Will Smith to Fund a School Based on Scientology Pedagogy

Please, just shoot me now. Although I did not know that there was such a thing as teaching based on Hubbard’s idea. On the other hand, why not. Via the Guardian,

“The curriculum at Smith’s New Village Academy of Calabasas, on which he has spent nearly £500,000, uses different educational theories including “study technology” – a learning method developed by L Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.

Websites dedicated to monitoring Scientologist activity are also claiming that at least six members of staff employed at the £6,000-a-year private academy are members of the controversial sect.”

For those of you counting at home, Smith put close to $900,000 into the school. And “study technology” is only used by scientologists and unaccredited private institutions. Oh well, I’m sure there will be a lot of wealthy parents willing to segregate their little geniuses from the riff-raffs in public schools and will cough up the money to pretend to be at the forefront of pedagogy.

The best critical essay on study technology is this essay from David Touretzki and Chris Owen. Also see this website on scientology versus education. From the essay:

“Study Tech is founded on three principles: (1) use pictures and diagrams to illustrate the concepts being taught, (2) break down complex concepts so they can be mastered in a series of simple steps, and (3) always seek definitions for unfamiliar terms. These rules make sense and are harmless enough when phrased in plain English. But the Study Tech books present them in a different manner. The three principles are called “mass”, “gradients”, and “misunderstoods”: terms that were invented or redefined by Hubbard and loaded with significance in the Scientology religion. These concepts are presented in a doctrinaire manner that is also characteristic of Scientology religious instruction. Study Tech actually helps lay the groundwork for introducing Scientology doctrines into secular education.”

As they say, go read the whole thing.

NOW Can We Stop Taking The Catholic Church Seriously?

Via the BBC and Richard Dawkins:

“The Pope’s chief astronomer says that life on Mars cannot be ruled out. Writing in the Vatican newspaper, the astronomer, Father Gabriel Funes, said intelligent beings created by God could exist in outer space. Father Funes, director of the Vatican Observatory near Rome, is a respected scientist who collaborates with universities around the world. The search for forms of extraterrestrial life, he says, does not contradict belief in God. The official Vatican newspaper headlines his article ‘Aliens Are My Brother’.”

Fine, why don’t you go visit them… you and your pals in the funny outfits and pointy hats. And it gets better (or is it worse?)

“Just as there are multiple forms of life on earth, so there could exist intelligent beings in outer space created by God. And some aliens could even be free from original sin, he speculates.”

Oh goody, now they believe in cultural diversity. And sin-free aliens too!! I like “he speculates”… hey BBC writer… religion is ALL speculation!

“Asked about the Catholic Church’s condemnation four centuries ago of the Italian inventor of the telescope, Galileo, Father Funes diplomatically says mistakes were made, but it is time to turn the page and look towards the future.”

Yeah, bygones and all… besides the attitude of the Church on science is so much different these days: stem cells, contraception. The Church’s attitude is all based on science. </snark>

“To strengthen its scientific credentials, the Vatican is organising a conference next year to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of the author of the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin.”

Ooooh… can’t wait for that one! Let me guess: God created mechanisms of evolution, so, you see?? No contradiction! Oh, and by the way, the sin-free Martians, were they made in God’s image too? If not, why not?

Can we stop pretending this institution has any moral and political standing?

Communism 2.0

Via the BBC,

“The leader of Nepal’s Maoists has said that his party’s recent election victory is a sign of the global resurgence of communism. But Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, stressed his party believed in retaining multi-party competition. Prachanda has made it clear that he wants to become the first president of a Nepalese republic. The Maoists won twice as many seats as their nearest rivals in last month’s polls for a constitutional assembly.”


