Archive for September, 2013


Occupied Palestine | فلسطين

alray38

Al Ray Agencies – Sept 29, 2013

 

Gaza, ALRAY – An Israeli settler ran over a Palestinian worker on Sunday morning to the west of Bethlehem in southern West Bank.

Local sources said the incident occurred in the street that connects Wad Fokin with Hosan town in Bethlehem near the Apartheid Wall.

The settler escaped from the scene, added the source.

Hamdan Thib, 38, sustained moderate injuries and was transferred to one of the Hebron hospitals for treatment, according to medical sources.


When Cars Become Weapons 

Settler Hit & Run Attacks, wound and even to kill



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The Secular Jurist

Screenshot image from Egberto Willies.

Don Lemon raised the ire of many when he played into Fox News and Bill O’Reilly’s blanket attack on minorities. Some believed he may have been auditioning for a new Fox News gig and adopting their faux news methodology more closely. Don Lemon was no different than most other traditional media journalists. He like others have been rolled over by a well-organized and orchestrated Right Wing, Tea Party, Republican machine that have allowed the use of the national airwaves to misinform, lie to, and confuse their listeners.

This week Don Lemon began his process of atonement. He used his Tuesday’s Tom Joyner radio segment to come clean. What is interesting is that he referenced many fact checks he should have known and every legitimate journalist should have known when Republicans were spewing their venomous lies into the American psyche. Don Lemon, Chuck Todd, and…

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Sunday Thoughts: Faithless
by Fiona


faith [feɪθ] n 1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence 2. a specific system of religious beliefs the Jewish faith 3. (Christian Religious Writings / Theology) Christianity trust in God and in his actions and promises 4. (Christian Religious Writings / Theology) a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason 5. complete confidence or trust in a person, remedy, etc. 6. any set of firmly held principles or beliefs  – Free online dictionary

Another way of thinking about faith …

atheism faith

But faith is nice, it feels good, or so people tell me. What’s the problem?

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The thing most likely to get in the way of open-ended collaboration, is faith. The resistance to considering new information, or willingness to relinquish our beliefs in the face of new evidence.  Faith makes us inflexible.

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Not only does faith make your brain stiff and inflexible, it also impacts on other people! When people are not permitted to question, or to pursue their search for evidence, something is terribly wrong!

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Sometimes people are told their whole lives that it’s important to “just believe”and that there is something wrong with them if they have doubts,  People who are taught to rely on faith may struggle when they are not able to maintain their beliefs.

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The ability to question, to think, to reason is an essential part of human-kind’s intelligence …

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So go on, doubt.  Question. Seek evidence. Develop your capacity for critical thought, for reflection. Make friends with reason and logic. Doubt away.  After all …

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New South Wales Supreme Court Tells Brainwashed Teenager He Can’t Kill Himself for Religious Reasons… Yet

By Hemant Mehta
We’ve heard stories of Jehovah’s Witness parents willing to let their children die rather than accept a life-saving blood transfusion. Thankfully, the law almost always sides against the parents. If they want to refuse the blood to save their own lives, so be it. But they have no right to kill their children because of their own religious beliefs.In Sydney, Australia, a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness cancer victim compared receiving a blood transfusion to “being raped.” He told doctors he would “rip the IV out of his arm” if they gave him the transfusion. He would rather die than betray his religious beliefs.

Thankfully, the New South Wales Supreme Court told him he has to accept the transfusion. He’s a minor, so he doesn’t get to kill himself… yet.

“The interest of the state is in keeping him alive until [he turns 18], after which he will be free to make his own decisions as to medical treatment.”

The boy turns 18 on January 18 next year, when he will then be able to exercise his right as an adult to refuse further treatment.

I think that’s exactly the right decision. While the line that distinguishes a child from an adult is arbitrary, it’s solid. Australia, like America, says you’re an adult when you’re 18 and this kid’s not 18. So there.

Considering that reports show his parents are also JWs, it’s a safe assumption that they drilled this nonsensical belief into his head. Somehow, they’re able to live with themselves knowing that they’ve given their own son a death sentence that’ll come to fruition in a few months if his cancer doesn’t get better.

(Image via Shutterstock)


CHRISTIAN HYPOCRISY: “This is what hypocrites look like!”
by AlwaysQuestionAuthority

 


New Australian Government Cancels the Future

The following is a comment from a Facebook friend, Shane C which he left under a topic I posted on Facebook yesterday; Victoria Rollison’s “Abbott is hiding from the future“. It deserves wider readership than the Facebook page could offer and it is my pleasure to post it here. You will agree that Shane raises some thought-provoking points. Here is what Shane said:

The Cabinet of the new Australian government has just one woman, no science ministry, only one member who takes scientists’ findings on global warming to be true (but who believes a future proof broadband network is not needed), and a particularly dense education minister who thinks advanced tertiary education is a privilege that only the rich should have.

