should have done more to avoid the confrontation. I do wonder how many would have felt the same way when on the receiving end of an incoming moose hoof.

I was myself surprised to see a Glock so effectively drop a moose. I wonder what it was chambered in.

27 Feb 2014

“We Go to the Gallery”

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Miriam Elia successfully raised £4,998 on Kickstarter to fund publication of her “We Go to the Gallery,” an amusing satire on Modern Art in the form of the mid-last-century British Ladybird series of children’s books.

The Independent feature.

We go to the gallery – Miriam Elia – Kickstarter promo from Tom ODwyer Media on Vimeo.

Everybody I like has already posted this one: Ratak Monodosico, Vanderleun, Madame Scherzo.

27 Feb 2014

When “Leave Us Alone” Became “Bake Us a Cake”

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Matt K. Lewis explains that the current (losing for conservatives) attempt to defend individual business’s right to decline to bake Gay wedding cakes or photograph Gay weddings is the next to last stop before the conflict between egalitarianism and religious freedom arrives inside the churches’ doors.

this is a tough issue that pits things we value as a society against things we value as a society.

We have reached a point in the gay rights debate where all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. We are now entering into the zero-sum game phase of the debate, where gay rights and religious liberty must collide. (In other words, the cake is only so big. If you take a piece, you are guaranteeing the other guy has less cake.)

So who’s right? My guess is one could guarantee public opinion is on either side of the issue, depending on how you frame the question. If, for example, you were to ask someone whether or not “businesses should be allowed to deny services to same-sex couples,” the answer would, of course, be “no.”

On the other hand, ask Americans if “government should have the right to forcefully coerce Christians to violate their convictions,” and the answer would also be “no.” …

This is really a surrogate battle. A much bigger one is coming.

Opponents of these bills score points when they argue that florists and bakers aren’t exactly granting their imprimatur when they make a cake or put together a flower arrangement for a gay wedding. Additionally, they are correct in assuming that most Christians, whether they agree with same-sex marriage, or not, would still bake the cake. In fact, this could be seen as an example of Christian love.

But this is another example of how this schism cannot be easily brushed aside like so many wedding cake crumbs. In recent years, libertarian-leaning conservatives have largely sided with the gay rights argument. Proud members of the “leave us alone” coalition were apt to side with a group of people who just wanted to be left alone to love the person they love (and what happens in the bedroom is nobody’s business).

At some point, however, “leave us alone” became “bake us a cake. Or else!”

And that’s a very different thing, altogether.

The reason conservative Christians are fighting this fight today is because it’s a firewall. The real danger, of course, is that Christian pastors and preachers will eventually be coerced into performing same-sex marriages. (Note: It is entirely possible for someone to believe gay marriage is fine, and to still oppose forcing people who hold strong religious convictions to participate — but I suspect that is where we are heading.)

Think of it this way. If you were a congregant in a church, wouldn’t you expect the pastor to marry you? Why should you be treated different?

Any pastor — if he or she wants to maintain the church’s tax status, that is — had better grapple with this now.

Whether the analogy is fair, or not, refusing to officiate a gay wedding can just as easily be called “denying service.” And it will predictably also be compared to the bad old days of Jim Crow — where racist Christians opposed interracial marriage (until the courts struck down state laws prohibiting biracial marriage).

Gay rights and religious liberty are on a collision course.

Read the whole thing.

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In England, the first lawsuit against the church is already in the news.

26 Feb 2014

What Does Having a Freshman Sex Worker Make the College President?

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Richard Brodhead, President of Duke — “Lauren” aka “Belle Knox”, freshman pornstar

Emmeline Zhao, at Real Clear Education, interviewed “Lauren”, Duke’s Republican freshman pornstar about her preferred way of working her way through college and Duke tuition costs.

How did it cross your mind to get into adult films?

I’ve always really liked watching porn. I started watching porn when I was maybe 11, and it was something I was always very ashamed about, but I really enjoyed watching it. So when I got to college and was faced with all these financial burdens, I was literally sitting in my room one night, and I didn’t know how I was going to pay for all this, and half joking said to my roommate, “Well f— it, I’ll just be a porn star.” And so we kind of laughed, but then I half-heartedly applied and sent my picture to a bunch of porn agencies. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but then I started getting callbacks from people saying they saw a lot of potential.

And when I started learning about just how much porn stars make, I realized I could graduate from school free of debt and do something I really love doing without having to bust my ass doing minimum wage jobs that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I knew that with my skills — I don’t yet have a college degree — I knew that all I could get was a minimum wage service job. It didn’t seem economically feasible to me. I didn’t want to struggle in school while working, and it wouldn’t pay my bills. So I just jumped into it, into porn, and really loved it.

What about financial aid? Did you apply for any grants or scholarships?

I have siblings in college, who are being supported by my parents, and my parents are paying $1,000 a month just for their own student loans and my dad graduated 20 years ago. One of my parents is recently unemployed. I was offered $13,000 in financial aid. That wasn’t enough — that’s $47,000 still unaccounted for.

People have this perception that if you cannot pay for college, financial aid will take care of you, and that perception is wrong. If you are very low income, you can get a full ride to Duke, no problem. If you are middle or upper-middle class, you will get screwed in the process. So many middle class students have not gotten sufficient financial aid because on paper, their families look like they have money. Just because I’m not poor doesn’t mean I can afford $60,000 a year for college. Other students from middle and upper-middle class families have said the same thing.

When you look at the state of education in America, middle class students are left out, even harmed, by the financial aid process, not helped by it. People need to come to an understanding about that. Financial aid offices should look at their policies and how they help their students.

What about options for student loans? Government loans would have at least deferred payments for a little while after graduation, interest-free.

I wasn’t offered any government loans — my only other option was private loans at 12 percent interest rates and I knew that by the time I graduated college, I’d have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. I have seen other members of my family graduate college decades ago still dealing with debt now and I knew it’d give me less mobility. It would also hurt me if I needed to get something like a credit card — hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt is not something I want to carry around and it’s absolutely ridiculous that that’s what the state of our nation is, that that’s an expectation.

I have a friend who comes from a low-income family and pays $500 a year for Duke, and when I talk to him about my problems with financial aid, he doesn’t understand. It’s such a problem to be caught in the middle with financial aid, and people just don’t understand.

I think it’s very poignant that nowadays if you’re middle class, the only way to pay for college is to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. We need to provide a better financial future for our students. I shouldn’t have to go broke, I shouldn’t have to go into debt at 18 years old to pay for an education.

So why Duke, of all places? Why didn’t you choose a less costly institution?

I was offered scholarships at a lot of places. I was offered full tuition at Vanderbilt, for example, and was accepted into USC, Wellesley, Barnard, Pepperdine, some others. But I visited Duke last year on Blue Devil Days [Duke’s programmed weekend for admitted freshmen], and I remember walking into the Duke Chapel — I’m a very spiritual person — and just feeling an energy that told me, “This is the place you need to be.” And I felt something in the chapel in that moment that told me that I needed to be here and go to Duke and it was something that would be an amazing experience for me.

Would you still do porn if Duke cost less?

No. If Duke had given me sufficient financial aid, if they had given me the proper resources and made college affordable for my family, I would not have done porn. I would’ve just gotten through college and been fine. The financial burden that Duke put on me was absolutely enormous and insurmountable with the resources that I had. …

Why do you say porn is less demeaning than a service job?

Go to the mall and talk to somebody who works at a hot dog stand and ask them about their job. They go to work at 9 a.m., work until 6 p.m., maybe get two five-minute breaks in the day, make $6.25 an hour before taxes, and they’re on their feet all day. They’re working in conditions that are physically and mentally draining. So they’re making maybe $100 a day before taxes for doing 9 hours of hard physical work. You look at that and look at what I’m doing, making $1,000 for two hours doing what I really love doing, which for me is not degrading and is something I feel safe in, you tell me which industry is demeaning?

People say the porn industry is demeaning, but being in a service industry is degrading in and of itself. You’re basically being stepped on. Any job I would’ve gotten as a minimum wage worker would’ve been exploitative, degrading to me, and not provided the money I needed to make, which was $4,000 month. So why would I work 80 hours a week, struggle with school, barely get any sleep and be treated like a second class citizen, when I can do porn for 14 hours a day , make thousands, set my own hours, and have a ton of fun doing it?

Read the whole thing.

Reading this piece, I wondered how Richard Brodhead, president of Duke can sleep at night.

If I were president of an elite university and read in the paper that the combination of my school’s tuition costs and financial aid policies had driven a female freshman to become a sex worker in order to pay her tuition bills, I’d be tossing and turning all night as I thought about what I needed to do about it.

Yes, it is true that young college students do not always have good judgement, and some of them will inevitably make bad choices. But I cannot imagine how the chief executive of a university with such a student could avoid feeling a sense of personal responsibility for the state of affairs in which tuition cost have risen to such a point and where student loans commonly create such a crushing burden that one young woman would make such a choice. The president of that particular university ought to feel that his own policies and administration have, ultimately, turned him into the equivalent of a pimp.

