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The Crystal Gallery Ice Sculpture Contest in Anchorage, A Review

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northierthanthou

Last year I was in anchorage in early December, just a bit too early to catch the completed ice sculptures of this annual competition. I still got some interesting pics, but as I didn’t get the final products, what I got never quite found its way into the blog. This year, I’m stoked, because I’m in town later than before, and that means I get to check out the completed work.

Yeah-boyee!

So, let’s have a look at the completed projects for this year’s Crystal Gallery Ice Competition.

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We can begin with this spectacular bit of minimalism, well placed in front of a colorful tree. It takes courage for an artist to run with an idea like this. Such a simple composition and so profound, all of it beautifully executed.

I really like this one.

??????????????????????????????? Now this piece, here is some real talent. I mean, the symmetry of it…

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Home for Alien Life

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Kepler 438b: Most Earth-like planet ever discovered could be home for alien life

New discovery is likely to be a rocky world in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone of its parent star where the temperature is just right for liquid water to flow

An Earth-like planet orbiting a star that has formed a planetary nebula. Earlier in its life, this planet may have resembled the newly discovered Kepler 438b. Illustration: David A Aguilar/CfA

An alien world that orbits a distant star in the constellation of Lyra may be the most Earth-like planet ever found outside the solar system.

The planet, named Kepler 438b, is slightly larger than Earth and circles an orange dwarf star that bathes it in 40% more heat than our home planet receives from the sun.

The small size of Kepler 438b makes it likely to be a rocky world, while its proximity to its star puts it in the “Goldilocks” or habitable zone where the temperature is just right for liquid water to flow.

A rocky surface and flowing water are two of the most important factors scientists look for when assessing a planet’s chances of being hospitable to life.

Kepler 438b, which is 470 light years away, completes an orbit around its star every 35 days, making a year on the planet pass 10 times as fast as on Earth. Small planets are more likely to be rocky than huge ones, and at only 12% larger than our home planet, the odds of Kepler 438b being rocky are about 70%, researchers said.

Kepler-186f is part of five-planet system 795 lights years away. The find is described in the journal Science as ‘a landmark on the road to discovering habitable planets’. Photograph: Nasa Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Cal/PA

Source: TheGuardian Read more

Hellish Landscape

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Tar Sands’ hellish landscape of ruined Earth and toxic tailing ponds. Image source Occupy.

Tar Sands’ hellish landscape of ruined Earth and toxic tailing ponds. Image source Occupy.

Source: GarryRogersNature Read the original article

Queen Khentakawess III’s tomb found in Egypt

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The tomb dates to the Fifth Dynasty of the Pharaohs – about 4,500 years ago

Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed the tomb of a previously unknown queen, Egyptian officials say.

The tomb was found in Abu-Sir, south-west of Cairo, and is thought to belong to the wife or mother of Pharaoh Neferefre who ruled 4,500 years ago.

Egyptian Antiquities Minister Mamdouh el-Damaty said that her name, Khentakawess, had been found inscribed on a wall in the necropolis.

Mr Damaty added that this would make her Khentakawess III.

The tomb was discovered in Pharaoh Neferefre’s funeral complex.

Source: BBCNews Read more

Merry Christmas

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indiakids

These little Santa’s are carted to school in cycle rickshaws to celebrate Christmas in Northern India. Christmas is widely celebrated across the nation cutting across religion and culture. The festival also marks the beginning of the annual winter vacation, particularly in the freezing North, which lasts until the middle of January.

Source: DROPBOCKS

 

Firenado

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firenado

A “firenado” tears through a field in Chillicothe, Missouri on 3 May. Part fire, part tornado, this blazing twister was spotted by Missouri native Janae Copelin while she was out driving.

