Friday, December 31, 2010
This remarkable animation shows airline flights around the world over a 24-hour period. It's very interesting to see how flights are timed to take advantage of dark periods for east-west travel, arriving at the beginning of the business day. I recommend watching in full-screen mode for the best perspective.
Having flown over many of the routes shown, it's amazing to see how many other planes were going in the same direction at the same time!
I was indulging in a little Wiki-wandering this morning when I came across an article about what must surely be the biggest mortar ever built.
It's the US Army's 'Little David', constructed for the invasion of Japan in 1945.
This incredible beast had a caliber of 914mm. (36 inches - a full yard!), and fired a shell weighing 3,650 pounds over a range of up to six miles.
It never saw action, as the dropping of the atomic bombs led to Japan's surrender without the need for an invasion; but it's still an awesome piece of engineering.
The sole surviving Little David is today on display at the US Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
There's a lot more information about Little David in an article at Military Factory. Interesting reading.
Here's a video clip showing Little David in operation during trials in 1945.
Just looking at the amount of excavation and preparation needed before firing it indicates to me that Little David probably wouldn't have been very useful in action . . . but one never knows. If the invading forces had had enough time to set it up, and enough targets within its limited range once they'd done so, the beast might have justified its cost and complexity.
Fellow blogger Carteach0 waxes poetic about that activity most dreaded by most men . . . shopping! Click over to read his poem, and have a good laugh. It's just in time for the first sales of the New Year!
National Geographic has published a remarkable photographic essay about the caves of the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. I can't reproduce many of them due to US copyright law, but under 'fair use' provisions, here are three of them, reduced in size, just to whet your appetite.
Divers swim beneath a huge flowstone column in Hang Ken cave
Hang Son Doong, possibly the world's largest subterranean passage.
A half-mile-long block of 40-story buildings could fit inside this stretch.
A half-mile-long block of 40-story buildings could fit inside this stretch.
The cave of Hang En, tunneled out over centuries by the Rao Thuong River
There are many more photographs at the link, in larger sizes, too. Very interesting and highly recommended viewing. This national park goes on my list of places I want to see before I die!
The European Organization for Nuclear Research, known (from its French initials) as CERN, is celebrating a very successful 2010, and looking forward to a major upgrade. The Telegraph reports:
IT LOOKS like any other university corridor: ducts running overhead, bulletin boards on the walls, a collage of outdated Dilbert cartoons on a door. And then you notice a bronze plaque on the wall, bearing the phrase: ''Where the Web was born''. This unremarkable office, occupied by a middle-aged man in a white cardigan, used to belong to Tim Berners-Lee - and it was here, in 1989, that he put together the design for what became the world wide web.
Visiting CERN, the research facility outside Geneva that is home to the Large Hadron Collider, is a remarkable experience, not least for the constant juxtaposition of the astonishing and the mundane. Given its estimated £6 billion [about US $9.36 billion] cost, you expect either Bond-villain chic (scowling security guards, spotless lab coats, banks of flashing lights) or Silicon Valley casual (space hoppers, Segways, parkland).
Instead, the expensive stuff is buried safely underground, in the 27-kilometre tunnel around which beams of particles race at 99.9999991 per cent of the speed of light. Aside from the line of pylons stretching to Geneva - from where they draw half as much power as the rest of the city combined - the low-key, low-budget campus feels more like a provincial technical college than the home of the world's greatest minds. Indeed, when filming his Dan Brown adaptation Angels and Demons, director Ron Howard took one look at the control room and decided it would never do for Hollywood.
Similarly, most coverage of the Large Hadron Collider has focused on the astonishing machinery and the mind-blowing ambition that has driven the facility's creation. And, certainly, the facts are worth a little hyperbole. When, in November, the particle accelerator started smashing ions of lead together, the collisions were measured at 10 trillion degrees, mimicking conditions a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. At the current record speed, the particles travel the 27 kilometres 11,245 times every second. Atlas (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus), the largest of the four detectors that monitor the collisions, weighs as much as 100 empty jumbo jets, is half the size of Notre Dame, and generates enough data every year to fill a 6.4-kilometre stack of CDs. ''If you turned Atlas outward,'' says Dr Steven Goldfarb, one of the scientists who work on the device, ''it would be able to spot a grain of sand on Neptune.''
. . .
This year, they have calibrated the machine by rerunning experiments carried out elsewhere, to check that their model of the universe is working.
Now, they are edging into unknown territory: when the lead ions collided, the resulting ''asymmetry''(an imbalance in the explosion of subatomic particles) suggested the formation of quark-gluon plasma, the ''primordial soup'' of the universe at the time of the Big Bang. The experiments will continue next year, before a year-long overhaul to prepare the device for operating at 14 trillion volts, twice the current level, as the hunt goes on for the Higgs boson, aka ''the God particle'', and other strange dimensions, forces or symmetries.
So, to celebrate their success, the team at Atlas has come up with an unusual idea: releasing a charity album. The 3000 scientists decided to pool their musical skills to produce tracks from blues and rock to classical and folk. The result was Resonance, a surprisingly accomplished double album, the proceeds of which go to build an orphanage in Nepal. It was released earlier this month - "13.7 billion years to the day after the Big Bang!" claimed the press release - and the band names are packed with scientific humour: Goldfarb's group, the Canettes Blues Band, references both a local beer glass and another group from CERN, Les Horribles Cernettes (geddit?), whom he describes as "the first group to do really good physics music".
Yet while the Canettes' song Atlas Boogie is probably the only single ever to refer to liquid argon and muon spectrometers, most of the acts play it straight. Among the exceptions are two standout tracks, a belting torch song from Cat Demetriades called Sweet Cernoid, and a charming number by the TLA (it means Three-Letter Acronym) called Points of Order. The lyrics should strike a chord with any office drone: "When my wife gives birth, I'll be in a meeting/ And when black holes destroy the Earth, I'll be in a meeting."
There's more at the link.
Here's a video clip with more details about the CERN scientists' music, released by - inevitably - 'Neutralino Records'. (Well, what else would one call a company releasing the music of nuclear scientists?)
And here's a track from their album, the aforementioned 'Atlas Boogie'.
Sounds like a good time was had by all! It's a nice way to serenade the new scientific year.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Someone has assembled this compilation of the best fail video clips from the past year. Enjoy!
I guess for some of those pictured, it will indeed be a happy New Year . . . at least they can now put the last one behind them!
