Dead Sea Scrolls will go online

Ancient and modern communication technology come together, as the world’s oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible along with other texts from just before the time of Christ go online, where they will be more readable than ever:

The Dead Sea Scrolls, among the world’s most important, mysterious and tightly restricted archaeological treasures, are about to get Googled.

The technology giant and Israel announced Tuesday that they are teaming up to give researchers and the public the first comprehensive and searchable database of the scrolls – a 2,000-year-old collection of Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek documents that shed light on Judaism during biblical times and the origins of Christianity. For years, experts have complained that access to the scrolls has been too limited.

Once the images are up, anyone will be able to peruse exact copies of the original scrolls as well as an English translation of the text on their computer – for free. Officials said the collection, expected to be available within months, will feature sections that have been made more legible thanks to high-tech infrared technology. . . .

Scholars already can access the text of the scrolls in 39 volumes along with photographs of the originals, but critics say the books are expensive and cumbersome. Shor said the new pictures – photographed using cutting-edge technology – are clearer than the originals.

The refined images were shot with a high-tech infrared camera NASA uses for space imaging. It helped uncover sections of the scrolls that have faded over the centuries and became indecipherable.

If the images uploaded prove to be of better quality than the original, scholars may rely on these instead of traveling to Jerusalem to see the scrolls themselves, said Rachel Elior, a professor of Jewish thought at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.. . .

For the last 18 years, segments of the scrolls have been publicly displayed in museums around the world. At a recent exhibit in St. Paul, Minn., 15 fragments were shown.

Shor said a typical 3-month exhibit in the U.S. draws 250,000 people, illustrating just how much the scrolls have fascinated people.

“From the minute all of this will go online, there will be no need to expose the scroll anymore,” Shor said. “Anyone in his office or on his couch will be able to click and see any scroll fragment or manuscript that they like.”

via Google to bring Dead Sea Scrolls online.

Money pollution in the Gulf

The Gulf coast way of life survived the oil spill.  But will it survive all of that money BP has thrown at them?

On a truly normal evening, Acy Cooper Jr. would be out shrimping. Instead, one recent night, he was staying home, as he has done more often these days.

“Why? It don’t pay me to do that when they’re going to pay my claim anyway,” said Cooper, vice president of the state’s shrimpers association.

Today, it is BP’s money, not its oil, that is most visibly altering the Gulf Coast. The company has been trying – on federal orders – to protect not just the water but the way of life there. But BP’s waterfall of cash has changed people’s lives profoundly.

The oil company has already paid out $965 million and set aside $20 billion in a separate compensation fund. The money has been welcomed as a lifeline. But it has made the coast feel like an open-air economic experiment: Some hardworking fishermen think it’s in their best interest to be idle, losing market share they will need next year. And those who haven’t been paid are looking for legal and illegal ways to work the system. . . .

So far, BP has paid $569 million to locals who participated in the Vessels of Opportunity program, helping to spot, sop up and burn the oil.

It also gave out about $396 million to compensate fishermen, hotel owners and others who lost money during the spill, before handing the process over to Feinberg in August.

For those who played their cards right, BP’s money brought a summer of quiet windfall. Ted Melancon, a shrimper from Cut Off, La., worked for BP for 130 days.

“They sure helped us out, you know, they stepped up to the plate and helped us out. . . . It would have been a bad year,” said Melancon (pronounced “meh-lan-sahn”). He said he hasn’t counted his full take, but he made enough to buy new nets and new cable for his shrimp boat, as well as a new Ford F-150 pickup.

“Which I didn’t really need, but I had to buy. Because, you know, tax write-offs,” he said, meaning that the truck and other items could be written off as business expenses. On top of that, he’s expecting to get another BP payout, compensation for the shrimping he couldn’t do this summer while large areas of the gulf were closed.

“I’m done for the season,” Melancon said. “It don’t pay to go back to work.”

via Adrift in oil, then money.

Vindicating middle management

As we saw in the mortgage foreclosure fiasco, paperwork is necessary.  And, according to some research in India, so are the processes, policies, and record-keeping associated with “bureaucratic” business management:

Imagine a world without middle managers. If you’ve done time in a cubicle, you might picture a paradise where workers are unshackled by pointless bureaucracy, meaningless paperwork and incompetent bosses. A place where stuff actually gets done.