Prachanda hopes to start a revolutionary chain reaction in developing countries (well, the Mercosur countries certainly have taken a left turn which I blogged about here a while back). This is also communism 2.0 in that Prachanda believes multi-partyism is an acceptable political format and that competition in political ideas is healthy for society (that’s certainly new… can he tell that to Kim Jong-il?) and that it was the lack thereof that had been fatal to previously communist countries. More than that, these communists believe in private foreign investments (so, how are they communist, again?). Anyhoo, at least, we know they’ll abolish the monarchy once the Assembly is seated. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

Communism 2.0. Hmm… should be interesting.

Photo Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Because Privileged People Need More Privileges

Via the Guardian,

“Donna Vassar, part of the Vassar education dynasty, has launched plans to build a $300m (£150m) private getaway for stressed-out presidents and prime ministers who want to “reconnect with their unique purpose in life”. The Universitas Leadership Sanctuary is intended as part monastery and part conference centre where the most powerful men and women on the planet can get away from it all with a combination of reading, contemplation and even a spot of gardening.”

Nothing is worse than unexplored social privilege combined with New Age nonsense. There is a whole lot of good that could be done around the world with $300m, and a fancy luxury resort (whatever you wanna call it) is not one of them. Besides, heads of state already enjoy luxury Summer residences either privately or as part of the public estate they are entitled to based on their function.

And here comes the truly ridiculous part:

“”The Universitas Leadership Sanctuary will be a centre specifically created to embrace and challenge leaders,” says the vision document which Vassar has published. “Together we will create an individual journey leading to the highest place within, enabling leaders to reconnect with their unique purpose in life. They emerge – renewed, with clarity, and reflecting true transformation.””

Will they be made to read the Secret and have private consultations with Deepak Chopra too? How about inviting refugees and survivors of mass violence there? I’m sure they need recovery too. No? I didn’t think so. Well, if anyone can spare a few bucks, they are raising funds for the whole thing.

“Vassar has set up Destination Universitas Foundation, a New York charitable foundation, to raise money for the project, which she estimates will take two and a half years to build. She is travelling the world to meet potential donors and has told them her mission is “to create better balance in the world by transforming leaders”.”

Are we talking “chi” or yin / yang or bringing balance to the Force here?

Sick Story of the Day

I am not an animal rights activist but this really turns my stomach, via the Guardian,

“Chaining up a dog and forcing it to go without food and water in the name of art is a surefire way of making yourself unpopular with animal lovers. (…) The Costa Rican has been called an animal abuser, killer and worse over claims that a stray dog called Natividad died of starvation after he displayed it at an exhibition last year at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua. Vargas tethered the animal without food and water under the words ‘Eres Lo Que Lees’ – ‘You Are What You Read’ – made out of dog biscuits while he played the Sandinista anthem backwards and set 175 pieces of crack cocaine alight in a massive incense burner. More than a million people have signed an online petition urging organisers of this year’s event to stop Vargas taking part.”

So, no one seeing the exhibition thought of liberating the dog? Oh and the “artist” (if you can call him that) says he’s received dozens of death threats… really? The gallery owners deny that the dog was starved and say it has escaped, so no one knows what’s happened to it.

Indian Tantrik Fails to Kill Atheist on Television

Via Jonathan Turley,

“This month, Indians were glued to their television as India’s leading tantrik or black magician Pandit Surinder Sharma tried repeatedly to kill atheist Sanal Edamaruku first with a death-causing tantra and then later with the “ultimate destruction ceremony” on live TV. This display was the result of a high-ranking government official Uma Bharati (former chief minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh) accusing her political opponents of using tantrik to cause disasters in her life.

In what may be one of the single most productive uses of television in India’s history, the live attempt to kill Edamaruku probably did more to combat ignorance than non-stop showings of Nova. Pandit Surinder Sharma is apparantly the tantrik to the stars and powerful with many , top politicians as clients. He had simply appeared on the show to debate black magic versus science. He began showing items that could cause death quickly and Edamaruku challenged him to kill him on television. The tantrik tried repeatedly, mumbling “Om lingalingalinalinga, kilikili…” and other such words.

