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That guy with the unimaginative screenname
13 February 2011 @ 10:01 pm
"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained." - Psalm 8:5

Quoted by Johannes Kepler in the dedication of Mysterium Cosmographicum


I had a rather bizarre conversation with an acquaintance the other day which culminated in him falling back on the tired claim that religion has long been at war with science. When asked for proof, he pointed to the burning at the stake of Copernicus. This event is wholly imaginary; Copernicus was priest and he died of old age in good standing with the Church. Of course, pointing out that it never happened did not trouble him in the slightest; he simply went off in search of new data to support the conclusion he had already reached. But it was extremely odd to me, especially since this particular person is normally very well informed about history. 1

The victory of heliocentrism has taken on something of a mythical quality, and is a favored morality tale among atheists. As is often the case, the actual history of the event has been either glossed over or grossly distorted. Luckily, I'm here to set the record straight for you.

THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, back before science had been invented, men had only Reason with which to decipher the world. Empirical observations had an influence on this process, but they were far from primary.2 Thus, the great Aristotle built up a system of the universe placing Earth in the center (as it happens, there were very good empirical reasons for this as well), and declared that all the heavenly bodies moved in perfect circles, because circles are the best shape (this really was how the reasoning went).

This astronomy worked pretty well, explaining the millions of stars, the Sun, and the Moon. Only five wandering stars3 refused to fall in line, moving backwards and forwards across the sky in a regularly repeating but bizarre non-circular pattern. In the second century AD, Ptolemy solved this problem by adding epicycles to the planets' movements, which essentially consisted of circles within circles. Using this system, he was able to produce tables that enabled one to calculate the position of the stars and planets at a given point in time with very reasonable accuracy, while still preserving the essential idea that heavenly bodies move in circles. And so his model held for well over a thousand years.

HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO, in the early 1500s, a Catholic cleric named Copernicus quietly began working on the idea that perhaps things went around the Sun instead of the Earth. He began to formulate a manuscript explaining his theory, but being something of a perfectionist, he continually reworked it and never actually got around to publishing it. He did, however, send drafts out to other scholars, and got mostly encouraging responses back. It was the combined encouragement of the bishop of Chelmo, the cardinal of Capua, and most especially the Protestant minister who became his pupil that finally got him to publish a book which laid out his theory. It circulated around scholarly circles, but did not have a huge impact one way or the other. Copernicus died of a stroke the same year he published, and was buried beneath the floor of Frombork cathedral, hardly the kind of reception that would be given to a heretic.

To sum up so far: a priest who was literally buried in the church, thanks to the steady encouragement of three other clergymen, proposed the theory of heliocentrism. Does that sound like a war of Religion on Science to you?

It must be pointed out that Copernicus was, in an important sense, wrong. His system still assumed the perfectly spherical orbits that Aristotle demanded. Consequently, though his model was simpler than Ptolemy's, it was not more accurate. This is probably why it didn't create much of a stir; it was something interesting for intellectuals to bandy about, and perhaps even useful, but the older theory still explained things better.


The Cosmic Mystery Solved

The vital man in figuring the way our solar system works was Johannes Kepler, who began his work about 50 years after Copernicus died. While studying for the ministry, he was exposed to both the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems, and he became a devotee of the latter. Recognizing that his talents lay more in mathematics and astronomy than the ministry, the clergy overseeing Kepler's studies steered him into a teaching position for the former. And so Kepler dedicated himself to the task of figuring out how the heavens work. Because he firmly believed that God was a God of order, and that underneath the seemingly erratic movements of the planets lay a hidden harmony, he worked tirelessly to find that order, seeking explanations for not only how the planets were arranged, but why they went at the speeds they did, why they were spaced out at the distances they were, and even why there were 6 of them.4

When the Counter-Reformation came to Kepler's home town, he was presented with the choice of renouncing his Lutheranism, or leaving everything he had behind and being exiled. He chose his faith, and we should all be glad he did, because this event was what drove him into the employment of one Tycho Brahe. This partnership changed the course of history. Kepler had the genius needed to work out the heavenly motions, but he did not have the necessary data. Brahe was the only5 man with the necessary resources to gather that data.

