Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Imbolc Update

Stonehenge workers' village found
Amazing discoveries in the Henge complex! It seems they celebrated a mid-winter festival! Thank you, Goddess and God, for a great Imbolc reminder:

...Stone tools, animal bones, arrowheads and other artifacts were uncovered in the village. Remains of pigs indicated they were about nine months old when killed, which would mark a midwinter festival...

February (2007) Skies

Over at Cloudynights, there's a great summery of what's going on up in the sky this month. Also some more information on the Moon:

...The Full Moon of February is the "Wolf Moon, Snow Moon, or Hunger Moon". It is just above the ecliptic, between Leo and Cancer and occurs at 12:45 AM EST on Feb. 2nd. It was the "Trapper's Moon" for Colonial Americans, "Moon of Ice" for the Celts, and the "Budding Moon" in China. In medieval England, it was known as the "Storm Moon" and the Anishnaabe (Chippewa and Ojibwe) designate it as "Namebini-giizis" (Sucker Moon). Since sucker runs start when the ice breaks up on small tributaries of the Great Lakes watershed at the end of winter and beginning of spring, the Anishnaabe may have anticipated an early spring in their naming of the February Moon...

Besides some of the suggestions I posted about below, you can also include gardening tools you intend to use this spring for your ceremony. If you have seeds you wish to plant, include them in your circle.

On Faith: The Goddess

Women and the Goddess
Once again, Starhawk has an excellent (and brief) essay in the On Faith series, concerning the concept of the Goddess in Wicca, and what it means for women:

...Women have not faired well under most religions for the last five thousand years or so. But let’s take the long view: that’s just a blip on the timeline of human history...The Goddess is not just God-in-a-skirt, she represents a different spiritual orientation, one which locates the sacred in this world, in the cycles of nature, in the body and all its processes, that sees sexual communion, birth, maturation, healing, and even death and decay as sacred our tradition, we honor women without denigrating men, and there are also many wonderful, powerful and empowering men in our communities. But men do not have the automatic position of privilege—unearned, assumed authority—that they do in some other religions...

Most of the recent debates concerning spirituality have been dominated by two camps: the agnostic/atheistic view verses the JCM (Judeo-Christien-Muslim) culture. It's great that a Wiccan has finally been given a voice in the discussion. (Pic: Egyptian Predynastic Nadaqa dancing cow-goddess, about 4000 BC.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Goddess turns the Wheel: Happy Imbolc!

Feb 2, The Sabbat of Imbolg: Also called Imblog, Candlemass, Candlearia, Feast of Brigid, or Groundhog Day, this holiday is our first crossquarter day. It's midway between Sabbats of Yule (Winter Solstice) and Ostara (Vernal Equinox). One thing neat about our holidays, is that they are signified by actual astronomical events!

In Ireland, this day honors the Goddess Brigid (later corrupted to St. Bridget by the Xtiens, and St. Blaize in France). The image is that of the young Earth Goddess, calling the young Sun god to her. Brigid is a protector of children (this holiday is also called "Festival of Milk"), healers, and inspires artists and metal smiths. In order to lure back the sun, Sabbat goers light blazing fires and burn candles. In some particularly charming traditions, a "candle wheel" is worn on the heads of young women. The Romans dedicated the day to Venus, and the Greeks to Diana. In England and Cornwall, at this time of year magical wells were visited and coins tossed in to make wishes come true. (Of course, the early church filled in most of these wells.)

Some things to do on Imbolc: Collect stones for your alter or to construct a circle. Search for signs of spring in temperate zones, such as snowdrops and crocuses sticking their heads up above the snow. Honor the Earth by helping wildlife in the struggle through winter: fill your birdfeeder! Light candles or build a cozy fire. Grain dollies are constructed and dressed. Milk drinks and cookies and cakes made with honey are traditionally consumed at Imbolc rituals. Goddesses to honor or call: Greek-Selene, Gaia, Arachne, and Athena; Roman-Februa, Cardea, and Vesta; Irish-Anu and Brigid; Tuscon-Aradia; Egyptian-Kebehut; Sumerian-Inanna; Teutonic-Audhumla, Brynhild, Frimia, and Laufey. Gods to call: Irish-Diancecht; Greek and Roman-Cupid, Eros, Pax, and Februus; Sumerian-Dumuzi; Teutonic-Trusto. Of course, call whatever Gods or Goddesses are important to you. Animals: Robins, burrowing animals, dormant animals such as cocooned moths and butterflies. Mythical beasts are Firebirds and Dragons.

(Most of the above is from Edain McCoy's Sabbats, A Witches Approach to Living the Old Ways.)

Something particularly significant this year is the Quickening Moon falls on Imbolc. This is a perfect time for purification and inspiration and the banishing of bad habits.

Ellen Dugan, in Llewwllyns Witches Datebook 2007 suggest a simple ritual incorporating the Moon and Imbolc. You need a white and purple candle, a bowl with a cup of snow or chopped ice. Place candles on either side of the bowl, light them, and repeat this spell:

Tis is the Sabbat of Imbolc, and the Moon is round,
I cast away old habits, never more to be found.
This melting ice/snow represent the things I release,
Goddess bless me in this season of light and peace.

Once the ice melts, pour it outside into a stream or on the ground. (If you are a city-bound apartment dweller, down the drain will be fine.) Then brush-off your hands and say goodbye to bad habits and hello to new possibilities.

Happy Imbolc

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cult film star Liz Renay

Psychotronic & Sexploitation film star Liz Renay crossed the Rainbow bridge to SummerIsle. What a great epitaph: Cult film star...Stripper...mob connections:

...But she is perhaps best known for her starring role in the 1977 John Waters fairy-tale melodrama “Desperate Living,”...Ms. Renay played Muffy St. Jacques, who kills her drug-tripping babysitter by smothering her in a bowl of dog food...

Here's the kicker:

...Her parents, William and Ada Philips Dobbins, were strict evangelical Christians. As a teenager, Ms. Renay ran away from home to Las Vegas, where she found work as a showgirl...


She worked and did appearances nearly till the time she died.


Red State Rabble reviews advance copy of Monkey Girl by Edward Humes, along with some excerpts :

"When I said I thought it would be kind of good to learn more about evolution, some other kids started calling me Monkey Girl. 'Cause they said God made them, but that I must've come from chimps... " -- 14-year-old from Dover, PA

...Those who spoke in favor of the ID-inspired revisions supported by the school board's conservative majority had little to say about intelligent design. Instead, they spoke of their heartfelt desire to teach Christian values to their children. Others spoke about their distress at what they took to be attacks on their religious faith. Still others admitted they didn't know much about intelligent design, but if it meant that their children would learn the creation story told in Genesis, they would support it.

"If we come from monkeys, how come there's still monkeys around?" one speaker who identified himself as a minister demanded to know.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Rare red ants get a helping hand

Conservationists have been awarded almost £50,000 to help save a rare species of red ant from becoming extinct in mainland Britain..."The ants are quite unusual because they form nests that are either all female or all male," said Emily Brennan, ZSL's native species conservation programme manager.

Habitat destruction is the culprit for this unusual species. Another threat they face is predation by slave making ants:

"What they do is take all the pupae, carry it off to their own nest and bring them up as slave-maker ants - this is what happened at one site in Surrey...So at the sites we are going to be working on, we are going to be making sure these ants are not in the area."

The captive breeding of ants is a major undertaking. The "warm fuzzies" are the animals that tend to grab attention and headlines. So it's great to see this much effort going to the humblest of creatures.

Journey to the Seventh, er ah...Sixth Planet

The Saturn view I've been waiting for

Woah! Pass the bong...

...Over the weekend, Cassini acquired a set of images that will (I am assuming) eventually be used to produce a glorious portrait of the ringed planet from a point of view that's never been seen before...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Wow! My favorite. Dhalgren is one of the greatest SciFi books of all time. Damn, I should write more fiction. One reviewer said my short novel The Darkling Beetles was like PKD meets Penthouse letters, heh!
I am:
Samuel R. "Chip" Delany
Few have had such broad commercial success with aggressively experimental prose techniques.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Diana's power is growing, growing

Mr. Wes Higgens is an amateur astronomer who takes stunning pictures of the Moon. His picture "Sinus Iridum" is one of the most remarkable pictures of the Moon I have ever seen. It looks more like a picture taken during an Apollo fly-over, than from someone's backyard. For this shot, he won Cloudynight' s monthly Astrophotography and Sketching contest. For a higher res version, go here.

The Moon holds special significance for Wiccans and many Pagans. From The Witches Almanac (Spring05/06):

Life takes an added dimension when you match your activities to the waxing and waning Moon. Observe the sequence of her phases to learn the wisdom of constant change witing complete certainty.

Following the Moon through it's cycle is a great project for an amateur astronomer and budding Wiccan. Want some help knowing the whether Moon is waxing or waning? Learn this simple and elegant poem (also from the Almanac), and you'll always know:
A New Moon rises with the Sun
Her waxing half at midday shows,
The Full Moon climbs at sunset hour,
And waning half the midnight knows.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Helmut Wimmer, who's artwork inspired thousands at the Hayden Planetarium in NYC before the digital days, has crossed over into SummerIsle:

“...Without his art,” said Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium and an astrophysicist with the museum, “your planetarium experience would be limited to pointing out the stars of the night sky. His artwork allowed generations of visitors to transport themselves from Earth to the surface of a star, the lunar landscape, the vicinity of a black hole.” Dr. Tyson called Mr. Wimmer, who never went to college, “a scientifically literate artist.”

Helmut Wimmer led a remarkable life. He was born in Munich in 1925, apprenticing as a sculptor at 14. He was drafted into the German army, captured by Czech partisans, then turned over to the Russians. He spent 4 year in a labor camp. Returning to Munich, he married his childhood sweetheart. In 1954, they moved to the US.

...In 1974, Mr. Wimmer painted an early image of a black hole. It was used as a cover for The New York Times Magazine and in numerous scientific publications. The work was based on calculations of what a black hole would do to its environment, showing the curvature of space and material being pulled in from a nearby giant red star...

That's the pic, above. Lot's of things made impressions of the minds of visitors to the Hayden Planetarium in the 70's and 80's, especially if your consciousness was artificialy expanded. Besides the planetarium projector, which looked like an HG Wells Martian war machine, you had Laserium, and Mr. Wimmers wonderful artwork.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The New Burning Times

Suffer Not the Witch to Live

How does your very religious family react when they find out you are becoming a Pagan, a Wiccan, or a Witch? One of the great things at Witchvox are the personal essays. Some of them are particularly affecting, like this one, by Torren Springs.

...It happened again. It always happens, and it always happens the same way. The lack of understanding, the unwillingness to try. The conviction that the Witch is wrong. "Witchcraft is rebellion against God. So it says in the Bible."

Will I never escape it? Does it never end? Do they never relent? Live and let live, be at peace and allow others to do the same. Is this so terrible, or so terribly difficult to accept?

My father has a friend, Pastor Tim...He says something else, attempting to make me see... something. I ask him, "So, is this something like, 'do not suffer a Witch to live'?"

He smiles and almost nods... and continues smiling, as though he thinks I've finally seen the light or something. I can't stand it.

Her essay is brutal. But it's a taste of what some of us go through. I'm sure a few of our friends in the neo-agnostic movement are going through it right now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Magic and Science, Together Again

Do Do You Believe in Magic?

