Doctor Economics – What We Should Do With Spammers

This blog is re-posted. I know the author, Paul de Lancey, from the Southern California Writers Conference. As for eating the Nigerian spammers who keep sending me messages wanting to hide US$20,000,000 in my bank account, sure!

Paul De Lancey's Blog

Penny

What is the most annoying aspect of our lives? It is, of course, spam on our computers. Spam is broken down into three basic types: ViagraTM, ways to lengthen your penis, and offers to inherit money from an ex-Nigerian dictator. All of this is only really useful to the kin of Nigerian dictators who are trying to finance penis-enhancement operations. And how many of us fit that description?

How about eat the spammers? Only four problems occur to me. First cannibalism in illegal in all fifty states. (I’m reasonably sure there’s religious exemption for this.) Second, how do we find the spammers? Third. what wine goes with grilled spammer? Merlot? Zinfandel? There are no books for this.

So, cannibalism is out. I never had much stomach for it anyway. I therefore propose a fee on all e-mail. Now hold your horses partner, let me finish. It would only be a…

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Is religion the major cause of wars? Karen Armstrong argues “No.”

Fields of Blood book coverOne only has to turn on the TV these days, or go to any internet news feed, to be confronted by horrific images of religious violence in the Middle East.  For those who saw the images of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, and the gunman murdering the wounded policeman on the pavement outside those offices, the religious violence seems all around us. So: Is religion to blame for most of the mass violence in the world?

Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood (Random House, 500 pages) traces the history of warfare since the invention of settled agriculture. Armstrong, a former Catholic Nun, has become one of the English-speaking world’s foremost scholars on the history of religion. She points out that in hunter-gather societies, there is no real warfare, except occasional skirmishes with nearby tribes, since the entire population is needed for food collection, and there is no agricultural surplus to sustain a kingly priestly, or soldier class. Once settled farming begins, and farmers are producing enough to support more than their own families,  a class of rulers, soldiers and priests can emerge.

The pace of agricultural innovation is terribly slow, however, so the only way that the new ruling class can expand its wealth is to conquer another nearby area and seize its surplus. That’s the start of warfare.

Throughout history, religions have been ideologies that propped up the legitimacy of the ruling class. (Have you ever known of a society where the major religion denied the legitimacy of the ruling class? How did that work out?) Warfare, Armstrong claims, occurs at times of social and economic change, and religion becomes enlisted in the political cause, rather than being the cause.

She also argues that the major conflicts of the 20th century were not religious. The first world war was not religious, and Germany didn’t start world War II  to spread either of its two recognized religions (Catholicism, and Lutheranism).   In the 1930s, Japan didn’t invade it’s neighbors to spread Shinto and Buddhism: China already had Confucianism and Buddhism, Thailand was already Buddhist, and Korea already had Buddhism.

The most interesting sections of the book deal with the crusades of the Middle Ages, and the religious ward of the 15 and 1600s, where religion really was at the center of the conflicts. The author has a knowledge of history that leaves me for dead.  For anybody who wants to get into the history of religion in a serious way, and is prepared to wade through some serious research, this book is a five star piece of work.

For those interested in reading some further reviews before committing to an arduous read, here is one from  The Guardian,  the New York Times   and here is publisher Random House’s description of the book’s subject matter. It’s a meaty read, but it’s worth it.

They told him he was a psychopath, and he thought they were joking.

The Psychopath Within by James Fallon
The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon

What would you do if your brain scan showed you were a psychopath? I’ve just finished reading ‘The Psychopath Inside’ by James Fallon (Penguin, 2013, 246 pages.) Fallon was a neuroscientist  studying the brain scans of psychopaths: serial killers with no conscience and no empathy. Co-incidentally, he had a folder with brain scans of all his own family members, which he had obtained (with their consent) because, for another study, he needed an entire family in which no one currently had Alzheimer’s disease.
Psychopaths all have certain abnormal features in the very front of the brain: the parts that deal with empathy and conscience. One day looking through his scans, he found one which had the exact features of a psychopath, but was in his family’s folder. Since the scans had numbers rather than names, he asked his research assistant to check who it belonged to, thinking the two sets of scans might have gotten mixed up. They hadn’t. The scan was his.
Fallon had never murdered anyone in his life, and never tortured animals as a child. So what was he doing with a brain scan that showed these types of abnormalities?