After a great deal of work and scrutinizing the empirical data for nine years, it was Kepler who finally hit upon the realization that orbits are elliptical, not circular. This was the key that finally gave the heliocentric model better predictive power than Ptolemy's, eventually "proving" it correct. It was Kepler who gave us Kepler's three laws of planetary motion. It was Kepler who combined astronomy and physics for the first time, in the process causing the eventually separation between astronomy and astrology. And, as one of the first people to fully concern himself with checking his theories against empirical evidence, Kepler was one of the first true scientists, and one of the vital figures in setting off the Scientific Revolution. His three laws even provided the basis that Newton would later use for his theory of gravity.


What about the G-man?

You'll notice I didn't mention Galileo here, and for a good reason: he did not actually play a significant role. All he did was parrot Copernicus' theory very loudly. He did not concern himself with actually proving it correct, and refused to accept Kepler's non-circular orbits. He even mocked Kepler's (correct) idea that the tides are caused by the Moon's gravity. In the end, he took it upon himself to personally insult the Pope, resulting in the house arrest so many still have not forgiven Christianity for. You can go here for a fuller historical treatment of Galileo, which will probably differ quite a lot from the mythologized version you've heard previously.

So why is it that we hear so much about Galileo and so little about Kepler? My own suspicion is that it is simply because Galileo's story helps support the conclusion atheists already wanted to reach: religion is incompatible with science. The story of a devout Lutheran seminary student who expanded upon a theory proposed by a priest and consequently sparked the Scientific Revolution does not help that narrative. So the former story gets embellished, and the latter ignored. But this is overly-harsh; I think the more common answer is simple ignorance, as with the man who thinks Copernicus was burned at the stake.6



1 It was not the only howler of the day. He also claimed that Egypt, AKA the Cradle of Civilization, is a backwater because the land is just no good there. Later he attempted to credit Western dominance to the influence of Rome, but a quick look at a map shows the problem with that claim.

2 This mode of reasoning is still quite common. For example, when an atheist declares that religious belief is inherently incompatible with reason, they are falling into precisely this fallacy. They have their sense that religion is wrong, and this is enough for them to ignore the empirical facts of thousands of years of religious reasoning, the encyclopedias of Aquinas's writings, the entire branch of reasoning known as apologetics, the history of the development of Western ideas, and the reality that the founding fathers of Science were exceedingly devout.

3 Fun Fact: The Greek word for "wanderer" is where the word "planet" came from.

4 At the time, the only known planets were Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Don't mock; you yourself probably once thought that Pluto was a planet.

5 Well, almost the only man. At the same time, Taqi al-Din built an observatory in Istanbul which rivaled Brahe's. It was razed to the ground within a few years on the recommendation of the Chief Mufti. That event marked the end of astronomy in the Muslim world.

6 Whatever "freethinker" means, it certainly doesn't mean, "one who pauses to think about why, if his case is so air-tight, he constantly falls back on the same 400-year old anecdote to support it." After all, if he did that, he might look for more recent cases, and then he might have to confront the fact that just in this past century, his fellow atheists not only jailed but executed people for propounding such scientific theories as Mendelian genetics or the Big Bang. Odds are, the freethinker will simply be ignorant of this history as well.
 
 
That guy with the unimaginative screenname
01 January 2011 @ 10:03 pm
Reflections on What Went Wrong? and Guide to Modern Chinese History.

In school, history consisted largely of America's Founding, the Civil War, the Holocaust, the Holocaust, and the Holocaust. I'm starting to fill in the gaping holes in my knowledge with some a little bit of information on the history of the rest of the world.

The modern world can be divided into roughly 4 major civilizations: Western, Islam, Eastern (particularly Chinese), and India, each born out of four different religions. What has stood out to me as interesting as I tackled Muslim and Chinese history is that I found the same hugely traumatic event in both of them: meeting the West.

As a society builds itself into a solid, stable core, it comes to view itself as the center of the world and of civilization, with anybody outside its borders as being little more than savages. It is able to maintain this belief because for the most part it's true. Consider the Roman Empire, one of the major civilizations of the past, and the precursor to Western Civilization. When Luke wrote of Caesar ordering a census of "the whole world," it wasn't that they were unaware that there existed people outside of the Empire, it was just that those people scarcely even mattered. Those bordering territories were populated by barbarians, whose lifestyles gave us all the connotations now associated with that word. Which is why it was all the more traumatic when Rome proved too weak to defend herself against those same barbarians.

Islam is based explicitly on the superiority of its society over all others. Sure, the West may have some semblance of a word from God, but it is a corrupted revelation, superseded by the Koran. The rest of the world is simply idolaters; good for little more than convert fodder. And this seemed backed up by the success with which Islam invaded and conquered the lands around it, spreading throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe, even going so far as to capture and hold Constantinople, the former capital of the Roman Empire and center of Orthodox Christianity. It was pretty clear that the infidels were on the wrong side of history. The general view was that they didn't have anything even worth learning.