This is a cause of great concern.

A number of breakthroughs in science and technology will start to emerge over the next five to twenty years. Some of the main ones will be breakthroughs in medical science, breakthroughs in materials technology, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and nanotechnology.

A number of consequences will follow which will include but not limited to; the cure for all diseases, not just cancer, resulting in very long life, the catch being that only the rich and privileged can afford it, automation of labour in all mining and heavy industry resulting in the sudden unemployment of all non-skilled labour.

Because of the exponential nature of technological development, the nations that develop the three key technologies first, AI (artificial intelligence), QC (quantum computing), and NT (nanotechnology) will rule the world. Their medical and materials technologies will be as to the rest of the world as current technological societies are to stone age ones.

Not only will the nations who get to the key twenty-first century technologies first have a gigantic economic advantage but access to advanced technologies will bootstrap their advantage even further because they will go on to develop advanced means to accessing space with AI designed, NT grown, single stage to orbit (SSTO) spacecraft that will be relatively cheap to produce and operate.

We could be looking at a twenty-first century that will be dominated by a few AI/QC/NT enhanced societies taking humanity’s first truly permanent steps out into space. Those nations that will be successful will be those who take scientific research seriously, provide the world’s best telecommunications infrastructure, and provide their populations with the best access to medical care and education.

And the new Australian government is not interested in any of this

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(Photo credit: Toban B.)

Technobiophilia

We surf the net, stream our films and save stuff in the cloud. Can we get all the nature we need from the digital world?

by  Sue Thomas
Getting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by ReutersGetting back to nature: a visitor takes a photo of jellyfish in the aquarium in Wuhan, China. Photo by Reuters

Sue Thomas is a writer and digital pioneer. Her latest book is Technobiophilia: Nature and Cyberspace (2013).

There are fish in my phone. Some are pure orange with white fins; others have black mottled markings along their orange backs. They glide, twist and turn above a bed of flat pale sand fringed by rocks and the bright green leaves of something that looks like watercress. Sometimes they swim out of view, leaving me to gaze at the empty scene in the knowledge that they will soon reappear. When I gently press my finger against the screen, the water ripples and the fish swim away. Eventually, they cruise out from behind the Google widget, appear from underneath the Facebook icon, or sneak around the corner of Contacts. This is Koi Live Wallpaper, an app designed for smartphones. The idea of an aquarium inside my phone appeals to my sense of humour and makes me smile. But I suspect its true appeal is more complicated than that.

In 1984, the psychiatrist Aaron Katcher and his team at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an experiment in the busy waiting room of a dentist’s office. On some days, before the surgery opened, the researchers installed an aquarium with tropical fish. On other days, they took it away. They measured the patients’ levels of anxiety in both environments, and the results were clear. On ‘aquarium days’, patients were less anxious and more compliant during the surgery. Katcher concluded that the presence of these colourful living creatures had a calming influence on people about to receive dental treatment. Then in 1990, Judith Heerwagen and colleagues at the University of Washington in Seattle found the same calming effect using a large nature mural instead of an aquarium in the waiting room of a specialist ‘dental fears’ clinic. A third experiment by the environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich and colleagues at Texas A&M University in 2003 found that stressed blood donors experienced lowered blood pressure and pulse rates while sitting in a room where a videotape of a nature scene was playing. The general conclusion was that visual exposure to nature not only diminished patient stress but also reduced physical pain. I’m not in pain when I look at my mobile, though I might well be stressed. Is that why I take time to gaze at my virtual aquarium?

A simple answer to this question is no. Katcher’s fish were real. Mine are animations. But there is increasing evidence that we respond very similarly to a ‘natural’ environment, whether it’s real or virtual, and research confirms that even simulated nature experiences can be remarkably powerful. In a 2008 study of Spanish energy consumers, the researchers Patrick Hartmann and Vanessa Apaolaza-Ibáñez at the University of the Basque Country examined responses to a new TV marketing campaign by one of the country’s leading energy brands, Iberdrola Energía Verde. The company was attempting to ‘green’ its image by evoking a virtual experience of nature through the use of pleasant imagery such as flying eagles, mountain scenery, and waterfalls. The intention was to evoke feelings of altruism and self-expression (‘Now, every time you switch on your light, you can feel good because you are helping nature’). The researchers found that consumers responded positively to the new branding, no matter whether they were already environmentally conscious or among the ‘non-concerned’. The ads brought the benefits of a ‘warm glow’ and a positive feeling of participating in the common good of the environment. The visual simulations were meeting a human desire to experience nature and reap its psychological benefits (pleasure, stress reduction, and so on). The research concluded that in societies where the experience of actual nature is becoming scarce, and life is increasingly virtual, the consumption of ‘green products’, especially those that evoke virtual contact with nature, can provide surrogate experiences.