The remainder of Fallon’s book is an exploration of why some people become psychopaths and some don’t. Fallon concludes that although he has the physical brain abnormalities of a psychopath, he was stopped from growing in that direction by the loving home environment in his early childhood – something other psychopaths usually didn’t have. Nevertheless, he does show some psychopathic traits. He has exposed other family members to extreme danger, taking his brother camping at night in an area frequented by elephant herds without telling the brother what they were doing. Why? For the thrill of it. If someone offends Fallon, he doesn’t tell them straight away, but will wait for three or four years before springing some revenge on them, at a time they have entirely forgotten about the original incident. And he admits to not going to family funerals or graduations because he just felt there was something more interesting on – such as a chance to go gambling. work colleagues had told him over the years that he was a psycopath in the workpace, but he thought they were joking, or just disgruntled about something he had done, and he had dismissed their claims.

Fallon presents a rare portrait of himself, warts and all. For those who have an interest in psychology, or the nature-vs-nurture debate, this is a very interesting read.

So, what about you? Do you know people who all the advantages in early life and turned into very unpleasant people? Or who had appalling early lives and turned into nice people? Do you think we are any closer to solving the nature vs nuture debate?

Do your Facebook friends manipulate you into re-posting their views?

Do your Facebook friends ever post things that end with “Only one percent of you will have the guts to re-post this. The other ninety-nine percent won’t”? Or “re-post if you support children with cancer? Those who don’t re-post. I suppose you don’t really care and you are not my real friends.”? Some of my friends do, and I don’t like it.

Sometimes I would re-post, except I resent being TOLD that if I don’t re-post stuff like this with these emotionally manipulative last lines, then I don’t have guts, or don’t care about kids with cancer, or don’t care about soldiers wounded in war, etc. I don’t intend to re-post these manipulative things on principle. The principle is, don’t try to guilt me into parroting your posts. I can decide for myself what I want to re-post. This is snarky emotional bullying.

Here’s a suggestion: NEVER re-post things that are based on guilting you into being a sheep. You have a mind of your own. Your friends shouldn’t need to manipulate you into supporting their social views or their favorite charity. If you feel strongly enough about something to re-post on your own, or you support a certain charity on its own merits, good. If not, why do your friends need to guilt you into being their sheep?

Instead of re-posting their posts, try cutting and pasting the text this blog entry into their Facebook post! I’m NOT suggesting that if you don’t you’re a bad person. That would be against my beliefs. But you could try it – if you feel the way I do.

Should the state kill you for being an atheist?

In seven countries, there’s a belief to do with religion that can land you in jail, or get you killed. It’s not that you belong to a different religion to the rest of your country, or even a minority group within a religion. Those things can get you killed in some places, but I’m not talking about them.

Amnest InternationalIn January 2015 Karim al-Banna, a 21-year-old Egyptian student, was sentenced to three years jail for saying on Facebook that he was  an atheist.  As the New York Times reports in the same article, “Because atheism itself is not illegal in Egypt, charges are laid under laws against blasphemy or contempt for religion. In 2012, a 27-year-old blogger, Alber Saber, received a three-year sentence on charges of blasphemy for creating a web page called “Egyptian Atheists.” In 2013, the writer and human rights activist Karam Saber (no relation) was convicted of defaming religion in his short story collection “Where Is God?”

In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was arrested for saying there is no God on Facebook, and asking “If there is a God, why do bad things happen? Aan served two years jail, although some religious groups had called for his beheading. Amnesty International took up Aan’s case, and one of the country’s leading newspapers (The Jakarta Globe) described the case as blight on Indonesia’s democratic credentials and a threat to Indonesia’s attractiveness to foreign investors.”

imrs

The Washing Post (see map above) describes the case of a Saudi Arabian, who was arrested as he changed planes in Malaysia, deported back to Saudi Arabia, because he had declared himself to be an atheist. The article includes a map showing the seven countries where you can die for being an atheist.

It’s time we asked a simple question. Is there any place in the 21st century for laws that allow a government to jail or kill a person just because they stop believing in god, and have the courage to say this publicly? Why should this be happening?

Amnesty International takes up cases like this, and campaigns to have  such sentences set aside. If you are not a member, I strongly urge you to join. The world needs more free speech, not less. It doesn’t need people hiding in cupboards and secret on-line forums just because they hold a minority opinion that harms no one. I hope you’ll consider joining. Here’s a link: http://www.amnesty.org/

OTHER INFO

Here is a Muslim author arguing that blasphemy charges are un-Islamic.

The Huffington Post provides a list of 13 countries where publicly declaring that you are  an atheist can get you jail or death.

Burglars: don’t check your Facebook page in the house you just broke into.