Great article, brought to you by the Science Times:

...Psychologists and anthropologists have typically turned to faith healers, tribal cultures or New Age spiritualists to study the underpinnings of belief in superstition or magical powers. Yet they could just as well have examined their own neighbors, lab assistants or even some fellow scientists. New research demonstrates that habits of so-called magical thinking — the belief, for instance, that wishing harm on a loathed colleague or relative might make him sick — are far more common than people acknowledge...These habits have little to do with religious faith, which is much more complex because it involves large questions of morality, community and history. But magical thinking underlies a vast, often unseen universe of small rituals that accompany people through every waking hour of a day...

The article goes on to explain how even people who consider themselves skeptics cling to odd rituals. It's pointed out that some researchers feel the brain seems hard wired to produce magical explanations in certain circumstances. This is especially true among children. But if the ability to think magically were no more than self-defeating superstition, evolution would have put an end to it long ago. What's most remarkable are the encephalograms of people watching simple magic tricks:

...In an experiment presented last fall at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, Ben Parris of the University of Exeter in England presented magnetic resonance imaging scans taken from the brains of people watching magic tricks...Dr. Parris and his colleagues found spikes of activity in regions of the left hemisphere of the brain that usually become engaged when people form hypotheses in uncertain situations.

That means thinking about magic is not walled off in some compartmentalized safe-house of bad-logic in the brain, as some scientists have suggested.

But what good is magical thinking? The article suggests that it's beneficial to people with low self-esteem, or those who in some way doubt their abilities. Apparently people can find comfort in believing their thoughts influence what's going on around them, especially in stressful situations. Perhaps magical thinking acts to keep our minds stitched together, holding off panic in terrible situations? One researcher concluded:

"...that persons who hold magical beliefs or engage in magical rituals are often aware that their thoughts, actions or both are unreasonable and irrational. Despite this awareness, they are unable to rid themselves of such behavior...”

That puts the nail in the "compartmentalization" notion. Scientists, don't feel bad if you harbor irrational thoughts! It won't make you a bad scientist, just human like everybody else--and it just might give you a survival edge.

The pics are of my friends Keith and Stephanie, of the Bindlestiff Circus. I've never swallowed swords or eaten fire with them, but we've cracked whips together. Their show is on tour right now, so check them out! You'll see magic.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Well crank my Antikythera!

Ellinais only formed a short while ago, and already it is making international headlines:

(AP) A clutch of modern pagans honored Zeus at a 1,800-year-old temple in the heart of Athens on Sunday, the first known ceremony of its kind held there since the ancient Greek religion was outlawed..."We are Greeks and we demand from the government the right to use our temples," said high priestess Doreta Peppa...Ellinais was founded last year and has 34 official members, mainly academics, lawyers and other professionals...Unlike the monotheistic religions...the old religion lacked written ethical guidelines, but its gods were said to strike down mortals who displayed excessive pride or "hubris", a recurring theme in the tragedies of Euripides and other ancient writers...

The Wild Hunt has a good post with more links.

One of the high priests said:

"...We do not believe in dogmas and decrees, as the other religions do. We believe in freedom of thought..."

How refreshing. Thanx to Witchvox for this item

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Oops: Skeptic Magazine Hoaxed

How Skeptic Magazine Was Duped by an Environmental Activist Group

Unfortunately, seems Micheal Shermer was taken-in by the Grand Canyon Hoax. PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) embellished (to put it politely) a story about Fundies Vs tour guides at the Grand Canyon:

Mr Shermer states:

PEER is an anti-Bush, anti-religion liberal activist watchdog group in search of demons to exorcise and dragons to slay. On one level, that's how the system works in a free society, and there are plenty of pro-Bush, pro-religion conservative activist watchdog groups who do the same thing on the other side. Maybe in a Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis we find truth that way; at least at the level of talk radio. But journalistic standards and scholarly ethics still hold sway at all levels of discourse that matter, and to that end I believe we were duped by an activist group who at the very least exaggerated a claim and published it in order to gain notoriety for itself, or worse, simply made it up.

To that end, shame on me for not fact checking this story before publishing it on eSkeptic and But shame on you too, Mr. Ruch, and shame on PEER, for this egregious display of poor judgment and unethical behavior.

I like the line about dragons and demons. I forgot who first said it (but Joe Campbell quoted it), "When you hunt and slay dragons for too long, you become a dragon." All I can say is Bravo! to you Mr. Shermer. I wish others had your journalistic standards. There's enough baloney out there to deal with, without people having to go around inventing it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

On Faith: Starhawk

Our Goddess Weeps At Our Wars

I'd like to interrupt the snarkatude to call everybody's attention (all 5 of you) to a piece written by the author Starhawk. For Wiccans and Pagans, she needs no introduction. For my beautiful other friends, lets just say she is a prominent voice in the community. Her book, The Spiral Dance: Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, is required reading. (If you're curious--and scientists *are* curious--the above link includes a brief bio.) As an "On Faith" panelist, she composed a brief mediation on the USA's latest adventure:

...Can any war be just? Can you show me a bomb that only kills those who deserve to die, and a way to tell infallibly who they are? Or a bullet that will not penetrate the skin of a child? Every war kills the innocent, blights the lives of those who have done no wrong, leaves a toxic wake on the land and wastes the resources that are needed to nurture and sustain life...As someone born Jewish in the post-Holocaust era, I can't say that an armed response is never justified or necessary. But let us not call it 'just', or ask our religions to dignify and bless it. The worst atrocities are committed by those who are most convinced of the rightness of their cause and the demonic evil of their enemies...

