Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Religion and Self Control

For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It

John Tierney reports today in the Science section of the NYTimes findings by a psychologist that religious people demonstrate more self control that than the general population. Dr. Michael McCullough (of the University of Miami) and a fellow researcher have surveyed eighty years of research and found:

...As early as the 1920s, researchers found that students who spent more time in Sunday school did better at laboratory tests measuring their self-discipline. Subsequent studies showed that religiously devout children were rated relatively low in impulsiveness by both parents and teachers, and that religiosity repeatedly correlated with higher self-control among adults. Devout people were found to be more likely than others to wear seat belts, go to the dentist and take vitamins...

Does that imply religious people have lower doctor bills and live longer. Not only that...but better teeth! Heh! There's more:

“...Brain-scan studies have shown that when people pray or meditate, there’s a lot of activity in two parts of the brain that are important for self-regulation and control of attention and emotion,” he said. “The rituals that religions have been encouraging for thousands of years seem to be a kind of anaerobic workout for self-control.”

That points up the value of ritual. But what about 'spiritual' people, those with a sense of the Divine who are concerned with their relationship to it? How do they compare to more traditional 'religious' people?

...strongly religious people were compared with people who subscribed to more general spiritual notions, like the idea that their lives were “directed by a spiritual force greater than any human being” or that they felt “a spiritual connection to other people.” The religious people scored relatively high in conscientiousness and self-control, whereas the spiritual people tended to score relatively low...

So beings one's own guide, following your heart--so to speak, does not impart the benefits of a more pious outlook! Maybe "the self" is not the best thing to rely on when temptation looms?

“..Thinking about the oneness of humanity and the unity of nature doesn’t seem to be related to self-control,” Dr. McCullough said. “The self-control effect seems to come from being engaged in religious institutions and behaviors...”

John Tierney asks:

...Does this mean that nonbelievers like me should start going to church? Even if you don’t believe in a supernatural god, you could try improving your self-control by at least going along with the rituals of organized religion...But that probably wouldn’t work either, Dr. McCullough told me, because personality studies have identified a difference between true believers and others who attend services for extrinsic reasons, like wanting to impress people or make social connections. The intrinsically religious people have higher self-control, but the extrinsically religious do not. Religious people, he said, are self-controlled not simply because they fear God’s wrath, but because they’ve absorbed the ideals of their religion into their own system of values, and have thereby given their personal goals an aura of sacredness. He suggested that nonbelievers try a secular version of that strategy. Of course, it requires some self-control to carry out that exercise — and maybe more effort than it takes to go to church...

So, just going through the motions does not bring a pay-off. You have to internalize these issues, make them a part of yourself. Dr. McCullough concludes:

...Sacred values come prefabricated for religious believers,” Dr. McCullough said. “The belief that God has preferences for how you behave and the goals you set for yourself has to be the granddaddy of all psychological devices for encouraging people to follow through with their goals. That may help to explain why belief in God has been so persistent through the ages...”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Science and the New Admin

Extreme good news. President Elect Obama has made a number of appointments for cabinet and advisory positions who are scientists. From the "Science Debate 2008" org's mailing:

...A few days ago we told you about the appointment of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary.

Today we have two more outstanding appointments to announce:

1. We have learned that John Holdren will be President Obama's Science Advisor. John has an excellent knowledge of science policy, and a deep understanding of how the public needs the government to engage on science policy issues. He is a recent past president of the AAAS and an early and ardent Science Debate 2008 supporter. You can watch a 1-minute video he did for us last February, promoting a primary science debate at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

2. Jane Lubchenco, we're told, will head up President Obama's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admninistration (NOAA). She is an outstanding choice with a deep background in marine biology. Jane is also a past AAAS president, and also an early supporter of Science Debate 2008. When we issued candidate invitations to an Oregon debate, Jane was a close advisor. Here's a 1-minute video of her.

Just think of it! An actual marine biologist in charge of NOAA! What a stark contrast to the previous admin that reveled in appointing unqualified lackeys who demonstrated nothing but contempt for the departments they were suppose to be in charge of.

From another mailing:

...we would like to congratulate Science Debate 2008 supporters Harold Varmus and Eric Lander on being named co-chars of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. A 1989 Nobel laureate in medicine, Dr Varmus is former director of NIH and president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and has been one of our closest and strongest advocates throughout the last year - we are very pleased and proud of his appointment. Also an early supporter of Science debate 2008, Dr Lander is the Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; the first author of the Human Genome Project, and one of TIME's 100 most influential people of our time (2004)...


Monday, December 15, 2008

Bee santuary established

Bee-friendly garden, pollinator paradise, planned at UC Davis

How cool is this:

...Häagen-Dazs has announced that it is making a $125,000 donation to the UC Davis Department of Entomology to launch a nationwide design competition to create a one-half acre Honey Bee Haven garden at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis....The garden will include a seasonal variety of blooming plants that will provide a year-round food source for honey bees. It is intended to be a living laboratory supporting research into the nutritional needs and natural feeding behaviors of honey bees and other insect pollinators...

If you are interested in donating to the project directly, go here. If you want to find our more about the UC Davis project, check out the entomology dept's website.