I'm very sad to read of the tragic death of a doctor in Florida. The Sun Sentinel reports:
Dr. Michelle Ferrari-Gegerson, 37, was discovered lying unconscious on the bedroom floor of her Pinetree Estates home around 9 p.m. Dec. 24, authorities said.
. . .
An electronic massager was found lying on the floor near Ferrari-Gegerson, police said. Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene.
BSO detectives and the Broward Medical Examiner's Office suspect that the massager became tangled with a necklace Ferrari-Gegerson was wearing and quickly tightened around her neck.
There's more at the link.
I'm citing that report here because of the very unusual nature of this incident. I've used neck massagers myself, and I'm sure many of my readers have, too. I'd hate to think that any of us might suffer the same fate as the unfortunate Dr. Ferrari-Gegerson.
The make and model of the massager in question haven't been revealed as yet: but, if you or your loved ones own any sort of neck massager, it might be worthwhile to take additional precautions, and to remove any jewelry before using it.
I've been doing a fair amount of research into media bias, from both the left and the right of US politics. There's a lot of it about. I hope, on this blog, to be able to present fair, objective and honest opinions, always pointing out where I'm coming from, so you're in no doubt as to my perspective on what I report here.
I've been growing more and more annoyed at the blatant bias shown by some left-wing or 'progressive' media outlets and resources. One, in particular, seems to be consistent in its overwhelming bias: AlterNet. Here's just one example of how they warp and twist the truth.
The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less -- right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical -- the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population.
The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured; 132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 40 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane.
. . .
Some social scientists think that making sure large-scale crime or fascism never takes root in Europe again requires a taxpayer investment in a strong social safety net. Can we learn from Europe? Isn't it better to invest in a social safety net than in a large criminal justice system? (In America over 2 million people are incarcerated.)
Unlike here, in Germany jobless benefits never run out. Not only that -- as part of their social safety net, all job seekers continue to be medically insured, as are their families.
. . .
Perhaps the only way for us to remember what we really look like in America is to see ourselves through the eyes of others. While it is true that we can all be proud Americans, surely we don't have to be proud of the broken American social safety net. Surely we can do better than that. Can a European-style social safety net rescue the American working and middle classes from GOP and Tea Party warfare?
There's more at the link.
What the author of this article (using the pseudonym 'Democrats Ramshield', of all things!) carefully fails to mention is that the 'European-style social safety net' of which he or she is so enamored is also the reason why so many European nations are virtually bankrupt today. They've been borrowing money to keep up their entitlement programs, which have become so expensive that they can no longer be funded through taxation. I've mentioned the European financial crisis here before, and you won't have to look far to find many articles about it in the current news headlines.
It strikes me as the height of dishonesty to argue the benefits and advantages of a policy that is simultaneously bankrupting many of the nations that have implemented it. Fairness? Balance? In AlterNet's dreams! There are many other articles at AlterNet that demonstrate the same lack of fairness and even-handedness as this one.
I'm open to honest discussion and debate with anyone, from any perspective. I'll even post here, on this blog, arguments with which I disagree, but which are honestly and cogently presented, so that my readers can make up their own minds. However, when I see such blatantly partisan dishonesty, I write off the source (and the person) concerned as unworthy of attention from any serious person.
The Daily Mail reports that a German manuscript has been sold, which depicts what may be the first 'plastic surgery' to rebuild an injured nose.
A 16th century book detailing one of the earliest rhinoplasty operations came to light when it was sold at auction.
The incredibly rare work, titled De Curtorum Chirurgia Per Insitionem - meaning The Surgery of Defects by Implantations - was published in 1597, and was written by Gaspare Tagliacozzi, professor of surgery and anatomy at the University of Bologna.
It describes operations carried out to repair faces that had been wounded in battle.
The tome, which is written in Latin, is illustrated with diagrams, including the rhinoplasty, in which the patient's nose was attached to a flap of skin from his upper arm.
In one plate, the patient is seen in bed with his forearm attached to his head and a flap of skin from his bicep region stuck onto his nose.
The book tells how he stayed like that for about three weeks until the skin from his arm had attached itself properly.
After a further two weeks the flap of skin was shaped so it resembled a nose and the process was complete.
The book was sold for £11,000 to a modern-day plastic surgeon.
There's more at the link.
That really amazes me! I'd never have thought that such advanced techniques were known as long ago as the 16th century, when the most advanced treatments for almost any disease or injury involved bloodletting, and the administration (as healing medication) of poisons such as arsenic and mercury! It seems that at least one doctor, in at least one place, was more advanced than his contemporaries . . . fortunately for his patients!
I was horrified to read a report on NorthJersey.com about the earnings of five stage hands at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Would you believe $422,599 a year? Plus $107,445 in benefits and deferred compensation?
That is what a fellow named Dennis O'Connell makes at Carnegie Hall. He is the props manager, the highest-paid stagehand.
Four other guys, two of them carpenters, two electricians, are paid somewhat lesser amounts, ranging down to $327,257, plus $76,459 in benefits and deferred compensation, for the junior member of the team, John Goodson, an electrician.
. . .
The Carnegie stagehands' pay was something else again, but not, as it turns out, unique. At Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, the average stagehand salary and benefits package is $290,000 a year.
To repeat, that is the average compensation of all the workers who move musicians' chairs into place and hang lights, not the pay of the top five.
Across the plaza at the Metropolitan Opera, a spokesman said stagehands rarely broke into the top-five category. But a couple of years ago, one did. The props master, James Blumenfeld, got $334,000 at that time, including some vacation back pay.
How to account for all this munificence? The power of a union, Local 1 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. "Power," as in the capacity and willingness to close most Broadway theaters for 19 days two years ago when agreement on a new contract could not be reached.
There's more at the link.
I believe unions have their place, and I've personally benefited from union intervention in my career on one occasion: but, quite frankly, those figures are enough to make me spit in disgust. If a union can extort such ridiculous sums for stagehands, what does that say about the spineless management who caved into such outrageously exorbitant demands? And why should any sane person pay the prices demanded for tickets to such facilities, when a large proportion of the money raised isn't going to support the arts, but to pamper the cossetted staff?