The "comments" section is worth checking-out. Starhawk has had to make some tough choices of her own. She has indeed, "walked the walk". So, it's no wonder her concluding words strike us as stone:

...Religion should not be a set of earplugs to deafen us to the cries of children, nor a sedative to ease our consciences as we survey the graves. Religion should challenge us to be more than we are, to deeper levels of compassion and love than we have yet reached. The Goddess, the deep interconnectedness of all being, does not cheer on one team to kill and maim another. She is weeping.

Thank you, Starhawk. The Monotheistic/Paternalistic/Misogynistic so called "Great Religions" have a lot to answer for.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Scientific Method

Find a moth, win a beer with an entomologist

...Arthur Shapiro, who teaches entomology at UC Davis, has a standing offer: If you bring him the first cabbage white butterfly of the year caught outdoors -- and that part is important -- in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento counties, he'll buy you a pitcher of beer.

The two best fields of study to deepen your appreciation of the Cosmos are Astronomy and Entomology. And Beer! Ah, three things! *Burp*

It's "only" a Theory!

Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New 'Intelligent Falling' Theory

The Onion does it best:

...Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, 'God' if you will, is pushing them down..."

Absolutely hysterical. Via tingilinde)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

I'll bring the matches!

Johnston: Straw men and red herrings

Long ago, Wiccans and Pagans figured out what to do with straw men. During the Sabbaths of Midsummer or Lugh, many of us construct a Wicker Man. John Johnston, a columnist for the Milford Daily News, hits all the right buttons:

...In debate or argument, one can set up a straw man, and invest him with great evil. Then, you can knock him down without difficulty or engaging in a serious exchange of ideas. A straw man is an easy target and provides a cheap victory...A red herring is an idea or argument that one can advance then rip apart with ease. In politics, straw men and red herrings are used to divert voters from issues of real importance. The Republicans have dominated Congress for 12 years with a basket full of stinking red herrings such as stem cell research, abortion, creationism and intelligent design, evolution, gay marriage, and other nonsense that does not impact the vast majority of our lives although these issues created by the far right can set back the course of civilization.

....Creationism, intelligent design, and a denying of the fact of evolution sets back health, the state of science, and undermines American education. The fundamentalists would make the United States the most backward nation in the western world...Nobody should suffer a loss of rights through the prejudice of the majority...The majority has no right to dictate the lifestyle of the minority... We are paying the price of elevating a truly fundamentalist thinking man to the world's most powerful position...Bush does not understand the theology of Islam. He does not, nor will he ever understand the people of the Middle East...

(A great book to the history of US relations with the Middle East is Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present by Michael B. Oren.)

Johnston concludes:

...In 2008, let's select somebody who is smart to the office of the president. Let's not embrace people who toss out red herrings and fight straw men to distract votes from real issues. Let's elect a president who lives in the real world in 2008, someone who knows the real world embraces the whole planet, a president with a real appreciation for the individual differences of the people of this world.

So true. There's great debates in the science Vs religion controversy. Questions of the existence of an afterlife, psychic phenomena, does God/dess exist, are so interesting and important. We can learn so much about ourselves, our place in the Cosmos, and our institutions, by having this discussion. But a good portion of the people on the "other" side of this debate are not interested is solving the mysteries of the Cosmos. As discussed by Darksyde in the post , Kansas Creationists: Down But Not Out, over at DailyKos:

...It's easy to get lost in the scientific or religious discussion, but this isn't about evolution or science or even religion. It's just another right-wing funded attack on behalf of the mega-rich, cleverly packaged to appeal to the very working families whose future it will devastate. The real goal is to undermine confidence in public education, maybe ultimately replacing those institutions with privatized versions (No doubt run by a recently acquired subsidiary of Neoconia Inc., suckling at the taxpayer teat). And it's about eliminating property taxes on sprawling McMansions...

In other words, they have bigger fish to fry. The ultimate goal of the Fundamentalist & Authoritarian cabal is mutating the USA into a repressive, Theocratic state.

(Thanx to GreenGhost for the cool pic from our Lugh of '05 @ the CSS)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Vacation in the Stupid Zone!

Dinosaurs, humans coexist in U.S. creation museum

PETERSBURG, Kentucky (Reuters) - Ken Ham's sprawling creation museum isn't even open yet...where grunting dinosaurs and animatronic humans coexist in a Biblical paradise...A crush of media attention and packed preview sessions have convinced Ham that nearly half a million people a year will come to Kentucky to see his Biblically correct version of history...The $27 million project...

27 Million! For this nonsence! Why am I not buying this? It's obviously an intelectual and scientific swindle, but something tells me even more is going on:

...which also includes a planetarium, a special-effects theater, nature trails and a small lake, is privately funded by people who believe the Bible's first book, Genesis, is literally true...For them, a museum showing Christian schoolchildren and skeptics alike how the earth, animals, dinosaurs and humans were created in a six-day period about 6,000 years ago...While foreign media and science critics have mostly come to snigger at exhibits explaining how baby dinosaurs fit on Noah's Ark and Cain married his sister to people the earth, museum spokesman and vice-president Mark Looy said the coverage has done nothing but drum up more interest.

Looy? Sure there's not an "n" missing in there somewhere?

"Mocking publicity is free publicity," Looy said.

Damn-- I mocked him! I trust my check's in the mail. Hey, at least I deserve free tickets on the dino-merry-go-round.

...Besides, U.S. media have been more respectful, mindful perhaps of a 2006 Gallup Poll showing almost half of Americans believe that humans did not evolve, but were created by God in their present form within the last 10,000 years...

Thanx for reminding us. The lion's share of the blame rests with the media for that humiliating factoid. As a further example of their incompetence, they consistently fail to mention there's virtually no dispute among scientists on the basics of evolution. But I suppose such info just get's in the way of a balanced view. It's so nice to watch the media jump through hoops held by the tinfoil-hat crowd.