I think that Richard Brodhead when he got up the next morning, after reading the news stories, ought to have summoned “Lauren” to his office as the first thing. He should have talked to her like a Dutch uncle, and explained to her that she had made a serious mistake, one which she would inevitably later profoundly regret, and told her that much of it was his own fault. He should urge to relinquish her part-time cinematic career, and in return offer her full tuition assistance.

He should then arrange a meeting with his financial officers and senior administrators to initiate steps to cut excess spending, reduce numbers of superfluous administrators and staff, and to cut tuition costs drastically while increasing grants of aid to middle-class students.

If Richard Brodhead does not feel personally obligated to do all that, I’d say that he ought to buy a big floppy hat with a feather, a flashy purple suit, and start driving an enormous Cadillac.

26 Feb 2014

Anti-Hunting Bigots Cost Namibian Conservation a Lot of Money

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Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

The rhinoceros is a traditional member (along with the elephant, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo) of the dangerous game Big Five of African big game hunting. The rhino, and especially the black rhino, has been off the available game list for years and years, due to reduced numbers of animals as the result of their continual persecution by poachers. Rhinoceros horns bring lots of money on the black market, being in demand in Arab states as the traditional prestige material for dagger (jambiya) handles and in even more demand in the Orient for use as an aphrodisiac.

The Dallas Safari Club, an affluent and elite organization of experienced hunters, recently made a dramatic effort to do something for the black rhino. They arranged with the government of Namibia for a special permit to be issued to allow one hunter to harvest one black rhino, the permit to be auctioned with the proceeds going for rhino conservation. The animal to be harvested would be a carefully-selected aged bull and a problem animal needing to be harvested for the good of the remainder of the herd. This auction was meant to illustrate in the clearest possible way the direct link between sport hunting and the conservation of endangered game species.

But, despite the generosity of those Texas hunters, a vicious publicity campaign vilifying the auction and its participants and finally threats of violence, was believed to have significantly depressed the bidding, resulting in a much smaller than intended conservation payment.

Diana Rupp, at Sports Afield, told the story in this month’s issue.

In January, at a banquet at the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) convention, something historic and important happened in the annals of hunting as a conservation tool. A permit to hunt a black rhino was auctioned to the highest bidder, fetching a cool $350,000–100 percent of which went straight back into the rhino conservation program in the nation of Namibia, where the hunt will take place.

You probably heard about the controversy surrounding the auction. In the real world of scientific wildlife management, there actually wasn’t much controversy at all about the idea–every important international scientific wildlife organization, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), agreed that auctioning the permit was a sound idea for conservation and that the money it would raise would be of tremendous importance to Namibia’s rhino conservation program. The hunt would target a specific old male—one that was past its breeding prime and had become dangerous to the young rhinos in its herd—and the money raised from hunting this single, selected rhino would contribute to saving the overall black rhino population.

Namibia hoped that auctioning a permit in the USA would push the price of the permit (and the money going back to its conservation program) to extraordinarily high levels. Unfortunately, it also brought the antihunters out of the woodwork. No amount of explaining the science behind using carefully controlled hunting as a conservation tool could placate the screaming masses who poured their energies into thousands of virulent Internet posts. They were not attempting to raise money to help rhinos–far from it. They were only attempting to stop the hunt.

The online attacks escalated into death threats to DSC members and their families. Whoever purchased the auction tag, it was made clear, would be the target of threats not just to themselves, but to their families and businesses.

Understandably, many potential high-dollar bidders pulled out. You can’t blame them for not wanting to put their family members and employees at risk. And suddenly a tag that at one point might have sold for as much as a million dollars had almost no takers.

Fortunately, several brave and generous DSC supporters stepped into the breach, and the hunter who did purchase the tag (for what is still a record-setting amount), should be considered a conservation hero. One of the loudest detractors of the rhino hunt was Bob Barker, the anti-hunting former host of The Price is Right. Responding to him on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live a few nights after the auction, the hunter said he wanted to tell Bob that, with regard to the rhino permit, “the price was wrong.”

He was correct. This auction should have raised a lot more for conservation, and the only reason it didn’t is because of the shortsighted tactics of closed-minded people who don’t understand wildlife management.

25 Feb 2014

Isn’t That What the Party Was For?

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Let me get this straight… Ivygate reports that two Yale students complained of being “sexually assaulted” while attending a BDSM Party. What did they think those riding crops were for?

Last week, Yale students received two university-wide Clery Act emails informing them that two Yale students were victims of “sexual assault by an acquaintance, who is also a Yale student” at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house on February 8th. February 8th was the night of the annual “Dom” party thrown by the Women in Power Society (WIPS), a secret society, which was held in the SigEp house.