Häagen-Dazs has committed to donating $250,000 to bee research. You can check out the company sponsored educational website HelpTheHoneyBees. They've introduced a new flavor "Vanilla Honey Bee".

I could not find "Vanilla Honey Bee" when I went shopping tonight. But I picked up a pint of 'Rum Raisin' and 'Vanilla Bean'. Thanx, Häagen-Dazs.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Going to Babylon

Beyond Babylon

This weekend I'm visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a number of our Coven members. I'm particularly excited about the "Beyond Babylon" exhibit. There was a good review of it in the NYTimes entitled "Global Exchange, Early Version". From the article, something I'm really looking forward to seeing:

"...a ceramic goddess with wings and talons for feet is an exuberant arrival from cultural sources unknown...Referred to by archaeologists as “The Queen of the Night,” she is so hybrid a creation that she was at one time labeled a fake. She is now considered authentic, but authentically what is the question..."

A good portion of the exhibit focus on the remarkable artifacts recovered from a ship wreck:

...For a truly cornucopian example of multiculturalism, though, nothing matches the contents of the Late Bronze Age merchant ship recovered from the sea off the southern coast of Turkey...it probably sank around 1300 B.C., packed with cargo representing a dozen cultures, from Nubia to the Balkans...Although the ship’s home port is unknown, it appears to have traveled a circular route through the Mediterranean and Aegean, stopping in Greece, Crete, Turkey, Syria and Egypt, picking up and unloading as it went. Bulk materials included copper ingots, Cypriot pottery, African wood and Near Eastern textiles, all for waiting markets...Divers also found luxury items, possibly personal possessions of the ship’s crew and passengers. Examples of ivory containers in the form of ducks have parallels with Egyptian prototypes, but were probably made in Mediterranean Asia. The two sources merge in a figure found in a tomb: a nude female swimmer with a chic, Nile-style pageboy who is hitching a ride behind an ivory-headed bird...

Follow the link for the NYTimes article for a pic of the swimmer and her bird friend.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Witch Well

A Hole in the Ground Erupts, to Estonia’s Delight

Estonia is noted for it's sink holes, some of which exhibit mysterious behavior:

...The famed Witch’s Well of Tuhala erupted last week for the first time in three years, attracting pilgrims from all over Estonia...the visitors dangled pendants to test energy fields and held arthritic fingers perfectly motionless over stones...

I was not aware of the rich Pagan polytheism of old Estonia. Like many Pagan cultures, monotheism was not to kind:

...Estonia has been bullied into a series of belief systems over the centuries, from Catholicism to Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy and Soviet atheism. Seventeen years after gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Estonia is one of the world’s most secular nations; in the 2000 census, only 29 percent of its citizens declared themselves followers of a particular faith. That does not mean they are atheists. Craving an authentic national faith, Estonians have been drawn to the animistic religions that preceded Christianity...

Ellue Rouk, a 69 year old believer in the old ways, considers herself deeply involved in the natural word:

...Her special ally is a birch tree in her yard, so powerful that a malicious neighbor has plotted to kill it, she said. When she cuts roses and sets them in a vase, she said, they sprout roots. These dramas, she said, are an “inheritance” from her ancestors. “There is an old Estonian god, Taara,” Ms. Rouk said. “He lives. He exists. Though there are people who would like to get rid of him...”

"Taarausk" was a God worshiped in forests. Here's my favorite bit from the article:

“...Christians,” she added, “have no respect for nature.”

A very wise woman, that Ellue Rouk.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holiday Wars

Missing atheist sign found in Washington state

I've been trying to avoid commenting on this, but it's getting wide coverage. The "Freedom from Religion Foundation" took it upon itself to have a sign posted near a nativity scene in Washington State. The sign reads:

"At this season of The Winter Solstice, may reason prevail..."

Sounds good to me, but then:

"There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world..."

Well, that seems a little tasteless to be hung near a nativity scene. And I could quival about semantics. But I have to come down on the side of 'free speech' in this case. But then the brilliant minds at the Freedom From Religion Foundation have to end their Holiday message so:

"...Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Well, Merry Christmas and Happy Yule everybody! What a cheery message from the so- called 'brights'. I don't find religious themed holiday displays offensive at all. I wish those sick individuals who choose this time of year to pick silly fights and war with symbols would just get a life.

What really bothers me is this statement from the head of the FFRF:

"...It's not that we are trying to coerce anyone; in a way our sign is a signal of protest," Barker said. "If there can be a Nativity scene saying that we are all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus, we should be at the table to share our views."

Will someone explain to me how a Nativity scene is "saying" we are all going to hell if we don't bow down to Jesus? I certainly have bones to pick with many Christians and monotheists and their attitudes. But heck, when I see a Nativity Scene, all I see is Isis, Osiris, and the little baby Horus! Heh! A while ago, a local politician contacted our coven wanting to know if we were interested in protesting a local Nativity scene that was set up on semi-public property. We thought about this long and hard, and decide it was not worth it. I really don't think plopping a Pentacle down next to someone's religious display does anything for our cause.