Looy said supporters of the museum include evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews and conservative Catholics, as well as the local Republican congressman, Geoff Davis...

TO ALL MY ATHEIST AND AGNOSTIC FRIENDS: please note this atrocity is untouched by Pagan/Wiccan hands. :)

Ham, who also runs a Christian broadcasting and publishing venture...

Sounds like a Mom & Pop operation, doesn't it? And in the quest for this "balance", how'bout some biographical info on Ham's Fundie-Absolutist empire? I'm sure all his books, tapes, and DVD's will be on sale in the Museum Shop.

The museum's team of Christian designers include theme park art director Patrick Marsh, who designed the "Jaws" and "King Kong" attractions at Universal Studios in Florida, as well as dozens of young artists whose conviction drives their work.

OK, so people working on this are FX people from theme parks. It's good to know that no real scientists, working in real museums, had anything to do with this.

"...I think a lot of people are going to come out of curiosity ... and we're going to present the Gospel. This is going to be an evangelistic center," Looy said. A chaplain has been hired for museum-goers in need of spiritual guidance...

Yup, the sight of a trilobite puts the fear of God in me! Whenever I go in a museum, I suffer a bowl-shaking crisis of faith. Hold me, Lord--hold me! For comfort, I'll read The Counter Creationism Handbook.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Disaster strikes NASA

Former FEMA Deputy Director Hired at NASA HQ

The Bush Admin has a reputation for exquisitely disastrous political appointments. There's no need to provide examples, as political blogs have done such a good job documenting the many abuses. But the crisis which was Hurricane Katrina and FEMA was a prime example, so big in fact, that even the MSM could not avoid it. Much attention was focused on the incompetence of Michael "Brownie" Brown, and he became a 'fall guy' for the Admin. But of course, such shear organization wide ineffectiveness can not be hung on the neck of one man. The reality is, is that FEMA's full of Bush appointments, people totally unqualified for the positions they hold. Like a rat escaping a sinking ship, one has found a toe-hold in NASA:

NASA Headquarters has a new political appointee in its employ: Patrick Rhode. He'll be working on the 9th floor. For those of you who followed the post-Katrina management fiasco at FEMA you may recall hearing his name. Rhode served as FEMA Director Michael Brown's Chief of Staff and later...Patrick Rhode is now listed in NASA's online phonebook as a "senior advisor" to "Organization: A" (Office of the Administrator)

What follows are a few media excerpts from that time...

..."Then there are former NBC cameraman Bob DeServi and ex-Fox News producer Greg Jenkins, and Patrick Rhode, who presumably learned all he needed to know about disaster management as a news anchor in Arkansas and Alabama before he became chief of staff for FEMA washout Michael "Brownie" Brown at the emergency agency...

...Brown's own schedule was booked with media interviews in the days immediately before and after the storm. At 6:21 a.m. the day Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, Brown was prepping for an interview and e-mailing with his then-deputy, Patrick Rhode. "Yea, sitting in the chair, putting mousse in my hair," Brown e-mailed Rhode."Me too!" Rhode replied..."

Please check-out the link above from for more information. NASA Watch is a great site to help you keep informed.

Friday, January 12, 2007

When the Illuminati Attack

Yikes! The Illuminati attacked a Greek Temple, in retaliation to the disappearing of Robert Anton Wilson. Who'd a thunk they'd resort to terrorism. It seems the MSM is falling for the 'attack on a US embassy' thing. The Discordians always come up with knee-slapping dis-information!

I knew Wilson had been sick for a number of years. (At least I thought I knew that). To be on the safe side, I'm blogging this from the bathroom, with the faucets turned up full, the stereo is blasting, and the TV is tuned between stations (yuppers, I have an analog TV! I was saving it for just such an occasion).

It's all part of the plan!

From Wilson's blog:

RAW Essence
January 11, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson Defies Medical Experts and leaves his body @4:50 AM on binary date 01/11.

All Hail Eris!

On behalf of his children and those who cared for him, deepest love and gratitude for the tremendous support and lovingness bestowed upon us.

(that's it from Bob's bedside at his fnord by the sea)

RAW Memorial February 07
date to be announced

Fnord, or something.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

We don't believe, we dance!

An Academic View on the Right to Party

This would be something great to get a PhD in. Damn, I was a double major in college and never knew it:

From ancient Greek Bacchanalias and Roman Saturnalias to tailgating and Mardi Gras, we humans like to party. Throughout history, public revelry has had its critics. The Victorian world saw it as vulgar pageantry, the stuff of "savages" and the underclass. The academic world, for the most part, ignored it. Author and activist Barbara a history lesson on collective joy and explains why humanity engages in large, ceremonial celebrations and why the upper classes have tried — and often still try — to suppress it.

The link above is an interview with the author of the book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. You will also finda a lengthy excerpt:

So when the phenomenon of collective ecstasy entered the colonialist European mind, it was stained with feelings of hostility, contempt, and fear. Group ecstasy was something "others" experienced — savages or lower-class Europeans. In fact, the capacity for abandonment, for self-loss in the rhythms and emotions of the group, was a defining feature of "savagery" or otherness generally, signaling some fatal weakness of mind. As horrified witnesses of ecstatic ritual. Europeans may have learned very little about the peoples they visited (and often destroyed in the process) — their deities and traditions, their cultures and worldview. But they did learn, or imaginatively construct, something centrally important about themselves: that the essence of the Western mind, and particularly the Western male, upper-class mind, was its ability to resist the contagious rhythm of the drums, to wall itself up in a fortress of ego and rationality against the seductive wildness of the world...