The “Dom” party is an infamous, no-cellphones-allowed event. From what we hear, people dress up in BDSM gear and porn is projected on the walls as hot freshmen guys pass around drinks. Interestingly, it’s also generalized as one of the safer party SigEp hosts: there is a closed guest list with doors closing at 11 pm and everyone (besides those hot freshmen boys) is over 21-years-old.

For two assaults to happen on a night that typically gets by without major public notice is surprising–but only considering its history of safety. Dom is a party full of porn, S&M, and lots of alcohol, after all.

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The Oldest College Daily adds this:

Yale Police Department Chief Ronnell Higgins reported the two statements in separate emails to the University community on Feb. 19 and Feb. 21. The messages stated that the alleged assaults occurred at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house, and the second email corrected the first by reporting that they were both said to have taken place on Feb. 8.

“I write to let [the University community] know that the Yale Police received an anonymous report today that a second Yale student was the victim of a sexual assault by an acquaintance, who is also a Yale student,” Higgins said in the Feb. 21 email.

On Feb. 22, President of the Yale Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter Andrew Goble ’15 issued a statement saying the fraternity allowed another student group to lease a room in its house for a private event on Feb. 8. The statement said the event was open to guests of that organization, which remained unnamed.

“The members of Yale’s SigEp chapter were shocked and saddened to hear allegations that sexual assault may have occurred in our facility on an evening when the chapter had leased event space to another campus organization,” Goble said in the statement. “At this time, SigEp does not believe that the allegations are against members of their chapter.” …

On the same night of Feb. 8, a private party in connection with the Women in Power Society (WIPS) senior society, took place at the SigEp fraternity house. Nine students interviewed said that party had a “dominatrix” theme. Several attendees declined to provide additional details about the annual party.

The WIPS said in a statement to the News, “We are not commenting out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved in this situation.”

A student who attended the party and spoke on the condition of anonymity said the WIPS’ mission is to promote female empowerment.

Oops! Somebody evidently got a bit too empowered.

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25 Feb 2014

Best Craters

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My Science Academy:

Xico volcano sits at the extreme southern end of the Mexico City megalopolis. For a geologically significant chunk of time, this area was underwater, drowned by Lake Chalco. The lake began to dry out in the 1300s, and Aztec fishermen settled along its coastline hereabouts. In the nineteenth century, the government drained the lake entirely; the fishermen were awarded communal land grants and told to become farmers.

Farming became intensive in the 1970s, when corporate agriculturists and desperate landless peasants struck illegal or quasi-legal deals with the communal organizations and wrested control of the rich volcanic soil. Thousands and thousands of families poured into the region, hoping for work. Farmers climbed over the rim of the volcano and plowed fields inside the crater. Xico the town sprawled right up to the ramparts of Xico the crater and appears likely to soon engulf it; in 2005, the population of the municipality was 330,000.

And 9 more.

Hat tip to Ratak Monodosico.

25 Feb 2014

UK Butcher Shop Forced to take Down Window Display

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It happened in Sudbury, as the Daily Mail reports:

A high Street butcher in Suffolk has been forced to take down its window display, as shoppers are said to be offended by the sight of bits of dead animals.

Hanging pigs’ heads, limp rabbits and dead pheasants were upsetting the children.

The senseless twits behind the hate campaign mounted against JBS Family Butchers of Sudbury say they are trying to protect their children from the ugliness of ‘mutilated carcasses’.

This seems implausibly puritanical. Any child with internet access and a stack of video games will have seen far worse.

These sentimental folk are part of an ever-growing collective ignorance about food and farming that is immensely damaging not only to the countryside, to farming and to animals — but also to ourselves.

Our lack of understanding of where food really comes from is helping to create mountains of food waste and a population of fat, unhealthy Britons.

Read the whole thing.

This kind of urban deracination has real consequences. People who think that meat is manufactured somewhere in a factory laboratory look upon all animals as lovable Disney characters and are eager to ban hunting and all the other field sports. Meanwhile, demand for antiseptic and completely uniform food items makes old-fashioned family farming and human animal husbandry impossible and meat animals are that much more certain to be raised in unnatural factory farm hatcheries. Human ignorance and alienation from Nature and the countryside is bad for agriculture, bad for animals, bad for the countryside, and impoverishing to human culture.

Hat tip to Jesse Swan.

25 Feb 2014

The Conversion Experience

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24 Feb 2014

How the Model 1911 Works

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Nice animations.

From Bird Dog at Maggie’s.

