Links for November 4th

Childhood vaccines, autism and the dangers of group think

Wallace has run smack into an abiding, perhaps growing, phenomenon of the Internet Age: Citizens armed with information are sure they know better. Readers who brush up against expertise believe they have become experts. The common man rebels against the notion that anyone — not professionals, not the government and certainly not the media — speaks with special authority.

Where it stops, nobody knows. But already we see a wave of amateurs convinced they can write a pithier movie review, arrange a catchier song, even assess our planet’s shifting weather conditions, better than the professionals trained to do the job.

Unhappy with the scientific consensus that man’s activities have exacerbated global warming? Then just find and promote the academic naysayers. Or merely post your personal musings: “Climate change, bah, there’s a foot of snow on my lawn.”

Heavy illegal downloaders buy more music – Boing Boing

A new British independent poll conducted by Ipsos Mori concluded that the people who do the most illegal downloading also buy the most music. This is in line with many other studies elsewhere and is easy to understand: people who are music superfans do more of everything to do with music: they see more live shows, listen to more radio, buy more CDs, buy more botlegs of live shows, buy more t-shirts, talk about music more, do more downloading — all of it.
And of course, these are the people the music industry’s supergeniuses have set their sights upon for bizarre enforcement regimes like the one that British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has promised

3 Silly Religious Beliefs Held By Non-Silly People

Not everything is a matter of opinion or perspective. Not everything can turn into something completely different if you just look at it differently. Some things are either true or not true. It is not true that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. It is not true that the sun goes around the earth. And it is not true that evolution is shaped by the hand of God, or that consciousness is animated by an immaterial soul, or that the universe is sentient.

Denying physics won’t save the video stars

Peter Mandelson’s proposal to disconnect the families of internet users who have been accused of file sharing will do great violence to British justice without delivering any reduction in copyright infringement. We’ve had 15 years of dotty entertainment industry proposals designed to make computers worse at copying. It’s time that we stopped listening to big content and started listening to reason.

An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry[…] Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, […] administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”

[…]

So what has this award-winning 58-year-old scientist done to elicit such venom? He boldly states[…] that vaccines do not cause autism or autoimmune disease or any of the other chronic conditions that have been blamed on them. He supports this assertion with meticulous evidence. And he calls to account those who promote bogus treatments for autism — treatments that he says not only don’t work but often cause harm.

European Internet sinking fast under 3-strikes proposals – Boing Boing

Things look bad for the European Internet: “3 strikes” (the entertainment industry’s proposal for a law that requires ISPs to disconnect whole households if one member is accused — without evidence or trial — of three copyright infringements) is gaining currency. Efforts to make 3-strikes illegal are being thwarted by the European bureaucracy in the EC.

The Pirate Party, which holds a seat in the European Parliament, proposed legislation that said, essentially, that no one could be disconnected from the Internet without a fair trial. When the proposal when to the European Commission (a group of powerful, unelected bureaucrats who have been heavily lobbied by the entertainment industry), they rewrote it so that disconnection can take place without trial or other due process.

‘Bracelets’ useless in arthritis

Copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps are useless for relieving pain in people with arthritis, say University of York researchers.

In the first tightly controlled trial to look at both alternative therapies, there was no benefit to their use for pain or stiffness.

All 45 patients tested a copper bracelet, two different magnetic wrist straps, and a demagnetised version.

An arthritis charity said people should not waste their money on the therapies.

Jabs “as bad as the cancer”

“Jab ‘as deadly as the cancer’” roared the giant black letters on the front page of the Sunday Express this week. “Cervical drug expert hits out as new doubts raised over death of teenager” said the subheading, although no such new doubts were raised in the article. We will now break with tradition and reproduce a whole paragraph from the Express story. I’d like you to pay attention, and perhaps build a list of its claims in your mind. This is one of those stories where every single assertion made on someone else’s behalf is false.

Reading Kafka improves learning?