As time went on, though, Western infidels kept developing more advanced weapons, and this view was modified to allow learning from the infidels for the purpose of defeating them, but even then such learning was confined almost entirely to military matters. Then the West progressed further and further, while the Muslim world actually regressed (to the point where even the wheel fell into disuse). Eventually the West simply outgrew the Muslim threat, and their relative weakness became so obvious that even they couldn't deny it. Imagine the trauma of being raised to believe that are the smartest, most talented, and most moral child in the world, and deserve to rule everyone else by virtue of being yourself, and then, when you try to issue your commands to your subjects, none of them even pay you enough attention to say "no," and you'll have a pretty good grasp of current Muslim geopolitics. The trauma of being bested by the West is something they still haven't worked out.


China did not have the same divine revelation, but, like Rome, they had good reason to consider themselves the center of the world, as they pretty much did dominate their section of it. The very name "China" (Zhōngguó) literally means "center kingdom." They had a culture and even a fairly unified country going back for thousands of years. The world nearby didn't have much to offer them, and for the longest time, the Western world was so far away that two had virtually no interaction. When contact did become more common as Western merchants sought new trade partners, the Chinese still were unconvinced that there was anything outside of their country that they could want. But as the West expanded, China became uncomfortably aware of the fact that they were very weak in comparison.

Thus arose the Self-Strengthening Movement, which attempted to reconcile the demonstrated fact of Western power with the known fact of China's superior wisdom and intellect. Like the Turks, China would learn what they needed from the foreigners, and then naturally surpass them, without significant changes to their own culture. This too failed, because there were major structural issues impeding Chinese progress that went far beyond the mere lack of a few technological innovations. Eventually, they went full-out insane, deciding instead to smash their old culture and embrace the statist atheism that was then gaining favor in the West. Consequently, they suffered the largest mass murder in history, and they are even now merely a "developing" country. Read the news from China for any length of time and you'll see the harrowing sense of inferiority and anxiety about their place in the world permeating everything.


Even Japan went through its own bout of Western-induced trauma. In the 1600's, a Christian peasant rebellion caused the country to isolate itself almost entirely from the rest of the world. 200 years of this left them entirely unprepared for Commodore Matthew Perry's forced opening of the country, a counter-trauma which pushed Japan in the other direction and ultimately gave us the Japan of World War 2.


I don't know any Indian history, but I bet if I looked I would see the same pattern played out: a certainty about the superiority of Indian culture, then an entirely lopsided encounter with the West which led to a serious crisis of self-confidence and rethinking. It's an event that, so far as I can see, is lacking in our own history.
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That guy with the unimaginative screenname
31 December 2010 @ 11:19 am
Books: 54 (13 fiction, 41 non-fiction)
Median Pages per Day: 24
Mean Pages per Day: 29.16
Std Deviation: 23.19
Total Pages: 10643.5

Bet you didn"t read this much. Neener neener neenerCollapse )
 
 
That guy with the unimaginative screenname
23 December 2010 @ 07:25 pm
Marx, in The German Ideology demonstrating how Communism was indeed so monumentally stupid that only an intellectual could have ever believed it:

He [man in capitalist society] is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.



Alexis De Tocqueville, in a footnote on his 1835 opus Democracy in America:

China appears to me to present the most perfect instance of that species of well-being which a completely central administration may furnish to the nations among which it exists. Travellers assure us that the Chinese have peace without happiness, industry without improvement, stability without strength, and public order without public morality. The condition of society is always tolerable, never excellent. I am convinced that, when China is opened to European observation, it will be found to contain the most perfect model of a central administration which exists in the universe.
 
 
That guy with the unimaginative screenname
25 October 2010 @ 05:39 pm
When learning a foreign language, it's expected that there will be a few sounds that just don't exist in your native tongue. What I wasn't ready for, even with the preparation of years of Spanish, was for Mandarin to have so many sounds that seem like they exist in English, but are in fact different. This is really starting to trip me up as I expand my vocabulary enough to know several words which all sound alike, but are obviously not homonyms to the natives.