24 Feb 2014

Whole Foods, Junk Science, and the National Pseudo-Intelligentsia

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Michael Schulson notes the inconsistency of the community of fashion’s supposed commitment to Science as demonstrated by the ability of Whole Foods, every fashionista’s preferred market, to vend an endless array of products promising better health on the basis of one form or other of pseudo-science.

Americans get riled up about creationists and climate change deniers, but lap up the quasi-religious snake oil at Whole Foods. It’s all pseudoscience—so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?

If you want to write about spiritually-motivated pseudoscience in America, you head to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It’s like a Law of Journalism. The museum has inspired hundreds of book chapters and articles (some of them, admittedly, mine) since it opened up in 2007. The place is like media magnet. And our nation’s liberal, coastal journalists are so many piles of iron fillings.

But you don’t have to schlep all the way to Kentucky in order to visit America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience. In fact, that shrine is a 15-minute trip away from most American urbanites.

I’m talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market. From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there’s really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn’t just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.

My own local Whole Foods is just a block away from the campus of Duke University. Like almost everything else near downtown Durham, N.C., it’s visited by a predominantly liberal clientele that skews academic, with more science PhDs per capita than a Mensa convention.

Still, there’s a lot in your average Whole Foods that’s resolutely pseudoscientific. The homeopathy section has plenty of Latin words and mathematical terms, but many of its remedies are so diluted that, statistically speaking, they may not contain a single molecule of the substance they purport to deliver. The book section—yep, Whole Foods sells books—boasts many M.D.’s among its authors, along with titles like The Coconut Oil Miracle and Herbal Medicine, Healing, and Cancer, which was written by a theologian and based on what the author calls the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System.

You can buy chocolate with “a meld of rich goji berries and ashwagandha root to strengthen your immune system,” and bottles of ChlorOxygen chlorophyll concentrate, which “builds better blood.” There’s cereal with the kind of ingredients that are “made in a kitchen—not in a lab,” and tea designed to heal the human heart.

Nearby are eight full shelves of probiotics—live bacteria intended to improve general health. I invited a biologist friend who studies human gut bacteria to come take a look with me. She read the healing claims printed on a handful of bottles and frowned. “This is bullshit,” she said, and went off to buy some vegetables. Later, while purchasing a bag of chickpeas, I browsed among the magazine racks. There was Paleo Living, and, not far away, the latest issue of What Doctors Don’t Tell You. Pseudoscience bubbles over into anti-science. A sample headline: “Stay sharp till the end: the secret cause of Alzheimer’s.” A sample opening sentence: “We like to think that medicine works.”

At times, the Whole Foods selection slips from the pseudoscientific into the quasi-religious. It’s not just the Ezekiel 4:9 bread (its recipe drawn from the eponymous Bible verse), or Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, or Vitamineral Earth’s “Sacred Healing Food.” It’s also, at least for Jewish shoppers, the taboos that have grown up around the company’s Organic Integrity effort, all of which sound eerily like kosher law. There’s a sign in the Durham store suggesting that shoppers bag their organic and conventional fruit separately—lest one rub off on the other—and grind their organic coffees at home—because the Whole Foods grinders process conventional coffee, too, and so might transfer some non-organic dust. “This slicer used for cutting both CONVENTIONAL and ORGANIC breads” warns a sign above the Durham location’s bread slicer. Synagogue kitchens are the only other places in which I’ve seen signs implying that level of food-separation purity.

Look, if homeopathic remedies make you feel better, take them. If the Paleo diet helps you eat fewer TV dinners, that’s great—even if the Paleo diet is probably premised more on The Flintstones than it is on any actual evidence about human evolutionary history. If non-organic crumbs bother you, avoid them. And there’s much to praise in Whole Foods’ commitment to sustainability and healthful foods.

Still: a significant portion of what Whole Foods sells is based on simple pseudoscience. And sometimes that can spill over into outright anti-science (think What Doctors Don’t Tell You, or Whole Foods’ overblown GMO campaign, which could merit its own article). If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?

Read the whole thing.

But there really is no inconsistency. The truth of the matter is that the national elite is credentialed, but ill-educated and typically scientifically illiterate. It is demonstrably perfectly possible to get a graduate degree in a scientific field and to fail to understand that an unfalsifiable theory like Global Warming is not science, precisely because it is unfalsifiable.

Their beliefs about the supposed health benefits of various products are perfectly akin to their choices of belief in all other areas.

23 Feb 2014

Note the Flames of Hell Licking at His Feet!

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Another 1929 Tory Poster.

Another hat tip to Walter Olson.

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