New research suggest that exposure to bizarre, surreal storylines such as Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” can improve learning. Apparently, when your brain is presented with total absurdity or nonsense, it will work extra hard to find structure elsewhere. In the study by the University of British Columbia psychologists, subjects read The Country Doctor and then took a test where they had to identify patterns in strings of letters. They performed much better than the control group.

Cat Stranglers

I normally detest everything about bagpipes. I think that they’re generally horrible to listen – like an argument amongst a clowder of cats.

However, I do have a thing for that classic Scots tune Highland Cathedral and I can just about put up with the screechy cacophony long enough to enjoy something like this:

I’ve played it enough it times with the RAF Waddington Voluntary Band back in the 90s, along with a single piper. It’s a lovely piece of music.

*edit*

Toxie has reminded me of that other great use of the bagpipe – a certain track by those old buggers AC/DC:

I love that old tune too

Links for September 17th

BBC looks to copy protect content

BBC plans to encrypt Freeview HD data have come under fire from critics, who say it will effectively copyright free BBC content.

Under plans submitted to regulator Ofcom, the broadcaster has requested that it be allowed to encrypt certain information on set top boxes.

Only trusted manufacturers would be offered the decryption keys.

How to read articles about health

People often ask “how can I spot bad science in a newspaper article?” as if there were a list of easy answers, and it can be very difficult – given the lengths newspapers go to in distorting evidence, and witholding facts – but here is an excellent set of pointers. It’s written by Dr Alicia White from the Behind the Headlines team, and this is a resource I cannot recommend highly enough: they describe, in everyday language, the actual scientific evidence behind each day’s major health news stories

Run, Izzard, run and run again

It’s the last leg of Eddie Izzard’s 43 marathons in 51 days. How did the less than athletic comic pull off such a feat of endurance?

Tomorrow’s World classics go online

As footage of the weird and wonderful inventions that defined Tomorrow’s World is released online from the BBC archives, it is a good time to remember how much of the technology we now take for granted was demonstrated for the very first time on Tomorrow’s World.

Patry’s MORAL PANICS AND THE COPYRIGHT WARS: elegant, calm, reasonable history of the copyfight

Few people are as qualified to write a book about the copyright wars as William Patry: former copyright counsel to the US House of Reps, advisor the Register of Copyrights, Senior Copyright Counsel for Google, and author of the seven-volume Patry on Copyright, widely held to be the single most authoritative work on US copyright ever written.

And Patry has written a very fine book indeed: Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars is every bit as authoritative as Patry on Copyright (although much, much shorter) and is absolutely accessible to a lay audience.

Salford 24-30 Leeds

Leeds finished the regular season with the League Leaders’ Shield after a battling victory over Salford to spoil Robbie Paul’s final Super League game.

Tries from Luke Adamson and John Wilshere helped Salford to a 12-0 lead but Leeds were level by the break after Kallum Watkins and Jay Pitts scores.

The Rhinos carried their momentum into the second half with Luke Burgess and Brent Webb putting them 24-12 up.

Salford fought back late on, but Carl Ablett’s try was enough for Leeds.

Help! I’m a Beatles hater

The re-release of the entire Beatles album catalogue has unleashed another wave of veneration for the 60s pop band. But could there really be anyone who actively dislikes their music?

Sex, flies and videotape: the secret lives of Harun Yahya

Inspired by the high profile of its Christian American counterpart, Muslim creationism is becoming increasingly visible and confident. On scores of websites and in dozens of books with titles like The Evolution Deceit and The Dark Face of Darwinism, a new and well-funded version of evolution-denialism, carefully calibrated to exploit the current fashion for religiously inspired attacks on scientific orthodoxy and “militant” atheism, seems to have found its voice. In a recent interview with The Times Richard Dawkins himself recognises the impact of this new phenomenon: “There has been a sharp upturn in hostility to teaching evolution in the classroom and it’s mostly coming from Islamic students.”

The patron saint of this new movement, the ubiquitous “expert” cited and referenced by those eager to demonstrate the superiority of “Koranic science” over “the evolution lie”, is the larger-than-life figure of Harun Yahya.

