The Null Device
Something I didn't know until today: not only has India had a film industry since the 19th century, but it also had literary science fiction since the 1880s:
Asimov's statement that "true science fiction could not really exist until people understood the rationalism of science and began to use it with respect in their stories" is actually true for the first science fiction written in Bangla. This was Hemlal Dutta's Rahashya ("The Mystery") that was published in two installments in 1882 in the pictorial magazine Bigyan Darpan, brought out by Jogendra Sadhu. The story revolved around the protagonist Nagendra's visit to a friend's house, a mansion completely automated and where technology is deified. Automatic doorbell, burglar alarms, brushes that clean suits mechanically are some of the innovations described in the story, and the tone is of wonder at the rapid automation of human lives.
Sukumar Ray (1887-1923) was probably inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World when he wrote Heshoram Hushiyarer Diary ("The Diary Of Heshoram Hushiar").... It is a spoof on the genre because Sukumar is poking fun at the propensity of the scientist to name things, and that too in long-winded Latin words. He seems to be playing around the fact that names are arbitrarily conferred upon things by humans for their own convenience, and suggests that the name of a thing may somehow be intrinsically connected to its nature. So the first creature that Heshoram meets in the course of his journey through the Bandakush Mountains is a "gomratharium" (gomra in Bangla means someone of irritable temperament).And Bengali science fiction didn't end there, by any means: The article goes on, mentioning stories about the fictional inventor/adventurer Professor Shanku, quoting from one in which he builds a rocket to go to space and invents a "fish-pill" that his cat Newton can eat whilst in space, and then mentions a few items from a catalogue of Professor Shanku's inventions, such as the "Miracurall", a drug capable of curing any ailment except for the common cold, and an "air-conditioning pill", which keeps the body temperature normal in extremes of climate (which could be a very Indian fictional invention).
(via Boing Boing)
In Tampere, Finland, an atheist group has set up a website to help people resign from the church.
Easy resignation through the web site has increased the rate of resignations in Finland. Resigning through the web site only requires filling a short personal information form, after which a local city council will receive an email about the resignation. In cities where the city council does not accept email resignations, Freethinkers will pay the postal fee.
The rate of resignations from the Evangelic Lutheran state church of Finland has increased rapidly in recent years. 27009 people resigned from the church in 2004. 33043 people resigned in 2005, which is 22% more than in 2004. There are approximately 5.26 million people in Finland, which gives a proportion of people resigning from the church of 0.6% in 2005. The most common reasons cited for resigning from the church have been saving church income tax (1.3% on average), lack of religious beliefs and belief in another religion. A person can avoid church income tax by resigning before a new year begins. Increased resignation rates in November and December (shown in the figure) supports the theory that the most common reason for resigning is avoiding the income tax.Finland is officially a Lutheran country, with everyone belonging by default to the state church unless they submit a resignation form. Mind you, one could argue that a universal state church is just another implementation of a secular society; the levels of zeal one can expect from such an organisation make the Church of England look like Branch Davidians by comparison, and many of those who do belong to the church see the inside of one about three times in their lives.
An interesting article about the history of Chinese Maoist propaganda poster art, and the contemporary artist Wang Guangyi, whose work includes the "Great Criticism" series, juxtaposing Maoist poster imagery with Western lifestyle product brands.
(via Boing Boing)