When Edamaruku remained disturbingly alive, he insisted that he had prayed to a powerful God, but when Edamaruku said he was an atheist, the tantrik insisted that he would have to do the ceremony at night. That is what brought about the live show.”

Bottom line, atheism 1, stupid religious Secret-like BS 0.

Putting Children in DNA Databases

In Western societies, we tend to alternate between two conceptions of children: the fetishization of innocence to be protected from everything (and I mean, every freakin’ thing) on the one hand, and as a wild population to be tamed by all means necessary (including medication and all sorts of therapies) and to be treated with suspicion on the other. Here comes the latest brilliant idea, via the Guardian,

“Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain’s most senior police forensics expert. Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.”

And that guy is Britain “most senior police forensics expert”? So, I guess Freudian “biology is destiny” is making a big comeback. And of course, while I was sleeping, it’s been firmly established that DNA = 100% predictive of behavior. Gosh, it is so stupid I don’t even know where to start. Fortunately, Mr Pugh’s opinion is not necessarily shared.

First problem, as mentioned, the predictive power of DNA. There is no guarantee that we might be able to identify in the DNA exactly what causes deviant or criminal behavior. First, criminal behavior is culturally and socially relative. Also, biological explanations for crimes have always turned out to be junk (remember testorerone theories… old criminology textbooks are full of these… all debunked). Of course, any use of the slippery slope argument without evidence should be considered with suspicion. Here again, the same lousy reasoning is used that tends to be applied to the “gateway drug theory”… smoke pot and you’ll end up using harder drugs.

Second problem, how do we select which categories of behavior will warrant the listing in the DNA database? Who decides? What if these behavioral definitions change over time? Who will have access to the databases? Can such a listing be contested by parents or teachers? Who identifies these behaviors in the first place?

Third problem, one raised in the 1960s by sociologist Howard Becker in his classical study Outsiders: the question of labeling process and consequences. Mr Pugh fits perfectly the definition of a moral entrepreneur. But we know that labeling has deep and long-term social consequences for individuals at the receiving end of the label. Or to use another prominent sociologist, this raises the question of stigma. What kind of limitations to social participation will labeled individuals have to face?

But, when one reads Mr Pugh’s reasoning, only one conclusion can be reached:

“Society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database – the largest in Europe – but police believe more are required to reduce crime further. ‘The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people,’ Pugh told The Observer. However, he said the notion of universal sampling – everyone being forced to give their genetic samples to the database – is currently prohibited by cost and logistics.”

Mr Pugh is a fascist. Oh, and beware of self-righteous and self-important individuals enjoining us to have a “mature” discussion… usually that applies to mainstreaming nonsense such as creationism, holocaust denialism and various conspiracy theories. And of course, Mr Pugh does not understand the concept of privacy or the simple idea that there is no such thing as biological determinism that would justify extending further the reach of the surveillance society.

Predictably, and thankfully, civil liberty groups are up in arms against this.

“Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, denounced any plan to target youngsters. ‘Whichever bright spark at Acpo thought this one up should go back to the business of policing or the pastime of science fiction novels,’ she said. (…)

Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers’ Association, said most teachers and parents would find the suggestion an ‘anathema’ and potentially very dangerous. ‘It could be seen as a step towards a police state,’ he said. ‘It is condemning them at a very young age to something they have not yet done. They may have the potential to do something, but we all have the potential to do things. To label children at that stage and put them on a register is going too far.'”

This being said, the British have already accepted significant element of the surveillance society, including ubiquitous surveillance cameras along with already existing DNA databases and counter-terrorism measures such as the monitoring of movements through commuter cards.

“Last week it emerged that the number of 10 to 18-year-olds placed on the DNA database after being arrested will have reached around 1.5 million this time next year. Since 2004 police have had the power to take DNA samples from anyone over the age of 10 who is arrested, regardless of whether they are later charged, convicted, or found to be innocent.”

Disturbing… and of course, that last bit takes care of the idea that if you are innocent, you have nothing to fear.