Musicians hit out at piracy plans

An alliance of music stars, songwriters and record producers has spoken out against UK government proposals to kick file-sharers off the internet.

Persistent file-sharers could have their internet accounts suspended in an attempt to crack down on piracy.

But Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, a member of the Featured Artists’ Coalition (FAC), said: “It’s going to start a war which they’ll never win.”

The FAC said “heavy-handed” tactics may turn fans away from music for good.

Links for September 8th

Cory Doctorow: Special Pleading

Six years ago, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom couldn’t be counted as a real success for open publishing because I was too obscure to feel the cost of the lost sales. Now, I’m too successful, someone whose name is so widely known that I am uniquely situated to benefit from open publishing, since the micro net-fame I enjoy provides the vital push necessary to wrest sales from freebies. Hilariously, some of the people who say this go back in time and revise history, claiming that I was only able to sell as many copies of Down and Out as I have over the years (nine printings and still selling great!) because I was such a big shot famous writer in 2003, on the strength of a dozen short story sales.

There’s a name for this rhetorical tactic: “special pleading.” Special pleading is when you claim that some example doesn’t merit consideration because it lacks, or contains, some special characteristic that makes it unique, not part of the general discussion.

How UK Government spun 136 people into 7m illegal file sharers

The British Government’s official figures on the level of illegal file sharing in the UK come from questionable research commissioned by the music industry, the BBC has revealed.

The Radio 4 show More or Less – which is devoted to the “often abused but ever ubiquitous world of numbers” – decided to examine the Government’s claim that 7m people in Britain are engaged in illegal file sharing.

The 7m figure comes from the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property, a Government advisory body.

Thinking about downloads

A few weeks ago, Peter Mandelson announced his intention to push forward on stringent measures to deal with “illegal” filesharing and downloading. The measures went much further than what had been envisaged in the Digital Britain report, with responsibility for the decisions and implementation passing from Ofcom to Mandelson.

[…]

It now appears that “internet suspension of illegal downloaders could become law”. Before that happens, I thought it would be worth while to share some of my thoughts about this.

I was in Hitler’s suicide bunker

At his living room table, 92-year-old Rochus Misch shows me some of his old photo albums. Private pictures he had taken more than 60 years ago. There are colour images of Mr Misch in an SS uniform at Adolf Hitler’s home in the Alps, snapshots of Hitler staring at rabbits, and photos of Hitler’s mistress and future wife Eva Braun.

For five years, SS Oberscharfuehrer Rochus Misch had been part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle, as a bodyguard, a courier and telephone operator to the Fuehrer.

Plinth debut for Marillion songs

Marillion are allowing a fan to play tracks from their new album on the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square on Tuesday evening.

Richard Loveridge, 38, will spend his hour on the plinth talking about his 26-year love of the prog-rock veterans.

“My longest adult relationship has been with these five men, so I wanted to frame the story of my life with the story of Marillion,” he said.

Snow Leopard reveals new spots

Apple’s latest operating system – Snow Leopard – is a strange beast.

It’s curious because there are few new features to shout about.

Snow Leopard’s major changes are under the hood; Apple has been spending time changing the stuff that you do not usually see – or care about.

Why? Because spending time there should mean a faster, more stable operating system tuned to today’s hardware. Also, the changes should mean that in the future third-party application developers will have more to work with, allowing a richer, faster system.

Links for September 1st

British plan to tackle asteroids

A team of British scientists are developing plans for a spacecraft that could stop large asteroids from destroying the Earth.

The 10 tonne “gravity tractor” would deflect any orbiting rocks years before any potential collision could happen.

The device, which would rely on the force of gravity, is being developed by Stevenage space company, EADS Astrium.

However the idea is still in its early stages and the company admits a prototype has not yet been made.

Merciless

What bugs me is the complete lack of comprehension of the quality of mercy that seems to have crept over the US political class this century.

Even if Al Megrahi is a mass-murderer, the fact remains that he is dying. It is long-standing policy in Scotland to exercise the prerogative of mercy when possible; in general, if an imprisoned criminal is terminally ill, a request for release (for hospice care, basically) is usually granted unless they are believed to be a danger to the public.

That’s because the justice system isn’t solely about punishment. It’s about respect for the greater good of society, which is better served by rehabilitation and reconcilliation than by revenge. We do not make ourselves better people by exercising a gruesome revenge on the bodies of our vanquished foes. Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Minister, did exactly the right thing in sending Al Megrahi home to die.

Why I love Britain’s socialized healthcare system

My eldest daughter had a rough first week. Born after 22 hours of hard labor, her pink skin proceeded to turn an alarming shade of yellow on the second day of her life. It was a bad case of jaundice. She would need to be placed in an incubator, whose ultraviolet light would hopefully clear up the condition. If not, a transfusion would be required. My exhausted wife and I watched in numb horror as our child was encased in the clear plastic box that was to become her crib for the next seven days. What we had hoped would be a straightforward delivery had turned into a nightmare.

Homo religious

Did humans evolve to be religious and believe in God? In the most general sense, yes we did. Here’s what happened.

Long long ago, in an environment far far away from the modern world, humans evolved to find meaningful causal patterns in nature to make sense of the world, and infuse many of those patterns with intentional agency, some of which became animistic spirits and powerful gods. And as a social primate species we also evolved social organizations designed to promote group cohesiveness and enforce moral rules.

The enlightenment’s operating system

Bill Thompson has been using Unix for a quarter-century – and doesn’t plan to stop now.

WHO warns against homeopathy use

People with conditions such as HIV, TB and malaria should not rely on homeopathic treatments, the World Health Organization has warned.

It was responding to calls from young researchers who fear the promotion of homeopathy in the developing world could put people’s lives at risk.

The group Voice of Young Science Network has written to health ministers to set out the WHO view.

WHO TB experts said homeopathy had “no place” in treatment of the disease.

To be fair, homeopathy has no place in the treatment of <em>any</em> disease

Downloading is not enough

Young people’s attitudes to music may be too complicated and fast-changing to measure, says Bill Thompson

6 Reasons to Jailbreak Your iPhone | Gadget Lab | Wired.com

Hacking your iPhone to run unofficial, third-party apps may seem unnecessary since Apple hosts its own App Store. But the corporation’s recently enforced prohibitions on some apps, such as the banning of Google Voice, are reviving the incentive for customers to jailbreak their iPhones once again.

5 Tips for Raising Your Girl Geek | GeekDad | Wired.com

As geek parents, we often have rosy colored notions about our children growing up. We actually want them to be geeks. From the earliest of ages we dress them in WoW gear, teach them to quote Star Wars and wonder when is too early to start reading The Hobbit. We nurture them in the way of the Geek, hoping that, when the time comes for them to choose their path, they won’t stray far.

But being a geek kid isn’t easy; and being a geek girl might even be harder. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are raising a geek girl that might help her–and you–get through the school years.

Links for July 29th

It’s all about Science Envy

Fellows of the Discovery Institute seem to be over represented in fringe groups, Paul Nelson is a Young Earth Creationist, the Godfather of Intelligent Design Phillip Johnson and DI fellow Jonathan C. Wells have signed on to AIDS denial and Guillermo Gonzalez has signed on to a climate change denialist list.

Topically, given the debate about science communication that has been happening in the wake of of “Unscientific America”, in a recent article William Dembski dives into the whole Global Warming Denialism thing

Wireless power system shown off

A system that can deliver power to devices without the need for wires has been shown off at a hi-tech conference.

The technique exploits simple physics and can be used to charge a range of electronic devices.

Eric Giler, chief executive of US firm Witricity, showed mobile phones and televisions charging wirelessly at the TED Global conference in Oxford.

He said the system could replace the miles of expensive power cables and billions of disposable batteries.

When science is reduced to a game, anyone can play – The Irish Times – Thu, Jul 23, 2009

THIS WEEK marks the 40th anniversary of the historic first moon landing in July 1969. Or does it? Conspiracy theories have persisted over the decades, with books, websites and even organisations dedicated to “uncovering” Nasa’s gigantic hoax, writes JOHN GIBBONS

Laughable? Yes, but these theories are difficult to refute precisely because of the impossibility of proving a negative.

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, said last week he felt sorry for the “gullible people” being taken in by this nonsense. The fact that millions earnestly believe this stuff is neither trite nor trivial.

Putting the rock into Morocco

Heavy metal is known as rebel music – and that is particularly true in Morocco.

“Metalheads” have been accused of being devil-worshippers, and even locked up because of their passion.

But Youssef Benseddik, a student who heads the heavy metal group Atmosphere does not seem particularly rebellious.

Links for April 27th

Giving It Away

The thing about an e-book is that it's a social object. It wants to be copied from friend to friend, beamed from a Palm (nasdaq: PALM – news – people ) device, pasted into a mailing list. It begs to be converted to witty signatures at the bottom of e-mails. It is so fluid and intangible that it can spread itself over your whole life. Nothing sells books like a personal recommendation–when I worked in a bookstore, the sweetest words we could hear were "My friend suggested I pick up…." The friend had made the sale for us, we just had to consummate it. In an age of online friendship, e-books trump dead trees for word of mouth.

Plan to monitor all internet use

Communications firms are being asked to record all internet contacts between people as part of a modernisation in UK police surveillance tactics.

The home secretary scrapped plans for a database but wants details to be held and organised for security services.

The new system would track all e-mails, phone calls and internet use, including visits to social network sites.

Speculative Microeconomics for Tomorrow’s Economy

An interesting article about the Information Economy. Related to my latest OU assignment

50 Incredible Photography Techniques and Tutorials

In this post we present useful photographic techniques, tutorials and resources for various kinds of photography. You’ll learn how to set up the perfect environment and what techniques, principles and rules of thumbs you should consider when shooting your next perfect photo.

Book Review: Questions of Truth: God, Science and Belief

John Polkinghorne's former student Nicholas Beale runs a website on behalf of his mentor, on which questions about religion, and the relation of religion to science, can be posted. This apparently self-published book is a compilation of 51 of these website questions with Beale's and sometimes Polkinghorne's answers. The questions range over creation, the existence of evil, evolution, intelligent design and most of the other familiar old debating points, plus "How does the death of Jesus save the world?", "Why believe Jesus rose from the dead?" and "How much do you need to believe to be a Christian?"

Since these latter questions premise membership of the asylum already, I shall focus just on the various questions that touch on the relation of science and religion

Owning a camera doesn’t make you a criminal

When George Bush pronounced the war on terrorism as the "war on tourism", we thought it was because he was an idiot.

Maybe not, because it seems that tourism and terrorism are the same thing – or at least, they are to some police officers. How else can we explain the harassment of tourists who took photographs of a bus station?

Study finds pirates 10 times more likely to buy music

Piracy may be the bane of the music industry but according to a new study, it may also be its engine. A report from the BI Norwegian School of Management has found that those who download music illegally are also 10 times more likely to pay for songs than those who don't.

40 Amazing Online Photography Magazines

Whatever country we live in, we’re probably all familiar with the well-known photography magazines available in our newsagents and bookstores. The UK has Practical Photography, France has Photo, the Italians have Zoom and the Americans have American Photo. What you may not know is that there are many more photography magazines that are only available online. And some of them are good, very good.

Free data sharing is here to stay

Since the 1970s, pundits have predicted a transition to an "information economy". The vision of an economy based on information seized the imaginations of the world's governments. For decades now, they have been creating policies to "protect" information — stronger copyright laws, international treaties on patents and trademarks, treaties to protect anti-copying technology.

The thinking is simple: an information economy must be based on buying and selling information. Therefore, we need policies to make it harder to get access to information unless you've paid for it.

That means that we have to make it harder for you to share information, even after you've paid for it.

