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Skeptic Summary

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Skeptic Summary #253

By The Staff
Posted on: 9/19/2009

ACORN, bay, stone, accomodation, reserves, brain-melting and more!

Week ending September 19, 2009 (Vol 6, #35)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick week-in-review guide to the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.

Forum Highlights:
ACORN busted hard - Bill Scott goes more nuts.

Bay leaves myth - What other falsehoods do people take for granted?

Scattershots: the stone art of Mesoamerica - Who shall cast the first stone?

Editor’s Choice: Is the NCSE too accommodating to religion? - The latest bizarreness starts on page 12.

From the Archives: Federal Reserve Act of 1913 - Jerome whiffs on another conspiracy theory

Kil’s Evil Pick:
Is the Internet melting our brains? — This is a interview with Dennis Baron, the author of A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution. It opens:
By now the arguments are familiar: Facebook is ruining our social relationships; Google is making us dumber; texting is destroying the English language as we know it. We’re facing a crisis, one that could very well corrode the way humans have communicated since we first evolved from apes. What we need, so say these proud Luddites, is to turn our backs on technology and embrace not the keyboard, but the pencil.

Such sentiments, in the opinion of Dennis Baron, are nostalgic, uninformed hogwash. A professor of English and linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Baron seeks to provide the historical context that is often missing from debates about the way technology is transforming our lives in his new book, “A Better Pencil.” His thesis is clear: Every communication advancement throughout human history, from the pencil to the typewriter to writing itself, has been met with fear, skepticism and a longing for the medium that’s been displaced. Far from heralding in a “2001: Space Odyssey” dystopia, Baron believes that social networking sites, blogs and the Internet are actually making us better writers and improving our ability to reach out to our fellow man. “A Better Pencil” is both a defense of the digital revolution and a keen examination of how technology both improves and complicates our lives.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.
— Richard Dawkins

Chat Highlights:
Wednesday: Chat started off this week with some forum talk about Bill’s latest nonsense. But things moved quickly onto health issues, aging, and various ways to kill oneself with food. Boron announced that his little tike is now walking, and that he will be moving to Washington once he finds a place. Some bad jokes oddly led to a discussion on Shel Silverstein, who was involved with a lot more things than you might think, unless you’re really into him. Of course I have to plug my favorite poem by him, but it’s ok because I did this in chat too. Some word games ended the night for most people. Mab also dropped by and made me promise to mention him in the summary.

Come chat with us.

New Members This Week:

(Not a member? Become one today!)

Elsewhere in the World:
Anti-Porn event — emotional appeals and dangerous misinformation

Bad science: A Blueprint for how not to do research

Chuck a Monkey — Everything contemplated.

Commandments Caper: Louisiana Town Permits Decalogue In Park

Creation Museum Part 1

Florida school officials in prayer case could get jail time

Gallup… America has spoken: Joe Wilson is a Jerk.

Hoards of ignorant christian honkies with their racism and their guns

Mike Adams adds religious nuttery to his armamentarium as he slimes Patrick Swayze posthumously

Report a bad doctor to the authorities, go to jail?

Skepticality #107 — Amazing Interviews

Teen birth rates highest in most religious states: Link may be due to communities frowning on contraception, researchers say

A Trail of Shame: Racism and the Anti-Obama Movement

What’s New by Bob Park

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.

Book of the Week:
A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution, by Dennis Baron.

“Computers, now the writer’s tool of choice, are still blamed by skeptics for a variety of ills, from speeding writing up to the point of recklessness, to complicating or trivializing the writing process, to destroying the English language itself.

A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing technologies — not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements — and even writing itself — were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the printing press disrupted the ‘almost spiritual connection’ between the writer and the page; the typewriter was ‘impersonal and noisy’ and would ‘destroy the art of handwriting.’ Both pencils and computers were created for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.

Here then is a fascinating history of our tangled dealings with a wide range of writing instruments, from ancient papyrus to the modern laptop. With dozens of illustrations and many colorful anecdotes, the book will enthrall anyone interested in language, literacy, or writing.”

— Product Description

This Week’s Most-Viewed Pages:
Forum Topics:
  1. The Supper
  2. Stop laughing, dammit! This is serious shit!
  3. PZ expelled from Expelled — Dawkins slips in!
  4. A half of a wing & a piece of a prayer
  5. The shallow end of the gene pool…
  6. Possum on the half shell
  7. New World Order happening right now!
  8. On Human Nature, by Edward O. Wilson
  9. ACORN busted hard
  10. Scattershots: gargoyles & grotesques
  1. Evolving a Venom or Two
  2. Fundamentalists Hate Noah’s Ark
  3. Scientific Truth
  4. Skeptic Summary #152
  5. Miracle Thaw — The Bogus Miracle
  6. Mesmer, Casino Monkey, and Video Sex
  7. The Bible’s Bad Fruits
  8. Miracle Thaw Tray
  9. Is the Speed of Light Slowing Down?
  10. Astrology
There were 16,351 daily visitors this week.

More issues of the Skeptic Summary can be found in our archive.

The Skeptic Summary is produced by the staff of the Skeptic Friends Network, copyright 2008, all rights reserved.

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