Surveillance Society – Norwegian Edition

Via Liberation, at the Akershus hospital in Norway, newborns are now equipped with an ankle brace, an anti-theft device that is supposed to protect them against kidnapping and identity mix-ups. Why don’t we just implant them with a freakin’ microchip in utero?

How does it work? There are actually to devices: one attached to the baby and the other given to the mother (I guess fathers don’t need any devices related to parenting and child security, right?). The alarm goes off when the two devices are separated from a certain distance or when someone tries to remove the one on the baby. That’s neat, Danish mothers’d better not think of getting away from their kids for a bathroom breaks. How about not cutting the umbilical chord? That would solve the problem since it’s assumed a vigilant mother will never leave her post, within established distance from her baby.

What problem is this supposed to solve? None. This hospital has never had a kidnapping case or a case of mistaken identity. It is just one more device of surveillance of parenthood, especially motherhood, because, we all know that once a woman becomes pregnant, she belongs to the state and once she gives birth, we have to collectively monitor her.

Based on the comments on this article, it seems that such surveillance technologies are becoming commonplace globally. It is nice to see the fetishization of pregnancy, birth and childhood as a way for the surveillance industrial complex to expand its reach in the name of increased security in the face of nonexistent risks.

The Creepy Story of the Day

From Der Spiegel:

“Must consensual sex between close relatives be punished? Germany’s highest court is about to rule whether incest will continue to result in a jail term. It is referring to the case of a brother and sister who have already had four children together.”

Holy !@#$

And then, there’s this:

“Their case touches an age-old taboo, it’s exotic and tragic at the same time.”

Huh, no, it’s not exotic (tragic, probably)… it’s creepy… and illegal in Germany. Which is why the man has already served two years in prison and might have to serve more unless the Court say otherwise.

“The key issue is whether the protection of a powerful moral taboo is sufficient justification for punishment. And whether there are reasons beyond that taboo for locking someone up, for depriving children of their father, a woman of her partner.”

That is a certainly a legitimate question but then, there are issues when people engaging in this start reproducing. The article also provide some family history and that certainly explains (somewhat). The siblings did not grow up together. They only met when the man was 23 because he had been in foster care most of his life as a result of his father trying to kill him when he was three. His younger sister is mentally slow and so are their first two children. Their third child had a heart problem that was fixed by surgery (you’d think they’d get the hint and stop breeding). The woman involved has been under social workers’ supervision.

Anyway… it’s creepy.

Censorship at the Cesar Ceremony

Mathieu AmalricFor his performance in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Mathieu Amalric received the Cesar (French equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Actor. It is well deserved. However, on the day of the ceremony, the actor was in Panama filming the next James Bond film (there’s gonna be an another James Bond film?? Good grief). So, he had given a written version of his acceptance speech for the MC to read in case he won the Cesar.

However, according to Le Nouvel Observateur, only half of Amalric got read, leaving out the part where the actor criticized multiplexes and expressed support for independent movie theaters. Mathieu Amalric then released the complete version of his speech to the Agence France Presse. In it, he accuses multiplexes of caring only about the bottom line, of fostering solitude (“have you ever talked to someone at a multiplex?”) as opposed to the community connections that independent theaters establish with schools or the public in general, conducting underground work to dig up cinematographic gems.

Photo Source: SIPA from article.

Error 404 – Patent and Art

So, Amazon decided to patent error 404, you know when you click on a link and all you get is “HTTP 404 File Not Found”. The exact title of the patent in question is “Error processing methods for providing responsive content to a user when a page load error occurs“. The purpose of the patent is to provide live content on the error page, based on cached page, user navigation history or links. Of course, the error page could contain advertising and commercial content to retain the user. One only speculate how prominent an amazon.com link would be.

After reporting on this story, Liberation took a little tour on the Intertubes to check out customized 404 pages. Here are my favorites:

My personal favorite is no longer available, so, you get a screen capture:

404 - Electro Asylum

A gazillion creative 404 pages can be found here as well.