There's always someone trying to spoil the party! But, YIPPIE!, science comes to the rescue:

With the rise of the social sciences, and especially the anthropology of the 1930s and thereafter, Westerners began to view the ecstatic practices of non-Westerners in an ostensibly more open-minded way...Westerners had to concede that the ecstatic behavior found in traditional cultures was not the hallmark of savage "otherness" but the expression of a capacity that may all of us. By the 1930s, anthropologists had begun to think of the rituals of small-scale societies as functional, meaning in some sense rational.

So, dancing with wild abandon was a sensible and rational act. Just as I always suspected.

Humans are social animals, and rituals, ecstatic or otherwise, could be an expression of this sociality, a way of renewing the bonds that held a community together. In the functionalist anthropology that reached full bloom in the 1940s and '50s, many of the formerly bizarre-seeming activities of native peoples were explained in this way: as mechanisms for achieving cohesiveness and generating feelings of unity. Americans tried to achieve the same thing through patriotic and religious rituals; the "natives" simply had a different approach. But right up to our own time, even the most scientific and sympathetic observers have tended to view the ecstatic rituals of non-Western cultures with deep misgivings...

I think today there's a bit of that going on, in the current Science VS Religion wars. Some well intentioned people are forgetting we are social animals. A good number of people can find a higher meaning in science. You even can teach that! But for others, the wonders of the Cosmos are nice, yet not a source of deeper meaning. But most sure love a good party! Then again, there's always someone who wants to throw Holy water on us and pray for our souls.

(from the good folks @ Witchvox)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Goodnight, sweet Vampire

Yvonne De Carlo, 'Munsters' star, dead

Another beautiful spirit has crossed the bridge to SummerIsle:

...But for TV viewers, she will always be known as Lily Munster in the 1964-1966 slapstick horror-movie spoof "The Munsters." The series (the name allegedly derived from "fun-monsters") offered a gallery of Universal Pictures grotesques, including Dracula and Frankenstein's monster, in a cobwebbed gothic setting. Lily, vampire-like in a black gown, presided over the faux scary household and was a rock for her gentle but often bumbling husband, Herman, played by 6-foot-5-inch character actor Fred Gwynne (decked out as the Frankenstein monster)...At the series' end, De Carlo commented: "It meant security. It gave me a new, young audience I wouldn't have had otherwise. It made me 'hot' again, which I wasn't for a while."

Yes, she was HOT! She imprinted the sex drives of legions of the alternative set. She was a real "role model", for everyone who rejected the mundane. She was sexy, had a cool house, kept spiders and bats, liked to come out at night, and drank blood. What more could one want?

Universal Pictures exploited her slightly exotic looks and a shape that looked ideal in a harem dress in such "sex-and-sand" programmers as "Song of Scheherazade," "Slave Girl," "Casbah" and "Desert Hawk."

"Slave Girl"? Whoowhoo! Heh, sorry, it's not what the title first promises. It's more a camp, screw-ball comedy sort of thing.

Thank you so much for everything, Yvonne.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Exhibit of Greek and Spartan Artifacts

Athens-Sparta Exhibit in NYC

There's a fine saying from the Hellenic Mystery Wiccan tradition: "Every man and every woman is a star". A wonderful and unique exhibit has opened, bringing together a great assemblage of Greek artifacts, at Onassis Cultural Center in New York City:

Athens lavishly encouraged artistic creativity, which became the fountainhead of Western civilization. Laconic, militarist Sparta spent sparingly on the arts, yet managed to produce its own notable works, as shown by the celebrated objects on display...Mounted strikingly in the compact gallery in midtown Manhattan, the survey encompasses some of the rarest relics ever to travel outside Greece, dating from 800 BC to about 350 BC. Admission is free for the one-time show, on view through May 12, 2007.

Artifacts from centuries of conflicts include spear points and javelin tips...Objects from the domestic and religious life of both cities include intricately painted pottery and drinking vessels, metallic sculptures of athletes and votive figurines, coins and decorative pins, gravestones carved from marble, and busts and statues of Athena, the patron of Athens, and other gods...Greece’s greatest museums in Athens, Sparta, Marathon, Olympia and Rhodes loaned priceless objects for the show. A lavishly illustrated catalog includes essays by Greece’s top antiquities scholars, including Nikolaos Kaltsas, director of the National Archaeological Museum, who curated the show.

Onassis Cultural Center
645 Fifth Avenue, New York City, NY 10022

* Tel: 212 486 4448
* Fax: 212 486 4744
* URL:
* E-mail:

What a treat for Hellenistic Wiccans! Not only is this a once in a lifetime exhibit, but it's free! How often does that happen in NYC?

There's a number of different sub-traditions in Hellenism, but if you're interested in finding out about it, a good place to start is an article at Witchvox.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

I want to believe!

Life discovered on Mars! Old news...

I kinda hate that "I want to believe" slogan from the Xfiles. I know more than one person who has completely screwed up their life, and the lives of those around them, in obsessive pursuit of ridiculous beliefs. That's one of the many reasons faith-based spirituality is so bankrupt. Knowing is better than believing. But I have to be honest and state I do really want to believe life has already been discovered on Mars!

Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have found alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them...The Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life, so they didn't recognize it, a geology professor at Washington State University said. Dirk Schulze-Makuch presented his theory in a paper delivered at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Washington. Based on a more expansive view of where life can take root, the paper's findings may prompt NASA to look for a different type of Martian life when its next spacecraft to visit Mars is launched later this year...Given the cold dry conditions of Mars, life could have evolved on Mars with the key internal fluid consisting of a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide, said Schulze-Makuch. The Viking experiments of the 1970s wouldn't have noticed hydrogen peroxide-based life and, in fact, would have killed it by drowning and overheating the microbes, said Schulze-Makuch.

Oh great!!! Just like the people who first captured a Giant Squid!