I'm not a patron of those facilities; and, with this information in mind, I'm most unlikely ever to become one. I could never overcome my resentment at being ripped off to pay extortionate wages and salaries like this. Certainly, I can't support even a dime of taxpayers' money being spent on those facilities, so long as such wages and salaries are being paid.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Here's a collection of over 30 Christmas trees falling down (or having others fall on them), all compressed into 35 seconds.
Now, is this the festive season, or the funny season? Remind me again, would you?
The US Geological Survey has published an astonishing image, showing all the water on the Earth - including fresh and salt water, glaciers, even the liquid in our own bodies - gathered into a sphere, and shown relative to the size of our planet.
Click here to see the original (much larger) version, plus more information about the quantity of water involved.
It certainly makes it clear how little water we have to play with on this otherwise barren planet, doesn't it?
Today's award goes collectively to the unions and politicians in Oregon who campaigned for that State's increased taxes on the wealthy, passed in a public referendum in January this year.
Guess what? The Wall Street Journal reports:
Oregon raised its income tax on the richest 2% of its residents last year to fix its budget hole, but now the state treasury admits it collected nearly one-third less revenue than the bean counters projected. The sun also rose in the east, and the Cubs didn't win the World Series.
That's right . . . after Oregon decided to raise their taxes, a bunch of richer Oregonians decided they could do rather better for themselves if they were no longer Oregonians. In other words, they voted with their feet - and now the state of Oregon is collecting even less tax than it would have if its rates had remained unchanged.
To quote Homer Simpson: "Well, doh!"
I'm equally amused by the furious denials of pro-higher-taxes Oregonians. Take, for example, Blue Oregon, a Web site that describes its mission as follows:
We'll be working to reflect the full diversity of Oregon progressivism - socio-economically, geographically, ideologically, ethnically, and beyond.
Our goal? To be the single best place for progressive Oregonians to catch the zeitgeist of our world; to motivate, educate, and elucidate; to help keep Oregon Blue.
Uh-huh. With that approach, it's not surprising that Oregon Blue wasn't too impressed with the Wall Street Journal's analysis. I won't bother quoting them, but in a nutshell, they're clutching at any and every possible straw to provide alternative explanations for the reduction in tax revenues. They also tried to argue that the Wall Street Journal was incorrect to point out that Maryland, which also tried to hike taxes on the rich, also lost a large number of those rich residents as soon as the tax passed.
It's just the same old whines from the same old tax-and-spend types . . . When will the loony Left get it? If you try to squeeze too many golden eggs out of the goose that lays them, sooner or later the goose is going to leave for more attractive pastures elsewhere! It's been that way since the dawn of time, and I don't think it's about to change.
The Washington Post has a very interesting (and very detailed) article about Portugal's experiment with de-criminalizing drug use, and diverting offenders into treatment rather than sending them to jail. Here's an extract.
Drugs in Portugal are still illegal. But here's what Portugal did: It changed the law so that users are sent to counseling and sometimes treatment instead of criminal courts and prison. The switch from drugs as a criminal issue to a public health one was aimed at preventing users from going underground.
Other European countries treat drugs as a public health problem, too, but Portugal stands out as the only one that has written that approach into law. The result: More people tried drugs, but fewer ended up addicted.
Here's what happened between 2000 and 2008:
- There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.
- Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.
- Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.
- The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine - figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.
- The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.
. . .
Officials have not yet worked out the cost of the program, but they expect no increase in spending, since most of the money was diverted from the justice system to the public health service.
In Portugal today, outreach health workers provide addicts with fresh needles, swabs, little dishes to cook up the injectable mixture, disinfectant and condoms. But anyone caught with even a small amount of drugs is automatically sent to what is known as a Dissuasion Committee for counseling. The committees include legal experts, psychologists and social workers.
Failure to turn up can result in fines, mandatory treatment or other sanctions. In serious cases, the panel recommends the user be sent to a treatment center.
. . .
Whether the alternative approaches work seems to depend on how they are carried out. In the Netherlands, where police ignore the peaceful consumption of illegal drugs, drug use and dealing are rising, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Five Dutch cities are implementing new restrictions on marijuana cafes after a wave of drug-related gang violence.
However, in Switzerland, where addicts are supervised as they inject heroin, addiction has steadily declined. No one has died from an overdose since the program began in 1994, according to medical studies. The program is credited with reducing crime and improving addicts' health.
The Obama administration firmly opposes the legalization of drugs, saying that it would increase access and promote acceptance, according to drug czar Kerlikowske. The U.S. is spending $74 billion this year on criminal and court proceedings for drug offenders, compared with $3.6 billion for treatment.
But even the U.S. has taken small steps toward Portugal's approach of more intervention and treatment programs. And Kerlikowske has called for an end to the "War on Drugs" rhetoric.
"Calling it a war really limits your resources," he said. "Looking at this as both a public safety problem and a public health problem seems to make a lot more sense."
There is no guarantee that Portugal's approach would work in the U.S. For one, the U.S. population is 29 times larger than Portugal's 10.6 million.
Still, an increasing number of American cities are offering nonviolent drug offenders a chance to choose treatment over jail, and the approach appears to be working.
. . .
Nationally, between 4 and 29 percent of drug court participants will get caught using drugs again, compared with 48 percent of those who go through traditional courts.
San Francisco's drug court saves the city $14,297 per offender, officials said. Expanding drug courts to all 1.5 million drug offenders in the U.S. would cost more than $13 billion annually, but would return more than $40 billion, according to a study by John Roman, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.
The first drug court opened in the U.S. 21 years ago. By 1999, there were 472; by 2005, 1,250.
This year, new drug courts opened every week around the U.S., as states faced budget crises exarcebated by the high rate of incarceration on drug offenses. There are now drug courts in every state, more than 2,400 serving 120,000 people.
There's more at the link. It makes very interesting reading. Highly recommended.
This is of particular interest to me as a former prison chaplain. I've seen many people in jail who, in my opinion, should not have been there, most of them committed for drug offenses. I simply don't believe that a heavy drug user (as opposed to a dealer or distributor) should be in jail. By criminalizing their addiction, we're adding billions of dollars to an already bloated criminal justice budget, whilst doing little or nothing to cure them or prevent them from backsliding as soon as they're released. Indeed, drugs smuggled into prisons can be sold for a great deal more than their 'street' price, due to their scarcity. This racket's become a very lucrative market for certain segments of the underworld, including most of the worst prison gangs.