The psychologist Deltcho Valtchanov at the University of Waterloo in Canada reached a similar conclusion in 2010 when he found that immersion in a computer-generated virtual reality nature space prompted an increase in positive feelings such as happiness, friendliness, affection and playfulness, and a decrease in negative feelings such as fear, anger and sadness. There were also significant decreases in levels of both perceived and physiological stress. Again, he and his colleagues concluded that encounters with nature in virtual reality have beneficial effects similar to encounters with real natural spaces. In other words, it seems that you can gain equal benefit from walking in a forest as from viewing an image of a forest or, as in my case, from watching virtual goldfish as opposed to real ones.

But what do we mean when we refer to ‘nature’? It’s a common term that seems to have an assumed collective meaning, often romanticised and sentimental. We speak of ‘getting back to nature’ as if there was once a prelapsarian baseline before we humans interfered and spoiled it. Gary Snyder, the American poet and environmentalist, offers alternative definitions from which we can choose. In The Practice of the Wild (1990), he distils down to two ways in which the term ‘nature’ is usually interpreted. One, he argues, is the outdoors: ‘the physical world, including all living things. Nature by this definition is a norm of the world that is apart from the features or products of civilisation and human will. The machine, the artefact, the devised, or the extraordinary (like a two-headed calf) is spoken of as “unnatural”.’

The other meaning is much broader, taking the first and adding to it all the products of human action and intention. Snyder calls it the material world and all its collective objects and phenomena. ‘Science and some sorts of mysticism rightly propose that everything is natural,’ he writes. In this sense, ‘there is nothing unnatural about New York City, or toxic wastes, or atomic energy, and nothing — by definition — that we do or experience in life is “unnatural”.’ That, of course, includes the products of technology. This is Snyder’s preferred definition — and mine too. However, though it’s not always made clear, I’d venture a guess that environmental psychologists might have a preference for the former, human-free definition of nature.

Either way, it’s been claimed that the love of nature derives from ‘biophilia’, or the biophilic tendency. The term, coined in the 1960s by the German social psychologist Erich Fromm, was intended to denote a psychological orientation towards nature, but it became better known when popularised by the American biologist E O Wilson in Biophilia (1984) as an ‘innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes’. Note that Wilson avoids the ‘n’ word, referring to ‘life’ instead. Of course, today the digerati are deeply engaged in conversations about what ‘life’ will mean in technologies of the future, a debate that will continue for a long time to come. More recently, the concept of biophilia has been celebrated by the Icelandic musician Björk in her 2011 album and musical project of the same name.

Perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being

The notion of biophilia draws upon a genetic attraction to an ancient natural world that evolved long before we did. It appears that our urge for contact with nature can, as shown in the experiments described, restore energy, alleviate mental fatigue, and enhance attention. It also appears to be surprisingly transferable to digital environments.

In 2004 I began collecting examples of metaphors and images of the natural world commonly found in computer culture — terms such as stream, cloud, virus, worm, surfing, field, and so on. I intended to find out what can be learnt from them about the intersections between human beings, cyberspace, and nature. I quickly amassed a long list of examples but found myself unable to suggest a reason for this phenomenon, until I came across Wilson’s theory. I realised that the story had been right in front of me all the time. It can be found in the images on our machines, in the spaces we cultivate in our online communities, and in the language we use every day of our digital lives. It began the moment we moved into the alien, shape-shifting territory of the internet and prompted a resurgence of that ancient call to life, biophilia.

Our attempts to place ourselves in this new world nourished the growth of a new spur, a hybrid through which nature and technology become symbionts, rather than opponents. I have coined the term ‘technobiophilia’ for this. It’s a clumsy word — probably not quite the right one — but for now it helps to spell out what is happening so that we can understand it better. Is there the possibility that perhaps biophilia can soothe our connected minds and improve our digital well-being? How can we harness and develop our technobiophilic instincts in order to live well in the digital world?

One option would be that rather than keeping the virtual and the natural worlds separate — turning off our machines, taking e-sabbaticals, or undergoing digital detoxes, in order to connect with nature — we think about them all as integrated elements of a single life in a single world. There is already a growing sense in the wired community that connections with the natural world are vital to digital well-being, both now and in the future. This same community needs to pay attention to biophilia and to its implementation in biophilic design. With the help of biophilic insights, we can connect the planet beneath our feet with the planet inside our machines.