No One Knows Why These Medieval Statues Are Pulling Their Vaginas Open
John Harding, an IT director from Shropshire, England, was on a day trip to the quaint English market town of Church Stretton when he encountered his first Sheela-na-Gig carved in stone above the door of its 14th century church. "My first impression was, 'What the hell's that?'" he says. "It was an odd thing to find on a church."
"Odd" is an understatement. Sheela-na-Gigs are medieval stone figures—often found on the walls of churches or castles—of women caught mid-squat, thighs spread, using their hands to yank open their vulva and display their vaginas. Some of them have cheeky grins; others are wizened hags; one is depicted wiggling out of a demon's mouth. What they all have in common is the fact that they are proudly exposing their chiseled vags to anyone walking past.
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The Church Stretton carving is one of hundreds of Sheela-na-Gigs found in England, Ireland, France, and Spain. Some anonymous prude had attempted to censor the image, obscuring her open genitalia with a stone, but Harding could still tell what it was covering up. "I got fascinated, basically. I started recording them, because there are quite a few in the area."
That was in 1998. Harding's database, the Sheela-Na-Gig Project, has been going ever since. Now people send him logs of suspected Sheelas; some come from as far away as Norway and Milan.
Richard Dawkins event cancelled over his 'abusive speech against Islam'
Richard Dawkins has denied using “abusive speech against Islam” after a California radio station cancelled a book event with the scientist, citing his comments on Islam, which it said had “offended and hurt … so many people”.
Dawkins, whose bestselling study of evolution, The Selfish Gene, was named the most influential science book of all time by the Royal Society last week, was lined up to speak about his memoir A Brief Candle in the Dark at an event hosted by Berkeley’s KPFA Radio in August.
But KPFA subsequently informed ticketbuyers that the event had been cancelled. “We had booked this event based entirely on his excellent new book on science, when we didn’t know he had offended and hurt – in his tweets and other comments on Islam – so many people. KPFA does not endorse hurtful speech,” said KPFA in an email to ticket buyers, which Dawkins later published on his website. “While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologise for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins’s views much earlier. We also apologise to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation.”
Dawkins, the author of anti-religious polemic The God Delusion, called the decision “truly astonishing”, and a “matter of personal sorrow”. He had listened to KPFA “almost every day” when he lived in Berkeley for two years, he said, and had previously been grateful for its “objective reporting and humane commentary”.
From the Enlightenment to the Dark Ages: How “new atheism” slid into the alt-right
The “new atheist” movement emerged shortly after the 9/11 attacks with a best-selling book by Sam Harris called “The End of Faith.” This was followed by engaging tomes authored by Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens, among others. Avowing to champion the values of science and reason, the movement offered a growing number of unbelievers — tired of faith-based foolishness mucking up society for the rest of us — some hope for the future. For many years I was among the new atheism movement’s greatest allies.
From the start, though, the movement had some curious quirks. Although many atheists are liberals and empirical studies link higher IQs to both liberalism and atheism, Hitchens gradually abandoned his Trotskyist political affiliations for what could, in my view, be best described as a neoconservative outlook. Indeed, he explicitly endorsed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, now widely seen as perhaps the greatest foreign policy blunder in American history.
There were also instances in which critiques of religion, most notably Islam, went beyond what was both intellectually warranted and strategically desirable. For example, Harris wrote in a 2004 Washington Times op-ed that “We are at war with Islam.” He added a modicum of nuance in subsequent sentences, but I know of no experts on Islamic terrorism who would ever suggest that uttering such a categorical statement in a public forum is judicious. As the terrorism scholar Will McCant noted in an interview that I conducted with him last year, there are circumstances in which certain phrases — even if true — are best not uttered, since they are unnecessarily incendiary. In what situation would claiming that the West is engaged in a civilizational clash with an entire religion actually improve the expected outcome?
Wisconsin company to become first US company to microchip employees
A Wisconsin company will become the first U.S. company to provide employees implantable microchips.
According to a press release, Three Square Market will offer the technology to all employees during a “chip party” on August 1. The program is optional.
“Employees will be implanted with a RFID chip allowing them to make purchases in their break room micro market, open doors, login to computers, use the copy machine, etc.,” the company said in the press release.
Over 50 staff members are expected to be voluntarily chipped between the thumb and forefinger underneath the skin. The chip uses the same NFC chip technology used in credit cards.
Brazilians funneled as slaves by US church, ex-members say
The revelations of forced labor are the latest in an ongoing AP investigation exposing years of abuse at Word of Faith Fellowship. Based on exclusive interviews with 43 former members, documents and secretly made recordings, the AP reported in February that congregants were regularly punched, smacked and choked in an effort to “purify” sinners by beating out devils.
