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March 26, 2009

How to Become An Atheist, Talk to the Pirah

By The Fault -- Blog Archive -- How to Become An Atheist, Talk to the Piraha

This is an impressive article that deserves a thorough read. it touches on topics of anthropology, religion, linguistics and the temporal now.

Yet Everett’s life with the Piraha didn’t just cause a gradual disenchantment with the Chomskyan intellectual framework he had once cherished: it also triggered another, even more dramatic, de-conversion.

Soon after he first arrived in the Amazon, Everett was nearly killed when the Piraha discovered he was ordering passing river traders not to give them whisky. The Piraha were rarely violent, but intensely rejected any kind of coercion. Crucially, Everett came to see his religion as fundamentally coercive. His academic studies were ultimately designed to help him translate the Bible into Piraha. When they heard the word of God, his evangelic mission believed, they would be converted. Everett translated the Book of Luke, read it to the Piraha and they were utterly unmoved. By 1985, he had privately lost his faith.

“It’s wrong to try and convert tribal societies,” he says. “What should the empirical evidence for religion be? It should produce peaceful, strong, secure people who are right with God and right with the world. I don’t see that evidence very often. So then I find myself with the Piraha. They have all these qualities that I am trying to tell them they could have. They are the ones who are living life the way I’m saying it ought to be lived, they just don’t fear heaven and hell.”

March 25, 2009

"The only way to reduce violence, therefore, is to legalize drugs."

The Raw Story | Harvard economist: Prohibition creates violence, legalize all drugs
Because of his title as a Harvard economist, people tend to listen to Jeffrey Miron. And, if the old principle holds true and controversy always creates interest, expect a lot of people to be talking about Miron's latest volley into the mainstream media. "Prohibition creates violence because it drives the drug market underground," he wrote in an essay published by CNN on Tuesday. "This means buyers and sellers cannot resolve their disputes with lawsuits, arbitration or advertising, so they resort to violence instead. "Violence was common in the alcohol industry when it was banned during Prohibition, but not before or after." Miron's proposed solution to ending the cartel war along the US-Mexico border is both simple and enormously complex. "Violence is the norm in illicit gambling markets but not in legal ones. Violence is routine when prostitution is banned but not when it's permitted," he wrote. "Violence results from policies that create black markets, not from the characteristics of the good or activity in question. "The only way to reduce violence, therefore, is to legalize drugs."

March 23, 2009

People, we have a new preposition

Language Log -- A new preposition is born

People seem to imagine the prepositions, like other so-called "function words", belong to a fixed and fairly small list that is handed down to us unchanging over the centuries: at, by, for, from, in, into, of, off, on, to, under, with, within, without, a few others, and that's it for our lifetime. But it's not like that. Not only is the list of prepositions longer than people think (probably over 200 items in all), it is growing. New prepositions pop up from time to time, some borrowed from other languages and others derived from various sources within English. Brett Reynolds and Rodney Huddleston have discovered a new one. Brett heard somebody say (about a water contamination in Walkerton, Ontario): "How is the water, post Walkerton?" And he suspected this meant post had to be a preposition, so he mailed Huddleston about it. . . .