Mandarin, as far as I can tell, has two different "ch" sounds, and I believe they have as many as 3 different "sh" sounds.1 One of them seems to almost morph into an s in actual usage. Getting at the pronunciation in actual usage can be difficult to catch; while practicing with my mother-in-law this week, I am fairly certain I heard her pronounce words differently when they were inside actual sentences than when we singled them out for study. I'm sure we do the same thing; ask me how to pronounce "to" and I would answer "too." In actual speech, I would usually say "tuh" (the same process changes "a" into "uh").

Inasmuch as this gives me a thick accent, I'm ok with it. Most of the nearest English sounds will probably suffice; a native speaker can understand our "y" and "l" sound, even though in Mandarin they seem to be much closer to "r". "Ts" is turning out to be harder than I expected; I am told that I am actually saying "tz," which makes a big difference. But I'm more worried that it will interfere with my ability to listen. I'm already depending heavily on context to deal with the fact that tones are so important; I don't need yet another source of ambiguity. Hopefully more exposure to audio recordings will help my ear figure things out. I just didn't expect to be so tripped up by sounds that I thought I already knew.

For the curious, it works the other way, too. My mother-in-law was telling me how it is very difficult for her to pronounce words ending in an L sound. Chinese even has an L sound, but they end all words in vowels, n, ng, or r, which is apparently enough to make the usage of that sound elsewhere difficult.


1 This is why pinyin made the (previously baffling to me) decision to press x and q into service as psuedo sh and ch.
 
 
 
 
That guy with the unimaginative screenname
28 September 2010 @ 07:37 pm
There are, I maintain, two causes for everything in creation; but the poets and theologians of ancient times chose to give their attention only to the superior one of these causes and this was the well-known phrase which they applied to everything in that exists:

Zeus in the beginning and Zeus in the middle, and all things are from Zeus.

But in those days they had not yet gone on to consider the causality to be found in the laws of nature. Later generations of thinkers - those whom we call natural philosophers - do just the opposite; they have moved away from the beautiful and the divine in causality and ascribe everything to material bodies in their various interactions, mutations, and combinations. And so the reasoning of both parties leaves something to be desired; there is ignorance of or lack of interest in the creator or agent on one side and of the material and the instrument on the other.

-Plutarch, The Decline of the Oracles, ca. 100AD
 
 
That guy with the unimaginative screenname
25 September 2010 @ 08:15 pm
Islam
  • Examiner Editorial: Government and journalists cower at threats to cartoonist
    Last week, the Seattle Weekly announced that Molly Norris, its editorial cartoonist, had "gone ghost." Put another way, she went into hiding. The FBI told her she had to because otherwise it couldn't protect her against death threats from Muslims she'd angered. Earlier this year, Norris started "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" to protest radical Muslims' violently stifling freedom of speech and conscience. Incredibly, her plight has drawn precious little media attention, even though it is infinitely more newsworthy than, say, a fundamentalist preacher in Florida threatening to burn Qurans.
  • Hey, how come nobody’s talking about what’s happening to Molly Norris? - Jim Treacher
    Yeah, isn’t that weird? Some dummy in Florida threatened to burn some books — not kill anybody, not even give anybody a bloody nose, but burn some books in a stupid, spiteful gesture — and it was a media firestorm for a whole week. Even the President of the United States felt the need to condemn it. But now we’ve got an American citizen who doesn’t feel safe in her own home because she drew a cartoon, and apparently all those same people are fine with it.
  • Cry Islamophobia! - Clifford May
    Even on Fox – yes, Fox – Chris Wallace talked last weekend of “growing anti-Islamic feeling in this country.” Excuse me, but where’s the evidence? In recent days, we’ve been told that it’s in a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing 49 percent of respondents holding an “unfavorable” opinion of Islam. At first glance that does seem disturbing. But take the trouble to actually examine the poll and a very different picture emerges.
  • Justice Stephen Breyer: Is Burning Koran 'Shouting Fire In A Crowded Theater?' - George Stephanopoulos
    We also saw Democrats and Republicans alike assume that Pastor Jones had a Constitutional right to burn those Korans. But Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told me on "GMA" that he's not prepared to conclude that -- in the internet age -- the First Amendment condones Koran burning. “Holmes said it doesn’t mean you can shout 'fire' in a crowded theater,” Breyer told me. “Well, what is it? Why? Because people will be trampled to death. And what is the crowded theater today? What is the being trampled to death?”

