Beast’s real mark devalued to ‘616’

“Satanists, apocalypse watchers and heavy metal guitarists may have to adjust their demonic numerology after a recently deciphered ancient biblical text revealed that 666 is not the fabled Number of the Beast after all.

A fragment from the oldest surviving copy of the New Testament, dating to the Third century, gives the more mundane 616 as the mark of the Antichrist.

Ellen Aitken, a professor of early Christian history at McGill University, said the discovery appears to spell the end of 666 as the devil’s prime number.” (Religion News Blog)

Dead funny?

“On 8 March, as Pope John Paul II lay dying in the Vatican, Matt Taibbi, a columnist for the freesheet alt-newspaper New York Press and currently Rolling Stone magazine’s Michael Jackson trial correspondent, penned a piece entitled ‘The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope’. It was emblazoned across the front page of the New York Press, tantalising readers with this strapline next to a picture of the Pontiff: ‘There’s Nothing Funny About This Man Dying… Or Is There?’

…One of the curious consequences of today’s emotionally correct atmosphere is the corresponding rise of a culture of offensiveness, a punkish, kneejerk reaction among what might be termed the Jackass generation against today’s emotional orthodoxy. Where world leaders say ‘The Pope was a good man’, they say ‘Dude, the Pope was an asshole.’ Yet this is a shallow rebellion; it takes the piss out of orthodoxies rather than challenging them. The inspiration of Beavis and Butthead seems to sum it up. Just as they sat around watching MTV, mocking the poncy rock acts, today some individuals watch Mourning TV (all channels) and feel able only to knock the weeping participants. Heh heh, indeed.” — Brendan O’Neill (spiked)

Taibbi’s article can be found here.

What Would Dewey Do?

Eric Alterman: “If you agree with John Dewey (and Jurgen Habermas) that democracy depends on a series of institutional arrangements that enable the public to form its own values and judgments on a variety of questions–and I do–then you cannot ignore the importance of civility in allowing these institutions to function. Without a foundation in civil society, the kinds of democratic exchange that allow a public to test its prejudices and, potentially, transcend them are literally impossible.

But the mores and institutions of civility can be a double-edged sword. By insisting on ‘keeping things civil,’ in polite society, repressive powers may suppress ugly truths about their conduct merely because raising them requires bad manners. I always thought it was a stroke of genius on the part of Robert McNamara to start crying at dinner parties in the late 1960s when someone raised the issue of Vietnam, as it pre-empted discussions of the deception and destruction for which he was responsible. Perhaps if McNamara had been confronted with some of the morally uncomfortable consequences of his policies, he might have worked harder to reverse them.” (The Nation)

Alterman’s focus in this piece is to castigate Robert Novak in preparation for their upcoming debate. However, the broader point bears repeating. The Bush dysadministration and the Rabid Right are conducting an unprecedented assault on the ability of the media to inform the public of their actions, and the media has largely caved to it. The unscrupulous always have those who still believe in respect and civility over a barrel. (So give it up?)

Saving PBS From the GOP

Jonathan Chait argues that a decade of liberal efforts to preserve government funding for public broadcasting has backfired; the only kind of free public broadcasting now, with the Rabid Right in power, will be public broadcasting free of government funding. (LA Times)

Making the Most of Mother’s Day

//' cannot be displayed]Following the example of Marla Ruzicka: “I grudgingly admit that the big things I wanted when I was a young adult were fame and fortune. Yes, I can rationalize that I wasn’t alone in my youthful lust for more, more, more for me, me, me. But then there’s the audacious northern Californian, Marla Ruzicka, whose stirring death in Iraq last month, at age 28, was an elegant reminder of how stuck we can be in our boundless self-interests.

It’s as if her bigger-than-life role as a long-time advocate for the victims of war was a giant finger poking at the tightly woven cocoon many of us have spun (consciously or not) that insulates us from acknowledging the ravages of armed struggle on the lives of ordinary people in other lands. Yes, she did the heavy lifting for a lot of us.” — Rebecca Ephraim (Alternet)

Annals of Depravity (cont’d.)

Couple faked death with stolen corpse: “Molly Daniels spent weeks surfing the Internet, gathering information for a bizarre and grisly plot of deception. She learned how to burn a human body beyond recognition. She sought clues on ways to deceive arson investigators, and took meticulous steps to create a new identity for her husband.

Daniels then dug up a woman’s corpse, staged a fiery car accident to fake her husband’s death, and had him re-emerge as her new boyfriend. Authorities say it was all to collect a $110,000 life insurance policy while hiding her husband, Clayton Daniels, from the cops.” (Salon News)

Brain candy

Book review: Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter by Steven Johnson:

“Many video games, television shows, and other forms of popular entertainment may reek of sex and violence, but what about their benefits in developing American brains?

The brain-developing benefits of pop culture?

That the very question seems preposterous is the backdrop of Steven Johnson’s iconoclastic and captivating Everything Bad Is Good for You. In fact, he says, it’s the public’s overly righteous preoccupation with sexual and violent content that is diverting attention from pop culture’s important contribution to Americans’ cognitive development.” (Boston Globe)

And Malcolm Gladwell also reviews Johnson’s book in a New Yorker essay, curiously entitled “Brain Candy” as well.

A Short History of the Chinese Restaurant

From stir-fried buffalo to Matzoh Foo Young: “Would anyone have bet the bank on Chinese food (in the mid-19th century, when the first Chinese eateries sprang up in California to feed Cantonese laborers)? According to Chinese Restaurant News, there are now more Chinese restaurants in America than there are McDonald’s franchises—nearly three times as many in fact. In the 19th century, though, the Chinese were scorned as rat-eaters; nothing could have been more revolting than eating what they ate.” (Slate)

Of Two Minds

“The human brain is mysterious — and, in a way, that is a good thing. The less that is known about how the brain works, the more secure the zone of privacy that surrounds the self. But that zone seems to be shrinking. A couple of weeks ago, two scientists revealed that they had found a way to peer directly into your brain and tell what you are looking at, even when you yourself are not yet aware of what you have seen. So much for the comforting notion that each of us has privileged access to his own mind.

…It is sobering to reflect how ignorant humans have been about the workings of their own brains for most of our history. Aristotle, after all, thought the point of the brain was to cool the blood. The more that breakthroughs like the recent one in brain-scanning open up the mind to scientific scrutiny, the more we may be pressed to give up comforting metaphysical ideas like interiority, subjectivity and the soul. Let’s enjoy them while we can.” (New York Times Magazine)