‘The war against humanities at Britain’s universities | Education | The Guardian’


Plenty to consider in the article, but here are especially worthwhile points from interviewed historian Dame Marina Warner:

“Academics used to have a great deal of autonomy, now quite the opposite. And if you look at some of the most successful companies in the world, Microsoft or Google for instance, they have very flat structures. And that’s much more successful. People feel – jargon word – empowered, they feel in charge of their destinies in ways that makes them productive and expressive and inspired, if they’re not being leant on and breathed down on all the time by people in authority who often do not have legitimate title to that authority, people who are just brought in and appointed without any proper screening structures….Ethically, universities should not have these toppling hierarchies, they should be examples of good conduct in society…”

via The war against humanities at Britain’s universities | Education | The Guardian.

via The war against humanities at Britain’s universities | Education | The Guardian.

‘Researchers Uncover Ancient Mask Of Pagan God Pan In Northern Israel’ — Huffington Post


“Although Pan hails from Greco-Roman pagan traditions, ancient worship of the god — called Faunus in Roman tradition — has been documented in Israel. Paneas, also called Banias, is now a nature reserve and archaeological site near the ancient city of Caesarea Philippi in the Golan Heights. The city was located within the region known as the ‘Panion,’ named after the deity, and housed shrines and temples in his honor.”

via Researchers Uncover Ancient Mask Of Pagan God Pan In Northern Israel

CNN’s ‘Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers’


Last night, I watched “Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers” on CNN. Reporter Kyra Phillips mostly focused on the “atheist” label as an identity and a social factor in families and small towns.

Her report primarily told the stories of four atheists:

1. A Georgia college student who left the faith of his conservative, Bible-believing family to become a leader of student atheists on his campus;

2. a former Pentecostal preacher in Louisiana who now leads Sunday-morning, church-style gatherings for atheists;

3. a man currently in Christian ministry who has lost his faith (he was interviewed with his face hidden and his voice disguised for fear of distressing the congregation that currently depends upon him);

4. and the somewhat militant founder of American Atheists and Atheist TV.

With the emphasis on the social aspects on the “atheist” identity, the program did not directly address arguments for and against the existence of God.

Phillips gave a considerable portion of the program to the college student’s parents, who expressed their heartbreak over their son’s unbelief and their conviction that he is hell-bound. The tension within the family was apparent especially in the interview with the parents, and it was somewhat apparent in the interviews and on-campus filming of the son. At the same time, the son appeared to have warm, supportive relationships with the other members in his atheist group.

The ex-Pentecostal preacher, the one who now leads a church-like atheist community, appeared genuinely upbeat and kind. He seemed at ease with himself and others around him.

I’ve been wondering what else constitutes evidence for a religious, or non-religious, perspective.

The arguments for a particular way of living aren’t the same as the actual living of that life, no more than (as William Barrett once noted) a menu is a substitute for a meal.

You can memorize a menu and still starve. You can also spend so much time admiring the menu, you forget to eat.

We could allow that there’s a difference between the descriptions on the menu, and the actual experience of the meal.

We could also say that some people eat while looking at the menu, convincing themselves that what they’re eating is the same as what appears on the menu, when actually they’re eating an inferior meal.

Last night’s program didn’t show me much menu, but it showed me some people enjoying a particular kind of meal. They didn’t appear to be starving.

Architecture and engineering at the 9-11 Museum


When I visited the 9-11 Museum about two weeks ago, I had a hard time reconciling two competing emotions. I was fascinated by the architectural and engineering feats I could see, yet I was only seeing evidence of those feats because of a horrific attack. The horror of that day is well represented, as are the heroes living and dead.

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The last beam removed from the World Trade Center site is the attraction in this section of the museum’s main level. From an architectural and engineering standpoint, however, the far wall is more interesting. Called the slurry wall, it was the answer to the problem posed by setting a massive foundation so close to the Hudson River. Workers dug a massive trench which was filled with clay and water, or slurry. The slurry stabilized the trench, allowing the workers to pump in concrete. The heavier concrete filled the trench from the bottom and displaced the slurry, according to museum signage. Once the concrete solidified, cables were pushed through the wall and anchored in bedrock.

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South Tower grillage. The museum’s signage described the grillage as a way to distribute the weight of the tower’s columns.

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Another view of the South Tower grillage.

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A commemorative keyring given to WTC workers upon the completion of the towers. The antenna on the North Tower was added later — because the size of the towers interfered with signals from local television stations.

Part of the North Tower antenna at the 9-11 Museum

Part of the North Tower antenna, recovered at the site.

The neurobiology of religion: from ‘The friendly atheists next door’ – CNN.com


From The friendly atheists next door – CNN.com:

“Todd Stiefel told me about a lecture on the neurobiology of religion that he’d heard at an American Atheists convention several years ago. It was delivered by Dr. Andy Thomson, a psychiatrist who lives in Virginia and has studied the components of religious belief.

“Thomson has become famous among atheists for an exercise that seems to demonstrate how worship services work – why even lapsing Catholics like Harry sometimes felt that ‘Sunday morning high’ after church.

“In his experiment, Thomson asks members of the crowd to pinch themselves, hard, to gauge their pain threshold, and then to put their arms around each other and sing a few verses of ‘Amazing Grace.’

“Stiefel, who participated in the exercise, says the crowd couldn’t keep a straight face. Atheists singing ‘Amazing Grace’!?! But afterward, he said, he felt bonded to this unlikely choir, and when he pinched himself again, his pain threshold had increased.

“The experiment demonstrates the power of communal rituals, Thomson told me in an interview. Joining hands and singing together floods our brain with soothing endorphins, which boost our sense of trust and cooperation.

“It’s similar to how fans bond at the ballpark, and why after singing ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ and standing for ‘the wave,’ we often feel good, even if our team loses.”

via The friendly atheists next door – CNN.com.

Preventing a repeat


FT Magazine has as regular feature entitled “The Shrink & the Sage,” written by therapist Antonia Macaro and philosopher Julian Baggini. A recent topic for their column was, “Should we ‘get over it’?

Here are two excerpts.

reasons to choose differently next time

“A big part of getting over something is learning from past events so that we can act differently in the future.” — Antonia Macaro

The Prosecution looks to the future

“Think, for example, of the friends and relatives of people who have died due to the negligence of others. They may embark on tortuous legal processes, usually with the aim that no one else should have to go through what they did. Sometimes, it might be true that their persistence is indicative of a failure simply to accept that things happen. But often this is a principled move that has real benefits for others. The fact that life might have been easier for all concerned if they had tried to move on quicker is besides the point. Justice needs to be done, more to prevent future tragedies than to try to fix what can’t be mended.” — Julian Baggini

‘Priest arrested for exorcism on anorexic girl’ – The Local


Some people still believe the body is like a puppet for an immaterial soul. Some people believe the physical body is subject to invisible forces. But in some well-documented cases, the culprits in real-world problems can be found in the real-world body and more specifically in the brain.

I know next to nothing about anorexia, but the following story seems outrageous. From The Local: Spain’s News in English:

“A judge in Burgos has called for the arrest of exorcist, Jesús Hernández Sahagún, along with the girl’s priest after she went through 13 exorcisms while still a minor.

“Sahagún, the official exorcist of Valladolid, is facing charges of gender violence, causing injury and mistreatment according to local newspaper, Diario de Burgos, and has been asked to make a statement on the events.

“The events date back to 2012, when the girl began to suffer from anorexia. According to El País, her religious parents became convinced she was possessed by the devil and decided to have their child exorcised.

“She was tied up and had crucifixes positioned over her head, according to El País.

“The girl subsequently attempted suicide and an investigation was launched after her aunts and uncles filed a complaint.”

via Priest arrested for exorcism on anorexic girl – The Local