I was an Atheist for many years. It was a good safe place to be. But I wish the current crop of 'NeoAtheists', 'Brights' (Grrr!) or whatever they are calling themselves would find some other ways to generate publicity. I wonder if feeding the hungry, helping animals and the environment, and some old fashioned community service ever crossed their minds. You'd think so, as they claim 'reason' is on their side.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

More Enchantments

Secrets Only Your Witch Would Know

The NYTimes seems to have a 'thing' for the shop 'Enchantments' in the East Village, as they've written positively about it before. This article explores the fact that Wiccan/Pagan themed shops seem somewhat immune to the effects of our economic downturn. I don't know if I totally agree with that, yet it raises some interesting issues. But the only thing I'll quote from it is a joke:

...How many thelemites does it take to screw in a light bulb? None! Because Aleister Crowley never left instructions...”


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Harm None: phasers on 'stun'

Wicca Experts Encourage Christians to Engage America's 'Fastest-Growing' Religion

This is just another fluff piece about the snow-job entitled "Generation Hex", a book that purports to teach Christian how to interact with Wiccans/Pagans. It's off topic for my blog, and it's been covered before very well (here, for example), but I'm in the mood to rant a bit.

Now get this:

...The authors urged for more engagement from the Christian community, and more long-term engagement at that...

Yum, that sounds so warm and fluffy.

...Burroughs said the number one complaint they received from Wiccans about Christians was that they would befriend them but later desert them if they did not convert in a short period time...

Oh pooh! You don't say! You mean you're upset that I pegged your friendship as nothing more than proselytizing?

...To change this perspective, we must decide to love Wiccans whether they ever become Christians or not...

My bad. There's certainly nothing wrong in teaching us all to love one another, no matter our beliefs. Bravo! It was really stupid of me to think that the only reason you'd give me the time of day was to get in good with God.

...Only this long-term approach will work with many Wiccans.”


...Alupoaicei also advised Christians to simply take the time to listen to Wiccans instead of starting out using terms that might alienate the person or keep him or her from sharing his or her story...

Ah, that's it, get us all touchy feely.

“...Many Wiccans/pagans had a specific triggering experience that caused them to turn toward Wicca or paganism..

Yup, establish a rapport.

...You could ask, ‘What led you to embrace Wicca? What do you like about it?’ and use that as a steppingstone to talk about your own faith...

Then the minute they go weak in the knees, chop'em to ribbons with pearls of wisdom from the Bible!

“...Most people love to talk about themselves,” she added. “Why not ask them to share a bit about themselves with you?”

Great, I'm glad they tipped us off as to what to watch out for. Basically it means our Christian friends are not really our friends, they just want to take a real long time to convert us and absorb us Landru-like into the body of Christ. So, when peppered with such questions from some bar-fly Crusader, have some snappy responses handy:

1)"I decided Paganism was for me the first time I tasted human flesh"
2)"Talk about myself? I'd rather be playing with myself!"

Oh wait, I did something like this over here. I hope you find my suggestions inspiring, but it's always fun to think-up your own.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Pagan Eye candy

Still of Rachel Weisz as Hypatia of Alexandria in the upcoming film "Agora", to be released December 18th.
(Original image here)

Monday Night Light show

Tonight, Monday Dec 1st, at sunset we should see an amazing 'great conjunction', of the crescent Moon, Venus, and Jupiter. Sadly, as this conjunction has been forming over the last few weeks, we've been hit with some bad weather here in the Northeast (I've only gotten a good look at Venus and Jupiter 3x in the last two weeks). Hopefully it will be clear tonight.

From SpaceWeather.com:

...When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look south. Beaming through the twilight is one of the prettiest things you'll ever see--a tight three-way conjunction of Venus, Jupiter and the crescent Moon. The event is visible from all parts of the world, even from light-polluted cities. People in New York and Hong Kong will see it just as clearly as astronomers watching from remote mountaintops. Only cloudy weather or a midnight sun (sorry Antarctica!) can spoil the show...The great conjunction offers something extra to Europeans. For more than an hour on Monday evening, the crescent Moon will actually eclipse Venus. Astronomers call such an event a "lunar occultation." Venus emerging from the dark edge of the Moon is a remarkably beautiful sight. Sky watchers across Europe will be able to see this happen...

Changing Museum Policies

How Did That Vase Wind Up in the Metropolitan?

I've blogged before about the repatriation of pilfered artifacts . Today there's an Opinion piece in NYTimes by Sharon Waxman, who is the author of “Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World.”. It seems the new director of the MET (Thomas Campbell) has the opportunity (according to Sharon Waxman) to set a new course when dealing with artifacts of dubious origin. New guidelines are being issued by and association of museums:

...This past summer, the association finally issued new guidelines, which recognize that buying unprovenanced antiquities encourages their illicit trade and recommend that its members purchase only antiquities that can be proven to have been legally exported after 1970, or else removed from their country of origin before that date. (It was in 1970 that Unesco adopted an international convention barring the illegal export and transfer of cultural property....

Sharon Waxman continues:

...The Metropolitan needs to come clean about its past of appropriation of ancient art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And it needs to tell a much fuller story about its more recent role in purchasing looted and smuggled antiquities...