Congress
  • "Pledge to America" Unveiled by Republicans (Full Text)
    "With this document, we pledge to dedicate ourselves to the task of reconnecting our highest aspirations to the permanent truths of our founding by keeping faith with the values our nation was founded on, the principles we stand for, and the priorities of our people. This is our Pledge to America."
  • The Tsunami Heads to Shore
    The pros tell us that 2010 will be a "wave" election, and if that's true then think of Republicans as passengers on a ship who have just watched the tsunami roll over them. A few were washed overboard on the port side, but the GOP is likely to suffer no more losses. Now the huge wave is roaring toward shore, heading directly for the Democrats who are running American government.
  • The public hates almost everything Congress has done - Byron York
    The numbers: Bank bailouts, 61 percent disapprove versus 37 percent approve; national health care, 56 percent disapprove versus 39 percent approve; auto bailouts, 56 percent disapprove versus 43 percent approve; stimulus, 52 percent disapprove versus 43 percent approve. Only financial reform, with 61 percent approve versus 37 percent disapprove, is a winner for the representatives and senators seeking re-election.

Misc
  • Mao's Great Leap Forward 'killed 45 million in four years' - Arifa Akbar
    Mr Dikötter, who has been studying Chinese rural history from 1958 to 1962, when the nation was facing a famine, compared the systematic torture, brutality, starvation and killing of Chinese peasants to the Second World War in its magnitude. At least 45 million people were worked, starved or beaten to death in China over these four years; the worldwide death toll of the Second World War was 55 million.
  • Administration Tells Regulated Industry That There Will Be “Zero Tolerance” for Alleged “Misinformation” in Industry’s Statements About Government Policy - Eugene Volokh
    But my first reaction is that this is ominous behavior on the Administration’s part, and seems to have both the intent and effect of suppressing criticism of the Administration’s policies — including criticism that simply expresses opinions the Administration dislikes, and makes estimates that it disagrees with, and not just criticism that contains objectively demonstrable “misinformation.”
  • The Case for Marriage
    If proponents of same-sex marriage thought through these implications, their confidence might evaporate, for it seems highly unlikely that this project will succeed at all, and impossible that it will do so without decades of arduous and divisive social “reform.” That is no reason to shrink from the task, if it is truly a just one. But we should first consider whether the historic and cross-cultural understanding of marriage as the union of a man and a woman really has so little to be said for it.

Videos
 
 
That guy with the unimaginative screenname
25 September 2010 @ 04:15 pm
"If it's raining, you might as well beat your kids." -Ancient Chinese Proverb1

Thanks to a recent $30 investment, I am once again attempting to learn Chinese. "Learn" in this case means "know just enough to understand when my inlaws are talking about." For the language lovers and Easternly-inclined among you, here are my thoughts on the ups and downs of Mandarin so far. Some of this may be incorrect; a Chinese 4 year old has a better grasp of the language than I do right now.

In many ways, Mandarin is far more logical than English. Even the commonly used portions are surprisingly regular:
  • In many ways Chinese is much more logical than English. There's no conjugation of verbs at all. When I was learning Spanish it seemed like all we ever did was conjugate verbs.

  • That goes for tense, too. To indicate tense, you more or less slap the word for 'tomorrow' or 'yesterday' onto the sentence.

  • Not much in the way of pluralization, either. Generally, you just put the number in front of the nouns. Even the few instances of pluralization that I can think of ("we", "them", and "y'all all") follow identical patterns.

  • The number system is simpler, too. Instead of madness like 'eleven,' it's one-ten-one. 21 is two-ten-one, and so on.

  • The written numeral system is also pretty good, to the point where I'm not sure why they've mostly converted to the Hindu numerals we all love. While Hindu numerals are obviously superior to Roman numerals for any mathematical work, Chinese numerals are nearly as good.


Of course, every language has its oddities, and I'm only starting to run into them.
  • Measure words: when saying how many of a thing there are, you stick a measure word between the number and the noun. The tough part is that there are a lot of measure words, depending on what the noun is. different types of animals have different measure words, paper has its own measure word, balls have their own word, flat objects get another, and on and on.

  • There are a lot of negation words, too. This comes up a lot, because "word negation word" is a fairly standard construct (instead of "do you have", for example, it would be "have not have" ("you mei you" in this case (this is used all the time. From what I could tell during my time in China, a good 1/5 of all conversation consists of "mei you" (pronounced "may yo")))).

  • The tones are very hard for an English speaker. Tone changes meaning (depending on the tone, "ma" could mean mother, horse, hemp, scold, or that the sentence is a question). These are very hard to hear, and even harder to pronounce. I'm hoping that I'll be able to sort it out with context.