I'll be interested to see whether Portugal's approach proves adaptable to the US criminal justice environment. I hope that the Federal Government, as well as States and local government, have the courage to try it. After all, it can't possibly be worse than the mess we have now!
Shelly Blake-Plock, writing at TeachPaperless, published an article a year ago predicting that 21 well-known classroom technologies, techniques and policies would be extinct by 2020. They included:
- Language Labs
- The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
- Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
- Fear of Wikipedia
- Attendance Offices
- IT Departments
- Centralized Institutions
- Organization of Educational Services by Grade
- Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
- Paid/Outsourced Professional Development
- Current Curricular Norms
- Parent-Teacher Conference Night
- Typical Cafeteria Food
- Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering
- High School Algebra
Details of his predictions are at the link.
I was reminded of his predictions by an article on MLive.com. The article looked at the replacement of 'snow days' by 'e-days' to make up for lost classroom time.
Miswsissiawa Valley schools in Ohio are studying replacing snow days with “e-days,” where students can carry out classwork from home on their computers.
Online education is picking up steam at both the K-12 and college levels, several experts told me this month as we looked at evolving educational trends.
While virtual classes make it possible for schools to offer AP and other classes they might not offer otherwise, some districts are discovering other advantages.
Miswsissiawa Valley's superintendent told McCown that teachers get special training and put together a number of online lessons in the summer, ready to go when bad weather arrives.
. . .
Experts say about a quarter of all students will be enrolled in Internet-based classes within five years, and at least half of all high school classes will be offered through computers before the next decade ends.
That could force a number of changes about what schools are like, including the start and stop times and calendar. Students, in theory, can learn from any where and at any time.
And access might not be an issue for much longer.
North Muskegon Superintendent Curt Babcock told me his district in February is distributing netbook computers to all 320 high school students. All will have Internet access and textbooks downloaded. Students will be able to download course information at any time.
“Only a couple districts are doing this now, but I think in five years this will be considered the norm,” he said.
There's more at the link.
I've written before about the growing availability of high-level education courses on the Internet, free of charge. I think that mediocre, even 'average' teachers, will soon face online 'replacement' by better presenters, who will tailor their teaching methods to the new medium and engage students far more actively in the learning process. This, more than anything else, might be the decisive factor to break the stranglehold of the teachers unions on the US education system - something that's long overdue.
It might also accelerate some of Mr. Blake-Plock's predictions by several years . . .
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
This exhibition of superb control is what I've always believed every motorcyclist should be taught. I'm not saying we'd all be as good as this rider, but I'm fed up with people who climb astride a heavy, clunky, unwieldy bike, that can do insanely high speeds, but have no idea how to maneuver it at low speeds or ease it through a constricted, convoluted course. The latter skills are vital to safety on the road, but very few schools teach them, and very few riders bother to learn them.
I hope this video gives at least some riders the desire to learn this sort of thing.
I was appalled and very sad to read of the death of Officer John Maguire of Woburn, MA. He was 60 years old, and on the point of retirement. The Boston Herald reports:
The town’s post-Christmas peace was shattered by ex-con Dominic Cinelli, 57, of Woburn, and his plan to use the blizzard’s cover to knock over the department store. His scheme ended in the exchange of gunfire, which left him dying on the snow-swept, diamond-strewn pavement.
. . .
Maguire, son of the late Woburn Police Chief Thomas J. Maguire, had just come from talking a woman out of committing suicide, the current chief said. Responding to the robbery call, he cut off Cinelli’s escape in the parking lot, traded fire with him, and died almost immediately after being shot four times in the torso. Cinelli, also shot multiple times, died on the spot.
There's more at the link.
To make matters worse, Cinelli was only able to kill Officer Maguire because of flawed decision-making in the criminal justice system.
Dominic Cinelli, the career criminal whose jewelry heist left him and the cop who stopped him both dead in the snow outside Kohl’s in Woburn on Sunday night, had three decades of violence and hard prison time behind him when it all came to a bloody end on a snow-packed parking lot.
Cinelli was on parole when he killed Woburn Police Officer James “Jack” Maguire, a married father of two, in Sunday night’s exchange of gunfire, authorities said.
. . .
He was ... serving three life sentences, when in 2005, a state appeals court ruled that he should be eligible for parole, according to a record of his parole hearing. After four years, the Parole Board released him, and he walked in February 2009, state records show.
Again, more at the link.
Speaking as a former prison chaplain, I've seen this pattern repeated far too many times to be comfortable with the present system. Over and over again, I've seen parole granted to convicted felons solely on the basis of what psychologists, or sociologists, or academic specialists 'think' or 'feel' about their prospects. In many cases, the felon's atrocious conduct record behind bars has been ignored or disregarded by the parole board. They haven't considered it 'relevant', or they've argued that conduct in so unnatural a setting as a prison is no indicator of how someone will behave in 'normal society'. As a result, good men like Officer Maguire end up dead.
In my memoir of prison ministry (as yet unpublished, but I'm hoping for good news in 2011 - watch this space!), I said this:
... we can't keep [inmates] locked up once [they've] done [their] time. Sometimes we [prison staff] wish we could go to court and say bluntly, "If you let this man out, he's going to hurt or kill others. He's a permanent danger to society. He needs to stay behind bars." Very sadly, we don't have the legal right to do that, and the courts don't have the right to order permanent incarceration for such offenders. Every year we're legally obliged to discharge inmates on completion of their sentences, in the sure and certain knowledge that someone out there is going to suffer, perhaps even die, because we're doing so. It tears your guts out sometimes.
In this case, there wasn't even the excuse that Cinelli had completed his sentence. Someone got all touchy-feely, and let him out early. As a result, a good man is dead.
May the soul of Officer Maguire rest in peace, and may his family receive whatever comfort can be given, by God or man, in such a tragedy.
Will there be consequences for those who let his killer loose, to kill again? I doubt it . . .
Apparently no-one knows exactly what your tax dollars are doing! Accounting Today reports:
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said it could not render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.
. . .
Dodaro also cited material weaknesses involving an estimated $125.4 billion in improper payments, information security across government, and tax collection activities. He noted that three major agencies — the DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor — did not get clean opinions. Nineteen of 24 major agencies did get clean opinions on all their statements.
There's more at the link. It's sickening reading - even more so when we put that lack of financial accountability and transparency together with runaway, out-of-control spending. That's nothing less than a recipe, a license, for systemic, endemic waste, corruption and fraud.