She feels the new director of the MET, Thomas Campbell, can:

...inaugurate a new era of transparency for all museums, and to recalibrate the Met’s relations with countries that feel aggrieved...By publicly acknowledging the controversial or otherwise dubious histories of some artifacts and by making the recent past as much a part of the artifacts’ stories as the ancient past, Mr. Campbell can set an example for all museums and build new bridges of respect and cooperation...Transparency may not end every demand for repatriation. But it will disarm those critics in source countries who know — but rarely acknowledge — that regardless of past transgressions, their treasures may be safer, better preserved and more widely adored in the world’s great museums like the Met...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008

Deranged Psychopath's rantings likened to Wicca

Mental State of Soldier Questioned

If I don't know where to start on this horrifying mess:

...A Fort Carson soldier and war veteran charged in the murder and sexual assault of a woman in Colorado last month faces accusations that he also raped a 14-year-old girl and sexually assaulted a third woman, an internal Army document states...

It seems that everybody who know this guy was certain he was completely deranged:

...It was common knowledge among his commanding officers and fellow soldiers, the document states, that Specialist Marko, who is being held without bond, believed he was an “alien dinosaur-like creature, and that he would transform from his human form into his Black Raptor form on his 21st birthday — 13 Oct 08...”

Yes, you read that right. He believed he was about to morph into a "Black Raptor", some type of viscous dinosaur, ready to prey on humans. But here comes the punchline in this horrendous story:

"...After joining the Army, his “unusual beliefs” in his Black Raptor alter-ego resulted in his being referred for psychiatric evaluations three times. Ultimately, the beliefs came to be viewed by his mental health evaluators as a religion, of sorts, like Wicca...“...His chain of command all shared concern over his mental state,” the document said. Their understanding from his evaluations...was that “Marko’s delusions represented an alternative belief structure — the equivalent of Wicca or some other alternative religion...”

Yup. That's just like Wicca. You read a Scott Cunningham book, light a candle or two, cast a few circles. Next thing, you're a psychopathic rampaging monster. I think the definition of "spirituality" and "religion" the services must be using needs some work. I just want to know on what planet would it be determined safe to put a gun in this sick person's hands?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

First soul discovered: 800 BC

Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul

Good King Kuttamuwa left his soul entombed in a stone structure, so people could leave offerings and party with it. How cool is that!

"...In a mountainous kingdom in what is now southeastern Turkey, there lived in the eighth century B.C. a royal official, Kuttamuwa, who oversaw the completion of an inscribed stone monument, or stele, to be erected upon his death. The words instructed mourners to commemorate his life and afterlife with feasts “for my soul that is in this stele..."

“...Normally, in the Semitic cultures, the soul of a person, their vital essence, adheres to the bones of the deceased,” said David Schloen, an archaeologist at the university’s Oriental Institute and director of the excavations. “But here we have a culture that believed the soul is not in the corpse but has been transferred to the mortuary stone...”

As pointed out in the article, there's similarities here to the Ancient Egyptian belief in our spiritual essence to be divided in to two halves, a soul-like personality containing 'ba', and a life-force spirit known as the 'ka'.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New Pyramid discovered...MAALESH!

In the Shadow of a Long Past, Patiently Awaiting the Future

"Maalesh", in modern Egyptian means 'never mind' or 'Oh, well". That seems to be the attitude of many Egyptians regarding the unearthing of a new pyramid in Gaza. This pyramid was built for Queen Sesheshet, mother of Pharaoh Teti. But many modern Egyptians are ambivalent:

"...Can you believe our government can do nothing for us, and this thing that was built thousands of years ago is still helping me feed my family?" Ahmed Sayed Baghali, 49, said as he sat in a plastic chair selling postcards to tourists outside the Egyptian Museum here, which
displays millenniums of antiquities. "Who would buy my things if they were not about the pharaohs? People come here from very far to see the pyramids, not to see Cairo..."

The above article points out that the country has numerous problems with infrastructure and government services. Officials change, but that can mean different things to different people:

"...When other people talk about hoping to see something happen soon, they probably mean within the next few months," said Salem, an Egyptian playwright. "For an Egyptian, it could mean in the next 50 or 60 years. An Egyptian has a particular pace. His pace is
different than an American's. And a long history can do this..."

But Egyptians have patience and sometimes see humor in the slow pace of change:

"...A man without history is a man without humor," said Galal, an economist and author who has written about Egypt’s modern decline. "A man with history is more likely to have humor, because he is more likely to see the irony in things, how things were and how they turned out to be. And patience..."

Maybe "whatever" would be a better translation of "maalesh"?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Meteors, and planets!

Very nice display, courteous nature. From SpaceWeather.com:

EVENING PLANETS: When the sun goes down tonight, step outside and look southwest. The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, are shining through the twilight side by side. You'll want to keep an eye on these two because they are drawing noticeably closer together every night.  Venus and Jupiter are converging on a patch of sky in Sagittarius where they will have a spectacular double-conjunction with the Moon at the end of the month. Don't wait until then, though. Visit http://spaceweather.com for sky maps and start watching now.

