Devotional No. 14

IT’S fantasy, amusing, but as technology closes in upon mimicking God, once again are we up to it? Who shall live, who shall die? We’ll save the pandas and the whales that sing prettily, but, like godlings, we’re playing with fire and water, tides and industry.

via Pity Earth’s Creatures – NYTimes.com.

But the blunt truth is that the living world is a restless, churning enterprise in which nothing endures forever. Astonishingly, almost every life form that has ever existed on the planet has died out.

via BBC News – Why such a fuss about extinction?.

December 2 All the animals in the zoological gardens have been killed except the monkeys; these are kept alive from a vague and Darwinian notion that they are our relatives, or at least the relatives of some of the members of the government, to whom in the matter of beauty, nature has not been bountiful.

via From Zoo to Table – Lapham’s Quarterly.

 

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Devotional No. 13

More than 50,000 Mexican nationals now live permanently in San Antonio, city officials say, turning an upscale enclave known as “Sonterrey” or “Little Monterrey” into the citys second-fastest growing ZIP code.Real estate agent Ana Sarabia caters to the new arrivals — finding them immigration lawyers, new schools, banks and office space — and sees them reshaping her hometown.”I can see it transitioning,” said Sarabia, 45, who lived for a time in Mexico City. “This has always been a bicultural city. Parts of it have now become a new Mexico.”

via Wealthy, business-savvy Mexican immigrants transform Texas city – latimes.com.

Michoacans attorney generals office said in a statement on Saturday that the victims had all been shot in the head and placed individually in the sitting position in chairs near a traffic circle in the city of Uruapan. A placard nailed to one of the bodies with an ice pick reads: “Warning! This will happen to thieves, kidnappers, sex offenders and extortionists”. The office did not provide a motive for the killings.

via Executed Mexicans displayed on chairs – Americas – Al Jazeera English.

“This technique will be most useful in dry areas, like Juarez. Its labor – and materials – intensive, but it will be useful when other techniques fail. “With the help of assistants in a lab that smells of death and chemicals, a cadaver is raised in a harness, gingerly lowered into the hermetically sealed bath, and left to soak for four to seven days. Sometimes, technicians just dip a body part.

via Mexican forensic expert bathes bodies to solve crimes – FRANCE 24.

 

Devotional No. 12

As Catholics, we are taught that men and women are created equal: “There is neither male nor female. In Christ you are one” Galatians 3:28. While Christ did not ordain any priests himself, as the Catholic scholar Garry Wills has pointed out in a controversial new book, the last two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, stressed that the all-male priesthood is “our tradition” and that men and women are equal, but have different roles.

via My Prayer – Let Women Be Priests – NYTimes.com.

Yet the church of the Southern Hemisphere offered an intriguing parallel universe. Free of the social uncertainty that plagued the Roman faith in the largely Protestant United States, the majority Catholic nations of Latin America seemed to have reached an accord between the pious and the practical. From missionary friends we heard tales of how different the situation was in Peru, for example. Married Catholic clergymen may not have been canonically sanctioned, but the existence of families made up of a priest, a wife and children was an acknowledged part of the culture — a “widely accepted outlaw priesthood,” as an Associated Press story once called it.

via In Praise of Priestly Marriage – NYTimes.com.

Devotional No. 11

Enter the Office of Naval Research. One of its new special program announcements for 2013 identifies software algorithms as a major point of concern: It wants more robust logic tools play nicely across hardware and software platforms, pre-assembling a mosaic of threats. Don’t bother writing them better search tools for sifting through their data archives: The Navy expressly rules that out. It wants the imaging equipment of pre-cut vegetables in a salad bag.

via Navy Wants You to Write Algorithms That Automatically ID Threats | Danger Room | Wired.com.

And so, while programming experts still write the step-by-step instructions of computer code, additional people are needed to make more subtle contributions as the work the computers do has become more involved. People evaluate, edit or correct an algorithm’s work. Or they assemble online databases of knowledge and check and verify them — creating, essentially, a crib sheet the computer can call on for a quick answer. Humans can interpret and tweak information in ways that are understandable to both computers and other humans.

via Computer Algorithms Rely Increasingly on Human Helpers – NYTimes.com.

Since 2009, Facebook has filtered what every user sees on the News Feed, based on the wisdom of its proprietary algorithm, called Edge Rank, which determines which posts a particular user is likely to find most interesting. …At the heart of Facebook’s business is to hold the attention of its one billion users worldwide. That means keeping them entertained and on the site as frequently as possible.It seems to be losing this battle somewhat with its youngest users.

via Facebook’s Redesign Hopes to Keep Users Engaged – NYTimes.com.