Let's not forget, too, that for the past four years, Congress - the organ of government where all spending bills and proposals are supposed to originate - has been controlled by the Democratic Party. The 110th and 111th Congresses - running from 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, respectively - saw the two greatest increases in Federal Government debt in the history of the USA: $1.957 trillion and $3.22 trillion, respectively. The 111th Congress alone incurred more new Federal Government debt than the first 100 Congresses combined! Is it any wonder that US voters threw the rascals out last November?
I'm not giving the Republican Party a pass on this, either. During their years in control of Congress and the Senate under President Bush, they showed little or no restraint in wasting our tax dollars, and a great deal of the waste identified by the GAO occurred (or began) on their watch. Furthermore, President Bush should have used his veto power to at least try to rein in the spending. He failed. Miserably.
This country simply cannot afford to vote for spending program after spending program when it doesn't have the income to finance them, and can't even collect the information required to manage them. One can't run a nation - or a company, or a household - by borrowing most of what it needs to spend for the bare essentials, the basic necessities of life. That's what the USA has been doing for a very long time . . . and it can't continue. Every dollar added to Federal Government debt now is a millstone around our collective necks, adding to the already crippling burden of debt that we're going to have to repay in our generation and for several generations to come. What's more, if we can't account for what we're spending, how can we ever get our spending under control?
Newsweek calls it 'the tyranny of public debt', and points out:
How do we break the deadlock? The first step is to recognize that the worst is possible. History provides lessons. The first concerns the very nature of public debt: it is an obligation handed down from the present generation to future ones. The latter must always pay, one way or another—which is why public debt is acceptable only under certain conditions. First, it is tolerable only if you anticipate that future generations will be large and rich. Second, it is legitimate only if it finances forward-looking investment. Public debt can encourage growth and help make future generations richer. But for that, one must parse unwise debt (debt that finances running costs) from intelligent debt (public infrastructure for energy, transport, health care, or education).
History also teaches that public debt must be handled carefully even when it’s intelligent debt and even when the borrowing is moderate. Nobody can predict what will trigger a sovereign debt crisis because in practice such crises arise more from a subjective loss of confidence than the crossing of any specific threshold. But history has shown that almost all excessively indebted states eventually default. France did it six times, including the notorious 1797 Bankruptcy of the Two Thirds, in which the government repudiated 67 percent of the national debt. Some states have actually collapsed under sovereign debt crises: Venice in 1490, Genoa in 1555, Spain in 1650, and Amsterdam in 1770.
Still, accumulating excessive debt is far too easy. Spending naturally rises faster than revenue. But once the fatal spiral begins, how can a state escape disaster? There are only eight options:
All eight options have been used in the past, but only one of them is both plausible and desirable today: growth. A growing economy (which raises tax revenue) permits the absorption of debt and restores sustainable public finances. Then borrowing can resume—if it will encourage further growth. Responsible governments do not finance their everyday expenses by borrowing, and they keep their investments at a level they can repay.
- higher taxes;
- less spending;
- more growth;
- more lenient interest rates;
- worse inflation;
- external aid; or
Again, there's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis. Worthwhile reading.
Actually, this post should perhaps be titled 'Doofus Of The Year 2010'! A New Zealand web site has nominated Florida as 'top of the odd news' for the past year.
This year, Floridians learned that burials at sea don't work if the body doesn't sink, giant snail mucus can make you sick and that an underwire bra can stop a lawyer from visiting her client in prison.
Florida lived up to its reputation for being an odd state in 2010, with residents committing stupid crimes, making poor decisions and exhibiting general weirdness.
. . .
Several people in Miami complained got sick after consuming mucous from a giant snail in a religious ceremony.
2010 wasn't the year to mess with the elderly. An 84-year-old man was arrested in Bay County for allegedly hitting a deputy with his cane.
Would-be robbers knocked an 83-year-old man to the ground in Clearwater only to turn and run when the victim pulled a gun on them. A 69-year-old woman turned back a robber after picking up the gun he dropped in her car while smashing the windshield with it. He also dropped his cellphone and was caught.
. . .
Finally, Florida has the kind of corrections officials that will make you rethink what you're wearing. A Miami attorney said she was kept from visiting her client at a federal detention centre because the underwire of her bra set off the metal detector. After she took it off, she said guards wouldn't let her in because she was braless.
There's more at the link. Amusing reading.
Actually, I can understand that last paragraph. Having worked as a chaplain in the Federal prison system, I know that their regulations do, indeed, require visitors to pass through the metal detector without setting it off. Another regulation does, indeed, require female visitors to dress in a manner that won't . . . ah . . . titillate male inmates (you should pardon the expression!). In this case, I guess it turned into a Catch-22 situation . . . although, given the subject(s) under discussion, that should perhaps be a Catch-36, or Catch-38, or even a Catch-44!
I guess when a US state is nominated as the weirdest of the weird, by a Web site on the other side of the world, that's worth our Doofus award.
Richard Littlejohn, writing about the many 'green' power-generating wind turbines deployed in England, points out:
Over the past three weeks, with demand for power at record levels because of the freezing weather, there have been days when the contribution of our forests of wind turbines has been precisely nothing.
It gets better. As the temperature has plummeted, the turbines have had to be heated to prevent them seizing up. Consequently, they have been consuming more electricity than they generate.
Let's hear it for 'green' - NOT!
Monday, December 27, 2010
The advertisement below is for the Austrian brewery Trumer. They decided to publicize their beer by building a Rube Goldberg-type affair (or, for viewers in Britain and her former colonies, a 'Heath Robinson' sort of thing). This is the result.
Full marks for creativity!
The Mayor of London, England, points to a British forecaster who's beaten the Meteorological Office and everyone else in correctly forecasting the events of the winter thus far.
Allow me to introduce readers to Piers Corbyn, meteorologist and brother of my old chum, bearded leftie MP Jeremy. Piers Corbyn works in an undistinguished office in Borough High Street. He has no telescope or supercomputer. Armed only with a laptop, huge quantities of publicly available data and a first-class degree in astrophysics, he gets it right again and again.
Back in November, when the Met Office was still doing its "mild winter" schtick, Corbyn said it would be the coldest for 100 years. Indeed, it was back in May that he first predicted a snowy December, and he put his own money on a white Christmas about a month before the Met Office made any such forecast. He said that the Met Office would be wrong about last year's mythical "barbecue summer", and he was vindicated. He was closer to the truth about last winter, too.