LEONID METEOR WATCH: The Leonid meteor shower peaks this year on Nov. 17th and 18th. Bright moonlight will probably spoil the show, but not necessarily. Researchers who study Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, the source of the Leonids, say Earth is going to pass through one or two of the comet's dusty filaments. Peak rates of 20 to 100 meteors per hour are possible during the early hours of Nov. 17th (especially 0000-0200 UT) and again during the waning hours of Nov. 18th (around 2130 UT). These times favor sky watchers in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Smaller numbers of Leonids could appear between the anticipated peak times. Meteor enthusiasts everywhere should monitor the sky on Nov. 17th and 18th; the hours before local dawn are usually best.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Live Dragon Eggs Found!

Tuatara eggs found in sanctuary

Eggs of the critically endangered lizard-like primitive reptile, the tuatara, have been found:

...Wildlife lovers are ecstatic at the discovery of four tuatara eggs at Wellington's Karori Sanctuary...While there's no way of knowing when the eggs will hatch, sanctuary staff are hoping it will be in the next few months...

The moment they hatch, the little monsters will be hungry for human flesh! Heh! Besides the wiki link above, there's a cute faq here. One interesting fact about these remarkable reptiles is that they have three eyes. Well, the third eye is not really a developed eye, but called a 'parietal eye'. However, many lizards have this feature. Even the common Anole (sometimes called 'American Chameleons', or humiliatingly sold as 'dragons' at Ren Faires) have this feature. Next time you are in a pet store, check-out the area directly between the eyes--on top of the head--of one of these lizards. If you look carefully, you'll see what looks like a tiny polished bead embedded there. Behold, the 'third eye'!

(image of 'The Giant Behemoth' from the very excellent badmovies.org)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Obama read Harry Potter!

On the much publicized "Obama" infomercial tonight, Michelle Obama revealed that her husband read the Harry Potter series to their daughter! Woowhoo!

I'm sure there's thousands of Dominionists coughing up blood at this moment.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Critters of the Night

A Taste for Blood

Great article about creatures that survive by drinking blood and a recent book ("Dark Banquet") by Bill Shutt. It starts in the office of a friend of mine, Lou Sorkin:

...With his soft voice and friar’s manner, Louis Sorkin hardly seems the type to flout the sensible advice of a nursery rhyme. Yet on a recent afternoon at the American Museum of Natural History, Mr. Sorkin, a renowned entomologist, did precisely, luridly that...He took a glass jar swarming with thousands of hungry specimens of Cimex lectularius, better known as bedbugs. The small, roachy-looking bloodsuckers have been spreading through the nation’s homes and hotels at such a hyperventilated pace that by next year they are expected to displace cockroaches and termites as America’s leading domestic pest insect. To better understand their habits, Mr. Sorkin has cultivated a personal bedbug colony — very personal...

Lou keeps a jar full of bedbugs that he feeds with his own bug. As described in the article, the jar is capped with a fine meshed screen fine enough to keep the infects entrapped, but open enough to allow them to poke their beaks through to feed. Lou, being a dedicated entomologist offers them his arm.

Shutt points out features that blood drinking organisms have in common:

...the hatpin teeth, the natural clot busters and pain deadeners...Blood feeders must also be stealthy and wily and good at escaping the swats and fury of their often much larger hosts...

As blood is a poor source of nutrition, most vampiric animals are arthropods, who can subsist on small meals.

There's a lot on the famous and legendary vampire bats in the article, but perhaps the most nightmarish beast is the Candiru fish of the Amazon. If you're visiting the Amazon--whatever you do--don't pee in a stream:

...The only other vertebrates known to subsist solely on blood are certain types of candiru, a poorly studied but floridly feared group of inchlong catfish found in the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. A hematophagous candiru’s usual modus is to parasitize a larger catfish, infiltrating the host’s gill slits, grasping onto the flesh inside, rupturing blood vessels, pumping out the blood with its highly mobile jaws and then, after a minute or two, darting out again. Yet for at least a century, the fish have been reputed to target the human urethra as well, supposedly enticed by the scent of urine: fish, after all, urinate through their gills. Despite the antiquity and persistence of the legend, there is only one confirmed case, from 1997, of a candiru making its way into a human urethra, where it probably had no time for a blood meal before suffocating to death...


(Image: Temple of the Fluke Man)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bravo, Ebay!

Yielding to Conservationists, eBay Will Ban Ivory Sales

Online auction sites have become primary facilitators of the illegal trade in endangered animals and products derived from them. Ebay has now put the brakes on that:

...In response to growing pressure from international law enforcement agencies and conservation groups, eBay, the online auction giant, announced Monday that it would ban all commerce in ivory, including most heirlooms, to avoid providing a market that will encourage the slaughter of endangered elephants...

Congrats go to the International fund for Animal Welfare. From the IFAW website:

...IFAW applauds eBay’s decision to institute a global ban on the sale of elephant ivory products by 1 January 2009 and calls on all other internet traders to follow their example...Announced just hours before the release of IFAW’s latest investigative report - "Killing with Keystrokes" - showing Internet trade in wildlife poses a significant and immediate threat to the survival of elephants, this decision is a very important step to help protect them. eBay has set the standard for protecting elephants, now governments and other online dealers need to follow their example...

You can download the IFAW's report here.

You can thank Ebay, here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Intolerant Polytheists?

Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee

Most polytheists (Wiccans, NeoPagans, and the whole unwashed mess of us) like to believe ourselves to be tolerant and accepting of other religions or spiritual beliefs (or non-beliefs). It's the monotheists who are cranky, strident, and intolerant---RIGHT?

Well, not exactly. Hinduism is the worlds largest polytheistic religion. But there's been a growing--and very troubling--thread of intolerance developing in India. The NY Times has a frightening article documenting violence and threats directed toward non-Hindus. As an example, one Christian family was terrorized by a crowd that would make the Spanish Inquisition proud:

...They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire...(Mr. Digal was told)‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’...

Yikes. The sad thing is, that no matter what we believe, humans are the same all over.

Hitchens comes out for Obama!

Vote for Obama: McCain lacks the character and temperament to be president. And Palin is simply a disgrace.

This article by Christopher Hitchens has gotten wide coverage, but since I've taken issue with this iconoclastic atheist's opinions a number of times, I think I owe this to him. It's wonderful to see such a great writer cut about a dozen new arseholes into the McCain/Palin ticket:

...The most insulting thing that a politician can do is to compel you to ask yourself: "What does he take me for?" Precisely this question is provoked by the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin...

I don't want to quote any more, as that will dilute this enjoyable acid tongued critique of all things McCain. I wonder what the NeoCons are thinking of Hitchens these days?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

it gets worse

Jason over at wild hunt outdoes himself again. Sarah Palin is indeed more of a nightmare than any of us can conceive. Mary Glazier is another mover and shaker in Palin's Dominionist cult:

...Glazier and her prayer warriors claim to have made God blind and give cancer to a Wiccan chaplain. Is this anything but the most malefic of magic? Any Pagan who proudly claimed to have given a Christian cancer, or put out one of the eyes of a Christian, would be rightly shunned and rebuked. Within this community of extremist Christians Glazier and her fellow prayer warriors are lauded as heroes, holy warriors striking a blow against Satan and the "Queen of Heaven"...

Consider the fact that Palin's rallies now resemble hate-fests. As I've said before, I think that behind the Stepford-wife/cheerleader mask lurks a hungry monster eager to absorb more power.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Getting back to things...

Hi friends. Sorry my posting has been a bit erratic the last few weeks. Been swamped at work and had to prepare for a whip show. But things should be calming down now.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Nice trophy for the VP's office

Don't cry, Soccer Moms. Pull yourself up by your dumdibbly bootraps. This team of mavericks will keep that persnickety government outta your way --wink--. That meanie Joe O'Biden just wants to take our sixpacks away--or worse--tax'em more! But change is a-commin...

(Great artwork by artist Zina Saunders via Blue Gal.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008


It's really hard to envision a candidate more at odds with our beliefs than Sara Palin. Both the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria-grade rantings of her Bishop, and the 'death of the Goddess' intentions offered up by her church were excellently covered over at Wild Hunt (here and here). Palin seems to delight in the desecration of just about every element of earth-based spirituality or science, so I guess she should be given credit for consistency.

The Human Society has recently come out in support of Obama/Biden. Although McSame's record in regards to wildlife is ambivalent at best, Palin's is horrendous:

...Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-Alaska) retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation have led to an all-out war on Alaska’s wolves and other creatures. Her record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any other current governor in the United States. ...Palin engineered a campaign of shooting predators from airplanes and helicopters, in order to artificially boost the populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters. She offered a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf as an economic incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more of the animals...What’s more, when the Bush Administration announced its decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Palin filed a lawsuit to reverse that decision...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ramses II head uncovered

In Egypt, a 3,000-year-old find

More signs that Horus, the son of Egypt and Africa, will soon ascend the throne:

...CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Egypt's antiquities council says that archaeologists have unearthed a 3,000-year-old red granite head believed to portray the 19th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramses II...the 30-inch-high head belonged to a colossal statue of Ramses II that once stood in the area. Its nose is broken and the beard that was once attached to the king's chin is missing...the site at Tell Basta was dedicated to the cat-goddess Bastet and was an important center from the Old Kingdom until the end of the Roman Period...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Aliens: just add water

Hardygrades: Space survival

Tardigrades (aka: 'water bears' or 'moss animals')are the coolest animals. There ability to resist one of the plagues of corporeal life--namely dying--boarders on science fiction:

...Most living things cannot survive in space, though a few hardy bacteria and some lichen can do so for a while. Now, however, an animal has been found that can venture outside without a space suit. Ingemar Jonsson at Kristianstad University in Sweden, and his colleagues, have managed to send tardigrades, a small invertebrate animal less than 1mm long, out into space and back again...They exposed some to the vacuum of space. After these animals had been brought back and rehydrated, scientists found no difference in their survival and reproduction rates compared with tardigrades that had stayed back at home...

There's lots of good Tardigrade links out there. My fav tells you how to collect them. You do need a low-power microscope, 30-40 is a good mag. You'll be really able to study them at about 100x.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Keep Watching the Skies...keep watching the skies...