Source: TheGuardian

Photograph: Janae Copelin /Barcroft

Forgotten fairytales slay the Cinderella stereotype

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Stories lost in Bavarian archive for 150 years and newly translated into English offer surprisingly modern characters

Erika Eichenseer, a retired teacher who has dedicated herself to exploring Franz Xaver von Schonwerth’s work since the 1990s, on fairytale trail in woodland outside Regensburg, in Bavaria Photograph: Philip Oltermann for the Guardian

Once upon a time … the fairytales you thought you knew had endings you wouldn’t recognise. A new collection of German folk stories has Hansel and Gretel getting married after an erotic encounter with a dwarf, an enchanted frog being kissed not by a damsel in distress but by a young man, and Cinderella using her golden slippers to recover her lover from beyond the moon.

The stash of stories compiled by the 19th-century folklorist Franz Xaver von Schönwerth – recently rediscovered in an archive in Regensburg and now to be published in English for the first time this spring – challenges preconceptions about many of the most commonly known fairytales.

Harvard academic Maria Tatar argues that they reveal the extent to which the most influential collectors of fairytales, the Brothers Grimm, often purged their stories of surreal and risque elements to make them more palatable for children.

“Here at last is a transformation that promises real change in our understanding of fairytale magic,” says Tatar, who has translated Schönwerth’s stories for a new Penguin edition called The Turnip Princess. “Suddenly we discover that the divide between passive princesses and dragon-slaying heroes may be little more than a figment of the Grimm imagination.”

Many of the stories centre around surprisingly emancipated female characters. In The Stupid Wife, a woman hands out her belongings to the poor but recoups her wealth after scaring off a band of thieves. In The Girl and the Cow, the heroine releases her prince after grabbing an axe and whacking off the tail of a large black cat.

Schönwerth’s decision to start collecting folk stories was directly inspired by the Grimms, who praised his efforts. In 1885, Jacob Grimm remarked that “nowhere in the whole of Germany is anyone collecting [folklore] so accurately, thoroughly and with such a sensitive ear”.

But while the Grimms collected their stories across the social spectrum, mainly in Hesse and Westphalia, Schönwerth’s tales were recorded predominantly among workers in Bavaria’s Upper Palatine region.

While the Grimms maintained an academic distance when processing their material, their deeply religious Bavarian counterpart had a tendency to dive straight into a world full of talking animals and mystical apparitions. Some of Schönwerth’s notes suggest that he shared some of his interviewees’ belief in creatures such as the Holzmädchen, or woodland maidens, who came to help the peasants at night.

Most of the tales don’t set the scene with “Once upon a time”, but start in medias res: “A prince was ill”, “A prince was lost in the wood”, or “A king had a son with hair of gold”.

Schönwerth’s critical revival is largely due to Erika Eichenseer, an 80-year-old retired teacher who has dedicated herself to exploring and promoting his oeuvre since the early 1990s. She runs regular storytelling evenings and theatre workshops inspired by Schönwerth’s stories across Bavaria. A fairytale trail in the woodland outside Regensburg, featuring contemporary artists’ takes on some of the stories, was unveiled in September.
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Having at first been told that Schönwerth’s 30,000 pages of literary legacy in the city archives contained only records of local customs and sayings, she eventually unearthed more than 500 fairytales that had been gathering dust for more than 150 years.

The tales she discovered, says Eichenseer, weren’t children’s fairytales in the way we know them from the Grimms, but stories that explored the transition between childhood and adulthood in fantastical ways.

A number of them feature long periods of sleep, after which the main characters wake up with a changed shape or appearance. “People often say fairytales are cruel,” says Eichenseer. “But life is cruel. And children know that.”

A 2012 Guardian article on the discovery of Schönwerth’s tales triggered an avalanche of requests for interviews and commercial offers from around the globe, including an email from Warner Bros inquiring about film rights. “I just didn’t get back,” says Eichenseer; her nephew told her the studio mainly made action films, she says.

In the rest of Germany, interest has so far remained subdued. While Tatar insists that no other folklorists from the period measure up to Schönwerth, fellow fairytale expert Jack Zipes has questioned the tales’ literary merit, suggesting that there were “literally 50 or 60 collections that are more interesting than Schönwerth’s”.

The fact that some of Schönwerth’s folk tales were republished in the 1930s as part of a Nazi drive to foster “Aryan” traditions may have tainted their legacy in Germany.