He seems to get it right about 85 per cent of the time and serious business people – notably in farming – are starting to invest in his forecasts. In the eyes of many punters, he puts the taxpayer-funded Met Office to shame. How on earth does he do it? He studies the Sun.
He looks at the flow of particles from the Sun, and how they interact with the upper atmosphere, especially air currents such as the jet stream, and he looks at how the Moon and other factors influence those streaming particles.
He takes a snapshot of what the Sun is doing at any given moment, and then he looks back at the record to see when it last did something similar. Then he checks what the weather was like on Earth at the time – and he makes a prophecy.
I have not a clue whether his methods are sound or not. But when so many of his forecasts seem to come true, and when he seems to be so consistently ahead of the Met Office, I feel I want to know more. Piers Corbyn believes that the last three winters could be the harbinger of a mini ice age that could be upon us by 2035, and that it could start to be colder than at any time in the last 200 years. He goes on to speculate that a genuine ice age might then settle in, since an ice age is now cyclically overdue.
Is he barmy? Of course he may be just a fluke-artist. It may be just luck that he has apparently predicted recent weather patterns more accurately than government-sponsored scientists. Nothing he says, to my mind, disproves the view of the overwhelming majority of scientists, that our species is putting so much extra CO2 into the atmosphere that we must expect global warming.
The question is whether anthropogenic global warming is the exclusive or dominant fact that determines our climate, or whether Corbyn is also right to insist on the role of the Sun. Is it possible that everything we do is dwarfed by the moods of the star that gives life to the world? The Sun is incomparably vaster and more powerful than any work of man. We are forged from a few clods of solar dust. The Sun powers every plant and form of life, and one day the Sun will turn into a red giant and engulf us all. Then it will burn out. Then it will get very nippy indeed.
There's more at the link. Here's an interview with Mr. Corbyn from Fox News.
Mr. Corbyn's Web site provides more details of his prognostications. It makes for interesting reading . . . and so far, he's been right on the money. If he continues to be proved correct, of course, then the proponents of anthropogenic global warming will be proved wrong, comprehensively and completely - which is why they don't seem to like him very much! More power to him, say I. Accuracy speaks far more loudly than propaganda, in the long run.
Reader Steve R. e-mailed me these pictures of a 'Christmas tree' made out of the remains of 70 computer hard disk drives.
He informs me that they were pulled out of several old computer servers that were being replaced by more modern hardware. Instead of reformatting all the old disk drives, one of the techs decided to dismantle them and make use of their platters in a festive mode befitting the Christmas season.
They certainly make for a unique Christmas tree!
I saw Iain Sinclair's credit-card-sized CardSharp knife mentioned on Gizmodo recently.
It's described as follows:
CardSharp [is] a superlight and supersharp utility knife, the same size as a credit card.
Just three ingenious folding operations metamorphosise the card into an elegant pocket utility tool. Slimmer and lighter than an ordinary knife.
The extra long stainless steel surgical blade ensures longer lasting rust free sharpness. The built-in protective sheath helps prevent injury or blunting.
There's more at the link. Here's a video clip showing the blade being deployed.
The CardSharp isn't the only credit-card-sized tool developed by Iain Sinclair. They also have a flashlight;
a HD camera;
and a 3D camera.
There's more information on all of them at the link.
I appreciate the ingenuity that went into these products. No, they aren't paying me to mention them, and I don't get any free products out of this article; I just like neat, nifty designs when I see them.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
. . . here's an attempt to speed things up! Top Gear staged a race for specialist airport vehicles.
Remind me never, ever to accept a ride in any airport vehicle (or any other sort of vehicle) driven by any of those guys!
The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a growing fad to disguise modern technology behind older facades.
This has been a great year for the next new electronic thing. The iPad, new iPhone, the Nexus S, HTC Evo and other Android phones, the Kindle 3 and Microsoft's Kinect caught the eye of consumers.
But some people prefer their next new thing to look like an old thing.
. . .
An example of the phenomena is a manual typewriter refashioned as a computer keyboard. Jack Zylkin of Philadelphia made one as a novel way for people to sign in when visiting Hive76, a Philadelphia communal studio for electronics tinkerers.
"I thought it would be kind of a lark," he said. "I didn't realise there was such demand for them." Now he is turning out several typewriters a week, with a two- to three-week lead time for new orders.
. . .
A variation of this theme of fashioning the old into new relies on the smart design of the old Western Electric Bell telephones. Consider the handset. Unlike today's telephone earpieces and cabled headphone and mic arrangements, the large handset put the speaker over the ear and the microphone next to the mouth so bystanders weren't forced to listen to bellowed phone conversations.
The gadget purveyors ThinkGeek have taken that old handset and added Bluetooth so you can have some privacy while connected wirelessly to a mobile phone. The $US25 handset can transmit and receive at a distance of about 30 feet from your phone.
Crosley Radio has been making the old new again since the early 1980s when a group of investors bought a discarded radio brand and started cranking out replica radios. The company has replica Wurlitzer-style jukeboxes that play music from CDs or iPods. "What really rolls out the door is the turntables, that has been a runaway train," said James P. LeMastus, president of Crosley.
The company has had a hit with the Crosley AV Room Portable USB turntable, made exclusively for the youth-oriented clothing chain Urban Outfitters.
There's more at the link. The illustrations above are taken from the products' respective vendors' Web sites, as linked in the article.
I find these things fascinating! I admire the creativity that the inventors of these 'retro gadgets' display in their handiwork. It's not quite steampunk, but it's close.
LiveScience reports that a 'violent gene' has been discovered . . . but there's a twist to the tale.
The mutation, which is found only in Finnish populations, shows up three times more often in violent criminal offenders than in psychologically healthy Finns, the study found. However, the researchers caution that the mutation itself does not cause impulsivity, but may play a role along with factors like gender, alcohol consumption and stress.
"We've known that impulsivity is strongly influenced genetically, but here's a severe genetic variant that does contribute to it," study author David Goldman, a geneticist at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), told LiveScience.
. . .
In the current study, researchers recruited 96 Finnish men who were in jail for violent offenses and 96 psychologically healthy Finnish men who were not incarcerated. Finns were chosen for the study, because the Finnish population is more isolated than other populations and therefore hosts a less-diverse array of genetic mutations.