Strange things in the news part 10

What happens when yo run off to a war you don’t need to be in, and then find you don’t like it? Some western teenagers have decided they want to fight with ISIS in the Middle East, but it’s not as glamorous as they thought. One French citizen has  written home , “I’ve done practically nothing but hand out clothes and food. I also clean weapons and transport dead fighters’ corpses,” Another wrote, “The winter is here. It’s become very difficult.” Another writes, “I’m sick and tired. My iPod doesn’t work anymore.” And another:  “I’m fed up. They make me do the washing up.” Some Australian Jihadies have been told they’re too overweight to be fighters.  It’s a tough life. You dreamed of being a Jihadi, but your IPod doesn’t work and you have to wash dishes. and then they don’t want you because you’re too fat. what’s the world coming to?

In the US state of Minnesota, a burglar was caught because he used the home owner’s computer to check his Facebook page, and left the computer open. The homeowner messaged him offering to return some clothes the burglar had taken off and left because they were wet from rain. When the burglar returned to claim his clothes he was arrested.  Stupidity at a whole new level!

In New York, an 80-year-old chemistry professor presented a Jewish Museum with a baby photograph of herself published on the front page of a Nazi magazine in the 1930s as being the most Aryan-looking baby in a competition. The photographer who took the photo back in the 1930s didn’t tell the magazine committee that the child was actually Jewish. Ridicule is at least one form of revenge.

In Arizona, a college professor offered credits to female students who agreed not to shave body hair for certain time, or male students who agreed to shave all their body hair and keep a diary about it. I don’t much care what you shave or don’t shave, but college credits??

Have you ever wondered how astronauts in close confinement with each other deal with B.O.? The international space recently station took delivery of a load of  odor resistant gym clothes.

 

Mockingjay: a film that just fails to engage.

Last night I saw the film Mockingjay and left the cinema disappointed. I haven’t seen the two earlier films in this series, but a film, even if part of a series, should be able to stand on its own feet. MockingjayIn this film the bad guy, President Snow, fails to behave in a way that evokes any emotional reaction from an audience. Katniss fails to do a great deal to establish herself as a sympathetic character, except for an early scene where she decides not to shoot a wild stag. Her supposed feelings for Peeta are not convincing. So unless you are already emotionally invested in disliking Snow and being on-side with Katniss, there’s not much to make you feel like taking sides. On the good side, some of the outdoor photography is quite well framed, and this is, I believe, the last film of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Sadly, unless you are already a fan of the Hunger games series, I can’t recommend this film. It’s not that it’s a terribly made film, it just fails to engage.

If I Have Gay Children: Four Promises From A Christian Pastor/Parent

Churches and christians often get a bad rap over their responses to gay people. And historically, that bad rap has often been deserved. But every so often you find an individual with compassion who is prepared to come out against the historical positions of the church. Here a father talks about the chances that one or more of his kids may be gay. It’s worth reading. There is hope for the world. 🙂

john pavlovitz

KidsFiltered


Sometimes I wonder if I’ll have gay children.

I’m not sure if other parents think about this, but I do; quite often.

Maybe it’s because I have many gay people in my family and circle of friends. It’s in my genes and in my tribe.
Maybe it’s because, as a pastor of students, I’ve seen and heard the horror stories of gay Christian kids, from both inside and outside of the closet, trying to be part of the Church.
Maybe it’s because, as a Christian, I interact with so many people who find homosexuality to be the most repulsive thing imaginable, and who make that abundantly clear at every conceivable opportunity.

For whatever reason, it’s something that I ponder frequently. As a pastor and a parent, I wanted to make some promises to you, and to my two kids right now…

1) If I have gay children, you’ll all know it.

My children won’t…

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What Makes People Buy Self-Published Books?

Here’s an interesting article for authors about what makes people buy books. The four most common reasons are cover design, the cover blurb, reading sample pages, and reviews.

Tara Sparling writes

In this post, I discussed the findings of a scientifically incontrovertible study (of myself) on the factors which influenced me when buying a self-published book.

The findings surprised me (which surprised me, because I was surveying myself). I found that I knew what made me buy a self-published book when it was in front of me, but not what put that book in front of me, unless I was browsing by genre (e.g. today I feel like reading a romance set in Ulaanbaatar: therefore I will now search specifically for such a story).

It was still hard to know what put those books in front of my eyes in order to buy them; to quote one of the commenters on that post – this is the thorny issue of “discoverability”. How will we find these books in the first place?

So I did the unthinkable, and asked some other people…

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