"The problem was that they didn't have any clue about the environment on Mars at that time," Schulze-Makuch said. "This kind of adaptation makes sense from a biochemical viewpoint."

OK, so basically he is saying that it's not our fault. Phew!

Even Earth has something somewhat related. He points to an Earth bug called the bombardier beetle that produces a boiling-hot spray that is 25 percent hydrogen peroxide as a defense weapon.

Why am I not surprised that Entomology has something to do with this!

Schulze-Makuch's research coincides with work being completed by a National Research Council panel nicknamed the "weird life" committee. The group worries that scientists may be too Earth-centric when looking for extraterrestrial life.

Cool! A "Weird Life" committee! (I'm on the "Twisted Pride" committee.) I hope they have not forgotten ALH84001! Chris McKay, a co-investigator and NASA astrobiologist said the research piqued his interest. "Logical consistency is nice, but it's not enough anymore," McKay said. What a great line: "Logical consistency is nice, but it's not enough anymore". Heh, I'm glad that came out of the mouth of NASA astrobiologist, and not some other explorers I know.

We are graced with a Comet

Comet McNaught
Comet McNaught is plunging towards the Sun and brightening dramatically. It has attained naked-eye visibility--you don't need a telescope to see it. However, if you have a pair of binoculars, they will sure pump-up the view. This sun-grazing comet can be seen near the horizon at sunrise or sunset. Check the link above for maps and more information.

A word of caution: always be extremely careful aiming any optical instrument (binocs, telescope, or even your eyes) too close to the sun. You could damage your eyes even before the blink reflex can save you.

Now, get out and observe!

Don't hold your breath!

Absolutely hysterical:

Intelligent Design Zoo

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Woowhooo...Science Blog Con

2007 North Carolina Science Blogging Conference

Sat, Jan 20, 2007
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Murphey Hall 116
Chapel Hill, NC

Join us for a day of discussions, readings and demonstrations about science and blogging Saturday, January 20, 2007 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (building and rooms tbd) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m..

In addition to being an internationally known hub of scientific and biomedical research and education, North Carolina has numerous science blogs written by a wide variety of people (see this listing of Science bloggers). This is a conference to explore new ways in communicating the scientific exploration happening in our state.

Our conference will address a variety of issues and perspectives on science communication, including science literacy, the popularization of science, science in classrooms and in homes, debunking pseudoscience, using blogs as tools for presenting scientific research, writing about science, and health and medicine.

My Birthday Bat, Myzopoda schliemanni

New Sucker-footed Bat Discovered In Madagascar

How cool: a new species of bat discovered in Madagascar and announced on my birthday! Not only a new species, but some good news for bat conservation:

Scientists have discovered a new species of bat that has large flat adhesive organs, or suckers, attached to its thumbs and hind feet. This is a remarkable find because the new bat belongs to a Family of bats endemic to Madagascar--and one that was previously considered to include only one rare species...the new species, Myzopoda schliemanni, occurs only in the dry western forests of Madagascar, while the previously known species, Myzopoda aurita, occurs only in the humid eastern forests of Madagascar...Myzopoda are often found in association with broad-leaf plants...

Myzopoda were considered endangered because of their limited habitat. But the new species appears to have adapted well to more degraded habitats.

"For now, we do not have to worry as much about the future of Myzopoda," said Steven M. Goodman, Field Museum field biologist and lead author of the study. "We can put conservation efforts on behalf of this bat on the backburner because it is able to live in areas that have been completely degraded, contrary to what is indicated or inferred in the current literature." This underlines the importance of basic scientific research for establishing the priorities for conservation programs and assessments of presumed rare and possibly endangered animals, the study concludes... Madagascar has a higher level of endemism (with plants and animals found nowhere else) than any other landmass in the world of comparable size. "Still today, you can go out and discover things in Madagascar that have never before been seen by scientists," Goodman said. "The sense of discovery is almost levitating."

What makes this genus of bats so distinctive is a bulbous sucker-like appendage on their wings. This organ helps them cling to leaves. What a beautiful animal!

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Methane Lakes of Titan

Titan Has Liquid Lakes, Scientists Report in Nature

It's like something from a science fiction story. But nothing is more remarkable than reality. Not only that, scientists like Carl Sagan predicted this:

Scientists report definitive evidence of the presence of lakes filled with liquid methane on Saturn's moon Titan in this week's journal Nature cover story.

That's something great about science: its predictions have a good track record in the 'coming true' department, much better than other forms of divination.

The Old Ways are Best

Two excellent articles via Witchvox today:

Ancient tome on herbal medicine shows new truths

This article points up the value of "oral history". It was only a few years ago that oral histories were just considered myths (heh, like 'myths' are a bad thing). Thankfully, Cultural Anthropologists, historians, and geneticists are now paying much more attention to peoples' oral traditions:

In this case, the "ancient knowledge" probably would have disappeared if not for the dogged persistence of Georg Everhard Rumphius, a mercenary with the Dutch East India Company, whose story is recounted in the Dec. 23 British Medical Journal article. In 1657, he started collecting plants on the Indonesian island of Ambon and recording their medicinal uses in a text that he illustrated himself. Thirty years later, his manuscripts burned in a fire...

But Rumphius rewrote it from memory...

...The surviving copies were essentially gathering dust in rare-book collections until a Dutch-language professor decided to translate part of the text into English...

Eric Buenz, a graduate medical student, found the text and decided to test the efficacy of some of the plants (particularly one for diarrhea). Together with a co-researcher, it was discovered that some of the plants had strongly microbicidic properties, and it may indeed work against the conditions for which it was prescribed. But leaves us with a positive note concerning cultural knowledge:

...But the larger message, he said, is that there may be more to learn from the ancients. "It should keep us somewhat humble," he said...