Goldman and his colleagues analyzed each man's genome, focusing on 14 genes known to be related to the function of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. They found a mutation on a gene called HTR2B was associated with impulsive, violent behavior.
. . .
Seventeen of the 96 inmates had the gene mutation, a rate three times that of the non-incarcerated participants. On average, the prisoners had committed five violent crimes apiece, 94 percent of which occurred under the influence of alcohol. The crimes were not premeditated and were usually an overreaction to a minor incident, the researchers report. The study also revealed that 70 percent of participants with the mutation had displayed suicidal behavior.
There's more at the link.
I find it particularly interesting and intriguing that this genetic mutation has been found only in Finnish men. It may shed new light on a phenomenon from Viking times. The Vikings were Northmen, from what is today Scandinavia, comprising (from west to east) Norway, Sweden and Finland. Some Vikings were known as 'berserkers', men who "are reported in the Old Norse literature to have fought in a nearly uncontrollable, trance-like fury, a characteristic which later gave rise to the English word berserk."
Could it be that the 'berserkers' of old included men who carried this genetic mutation? If we could find the graves of such men, and conduct DNA analysis of their remains, it might explain much about what made them fight like that. Certainly, the geographic restriction of the genetic mutation to an area from which many Vikings came is highly suggestive of a link.
The Daily Mail reports:
A glass vial from the Civil War has been opened, revealing a coded message to the desperate Confederate commander in Vicksburg on the day the Mississippi city fell to Union forces 147 years ago.
. . .
The encrypted, six-line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton's surrender to Union forces led by Ulysses S. Grant, ending the Siege of Vicksburg in what historians say was a turning point midway into the Civil War.
The message is from a Confederate commander on the west side of the Mississippi River across from Pemberton.
'He's saying, 'I can't help you. I have no troops, I have no supplies, I have no way to get over there,' ' Museum of the Confederacy collections manager Catherine M. Wright said of the author of the dispiriting message.
Wright asked a local art conservator, Scott Nolley, to examine the clear vial before she attempted to open it. He looked at the bottle under an electron microscope and discovered that salt had bonded the cork tightly to the bottle's mouth.
He put the bottle on a hotplate to expand the glass, used a scalpel to loosen the cork, then gently plucked it out with tweezers.
The sewing thread was looped around the 6 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch paper, which was folded to fit into the bottle. The rolled message was removed and taken to a paper conservator, who successfully unfurled the message.
But the coded message, which appears to be a random collection of letters, did not reveal itself immediately.
Eager to learn the meaning of the code, Wright took the message home for the weekend to decipher. She had no success.
A retired CIA code breaker, David Gaddy, was contacted, and he cracked the code in several weeks.
A Navy cryptologist independently confirmed Gaddy's interpretation. Cmdr. John B. Hunter, an information warfare officer, said he deciphered the code over two weeks while on deployment aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. A computer could have unscrambled the words in a fraction of the time.
'To me, it was not that difficult,' he said. 'I had fun with this and it took me longer than I should have.'
The code is called the 'Vigenere cipher,' a centuries-old encryption in which letters of the alphabet are shifted a set number of places so an 'a' would become a 'd' — essentially, creating words with different letter combinations.
The code was widely used by Southern forces during the Civil War, according to Civil War Times Illustrated.
The source of the message was likely Maj. Gen. John G. Walker, of the Texas Division, who had under his command William Smith, the donor of the bottle.
The full text of the message to Pemberton reads:
'Gen'l Pemberton: You can expect no help from this side of the river. Let Gen'l Johnston know, if possible, when you can attack the same point on the enemy's lines. Inform me also and I will endeavor to make a diversion. I have sent some caps (explosive devices). I subjoin a despatch from General Johnston.'
. . .
For Pemberton, the bottle is symbolic of his lost cause: the bad news never made it to him.
The Confederate messenger probably arrived to the river's edge and saw a U.S. flag flying over the city.
'He figured out what was going on and said, 'Well, this is pointless,' and turned back,' Wright said.
There's more at the link.
One does wonder how the messenger must have thought, arriving at the Mississippi and seeing the enemy's flag flying over the breastworks he'd probably left a few days (perhaps only a few hours) before. It must have been a very bitter moment for him, knowing that he couldn't complete his mission or carry out his orders. Still, that's war . . .
General Grant, the Union commander at Vicksburg, would soon be appointed to command of all the Union armies, and in less than two years would lead them to victory, forcing the whole of the South to follow Vicksburg in surrender. His success and rapid advancement aroused much jealousy among other Union generals, of course, leading to a whispering campaign against him in an attempt to undermine his influence. Fortunately, President Lincoln was inured to such tactics. When rumors reached him, in November that same year, that General Grant was an alcoholic, he tartly rejoined, "Tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals." That silenced most of the critics!
I noted (with some cynicism) an article in the Independent last week.
Scientists have established a link between the cold, snowy winters in Britain and melting sea ice in the Arctic and have warned that long periods of freezing weather are likely to become more frequent in years to come.
An analysis of the ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean has found that the higher temperatures there caused by global warming, which have melted the sea ice in the summer months, have paradoxically increased the chances of colder winters in Britain and the rest of northern Europe.
. . .
The researchers used computer models to assess the impact of the disappearing Arctic sea ice, particularly in the area of the Barents and Kara seas north of Scandinavia and Russia, which have experienced unprecedented losses of sea ice during summer.
Their models found that, as the ice cap over the ocean disappeared, this allowed the heat of the relatively warm seawater to escape into the much colder atmosphere above, creating an area of high pressure surrounded by clockwise-moving winds that sweep down from the polar region over Europe and the British Isles. Vladimir Petoukhov, who carried out the study at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said the computer simulations showed that the disappearing sea ice is likely to have widespread and unpredictable impacts on the climate of the northern hemisphere.
One of the principal predictions of the study was that the warming of the air over the ice-free seas is likely to bring bitterly cold air to Europe during the winter months, Dr Petoukhov said. "This is not what one would expect. Whoever thinks that the shrinking of some far away sea-ice won't bother him could be wrong. There are complex interconnections in the climate system, and in the Barents-Kara Sea we might have discovered a powerful feedback mechanism," he said.
. . .
The computer model used by the scientists also predicted that, as the ice cover continues to be lost, the weather pattern is likely to shift back into a phase of warmer-than-usual winters. Global warming will also continue to warm the Arctic air mass, Professor Rahmstorf said.