Eichenseer has a different theory: “In Germany, there’s this attitude that goes, ‘We’ve got our Grimms, and we don’t need anybody else.’ The Grimms were better at selling themselves. Schönwerth was always a bit too shy.”

Source: TheGuardian

A Nativity Sham

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Jesus was not born in a stable, says theologian

Rev Ian Paul writes on his blog that birth of Christ story is based on a misreading of the New Testament

A 15th century nativity scene by Paolo Schiavo. Photograph: Philadelphia Museum of Art/Corbis

The birth of Christ may be the most famous Bible story of all, reprised annually in nativity scenes across the world each Christmas: Jesus was born in a stable, because there was no room at the inn. But evangelical scholar Rev Ian Paul has argued that the entire story may be based on a misreading of the New Testament, reviving an ancient theory that Jesus was not, in fact, born in a stable.

“I am sorry to spoil your preparations for Christmas before the Christmas lights have even gone up,” Rev Paul, a theologian and former Dean of Studies at St John’s theological college, Nottingham, has written on his personal blog. “But Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case.”

Paul argues that the Greek word, kataluma, usually translated as “Inn” was in fact used for a reception room in a private house – the same term is used to describe the “upper room” where Jesus and his disciples ate the last supper. An entirely different word, pandocheion, is used to describe an “Inn” or any other place where strangers are welcomed.

Even if there were an inn in Bethlehem, Paul argues, Joseph and Mary would not have been staying there. The only reason for them to travel to Bethlehem for the census was because he had family there and if he did, the customs of first-century Palestine required him to stay with relatives and not with strangers.

In that context, the kataluma where he stayed would not have been an Inn, but a guest room in the house of the family where Joseph and Mary were staying. That could very well have been full with other relatives who had arrived before them.

“The actual design of Palestinian homes (even to the present day) makes sense of the whole story,” Paul writes. “Most families would live in a single-room house, with a lower compartment for animals to be brought in at night, and either a room at the back for visitors, or space on the roof. The family living area would usually have hollows in the ground, filled with straw, in the living area, where the animals would feed.”

So Jesus would not have been born in a detached stable, but in the lower floor of a peasant house, where the animals were kept.

This interpretation is hardly new. The earliest scholar to put it forward was the Spaniard Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas, in 1584. He was denounced to the inquisition for his pains and reprimanded by them, though not actually burned, tortured or imprisoned as might have happened to heretics.

Since then the theory has repeatedly been raised by New Testament greek scholars aware that kataluma does not actually mean “Inn”. Paul himself first wrote about the misinterpretation of the word in 2013, and re-posted his theory this year “because I have been struck again how often the message of Christmas is summed up as ‘Jesus was born in a stable’, both within and beyond the church.”

For Paul, the significance of his reinterpretation of the story is that it undercuts the idea that what made Jesus remarkable was that he was born to humble, outcast parents. “In the Christmas story, Jesus is not sad and lonely, some distance away in the manger, needing our sympathy. He is in the midst of the family, and all the visiting relations, right in the thick of it and demanding our attention,” he writes.

“This should fundamentally change our approach to enacting and preaching on the nativity.”

Paul says that what is extraordinary about the birth of Jesus is that it shows God shifting from the divine to the human. If that happened in a crowded family home, the message is preserved. If it happened in an isolated stable, “that just shows that the descent was from a respected human to a disrespected human,” he argues.

Source: TheGuardian

Learning a New Language

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Learning A New Language Changes Brain Network Structurally And Functionally

Most of us have wondered questions like what impact does learning a new language has on the brain or is it possible for anyone to learn a new language efficiently? Most people agree that learning a new language positively impacts the brain and it is not something that anyone can do. Turns out it is correct.

Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University have described how learning a new language is beneficial for your brain. The study shows that learning a new language can change the brain network both structurally and functionally.

“Learning and practicing something, for instance a second language, strengthens the brain,” said Ping Li, professor of psychology, linguistics and information sciences and technology. “Like physical exercise, the more you use specific areas of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger.”

Source: Sparkonit Read more

Will religion ever disappear?