Excellent timing

I finished work at 2pm today (early shift) and got in the car to come home. I figured I’d like to listen to something half decent on the drive back and decided, wisely, to not bother with Radio One.

I selected Iron Maiden – Powerslave on my iPhone and plugged it in. The first, classic chords of Aces High set me on my way.

I love this album. When I were a lad (Yorkshire colloquialism there) I had a mate called Kev, and he got me into Iron Maiden, Saxon and AC/DC. I bought Live After Death, which inevitably led me to getting Powerslave. Both albums remain among my favourites, but there’s something amazing about Powerslave; it’s probably one of just a handful of albums that are perfect five stars all the way in iTunes.

Anyway, I headed up the M69 to Two Minutes to Midnight and pulled off the M1 near the start of Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Now, Mariner may well be my favourite metal tune of all time. It’s got everything: pompous, overblown lyrics, incredible guitars and a helium-fueled singer at the height of his powers. This song is amazing.

I had a fantastic drive back. The sun was out, BMW drivers were (mostly) courteous and I was only barged out of the way once by White Van Man. Powerslave was my lucky talisman today, and by an astonishing bit of luck I just happened to pull up outside our house just as Bruce was warbling the final refrain:

The mariner’s bound to tell of his story
To tell this tale wherever he goes
To teach God’s word by his own example
That we must love all things that God made.

And the wedding guest’s a sad and wiser man
And the tale goes on and on and on.

Now, obviously Taylor Coleridge wasn’t up on evolution so I’ll ignore the Creationist nonsense in the lyrics and just admire the general awesomeness of Iron Maiden’s magnificent creation.

Links for April 16th

UK ‘has the worst copyright laws’

UK copyright laws “needlessly criminalise” music fans and need to be updated, a consumer watchdog says.

UK laws that make it a copyright violation to copy a CD that you own onto a computer or iPod should be changed, says Consumer Focus.

The call came after global umbrella group Consumers International put the UK in last place in a survey of 16 countries’ copyright laws.

Secret filming nurse struck off

A nurse who secretly filmed for the BBC to reveal the neglect of elderly patients at a hospital has been struck off for misconduct.

Margaret Haywood, 58, filmed at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton for a BBC Panorama programme in July 2005.

She was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council which said she failed to “follow her obligations as a nurse”.

EC starts legal action over Phorm

The European Commission has started legal action against Britain over the online advertising technology Phorm.

It follows complaints to the EC over how the behavioural advertising service was tested on BT’s broadband network without the consent of users.

Last year Britain had said it was happy Phorm conformed to European data laws.

But the commission has said Phorm “intercepted” user data without clear consent and the UK need to look again at its online privacy laws.

Fool disclosure

What we have seen in these past few days is another rattle in the slow, but eventually complete, death of privacy. In the developed world, whenever there are at least two people in a room, it’s a statistical near-certainty that one of them will have a camera, and the means to instantly upload photos to the web. Increasingly, it’s becoming likely that they’ll also be able to upload sound and video too.

Saudis ‘to regulate’ child brides

Saudi Arabia says it plans to start regulating the marriage of young girls, amid controversy over a union between a 60-year-old man and a girl of eight.

A court in Unaiza upheld the marriage on condition the groom does not have sex with her until she reaches puberty.

The power of the child within

Under pressure or on our own, we often hear songs or poems we’ve learnt by heart as a child. Remembering helps us cope in extreme and dangerous situations, but why?

“It was all in my head – my father would play the piano and I would have a mental party in the hole in the ground.”

That hole was where Peter Shaw was held captive for five months in 2002, after being kidnapped while working in Georgia for the European Commission. The businessman from South Wales was chained around the neck and kept in the dark almost constantly.

It’s hard to imagine how people survive in such extreme conditions, but those who’ve been through such stressful situations say reciting a childhood song or poem helps.