"If you look ahead 40 or 50 years, these cold winters will be getting warmer because, even though you are getting an inflow of cold polar air, that air mass is getting warmer because of the greenhouse effect," he said. "So it's a transient phenomenon. In the long run, global warming wins out."
There's more at the link.
These global warming fanatics never cease to amaze me. Their computer models have been completely and utterly discredited. If you enter into their models actual records from, say, 1900 to 1975, and then try to have the models predict the period from 1975 to 2000, they never get it right. Not once. Their predicted results never square with the actual figures recorded during those years . . . yet, they're still trying to persuade us that their models can predict the future! Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .
As Investors Business Daily pointed out:
The sight of confused and angry travelers stuck in airports across Europe because of an arctic freeze that has settled across the continent isn't funny. Sadly, they've been told for more than a decade now that such a thing was an impossibility — that global warming was inevitable, and couldn't be reversed.
This is a big problem for those who see human-caused global warming as an irreversible result of the Industrial Revolution's reliance on carbon-based fuels. Based on global warming theory — and according to official weather forecasts made earlier in the year — this winter should be warm and dry. It's anything but. Ice and snow cover vast parts of both Europe and North America, in one of the coldest Decembers in history.
A cautionary tale? You bet. Prognosticators who wrote the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, global warming report in 2007 predicted an inevitable, century-long rise in global temperatures of two degrees or more. Only higher temperatures were foreseen. Moderate or even lower temperatures, as we're experiencing now, weren't even listed as a possibility.
Since at least 1998, however, no significant warming trend has been noticeable. Unfortunately, none of the 24 models used by the IPCC views that as possible. They are at odds with reality.
Karl Popper, the late, great philosopher of science, noted that for something to be called scientific, it must be, as he put it, "falsifiable." That is, for something to be scientifically true, you must be able to test it to see if it's false. That's what scientific experimentation and observation do. That's the essence of the scientific method.
Unfortunately, the prophets of climate doom violate this idea. No matter what happens, it always confirms their basic premise that the world is getting hotter. The weather turns cold and wet? It's global warming, they say. Weather turns hot? Global warming. No change? Global warming. More hurricanes? Global warming. No hurricanes? You guessed it.
. . .
No matter what the weather, it's all due to warming. This isn't science; it's a kind of faith. Scientists go along and even stifle dissent because, frankly, hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants are at stake. But for the believers, global warming is the god that failed.
Why do we continue to listen to warmists when they're so wrong? Maybe it's because their real agenda has nothing to do with climate change at all. Earlier this month, attendees of a global warming summit in Cancun, Mexico, concluded, with virtually no economic or real scientific support, that by 2020 rich nations need to transfer $100 billion a year to poor nations to help them "mitigate" the adverse impacts of warming.
This is what global warming is really about — wealth redistribution by people whose beliefs are basically socialist. It has little or nothing to do with climate.
Again, there's more at the link.
I have a suggestion. Let's take all the doom-and-gloom anthropogenic global warming prognosticators, and stick them in an academic ivory tower with all the economists who didn't see the current financial collapse coming. They can publish papers to and for each other to their hearts' content . . . and leave the rest of us to get on with reality.
Works for me!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Here's an Arabic Christmas carol that dates back to Byzantine influence in the first millennium after Christ. A translation of the lyrics is included on the video.
Lovely, isn't it?
May your Christmas season continue to be blessed, joyful and peaceful.
If there's a car enthusiast in your life, first of all, my sincere sympathies! Having said that, you might have wondered what to buy them for Christmas, or what to get them now after your initial selections proved less than successful.
Fear not - the boys from Top Gear have come to the rescue!
I've written before about the face of Jesus being 'identified' in food or other objects. It never ceases to amaze me how often others seem to find him portrayed in something edible. Here are a couple of examples, courtesy of the Village Voice:
Jesus in a burnt frying pan
Jesus on a banana (does this really have religious a-peel?)
There's more at the link, including explanations of the pictures above. Entertaining reading. There's even a book on the subject!
The Savior has also been identified in a popular snack food.
Death & Taxes examined the question more closely in a recent article.
From Christ’s 1977 cameo in a tortilla to Mary’s miraculous 2005 appearance in a pizza pan, there’s a long litany of modern instances in which the holy brood “revealed” themselves in our edibles. To the devout, these cases are nothing less than divine intervention. To others they’re nothing more than optical illusions.
Scientists refer to this phenomenon as pareidolia, in which banal images are given great significance. Whether it’s transforming a cloud into a lamb, or a piece of dry bread into Jesus, pareidolia’s considered nothing more than a mental projection.
When cloaked in the sacred, pareidolia can be called “simulacra,” or similarity, in which the viewer exports spiritual meaning onto something that, from a more secular person’s perspective, could be seen as something else entirely.
In all cases, however, people saw a face, because, as scientists contend, we humans are programmed to organize patterns into an image, most often a face. The abundance of religion in our various societies, meanwhile, often translates those “faces” into sacred celebrities. And of course Christians aren’t the only devout people who project prophets onto their edibles: Allah has also been seen in fish, bread and animals’ fur.
University of North Carolina Professor Gregory Price Grieve explains that this habit arose from an overabundance of religious imagery in our various cultures: “What you see is not always what you get. Instead, what we see depends on mediation,” he wrote in a paper called “One and Three Bhairavas: The Hypocrisy of Iconographic Mediation.”
“Because our descriptions of religious images are culturally located, our ‘naïve’ descriptions are neither innocent nor objective. Rather, all social objects are mediated by intervening socially grounded, culturally generated, and historically particular mechanisms.”
. . .
There’s likely to be no end to reports of “Jesus’ face found in X,” and as oddball as they seem to some, to others they’re reminders of religion’s miraculous nature. Regardless of where you stand, these stories, rumors and legends point to a larger cultural debate: whether science and pareidolia have the answers, or whether there are less comprehensible forces at work.
The ongoing debate over “reason versus religion” remains so universal, not even our refrigerators are off limits.
There's more at the link. It makes interesting reading.
Despite all the above, if I should detect something of seemingly religious significance on my plate, I'm far more likely to eat it than worship it! Call me curmudgeonly if you will, or overly prosaic . . . but I somehow think that Christ is more likely to speak to me through His Word and His servants than through charcoaled cuisine or strange snacks!