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The lighting of a cross during the Christian Los Escobazos Festival in Spain, celebrating the conception of the Virgin Mary (Getty Images)

Atheism is on the rise around the world, so does that mean spirituality will soon be a thing of the past? Rachel Nuwer discovers that the answer is far from simple.

A growing number of people, millions worldwide, say they believe that life definitively ends at death – that there is no God, no afterlife and no divine plan. And it’s an outlook that could be gaining momentum – despite its lack of cheer. In some countries, openly acknowledged atheism has never been more popular.

“There’s absolutely more atheists around today than ever before, both in sheer numbers and as a percentage of humanity,” says Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, and author of Living the Secular Life. According to a Gallup International survey of more than 50,000 people in 57 countries, the number of individuals claiming to be religious fell from 77% to 68% between 2005 and 2011, while those who self-identified as atheist rose by 3% – bringing the world’s estimated proportion of adamant non-believers to 13%.

While atheists certainly are not the majority, could it be that these figures are a harbinger of things to come? Assuming global trends continue might religion someday disappear entirely?

It’s impossible to predict the future, but examining what we know about religion – including why it evolved in the first place, and why some people chose to believe in it and others abandon it – can hint at how our relationship with the divine might play out in decades or centuries to come.

A priest in Ukraine holds a cross in the ruins of Kiev’s Trade Union building earlier this year (Getty Images)

Scholars are still trying to tease out the complex factors that drive an individual or a nation toward atheism, but there are a few commonalities. Part of religion’s appeal is that it offers security in an uncertain world. So not surprisingly, nations that report the highest rates of atheism tend to be those that provide their citizens with relatively high economic, political and existential stability. “Security in society seems to diminish religious belief,” Zuckerman says. Capitalism, access to technology and education also seems to correlate with a corrosion of religiosity in some populations, he adds.

Crisis of faith

Japan, the UK, Canada, South Korea, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, France and Uruguay (where the majority of citizens have European roots) are all places where religion was important just a century or so ago, but that now report some of the lowest belief rates in the world. These countries feature strong educational and social security systems, low inequality and are all relatively wealthy. “Basically, people are less scared about what might befall them,” says Quentin Atkinson, a psychologist at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Yemeni girls show their hands decorated with traditional henna designs as they celebrate the end of Ramadan (Getty Images)

Yet decline in belief seems to be occurring across the board, including in places that are still strongly religious, such as Brazil, Jamaica and Ireland. “Very few societies are more religious today than they were 40 or 50 years ago,” Zuckerman says. “The only exception might be Iran, but that’s tricky because secular people might be hiding their beliefs.”

The US, too, is an outlier in that it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but also has high rates of religiosity. (Still, a recent Pew survey revealed that, between 2007 and 2012, the proportion of Americans who said they are atheist rose from 1.6% to 2.4%.)

Decline, however, does not mean disappearance, says Ara Norenzayan, a social psychologist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, and author of Big Gods. Existential security is more fallible than it seems. In a moment, everything can change: a drunk driver can kill a loved one; a tornado can destroy a town; a doctor can issue a terminal diagnosis. As climate change wreaks havoc on the world in coming years and natural resources potentially grow scarce, then suffering and hardship could fuel religiosity. “People want to escape suffering, but if they can’t get out of it, they want to find meaning,” Norenzayan says. “For some reason, religion seems to give meaning to suffering – much more so than any secular ideal or belief that we know of.”

In the Philippines, survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan march during a religious procession (Getty Images)

This phenomenon constantly plays out in hospital rooms and disaster zones around the world. In 2011, for example, a massive earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand – a highly secular society. There was a sudden spike of religiosity in the people who experienced that event, but the rest of the country remained as secular as ever. While exceptions to this rule do exist – religion in Japan plummeted following World War II, for instance – for the most part, Zuckerman says, we adhere by the Christchurch model. “If experiencing something terrible caused all people to become atheists, then we’d all be atheists,” he says.

The mind of god

But even if the world’s troubles were miraculously solved and we all led peaceful lives in equity, religion would probably still be around. This is because a god-shaped hole seems to exist in our species’ neuropsychology, thanks to a quirk of our evolution.

Source: BBCNews Read more

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