The church has rarely been sanctioned since it was founded in 1979 by sect leader Jane Whaley, a former math teacher, and her husband, Sam. Another previous AP report outlined how congregants were ordered by church leaders to lie to authorities investigating reports of abuse.
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Luiz Pires said he was 18 in 2006 when he was encouraged by ministers in the Sao Joaquim de Bicas church to travel to North Carolina for his spiritual betterment.
Upon arrival, he said he found “horrific” living conditions, with eight people crammed in the basement of a church leader’s house, forced to work long hours at church-related businesses. Any payment went to living expenses, Pires said, despite the fact that he and others cleaned and did yard work at the member’s house where they lived.
“There was never time to sit down. We were worked like slaves,” he said.
After leading LDS congregations and designing Mormon temples, this Utah dad is building a new life — as a woman
Laurie Lee Hall was excommunicated from the Mormon church for being a woman.
At least, that's how Hall sees it.
The former LDS stake president, who oversaw a group of Mormon congregations in Tooele for eight years and worked as an architect on her faith's most sacred spaces, faced, in her mind, an impossible choice: Either return to living as a man or resign her membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Giving up her female identity would cause grave damage to her physical and mental health, Hall says. "And it was not in my heart to resign my membership."
Cassini finds building blocks of life in our own solar system, on Saturn's moon Titan
An important molecule that can produce life and organic material has been found elsewhere in our solar system.
Scientists have been shocked to find that the Cassini spacecraft spotted the chemicals, central to prebiotic chemistry, on Saturn's moon Titan. And it could mean that we are getting an up-close view of the very beginnings of life.
It found in one of those flyovers that Titan appears to host carbon chain anions. Those are the building blocks of more complex molecules, and could have served as the beginning of life on Earth.
As well as lifting hopes for the chances of finding life in our own solar system and elsewhere, the discovery is re-shaping scientists' understanding of the mysterious moon. They didn't expect to find the molecules there at all – usually, because negatively charged carbon chain anions are so reactive, they don't last long in the atmosphere.
Researchers Discover "Angel Particle" Which Is Both Matter And Antimatter At The Same Time
A team of scientists has found evidence for an unusual particle that, bizarrely, is also its own antiparticle. It was first theorized 80 years ago but now looks like it might be a reality.
The findings, published in the journal Science, were conducted by scientists from Stanford University in California and the University of California.
The idea of a particle having its own antiparticle goes back to 1937 when Italian physicist Ettore Majorana (who mysteriously disappeared in 1938) first postulated the theory. He said that within the class of fermions, which include protons, electrons, and neutrons, some particles should have their own antiparticles, which became known as Majorana particles.
An antiparticle is a particle that has the same mass as the regular particle, but an opposite electric or magnetic property. For example, the electron’s antiparticle is the position. If the two encounter each other, they annihilate each other.
Depression Linked To Changes In Brain Structure, According To Study
This groundbreaking study, which looked at the brains of 3,461 patients, is the most expansive of its kind to date. They were drawn from a public database, UK Biobank, which contains detailed health data on 500,000 people.
Traditional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques can be used to view the entirety of the brain, but for this study, the white matter had to be isolated. In order to achieve this, the team used an advanced technique known as "diffusion tensor imaging”, which looks at how water rather than blood diffuses around the brain.
This revealed detailed maps of the patients’ white matter, which allowed the team to look for very small structural differences between samples.
Subjects who had reported suffering from depression, or afflicted by symptoms linked to depression, had noticeably different structures in their white matter compared to mentally healthy people. The key measure here was something known as “white matter integrity”, and the prevalence of depression seemed to negatively correlate with this.
Ravens Are So Smart, One Hacked This Researcher's Experiment
Ravens, along with jays and crows, belong to a family of birds called corvids, known for their intelligence: Previous studies have researched how Eurasian jays, for example, stash away food for future use, instead of eating it right away. But some have argued in the past that this food caching behaviour might be the limit of their ability to plan for the future.
In this study, researchers from Lund University in Sweden trained ravens to use a simple machine where they dropped a rock in a tube to earn a food reward. Later, they were put in a room with the puzzle box (but no rock), which was then removed. An hour later, the birds were presented with a row of objects: the rock, and several distractions. Nearly all of them chose the rock, and 86 percent managed to successfully use it to open the machine when it was presented to them 15 minutes later.
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I phoned co-author Can Kabadayi, a doctoral student in cognitive science, over Skype to ask him about the new paper. (His profile photo featured two ravens perched on his head and shoulder.)
He described to me how one experiment took an eerie turn: One raven in the experiment figured out how to work their rock/box contraption first, then began teaching the method to other ravens, and finally invented its own way of doing it. Instead of dropping a rock to release a treat, the future Ruler of the Raven Kingdom constructed a layer of twigs in the tube, and pushed another stick down through the layer to force it open. The bird had to be removed from the experiment before it could teach any other birds how to do it.