I’ll tell you what really offends me

I was deeply offended by something on the BBC recently. It wasn’t Clare Balding laying into a jockey’s teeth, but this time with a cricket bat, or Frankie Boyle’s 10 best jokes about the Queen’s genitals, or even a repeat of Diana’s funeral with an added laugh track. No, it was a new low.

It was Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, eliciting a round of applause on Any Questions for suggesting that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand should pay the BBC’s “Sachsgate” Ofcom fine. The rest of the panel bravely agreed with her.

David Mitchell talking a lot of sense. Sometimes government – any government, not just ours – makes me despair

Venezuela’s giant rodent cuisine

While in many countries the Easter dish may be lamb, in Venezuela a traditional delicacy around this time of the year is the capybara, the world’s biggest rodent.

The capybara is a distant cousin to the common guinea pig but bigger and river-based like a beaver.

Many Venezuelans regard the semi-aquatic creature as more fish than meat – a useful description during Lent when it is eaten as a replacement for red meat in this largely Roman Catholic country.

The Armed Man, Karl Jenkins

I’m glad that I’m not stuck with one genre of music taste. The eclectic mix of tunes on my iPhone chucks in tracks by Bjork and David Cloyd amongst rock monsters like Mastodon and Testament.

The fact that I play in a brass band also means that I’m exposed to music that, perhaps, people of my generation might not be. We played Pineapple Poll last night, a Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired piece that’s certainly not fashionable but far more interesting than the majority of crap in the charts.

We also played a rather wonderful arrangement of Benedictus by Karl Jenkins. It’s one part of a larger work called The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace. It was originally written for orchestra and choir but has had been arranged for brass band, chorus and organ. I’ve not heard the whole thing yet but if Benedictus is anything to go by then I really need to buy the CD, both the original version and brass band – it’s just incredible.

Here’s the inevitable Youtube video of the Orchestral version. It’s just beautiful:

Lovely eh? It doesn’t rock my socks in the same way as Anthrax did back in the day but it reaches parts of my musical appreciation that Heavy Metal can never reach. Stunning work.

Here’s another video of the same piece but this time played by the extremely talented David Childs with the Cory Band:

Gorgeous.

Links for March 30th

Women told: ‘You have dishonoured your family, please kill yourself’

When Elif’s father told her she had to kill herself in order to spare him from a prison sentence for her murder, she considered it long and hard. “I loved my father so much, I was ready to commit suicide for him even though I hadn’t done anything wrong,” the 18-year-old said. “But I just couldn’t go through with it. I love life too much.”

All Elif had done was simply decline the offer of an arranged marriage with an older man, telling her parents she wanted to continue her education. That act of disobedience was seen as bringing dishonour on her whole family – a crime punishable by death.

10 Admin Plugins for your site

Are you starting up a new site or just looking to enhance your existing site? If so, here are my 10 top Admin plugins that are worth a look at.

AC Grayling politely rebukes an attempt to reconcile religion and science

In our current issue, AC Grayling reviews Questions of Truth by John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale, a collection of essays that claims to address 51 “Questions About God, Science and Belief”. Suffice to say, Grayling wasn’t a fan (one star was awarded in the print magazine).

Polkinghorne is a particle physicist-turned-theologian who won the Templeton Prize (which rewards attempts to reconcile religion and science) in 2002, while Nicholas Beale is a former student of Polkinghorne who, while he describes himself as a “social philosopher/management consultant” in real life, manages Polkinghorne’s website and blogs about religion and science in his spare time.

On top of dissecting the text itself, at the end of his review Grayling outlined his problem with the fact that the book was receiving a launch at the Royal Society

Common sense on pregnancy advice

[…]condom adverts will be able to be shown on all channels before the watershed, and pregnancy advisory services, including those who can help with abortion, will also be free to advertise on TV.

So teenagers, who are most in need of this kind of advice, will be more likely to see it advertised on TV. Common sense, don’t you think?

Major cyber spy network uncovered

An electronic spy network, based mainly in China, has infiltrated computers from government offices around the world, Canadian researchers say.

They said the network had infiltrated 1,295 computers in 103 countries.