Many Wiccans embrace the teachings from spiritual traditions of American Indians. This article, by James T. Moore, appeared in American Daily, a staunchly Right Wing publication:

What We Can Learn From Indians

Whether living in tribes in the mountains, on the plains, in the forests, or near the coast, American Indians believed, and still do, that all mankind has a unique relationship with everything in nature, and especially with the Divine Power that created all things. The Indian didn’t, of course, call this divine entity God. The word God was foreign to him. Rather, he called it the Great Spirit. And before this article is over I think you will agree that the Great Spirit which Indians acknowledge, communicate with, honor, obey, and worship is as much, or more, of a true relationship with the Almighty than many of our so-called religious institutions preach. Even further, I think you will see how various aspects of Indian thought and attitude might help us counter the devastating, chaotic situation in our world today—and quiet some troubled hearts.

Well said. Mr. Moore recounts fondly the email exchanges and long distance friendship he had with a man named Keepshorse, a Lakota Indian. From this, he has generated a great sampling of wisdom (he calls them 'axioms'). To quote Joseph Cambell, these sure are 'myths to live by':

COOPERATION: “What could be greater than to be the Creator’s mind, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, hands, legs and feet here on Earth?”---Fools Crow. Lakota

VISION: “Believing people can soar beyond ordinary life.”---Fools Crow, Lakota

NATURE “We need to save those Elders who cannot speak for themselves…the trees.”---Haida Gwaii—Traditional Circle of Elders

GUIDANCE: “He walks with us along the pathways of life, and He can do for us what we could never do on our own.”---Fools Crow, Lakota

HUMILITY: “We consider ourselves superior. But we must understand that we stand somewhere between the mountain and the Ant. Somewhere and only there is a part of the creation.” --Oren Lyons, Onondaga

AWARENESS: “Words hypnotize and deceive at one time or another, but those hypnotic words cannot last long in the hearts of true warriors.” --- Barney Bush, Shawnee

RESPECT: “If I destroy you I destroy myself, if I honor you I honor myself.” ---Hunbatz Man, Mayan

PRINCIPLES: “Today, what is important for us to realize is that old sacred ways are correct, and that if we do not follow them we will be lost and without a guide.” ---Thomas Yellowtail, Crow

ENVIRONMENT: “Whenever you take anything from the earth, remember to leave an offering.”---Joe Coyhis, Stockbridge-Muncee

Moore also lists an "Indian 10 Commandments", which is also worth keeping close to our hearts. He concludes:

...I have a suspicion that the Great Spirit told the Indians the same things that God told us. And if we had followed the Creator’s advice, each in his way, much of today’s turmoil and chaos might not be happening.To paraphrase Puck: “What fools we mortals be.

I've posted here before about certain groups of Xtian Fundamentalists recognising the need for preserving our Mother Earth. I hope I am not kidding myself, but maybe this is a sign of enlightenment among groups previously hostile to us.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

What the Moon brings...

January's full moon has many names. "Wolf Moon", "Quiet Moon", and the "Moon After Yule" are just some of the names attributed to the first full moon in January.

The evening of Jan 3/4 also marks the peak of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. This shower tends to be brief, with a sharply defined peak. If lucky, sometimes you can see a mini-burst of meteors--up to 100/hr. I like the Quadrantids, because they fall almost smack-dab on my birthday! But for my location, this shower is a bit of a challenge, usually because it's rather cold outside. Also this year, the full moon comes pretty close to the peak, making observation even more a challenge.

For an excellent summary of this months astronomical events, check out Dick Cookman's feature in Cloudy Nights.

Science and Religion for 2007

Cosmic resolutions for 2007

A great opinion piece by Howard Smith, a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, past chairman of the astronomy department at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington:

...This year Dawkins, in "The God Delusion," argued for replacing righteousness with a blend of Darwinian personal ethos and rational calculation. Unfortunately, he makes his case while chastising the faithful with boundless hubris. His indifferent reductionist philosophy peremptorily discards the morality of religion. Dawkins' book tries to quantify human attitudes and rationalize human spirit, but in so doing it leaves the creation without an ethical context, and thoughtful religious believers dismayed if not a bit bewildered...

I think this is the problem many people have with Dawkins. But I can understand why so many scientist are upset. They have had to endure years of dim witted, yet rather effective, attacks by members of the anti-science and Theocon crowd. In some ways, it's good to see scientists finally goaded into action. Yet the sharpness of Dawkin's attacks are reminiscent of an overly intelligent enraged child, in love with his words and careless of who he hurts. There are many religious and spiritual people who embrace the findings of science. They don't like what the Theocons and Absolutists are doing--any more than scientists do! To pretend otherwise denies some wonderful and powerful allies, who have considerable experience in this fight. Smith goes on: is possible to appreciate both the insights of religion and the lessons of science... Their perspectives, while different, are not necessarily contradictory. Their moral imperatives can enrich and motivate both rational and righteous behavior...

Smith is right. I find the dialog of scientists such as the entomologist E. O. Wilson to be much more helpful than Dawkins. Wilson explores this technique in "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth", an effort to get the two camps to join forces in fighting our common enemies. Smith concludes:

...In 2007, I hope that science and religion can cooperate, not clash, to solve social problems. I hope we listen with tolerance to opposing opinions, and replace hostile, defensive rhetoric with thoughtful analyses. And, not least, we need to become better informed about our marvelous, blessed world...

What a nice wish for the coming New Year!

Monday, January 1, 2007

Trilobites are Delicious

Trilobite Cookies

How'bout some trilobite cookies? I bet you can't eat just one! What a great idea for stimulating and interest in science. For fossil collectors, trilobites are one group of fossil animals that people obsess about. They can become the focus of a collection.

(Thanx to Fiber Star's Blog)