Despite a proliferation of management gurus, management consultants and management schools, it remains murky to many of us what managers actually do and why we need them in the first place. A new World Bank-Stanford study titled “Does Management Matter?” provides an answer. Working in collaboration with the consulting firm Accenture, the researchers randomly selected a set of textile factories in India to receive a complimentary five-month management makeover and compared the profitability and efficiency of these revamped factories with a control group of factories that continued doing business as usual. It turns out that management does matter: The consultants boosted productivity by about 10 percent by improving quality, managing inventory and speeding up production.

via In defense of middle management.

Crystal Cathedral goes bankrupt

One of the first and most prominent megachurches, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, has gone bankrupt.  The 10,000 member congregation listed assets of $50 million and debts of $100 million.  The church was built by Robert Schuller, who preached a gospel of “positive thinking.”  He said that the Reformation was  mistaken in  its emphasis on sin, which gave people a negative self-image.  He wanted Christianity to be more positive, and he taught people that they could achieve their dreams and change their reality by having positive thoughts and faith in themselves.

Rev. Schuller retired from ministry a few years ago.  His daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, is currently the pastor of the church.

via Crystal Cathedral Ministries Seeks Bankruptcy, Blames Recession.

The most arrogant words ever?

Another unpacking of presidential rhetoric, this time by Michael Gerson:

“Part of the reason that our politics seems so tough right now,” he recently told a group of Democratic donors in Massachusetts, “and facts and science and argument [do] not seem to be winning the day all the time is because we’re hard-wired not to always think clearly when we’re scared. And the country is scared.”

Let’s unpack these remarks.

Obama clearly believes that his brand of politics represents “facts and science and argument.” His opponents, in disturbing contrast, are using the more fearful, primitive portion of their brains. Obama views himself as the neocortical leader — the defender, not just of the stimulus package and health-care reform but also of cognitive reasoning. His critics rely on their lizard brains — the location of reptilian ritual and aggression. Some, presumably Democrats, rise above their evolutionary hard-wiring in times of social stress; others, sadly, do not.

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president.

The neocortical presidency destroys the possibility of political dialogue. What could Obama possibly learn from voters who are embittered, confused and dominated by subconscious evolutionary fears? They have nothing to teach, nothing to offer to the superior mind. Instead of engaging in debate, Obama resorts to reductionism, explaining his opponents away.

It is ironic that the great defender of “science” should be in the thrall of pseudoscience. Human beings under stress are not hard-wired for stupidity, which would be a distinct evolutionary disadvantage. The calculation of risk and a preference for proven practices are the conservative contributions to the survival of the species. Whatever neuroscience may explain about political behavior, it does not mean that the fears of massive debt and intrusive government are irrational.

via Michael Gerson – Obama the snob.

I don’t know if you can answer this question with your lizard brain, but do you think this is the most arrogant statement ever, or can you think of other candidates?

Thank a mosquito. . .

Next time you get bit by a mosquito, do not swat him. Rather, thank him for your freedom!  Yesterday marked the 229th anniversary of George Washington’s victory over the British at Yorktown, which meant that American independence was won.  This fascinating piece by J. R. McNeill credits the lowly and much-hated mosquito for this otherwise unlikely turn of events:

Major combat operations in the American Revolution ended 229 years ago on Oct. 19, at Yorktown. For that we can thank the fortitude of American forces under George Washington, the siegecraft of French troops of Gen. Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, the count of Rochambeau – and the relentless bloodthirstiness of female Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquitoes.

Those tiny amazons conducted covert biological warfare against the British army. Female mosquitoes seek mammalian blood to provide the proteins they need to make eggs. No blood meal, no reproduction. It makes them bold and determined to bite.

Some anopheles mosquitoes carry the malaria parasite, which they can inject into human bloodstreams when taking their meals. In eastern North America, A. quadrimaculatus was the sole important malaria vector. It carried malaria from person to person, and susceptible humans carried it from mosquito to mosquito. In the 18th century, no one suspected that mosquitoes carried diseases.

Malaria, still one of the most deadly infectious diseases in the world, was a widespread scourge in North America until little more than a century ago. The only people resistant to it were either those of African descent – many of whom had inherited genetic traits that blocked malaria from doing its worst – or folks who had already been infected many times, acquiring resistance the hard way. In general, the more bouts you survive, the more resistant you are.

via How mosquitoes helped swarm the redcoats at Yorktown.

The article goes on to explain how the British troops, with no immunity to malaria, were incapacitated by the disease, while the colonial troops, especially the Southerners who had already survived bouts with the mosquito-borne malady, were relatively immune.


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