Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wacky medieval laws

During the height of witch-hunting in the 15th century, there was a book published in Germany that was a sort of "Witch-Hunting for Dummies" guide, name of Malleus Maleficarum.

Full page scans available at Cornell's online repository, and while you're there, they have a few other witch-related tomes to check out for all your witchery needs. There's also a full site devoted to this and other witch-related beliefs, even into the present day.

But even practices for catching plain old criminals wasn't much better. For instance, there was the process of cruentation, in which an accused murderer was brought together with the corpse of the presumed victim and ordered to lay their hands upon the carcass. If the dead body should then spontaneously begin bleeding from its wounds, that would be a sign from on high that the defendant was guilty. One can only imagine how many murderers got off scott-free.

Many such practices are covered in the blanket category of "Trial by Ordeal," where you get all the variations on tying you up and throwing you into the river to see if you sink or swim, or plunging your hand into boiling water to see if God healed you, or simply swallowing poison, or other such life-jeopardizing trials. In some cases, surviving the ordeal unscathed meant that God had declared you innocent, while in other areas it was considered just the opposite proof, that you had escaped by the Devil's aide.

Then there was the practice of compurgation, a law which meant that you could be found innocent if you could find twelve people who said they believed your side of the story. Well, who couldn't scare up twelve friends?

One more curiosity is the German principle of "stadtluft macht frei," a kind of statue-of-limitations where if a serf had managed to escape capture for a year-and-a-day, they was no longer open to being re-chained.

And for a final medieval law oddity, animals could be tried in a court of law exactly as if they were human.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Space dreamer answers childhood call to destiny

A NASA / DARPA plan is underway to launch a "100-year" spaceship for deep space exploration. But while that's interesting of itself, I was struck by this wild anecdote:
"When Jack Sarfatti was 13 years old, he began receiving phone calls from a strange metallic voice that told him he would someday become part of an elite group of scientists exploring uncharted territory. Those calls, which he believes may have come from a computer on a spacecraft, proved a seminal influence on his life and led him to pursue a career that combined mainstream physics with an enduring interest in UFOs and the far-out reaches of science."
The program is just one of many ambitious attempts to kick the human race into its interstellar travel era. So far, Voyager is still the most distant man-made object in the universe, and it's just crossing the threshold out of our solar system. As Cecil Adams points out in this Straight Dope column:
"Then again, the thinking goes, if you can pinpoint where to look, you can accomplish seemingly miraculous feats. Just ask the project team for Voyager 1, which is still communicating with a spacecraft so far away its incoming radio signals have less than a twenty-billionth the power of a watch battery.

But let’s put that in perspective. Voyager 1 is the most distant manmade object in the universe, far beyond the orbit of Pluto. It’ll soon leave the outer reaches of the solar system behind and enter the depths of interstellar space. Even so, another 14,000 years will have to pass before Voyager attains a distance of one light year from earth. The star closest to us, Proxima Centauri, is more than four light years away." at present technology, 100 years will be long enough to get, meh, a stone's throw from Earth, relatively speaking.

However, getting our space legs on might be a necessity at some point in the future, especially if we want to do anything about threats like 29075-1950-DA, the asteroid which has the greatest probability of hitting earth. It's only expected to muss our hair sometime about the year 2880, but it's still much too soon from now to comfortably put it off.

Here's a little presentation on this asteroid and other near-Earth objects, just to scare you a little bit:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's come to this: Happiness is now a disease

A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder:
"It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains--that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant."
Okaaaay... Pretty sure this is a parody, but you never can be quite sure.

On a related note, there's also discussion about whether to classify unipolar mania. See, unipolar mania is like bipolar disorder in a higher key; instead of cycling between extremes of depression and mania, you just have the manic phases. So most of the time you're normal, except sometimes you're extremely hyper and happy.

Doesn't that sound nice?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sleeping Mother Earth

From the tourist info:

"The Madre Tierra Eco-Resort is located a mile from the center of Vilcabamba, the Andean village made famous for the longevity of its citizens. Visitors come from all over the world for the relaxed atmosphere, the deliciously healthy food from our gardens, the mineralized pure water, the fresh, clean air and to spend time among Ecuador's very gentle people."
And this creation, sleeping mother earth personified.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A gallery of mathematical cranks, wanks, and wonks

You wouldn't think that mathematics, as a field, would attract that many fringe-living crackpots - at least not as much as, say, medicine or space physics. In math, after all, either 2 plus 2 adds up to 4 or else it doesn't, and there's not much room for argument after that. But, oh, how wrong you'd be! Join me on this intellectual Tilt-A-Whirl as we explore the home pages of some extremely unhinged amateur mathematicians:

Zim Mathematics

The startling page layout is just the appetizer to Zim Olsen's theories. However, Zim doesn't really seem as out there as some, merely extremely eccentric. On the crank side, there's the ranting philosophy of how we should think of mathematics, which reads like a better-educated Time Cube manifesto. On the other hand, we have the following masterpiece:
The Lord’s Prayer in System(s) Mathematics

