First They Came For The Libraries
Damien Williams on library closures:
People who know about but don’t fully understand history may ask, “Why do conquerors and fanatics always go for the Libraries?” Our most famous example has always been the Library of Alexandria, but it is by no means the sole instance. And if you take a look at that list, you can see something of a distinction: sometimes invaders burn libraries and loot them, and sometimes they just burn them. Why is that?
It’s because a library, more than any other thing humans have ever made, is the physical promise of a wider, more inclusive world.
A library teaches us about the potential for human knowledge to bring us to a better place.
A library challenges our perceptions. A library shows us that there is more to religion than zealotry, more to belief than delusion, more to the search for meaning than fanatical heresies.
A library presents to us, gives to us, for free, the benefits of human inquiry and allows us the time, and space, and resources to connect all of these things in ways that no one before has managed to do.
Full Story: The Breaking Time: First they came for the libraries
What Do You Know, Feminism Really DOES Work
Pamela Haag writes about a paper published last fall in the American Political Science Review about ending or reducing domestic violence against women globally:
Out of this herculean research effort, Weldon and Htun conclude that the “mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians” in a country, according to the APSR press release.
The authors found that these vibrant and autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women, mobilize political will against it, and catalyze government action. Other organizations, even those with progressive leanings, tended to sideline issues perceived as being only relevant to women. [...]
This is heartening news. There’s a tendency to feel hopeless in the face of the Big Trends and the analyses of the violence and degradation against women as collateral damage of what feel like almost insurmountable “larger problems” and social pathology. For example we sometimes think of violence against women as mostly a by-product of economic development and educational opportunities, or lack thereof.
Conversely, there’s a consoling tendency to think that once these economic conditions improve, violence against women will diminish naturally, as a happy consequence of other social changes.
This research concludes that the work of individuals in civil society not only makes a difference, but makes the difference in comparison to other potential but more indirect levers of social change, such as having left-leaning parties or more national wealth. Write Weldon and Htun, the “effects of autonomous organizing are more important in our analysis than women’s…representation inside the legislature or the impact of political parties. Nor do economic factors such as national wealth trump the societal causes of policy making. Although these intra-legislative and economic factors have received a great deal of attention…they are inadequate to explain the significant changes in policies on violence against women. Civil society holds the key here.”
Full Story: Big Think: What Do You Know, Feminism Really DOES Work
Meet the One-Handed Man Behind America’s Most Dangerous Mail-Order Kits
Meet America’s mad professor. For nearly 40 years Bob Iannini, founder of Information Unlimited, has been mail-order mentor and parts supplier to electronics hobbyists willing to take on some of the most dangerous DIY projects in the world.
Need kits, plans or supplies for a Tesla coil? Pick a size — Information Unlimited carries itty bitty 2-foot science-project-type Tesla coils, all the way up to terrifying 6.5-foot, 2-million-volt monstrosities. More practical consumers can pick up laser components, bug zappers and high-voltage transformers and switches. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, Iannini offers a massive EMP blaster gun kit capable of disrupting electronics or igniting explosive fuels with a radiating electromagnetic pulse — a pre-assembled unit will set you back just $32,000
Full Story: Wired: Meet the One-Handed Man Behind America’s Most Dangerous Mail-Order Kits
Women Speak Out More During Consensus Driven Decision Making
Science Daily reports:
Scholars at Brigham Young University and Princeton examined whether women speak less than men when a group collaborates to solve a problem. In most groups that they studied, the time that women spoke was significantly less than their proportional representation — amounting to less than 75 percent of the time that men spoke. [...]
There is an exception to this rule of gender participation, however. The time inequality disappeared when researchers instructed participants to decide by a unanimous vote instead of majority rule.
Results showed that the consensus-building approach was particularly empowering for women who were outnumbered by men in their group. Study co-author Tali Mendelberg of Princeton says these findings apply to many different settings.
Full Story: Science Daily: Women Speak Less When They’re Outnumbered
The Fist: Objectivist Parody Web Comic
The Fist is a one-off lampoon of Objectivism by Darryl Cunningham. Warning: Includes cruelty to animals.
Is Being Spiritual But Not Religious Dangerous To Your Mental Health?
A recent paper published in The British Journal of Psychiatry looks at surveys of 7,400 people in the United Kingdom for links between mental health and religiousness and spirituality. I could only find the abstract online, but Mark Vernon (a former priest turned agnostic Christian journalist) wrote about the paper for The Guardian here.
Vernon focused on the paper’s finding that spiritual but not religious people are more prone to . But there were two other unusual findings:
-Non-spiritual, non-religious people were no more likely to have mental health disorders, other than heavy drinking (the abstract notes that they also are more likely to have tried drugs, but doesn’t indicate that they are more likely to have developed a habitual drug habit). This conflicts with previous studies that assumed that religion was a key part of happiness.
-According to Vernon’s write-up, non-spiritual, non-religious people tended not to have education beyond secondary school, challenging previous findings that atheists are more intelligent (or perhaps the assumption that intelligent people go to university).
Vernon concludes that churches in Britain should do a better job of reaching spiritual people who don’t have religious affiliations. He’s holding on to the idea that religion can treat mental health issues, but I think he’s reading too much into the study. First of all, it will need to be repeated and compared with other studies with conflicting results. Second, it’s not clear that religiosity is what “healed” anyone — correlation vs. causation and all that. But it does lend some credence to concerns about religious practices being taken out of context.
Fiction: Strange Fruit by Mike Meginnis
“Strange Fruit” by Mike Meginnis:
In the last summer before he would be a man, Norman bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Florida. He bought it with his last handful of dollars. He had bought the dollars at a two percent loss with hundreds of rolled quarters. The quarters went as far back as 1895, when it was still John Adams’ face on the top side and the edges were smooth. Grandma Anita had built and rolled the collection for him. Norman got them when she died.
The ticket was only good one way. If he was going to come back home, he would have to earn the money in Florida.
The orchard would be his first job. He meant to see if he was made for work. He held Joe Macafee’s last letter open in his fat hands. “I still have one spot open,” said Macafee. “I would’ve preferred a Mexican but after the wall they are in short supply. Bring warm clothing for the cool nights, a blanket, and any kitchenware you need — a bowl, a plate, a knife, and a spoon all come highly recommended. If your mother wants to call you there’s a pay phone at the gas station and you can mail her the number. I hope your legs are strong.”
If he couldn’t hack the orchard Norman planned to kill himself.
Full Story: PANK: Strange Fruit by Mike Meginnis
The Cult of Nikola Tesla
Brian Dunning attempts to separate the facts from the fictions of Nikola Tesla’s life:
Did Tesla plan to transmit power world-wide through the sky?
It was his ultimate plan, but the farthest he ever got was the partial construction of his famous tower at Wardenclyffe which was intended for wireless communication across the Atlantic. His worldwide wireless power system was theoretical only, employing the Schumann-Tesla resonance to charge the Earth’s ionosphere such that a simple handheld coil could receive electrical power for free anywhere, and everywhere, in the world. Tesla’s idea was innovative, but innovative idea it remained, as debts mounted and the tower was dismantled before it ever got to be used. Now that the nature of the ionosphere is much better understood, physicists now consider Tesla’s concept unworkable, and no attempts to test it have ever worked.
All sorts of conspiracy theories exist, for example that the HAARP research facility in Alaska is secretly a test of Tesla’s worldwide power grid, or some sort of superweapon based on it. The profound differences between these systems become clear upon doing even the most basic of research.
Full Story: Skeptoid: The Cult of Nikola Tesla (Available as both a podcast and an article)