Devotional No. 10

A number of thinkers in Silicon Valley see these technologies as a way not just to give consumers new products that they want but to push them to behave better. Sometimes this will be a nudge; sometimes it will be a shove. But the central idea is clear: social engineering disguised as product engineering.

via Are Smart Gadgets Making Us Dumb? – WSJ.com.

Many believe that behavioral findings are cutting away at some of the foundations of Mill’s harm principle, because they show that people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging.

via It’s For Your Own Good! by Cass R. Sunstein | The New York Review of Books.

 

Devotional No. 9

America

(Photo credit: acb)

“Since its founding, the United States has had an intimate relationship with clandestine commerce, and contraband capitalism was integral to the rise of the U.S. economy.”

via Gangster’s Paradise: The Untold History of the United States and International Crime.

…the physical savagery the radical dissenting Protestant settlers of America wreaked on the original inhabitants, and the intellectual savagery of their polemical attacks on the church…

via The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine.

Devotional No. 8

To encourage electric driving, the country is developing a rapidly expanding national grid of charging stations in cities and along highways; and Amsterdam offers owners of electric vehicles free street parking and charging. With hefty tax breaks, promotional leases and cheaper operating costs, the vehicles offer driving costs no more than those of conventional cars, some analysts say.

via Dutch Put Electric Cars to the Test – NYTimes.com.

I’m willing to believe that once all the costs and benefits are totted up they’re not much greener than conventional technology.

via The Straight Dope: Do “green” vehicles really save energy? Is a Prius worse for the environment than a Hummer?.

If a large amount of coal is burned there may be no carbon dioxide savings over conventional vehicles.

via Do electric cars really save carbon emissions? | The Energy Collective.

U.S. coal exports to Europe were up 26 percent in the first nine months of 2012 over the same period in 2011. Exports to China have increased, too. “It’s been very welcome that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been going down because of the switch to gas,” said David Baldock, executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy in London. “But if we’re simply diverting the coal somewhere else, particularly to Europe, a lot of those benefits are draining away.”

via Europe consuming more coal – The Washington Post.

Devotional No. 7

(Photo credit: Patrick Kovarik/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

(Photo credit: Patrick Kovarik/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

“…I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think therefore I am, was so certain and of such credence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the skeptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of which I was in search.”  Pages 28-29, “Discourse on the Method,” Rene Descartes, Forgotten Books 2008.

“‘I’m the size of what I see!’ How large are the mind’s riches, ranging from the well of profound emotions to the distant stars that are reflected in it and so in some sense are there!” p. 47, “The Book of Disquiet,” Fernando Pessoa, Penguin Classics 2002.

“‘In my beginning is my end.’ As the acorn contains the oak or the folded kernel of the Spanish chestnut implies the great whorled bole and serrated leaf of the full-grown tree, so each human being possess a form appropriate to him which time will educate and ripen.” Chapter 3, “The Unquiet Grave,” Cyril Connolly, Hamish Hamilton 1957.

Devotional No. 6

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“Every good writer must discover the yawning crevasse which separates Man’s finite destiny from his infinite potentialities. It is afterward that he will reveal his artistic courage and so register the protest which is a final plea for order…”  Chapter 2, “The Unquiet Grave,” Cyril Connolly, Hamish Hamilton 1957.

“Literature — which is art married to thought, and realization untainted by reality — seems to me the end toward which all human effort would have to strive, if it were truly human and not just a welling up of our animal self.” p. 30, “The Book of Disquiet,” Fernando Pessoa, Penguin Classics 2002.

Devotional No. 5

Status

“The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon. She had accepted this submergence as philosophically as all her other trials, and now, in extreme old age, was rewarded by presenting to her mirror an almost unwrinkled expanse of firm pink and white flesh, in the centre of which the traces of a small face survived as if awaiting excavation. A flight of smooth double chins led down to the dizzy depths of a still-snowy bosom veiled in snowy muslins that were held in place by a miniature portrait of the late Mr. Mingott; and around and below, wave after wave of black silk surged away over the edges of a capacious armchair, with two tiny white hands poised like gulls on the surface of the billows.” Chapter 4, “The Age of Innocence,” Edith Wharton, D. Appleton & Company 1920