iPhones are pro-life

Indignant complaints about Siri, the virtual personal assistant on the new iPhones, which will give you information about just about everything, but not where you can get an abortion:

If you ask Siri for an abortion clinic in New York City, it will tell you “Sorry, I couldn’t find any abortion clinics.” A simple Google web search—which Siri itself uses to find results—gives you seven to start with, some within walking distance of where I’m located.

• If you ask the same question in the city of Washington DC, Siri won’t direct you to a nearby clinic, but to one 26 miles away.

• A reader reported that when he asked “find a pregnancy termination clinic” Siri responded: “I found a number of medical centers fairly close to you.” Then “it showed me seven results and four of them were chiropractors, two were acupuncture specialists, and one was an emergency room.” Update: Indeed, after we tested this, it’s true.

Apparently, women across the country are having similar experiences.. To make matters worse, the iPhone 4S’ smart assistant will not direct you to a place where you can obtain emergency contraception if you ask for it. Instead, it gives you a definition.

via Is Siri Pro Life? Apparently Yes (Updated).

The Elf who stole Christmas

Far more subversive to the true meaning of Christmas than the secularizers is the “naughty or nice” legalism of “Elf on the Shelf”:

Who can resist the holiday fun of scaring the children into good behavior? Ask any of history’s most efficient dictators — they’ll tell you. Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the naughty-nice punishment paradigm. Where would this holiday be without its good old-fashioned behavioral paranoia? Charles Dickens may get all the credit for this, but do also consider George Orwell.

That’s what makes “The Elf on the Shelf” so ingeniously successful. Cooked up in 2005 by a mother-daughter duo in Georgia, “The Elf on the Shelf” began as a children’s storybook that came packaged with a benign little elf doll — “a pixie scout” in the tale — togged out in a cute red leotard.

As the story goes, once a family gives their elf a name and places him on a shelf or mantel, he is endowed with magic powers. Beginning around Thanksgiving, the pixie scout watches everything that goes on during the day. At night, he flies back to the North Pole and gives Santa a full account: who behaved, who didn’t.

The elf returns to your house in the dark of morning, before everyone gets up, positioning himself in a different spot from where he was before, so that the children have to find his new vantage point. Also, very important — if anyone in the house touches the elf in any way, he’ll lose his magic. And if that happens, then we’re all royally screwed come Christmas Eve. In other words, it’s no longer Santa Claus who knows if you’ve been bad or good. It’s a whole army of his pixie-scout elves. (All a parent has to do to sustain the fantasy is remember to move the elf each night after the kids have gone to bed.)

via CBS’s ‘Elf on the Shelf’: Unwarranted Christmas surveillance techniques – The Washington Post.

Look at the message of the “naughty or nice” Santology:  You will get a gift, but only if you are good.   Gifts must be deserved.   The gift of the Christ child, though, is precisely to those who do NOT deserve it.

Does America need to defend everybody?

Frank Sonnek, frequent commenter on this blog, has found some interesting data and raises some interesting questions about our defense budget:

our military spending exceeds ALL global military spending if you don’t count china, which spends about 15% of what we spend.

some analyses relate military spending to GDP, but I am not sure what the relevance of doing that is, as opposed to absolute spending.

let’s say we cut our military spending to be maybe 1/2 of the next top military spenders combined…. would those nations not work to defend peace and commerce? are we unfairly subsidizing the peace rather than having other nations chip in their fair share of spending?

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/10/military_spending

and now look at this chart:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/spending.htm

and this one… the pie chart is sort of eye-popping. the usa represents nearly half of ALL global military spending according to the pie chart.

http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending

Summary: I am really challenged to believe that significant cuts in the military will threaten world peace.
It would appear that the United States of America really is the policeman of the world and budgets accordingly.  Is it that we are enabling other countries to spend so little on defending themselves that they can afford free health care and all of those other welfare state benefits?  Does our status as leader of the free world mean that we have to have the capability of defending every other country, as well as our own?   Couldn’t we expect our technological superiority in warfare, expensive as it is, to result at some point in savings?
Granted that national defense is one of the few legitimate functions of the federal government and that it has to remain an important priority in this still-dangerous world, given our massive deficits, should our defense budget be scaled back?

The end of the Euro?

The European economy is in a state of crisis, to the point that some people are thinking that the Euro, the pan-European currency (except for the British pound a few others), may be finished.  Some businesses are planning what to do if the Euro ceases to exist:

International companies are preparing contingency plans for a possible break-up of the eurozone, according to interviews with dozens of multinational executives.

Concerned that Europe’s political leaders are failing to control the spreading sovereign debt crisis, business executives say they feel compelled to protect their companies against a crash that can no longer be wished away. When German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy raised the prospect of a Greek exit from the eurozone earlier this month, it marked the first time that senior European officials had dared to question the permanence of their 13-year-old experiment with monetary union.