  • All the points that the spoken language gains for not unnecessarily transmuting words are lost with the written language. The character system is vastly inferior to a phonetic alphabet. Sadly, you're stuck learning two languages if you want to be literate in Chinese.

  • While they claim that every word in Chinese is monosyllabic, this isn't actually true in practice. At best, you can claim that Chinese is heavy on compound words ("panda" is literally a "bear cat", "computer" is "electric brain"). In reality, if you're learning Chinese, most of the words you learn will be polysyllabic, probably because there simply aren't enough syllables around to describe all the things out there. And I'm not even convinced that some of the more commonly used polysyllabic words can actually be broken down into their constituent parts.



1 I am not making this up; it was related to me by my father-in-law. Whether some nuance was lost in the translation, I couldn't tell you.
 
 
That guy with the unimaginative screenname
11 September 2010 @ 12:25 pm

So much politics lately. It has been interesting to see those who derided all opposition to the Ground Zero Mosque rapidly change their tune when the agrieved pary is Muslims rather than fellow Americans. I wish I could say it was surprising. In honor of all that, here are a few links.

Religion of Peace
  • Why Can’t We Be As Religiously Tolerant as Islam? - Joe Carter
    For some reason I had always been led to believe that Islam was a fairly intolerant religion. (I blame FOX News.) Turns out I had it completely backwards. Muslims are a Bible-loving people that like to invite Catholics over to the Mosque to pray in the name of Jesus. At least that is the story two religion scholars, one from a (nominally) Baptist school, one from a (nominally) Catholic school try to pass off to a (nominally) well-informed religion writer at CNN:
  • The Eternal Flame of Muslim Outrage - Michelle Malkin
    Just a few months ago in Kashmir, faithful Muslims rioted over what they thought was a mosque depicted on underwear sold by street vendors. The mob shut down businesses and clashed with police over the blasphemous skivvies. ... In 1997, outraged Muslims forced Nike to recall 800,000 shoes because they claimed the company’s “Air” logo looked like the Arabic script for “Allah.” In 1998, another conflagration spread over Unilever’s ice-cream logo — which Muslims claimed looked like “Allah” if read upside-down and backwards... That same year, Nigerian Muslims stabbed, bludgeoned, or burned to death 200 people in protest of the Miss World beauty pageant — which they considered an affront to Allah. ... And who could forget the global Danish-cartoon riots of 2006 (instigated by imams who toured Egypt stoking hysteria with faked anti-Islam comic strips)? From Afghanistan to Egypt to Lebanon to Libya, Pakistan, Turkey, and in between, hundreds died under the pretext of protecting Mohammed from Western slight, and brave journalists who stood up to the madness were threatened with beheading.
  • If We Don’t Build It, They Will Kill You? - Claudia Rosett
    As for the message Rauf’s words might impart to the many Americans who oppose his project, his warning doesn’t sound like bridge-building. It sounds like blackmail. Before Rauf rolled out his Cordoba House project for approval by a Manhattan community board this past May, America’s annual observations of Sept. 11 were a solemn matter, focused on the enormity of the Islamist murder of almost 3,000 Americans. This year, the run-up to Sept. 11 has become an angry showdown, involving Pastor Terry Jones and his widely and rightly condemned on-again off-again plans to burn the Koran, growing frustration on the part of many Americans who feel they are endlessly asked to defer to the sensitivities of Muslims who respond with ever-growing demands, and at the center of it all, the obdurate and self-promoting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
  • Military burns unsolicited Bibles sent to Afghanistan
    May 22, 2009 - Military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday.</a>
Miscellany
  • The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’ - Christian Rudder
    We selected 526,000 OkCupid users at random and divided them into groups by their (self-stated) race. We then took all these people's profile essays (280 million words in total!) and isolated the words and phrases that made each racial group's essays statistically distinct from the others'.
  • Deep-fried beer invented in Texas - Nick Allen
    The beer is placed inside a pocket of salty, pretzel-like dough and then dunked in oil at 375 degrees for about 20 seconds, a short enough time for the confection to remain alcoholic. When diners take a bite the hot beer mixes with the dough in what is claimed to be a delicious taste sensation.
  • 6 Unique uses of Morse code
    As usage of Morse code wanes, it’s somewhat comforting, and surprising, to learn that its legacy lives on in the strangest of forms. Here we have six unique examples of that very code being used in a variety of different items, some more successfully than others.
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