They included computers belonging to foreign ministries and embassies and those linked with the Dalai Lama – Tibet’s spiritual leader.

There is no conclusive evidence China’s government was behind it, researchers say. Beijing also denied involvement.

Religious people aren’t necessarily stupid…and atheists aren’t necessarily smart

Intelligent people who are indoctrinated into a faith can build marvelously intricate palaces of rationalization atop the shoddy vapor of their beliefs about gods and the supernatural; what scientists and atheists must do is build their logic on top of a more solid basis of empirical evidence and relentless self-examination. The difference isn’t their ability to reason, it is what they are reasoning about.

Death Opens Doors on Group

Members of One Mind Ministries drew little notice in the working-class Baltimore neighborhood where they lived in a nondescript brick rowhouse.

But inside, prosecutors say, horrors were unfolding: Answering to a leader called Queen Antoinette, they denied a 16-month-old boy food and water because he did not say “Amen” at mealtimes. After he died, they prayed over his body for days, expecting a resurrection, then packed it into a suitcase with mothballs. They left it in a shed in Philadelphia, where it remained for a year before detectives found it last spring.

‘Most religious leaders are fools’

The author and playwright Hanif Kureishi was born in London in 1954. He is the author of The Buddha of Suburbia, Intimacy and Something to Tell You. His first play, Soaking the Heat, was staged in 1976, and My Beautiful Laundrette , for which he wrote the screenplay, was released in 1985.

He was appointed CBE in 2007, for services to literature and drama. Here he briefly tells BBC News his thoughts about religion.

Archbishop voices concerns to BBC

The Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the BBC not to neglect Christians in its religious programming.

Dr Rowan Williams voiced his concern to the corporation’s director general Mark Thompson in a private meeting at Lambeth Palace.

The archbishop is said to be concerned at a decline in religious programming on the BBC World Service.

Evolution study focuses on snail

Members of the public across Europe are being asked to look in their gardens or local green spaces for banded snails as part of a UK-led evolutionary study.

The Open University says its Evolution MegaLab will be one of the largest evolutionary studies ever undertaken.

Scientists believe the research could show how the creatures have evolved in the past 40 years to reflect changes in temperature and their predators.

10 ways to get a really good sleep

One in five of the population has less than seven hours sleep a night, according to research from the Future Foundation for the health campaign Sleep Well Live Well. Many of these tired souls reported feeling stressed and unhappy.

But how about looking at the question from another direction? If insufficient or disrupted sleep is bad for our health – then what would be the ingredients of a really good night’s sleep? What makes a perfect sleep?

Dr Adrian Williams of the Sleep Disorders Centre at St Thomas’s Hospital in London sets out a few ground rules.

Hidden clue to composer’s passion

The French composer, Maurice Ravel may have left a hidden message – a woman’s name – inside his work.

A sequence of three notes occurring repeatedly through his work spell out the name of a famous Parisian socialite says Professor of Music, David Lamaze.

He argues that the notes, E, B, A in musical notation, or “Mi-Si-La” in the French doh-re-mi scale, refer to Misia Sert, a close friend of Ravel’s.

A heartless faith

Irving Feldkamp is the father of two and grandfather of five who were killed in that accident; he lost a shocking great swath of his family in that one sad afternoon. Irving Feldkamp is also the owner of Family Planning Associates — a chain of clinics that also does abortions.

You can guess what segment of the Christian community I’m about to highlight.

Choke back your gag reflex and read this hideous, evil article on Christian Newswire. Some moral cretin named Gingi Edmonds wrote a wretched story on this tragedy that makes it sound like divine retribution on Mr Feldkamp.

Pope ‘distorting condom science’

One of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, the Lancet, has accused Pope Benedict XVI of distorting science in his remarks on condom use.

It said the Pope’s recent comments that condoms exacerbated the problem of HIV/Aids were wildly inaccurate and could have devastating consequences.

The Pope had said the “cruel epidemic” should be tackled through abstinence and fidelity rather than condom use.