“We’ve started thinking what [a break-up] might look like,” Andrew Morgan, president of Diageo Europe, said on Tuesday. “If you get some much bigger kind of … change around the euro, then we are into a different situation altogether. With countries coming out of the euro, you’ve got massive devaluation that makes imported brands very, very expensive.”

via Businesses plan for possible end of euro – FT.com.

That wouldn’t help American exports.  But it would mean the dollar would suddenly become very, very strong.  That sounds like a good thing, but it would probably mean more dollars flowing out of this country into foreign imports and investments.

What might the breakup of the Euro mean for the American economy?

Courthouse Christmas displays gone mad

Christmas time is here, so it must be time for controversies over Christmas displays at the county courthouse.  Every year we have one here in Loudon County, Virginia.  Having a Nativity Scene, including one that had been donated by a local family and that had become a tradition, would seem to violate the separation of church and state.  Even Christmas trees have a Christian association.  So surely if the courthouse displays Christian symbols, it would be appropriate to display a Jewish menorah, since Hannukah takes place in the same season.  And we had better display an Islamic Crescent, even though no Muslim holidays are really at issue.  But now the imperative of being “interfaith” has given way to the imperative of including no-faith and anti-faith displays.

What the county officials did, to solve the annual controversy, was to agree to put up symbols of the first 10 people or groups to apply for a space.  So here is what we ended up with:

- The Welsh family nativity scene

- A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident

- A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident

- A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident

- A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident

- Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident

The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

via WMAL 105.9 FM/AM 630: Stimulating Talk – Breaking News.

So in this Christmas display, there will be at most three Christian symbols (depending on what the “letter from Jesus” says, and depending on whether the Anglicans get their display accepted).  Maybe just one, the traditional Nativity scene.   The others will be signs from atheists, either directly attacking Christianity (saying that Jesus is a myth), or mocking God (“the flying spaghetti monster,” which atheists pretend to argue for, as just as valid as the arguments for the existence of God), or just being blasphemous (Santa Claus crucified on a Cross).

If the county is indeed advocating Christianity by allowing displays of its symbols to mark a Christian holiday, then by the same logic  the county is now advocating atheism.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have anything?  Is there some other solution, such as allowing different religious groups to have displays, but not groups that are, by definition, not religious?  Or just leave it to churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, cutting the government out of it, even though that, of course, is what the atheists are trying to achieve?

Replicating a Stradivarius

How’s this for a use of  technology?

A Stradivarius violin has been “recreated” using an X-ray scanner normally used to detect cancers and injuries, according to researchers.

The US-based group used a computerised axial tomography (CAT) scanner on the 307-year-old instrument to reveal its secrets.

They then used the data recovered to build “nearly exact copies”.

The team said the technique could be used to give musicians access to rare musical equipment. . . .

Scans of the older instruments revealed worm holes, small cracks and other damage that helped create their distinctive sounds.

Eventually the two men [Steven Sirr and John Waddle] borrowed a Stradivarius known as “Betts” from the US Library of Congress which still had an original label placed by its Italian creator, Antonio Stradivari, inside its body.

Teaming up with another violin maker, Steve Rossow, they proceeded to create three replicas.

To do this they took more than 1,000 CAT scan images from the original instrument and converted them into a file format used to resemble three-dimensional object in computer-aided design (CAD) software.

“We used the scans to determine the density of the woods that made up the violin – that could only otherwise be done if the violin was dissected and measured – and of course that would never happen,” Dr Sirr said.

The files were then fed into a CNC (computer numerical control) machine. It used the data to carve the violins’ back and front plates, neck and the “scroll” carving at the neck’s end using various woods picked to match the originals as closely as possible.

These were then assembled and varnished by hand.

“The copies are amazingly similar to originals in their sound quality,” said Dr Sirr.

“When we make the violin we copy the changes that have occurred over more than 300 years including the shifts in the wood – the small deformations in the front and back plates that occur over time because of the forces of the strings and the other parts of the violin.”

Dr Sirr said he hoped to repeat the process with other antique instruments and hoped that his work would one day pave the way for students to have access to “nearly exact copies” of the originals.

The dean of the world-famous Juilliard school in New York, welcomed the possibility.

“Every string player graduating from any great conservatory faces an immense crisis of how do you obtain a violin that is at the level that you need to have a really first rate career,” said Ara Guzelimian.

CAT scanner CAT scans are more commonly used to diagnose tumours, cancers and infections

“With the inflation of prices of rare old violins – and obviously Stradivari at the top of that list – it’s far out of the reach of anyone but investors and investment trusts. So if there was a way of putting a superb violin in the hands of a young violinist at a fraction of the cost it would be a huge step forward.”

A well-preserved Stradivarius known as the Lady Blunt was sold in June for $15.9m (£10.2m) at a charity auction.

via BBC News – Antique Stradivarius violin ‘replicated’ by radiologist.


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