From SpaceWeather.com for Sept. 9, 2008:

...FIREBALL OUTBURST: This morning, Sept. 9th, a surprising flurry of fireballs lit up the sky over eastern parts of the United States. All-sky cameras at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, recorded 25+ meteors, most as bright as Jupiter or Venus. A preliminary analysis by NASA astronomers suggests this is an outburst of "September Perseids," a little-known shower that has erupted this way three times in the past century. Although the show is almost certainly over, sky watchers are advised to be on the lookout for more fireballs tonight and in the nights ahead; the September Perseids are not well understood and they could surprise us again...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More Greek art returns home

Greece Welcomes Return of Antiquities

I previously blogged about the return of a krater and two acroliths. It's great to see this happening more and more:

...On Wednesday Greece celebrated the return of two rare antiquities, Reuters reported. The items, a bronze vase from the fourth-century B.C. and the upper part of a marble tombstone, have been put on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens...Archaeologists previously feared the pieces would never be reunited. “Fortunately, the archaeologists’ prediction was wrong,” Michalis Liapis, the culture minister, told reporters at the museum...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Somebody out there likes me

Yvonne over at MetaPagan has nominated WitchesandScientists for an "I Love Your Blog Aware". Thanx, Yvonne.

The rules are:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Link to the person from whom you received the award.
3. Nominate at least 7 other blogs.
4. Put links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message on the blogs nominated.

1)BranchesUp, wide ranging, deep analysis of issues effecting our earth-worshipping community, from a founder of the Reclaiming-Feri tradition.
2)IDiosyncrasity, pro-pagan musings from a druidic atheist.
3)nemeton, art, news, and literature, with a Pagan twist.
4)ZaiusNation, Dr. Zaius for President! He's pro-vivisection of Humans! Now that's what I call 'maverick'.
5)Magichills, root-magic, herbalism, and Hillbilly spirituality from a hard-polytheist. She's keeping alive the traditions of the Ozarks.
6)Thoughts from Kansas, a scientist who battles ignorance, but (thankfully) not so stridently as many 'A' bloggers.
7)Hecate, so on target, it hurts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back from Salem II: Houses that Drip Blood

The 'Must Sees' of Salem:

The Witch House: This is the only standing building directly tied to the "Salem Witch Hysteria" still in Salem. The house belonged to Magistrate (Judge) James Corwin, a major player in the events of 1691/92. (His wife, Elizabeth, was accused at one point but the charge was never taken seriously.) The building is beautiful and the interior fascinating. Since this is an officially registered historic site, the tour guides are well prepared. Of course, as with many such exhibits in Salem, your visit ends when you are plopped down into a gift shop. Some are better than others, but the Witch House gift shop--although small--is well stocked with carefully selected items. Most are relevant to the time period of the trials. There's also a good selection of books and music. Coming home with one of their hand made tin lanterns or metal candle holders is worth the price of admission alone.

The House of the Seven Gables: This is the house made famous by author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne was friendly with the family that owned the house and he spent much time there. It became the inspiration for his famous novel "The House of the Seven Gables". (Johnathan Hathorne, a relative of Nathaniel, presided over--rather zealously--the Salem Witch trials. This fact so much embarrassed and shamed Nathaniel that he added a 'w' to his last name in order to distance himself from his family.)

Witch Dungeon Museum: An interesting two part exhibit. First you are lead through a reconstruction of the jail used to house many of the accused. The cells are hideously small, sometimes a dozen prisoners being crammed into a room the size of the bathroom for a studio apartment. It's no wonder some prisoners died in custody. Conditions were hot and filthy, people having to endure there for months. Next you are lead into a theater where a portion of one of the trials is reenacted. Although brief, the performance is riveting.

Cry Innocent: A wonderful play incorporating audience participation. You become part of pre-trial hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to try accused witch Bridget Bishop. You even get to ask questions of town officials and witnesses. There's a note of historical accuracy here, that although pre-trial hearings were usual private affairs with officials and the parties involved, the witch trial hearings were open to the public.

Above is a pic of The Witch House. More soon...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back From Salem--Part I: eat, drink, sleep

We had a great time in Salem. Every time I go, I learn more and more. I have a lot to report on but think it best to divide events among several different posts. First, before delving into the more spiritual stuff, I'd like to go over some of the basics. (I should point out, that besides the fact this is an ad free blog, I have no commercial interest in any of the establishments or products I discuss).

Once again we stayed at the Salem Waterfront Hotel, on Derby St near the marina. I like Waterfront Hotel, as it's located near some great sites in Salem (of course, if you stay in Salem just about every site or attraction is within a 10 minute walk). The rooms are clean and airy. I plan on staying there again. One slight negative: they discontinued the complimentary 'continental breakfast', which used to be pretty good. If you're on a budget that's something you might want to consider.

A block away from the Hotel is the Salem Beer Works. I love brewpubs, but the Beerworks has some of the best tap beer I've ever tasted. GreenGhost, Zelda and I prefer the ale profile with beer and this joint has some of the best pale ales I've ever tasted. Some have won awards. Also very good is the seasonal "Black Wing Stout". This year I got to try the "Hawthorne Hefe Weizen"--it was great. Now they offer 'growlers' to go and we took advantage of that (burp). The food is well prepared American pub fare--although a little pricey, the portions are generous. They serve food till late, but on weekends the place can get crowded in the evenings.