Our Father who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name;
(1) + - × ÷ = (0) + - × ÷ = (1+0) + - × ÷ = (1,0) + - × ÷

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
(1) +, -, ×, ÷ = (0) +, -,×, ÷ = (1+0) +, -, ×, ÷ = (1,0) +, -, ×, ÷

Give us this day our daily Bread.
Y(A,B) + - × ÷ => X(1,0,Y(A,B) +, -, ×, ÷)

Forgive us for our sins,
X(1,0,Y(A,B) +, -, ×, ÷) + - × ÷ => Y(1,0))

As we forgive those who sin against us.
W(A,B,Y(1,0) + - × ÷) => W(1,0)

Lead us not into temptation
X(1,0,Y(A,B)) + - × ÷

But deliver us from evil.
X(1,0,Y(A,B) +, -, ×, ÷) + - × ÷ => Y(1,0))

For thine is the Kingdom, the Power,
and the Glory, forever and ever.
F(1,0) = ___, ___, …___
OK, anybody who can engage in such whimsy has my benefit of the doubt.

Diamond Theory

Here again, I don't think Steven Cullinane is really unhinged per se. At the very least, his geometric study is fun to play with, particularly when you find this toy. And I'm not really sure that anything he says is wrong per se. But you might find yourself asking "So what?" or more to the point, "Why is this supposed to be the central theory to explaining life, the universe, and everything?"

The Correct Value for Pi

OK, here at last is somebody I can pin to the board. This Iranian scholar can't stand it that Pi is infinite, and insists that its true value is actually 3.125, so there! Wrong sir! Thank you for being up front and not burying it under 100 pages of dense "proof."

Impossible Correspondence

Ah, we love the argumentative ones! This colorful Mad Hatter uses amusing George-Clinton-type coinages like "supraconsciousness" to insist that everybody else is wrong, dammit, especially that Albert Einstein. Go on, pick a page, any page - the "Analysis of Maths by Theosophical Reduction" argues that we only need nine digits to define the universe and then wades into the I-Ching and something called the Mayan "Tzolk'in"... uh, this:

...guaranteeing that this refugee from Klingon astrology will lose the hell out of you before you can even suss out what he's rambling about. Oh, and there's a great bit of numerology about the Quran, and a piece on market cycles and Fibonacci done with no sense of irony for Darren Arinovsky's film. And hey, there's this:
"In his stand against the ether, Einstein had argued, "we should not speak of things that can't be measured." Probably the number one reason for saying that was to insure the job of measurements. Today, the Aether not only has been experimentally shown to "exist", but the reversed, subluminal group wave Aether and the superluminal phase wave Aether could also be measured once it was defined as the existent medium."
Treasures, treasures I tell you!

C.F. Russel - Cubed

This is impossible. I take back everything I ever said about the Time Cube guy; THIS is the craziest web person with a cube-centric theory! Oh, the pages start out tame enough,

but it gets crazier...

and crazier...

and CRAZIER!!!

God, thank you, man! I made it up to page 16 before I couldn't hang on any more and blew my load! And THEN I found this dingus. Take me! Take me away to your crazy, right-angled world forever.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Spermatozoid Homunculus

TIL folks of a few centuries ago believed that sperm cells contained little tiny people, perfect replicas of the humans they would become. As told here. In the modern day, we've moved on past the silly idea of perfect replicas embedded in sperm or egg cells; now the anti-choice religious crowd insists that conception makes a perfect little tiny person.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Washington town erects giant lava lamp, for no apparent reason

Well, actually, there is an apparent reason: To attract tourist dollars. At least that's the plan according to the propaganda.

Which puts it right up there with 1000 other goofy roadside attractions peppering America. Honestly, it's the only damned charming thing about our country. How many times have foreign heads of power convened to discuss whether they're fed up with America's shit enough to nuke us already, and we were saved by somebody raising their hands and going, "But that would destroy the world's largest pencil in Baltimore, Maryland"? And the United States was spared once again.

Monday, June 3, 2013

8 Things you never knew were in the King James Bible

Jesus gets thrown out of town:
Matthew 8:34 "And, behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus: and when they saw him, they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts."

You should turn your rebellious son over to the town to be murdered:
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear."

God commanded Saul to slaughter a whole town, including the women, babies, and animals:
1 Samuel 15:1-3 "Samuel also said unto Saul, The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."

If you rape an unmarried woman, your only penalty is paying her father 50 silver coins and marrying her:
Deuteronomy 22:28-29 "If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days."

If two men are fighting and the wife of one gets in the way to try to break it up, she can get her hand chopped off:
Deuteronomy 25:11-12 " When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her."

Moses made a brass snake charm to cure snakebite:
Numbers 21:8-9 "And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived."

God will smear crap on you:
Malachi 2:2-3 "If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.  Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it."

Uh... this:
2 Kings 18:27 "But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?"

I can't pass up this opportunity to tie in one of my favorite works from one of my favorite web humorists, so here's the Professor Brothers (aka SuperDeluxe aka Brad Neely) with a lesson on Sodom & Gamorrah: