Are the Russians manipulating the U.S. election?

Researchers are concluding that it was the Russians–indeed, a Russian intelligence agency–that hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails and gave them to Wikileaks.  Which raises the question:  Is Vladimir Putin working to get Donald Trump elected?

Not only have the two expressed admiration for each other.  A Trump presidency would clearly be in Russia’s self-interest.  Trump threatens to leave NATO and has said that he might not defend NATO members if they are attacked, with specific reference to the Baltic Republics, which Putin has his eye on.

 Is Trump a Manchurian candidate?  Certainly, Democrats are already spinning that narrative.

Is this just a Cold-War style conspiracy theory?  Or could there be something to it?

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The Democrats’ embarrassing e-mail leaks

Someone hacked into some 20,000 e-mails from members of the Democratic National Committee, and they have been posted on Wikileaks. They reveal embarrassing details about how the party officials were trying to rig the primaries for Hillary Clinton.  This included a plan to use Bernie Sander’s religion–he is a Jewish agnostic–against him.  (See the article excerpted and linked after the jump.)

The Wikileaks searchable DNC site is here.

Here is a list of some of the more embarrassing e-mails.

Wikileak’s Julian Assange, who also posted Clinton’s State Department e-mails, is promising more damaging leaks, part of a “Hillary Clinton project.”

UPDATE:  DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was supposed to have a big role at the convention, has resigned over the revelations.  The Democratic leadership is said to be in “disarray” over the e-mail leaks.

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What Mary Magdalene looked like?

Saint Mary Magdalene - Digital facial reconstruction


Brazilian scientists have been using digital technology on the skulls of saints, so as to reconstruct their faces.  They used their technique on a relatively well-attested relic of Mary Magdalene.  This is what she may have looked like.

Details of the reconstructions after the jump.  Go here for the Mary Magdalene project.




Image by Cicero Moraes (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)


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The end of the written word?

Facebook is predicting the end of the written word–at least on Facebook, which the head of the company in Europe says may well be all video in 5 years.  Suggesting that reading and writing will be all but obsolete (though not completely), Nicol Mendelsohn said, “The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video,” which “conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

This is not true, as media expert Neil Postman has shown.  It certainly isn’t “quicker” to watch a video, as opposed to scanning a few paragraphs.  And the information value of videos is quite low, if you are looking for ideas and facts, as opposed to emotional experiences.  And “stories” can be told with much more depth in writing, as nearly any comparison with a movie and the novel it was based on will prove.

And yet, I can see Facebook and other online media replacing the written words with visual images and oral performances. This would be in line with the predictions of another media scholar, Marshall McLuhan, who said that when this happens, we will revert back to a pre-literate culture, one that is tribal, anti-rational, and functionally primitive. [Read more…]

Music composed by artificial intelligence

Google engineers are trying to see if Artificial Intelligence can generate works of art, thus morphing into Artificial Creativity.  The company’s Project Magenta is working on algorithms that would allow computers to compose music.  See Can machines make music? Google tests creative boundaries of AI. –  

The first composition has been released.  It consists of only four notes.  (The drums are human additions.)  Hear it after the jump.

Then discuss:  Do you think machines with Artificial Intelligence will be able to create art?  What’s the difference between the Artificial Intelligence of a machine and the Actual Intelligence of a human being? What else is needed to create a work of art besides “intelligence”?  Can machines ever have those things?
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Online baptism

The Church of Scotland wants to increase membership by letting worshippers attend online.   The Presbyterian state church is also considering allowing “access to the sacraments” for people are not “physically present in the congregation.”

It isn’t clear what this would look like.  I believe this has been done for communion in other “virtual churches” by streaming the words of institution to consecrate elements in front of your computer.  I would think baptism would be harder.  Baptism wouldn’t have to be part of a church service anyway, so people could be baptized at home by a pastor or even a layperson, but my impression is that members of a virtual congregation would not like even that much human contact.  So can you baptize yourself?

You pastors, if someone were to transfer into your congregation from the Church of Scotland who had an online baptism, would you consider that a valid sacrament?

Even if you draw away from virtual sacraments, do you see any possibilities for online worship, as described here?  For shut-ins?  For other members?  For visitors?  Or does online church fall short of the Biblical exhortation to “meet together” (Hebrews 10:25 )? [Read more…]