Another fine establishment is O'Neill's Irish Pub. It's a great place to have a pint of Guinness. The portions are large and the prices reasonable. The staff is pleasant and make you feel at home. They often feature local musical talent. On my previous trip to Salem, I picked up "Ye Mariners All", a wonderful CD collection of sea shanties and traditional ballads. As we sat down and the band began to play, some of the tunes seemed familiar. It turns out two members of "Ye Mariners All" (John Rockwell and Larry Young) were jamming with the band that night. Making a long story short, one of the band members dedicated the song "Rolling Down to old Maui" to me! Wow! Am I a groopie yet? Btw, I want to thank GreenGhost for her inspired desire to visit O'Neill's that night.

Speaking of GreenGhost, she is vegetarian and pursuing a 'raw food' strategy in her diet. I have to say that Salem is a bit behind the times in that department. Asking for something as mundane as soy milk in a coffee shop brought stares like we were from Mars! But with a bit of looking around, we were able to find two places that were quite good. Jaho Coffee and Tea is a real stand-out. Besides great coffee and tea (wow, the 'bubble tea'!), they offered great wraps and sandwiches. Yes, they certainly heard of soy milk. Another place was Fuel Coffee and Juice Bar (no website I could find, they are at 196 Essex St, phone 978-741-0850).

That's all for now, next I'll get to the good stuff. In closing, here's the lyrics for "Rolling Down to old Maui" (and here's an mp3.):


Once more we are blown by the northern gales
Bounding o'er the main,
And those green hills of them tropical isles
We soon shall see again.
Five sluggish moons have waxed and waned
Since from the shore sailed we,
But now we're bound from the Arctic ground
Rolling down to old Maui.
But now we're bound from the Arctic ground
Rolling down to old Maui.

Through many's the blow of frost and snow,
Bitter squalls and hail,
Our spars were bent and our sails were rent
As we braved the northern gale.
Those horrid isles of ice cut tiles
That deck the polar sea
Are many. many leagues astern
As we sail to old Maui.

Through many's the blow of frost and snow
Our good ship bore away,
But in the midst of a moonbeam's kiss
We slept in St. Lawrence Bay.
For it's many's the day we've whiled away
On that cold Kamchatka Sea
But now we're bound from the Arctic ground
Rolling down to old Maui.

It's an ample share of toil and care
We whalemen undergo,
But when it's over, what care we
How hard the winds may blow?
For it's homeward bound, that joyful sound,
And yet it may not be,
But we'll think of that as we laugh and chat
With the girls of old Maui.

(copy write goldenhindmusic)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Salem, here we come

GreenGhost, Zelda and I are heading to Salem, MA today! Yeah! Hope to see the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers. Probably no blogging for the next few days.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Short Lived little fella

A Chameleon With a Short Life
A little chameleon has a very short life:

...As researchers...reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the entire life span of the Furcifer labordi chameleon — from the moment of conception to development in the egg, hatching, maturation, breeding and right through to its last little lizardly thud to the ground — clocks in at barely a year...That hypercondensed biography, the scientists said, may well make the chameleon the shortest-lived tetrapod on Earth, a creature chronologically more like a butterfly or a sea squirt than like the other reptiles, frogs, birds and mammals...

Authors of the report also point out that the chameleon spends two thirds of it's brief existence inside the egg! Many invertebrates have short life spans, the vast majority being just one year. As pointed out in the study, this is certainly unusual for a vertebrate.

Monday, August 18, 2008

New species of Bird discovered

Smithsonian scientists discover new bird species

...Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution have discovered a new species of bird in Gabon, Africa, that was, until now, unknown to the scientific community...the newly found olive-backed forest robin (Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus) was named by the scientists for its distinctive olive back and rump. Adult birds measure 4.5 inches in length and average 18 grams in weight. Males exhibit a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly, olive back and black feathers on the head. Females are similar, but less vibrant. Both sexes have a distinctive white dot on their face in front of each eye...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Unique Burial Site discovered in Sahara

Graves Found From Sahara’s Green Period

An ancient burial site has been discovered in the Sahara, belonging to people who occupied the area from 10,000 to about 5,000 years ago:

...In its first comprehensive report, published Thursday, the team described finding about 200 graves belonging to two successive populations. Some burials were accompanied by pottery and ivory ornaments. A girl was buried wearing a bracelet carved from a hippo tusk. A man was seated on the carapace of a turtle...

Some of the skeletons and funerary belongings are very well preserved. Perhaps most remarkable is the discovery of what appears to be a family buried together (pictured above):

...The most poignant scene was the triple burial of a petite woman lying on her side, facing two young children. The slender arms of the children reached out to the woman in an everlasting embrace. Pollen indicated that flowers had decorated the grave...

The NYTimes has a great slide show, documenting some of the finds and excavation. I really would love to read the original paper. One thing I could tell about these fascinating people though--I bet they were polytheists, like us. Heh!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Butterflies vs Moths

Q. People find moths in closets but never butterflies. Why?

How come I find moths flying around in my home from time to time, but never butterflies? It would be nice to have butterflies as house guests. Lou Sorkin of the American Museum of Natural History mentioned a few factors for the lack of butterfly tenants:

...The answer has to do with the paucity of nectar-bearing flowers in the average home, compared with the rich supply of food for larvae that become moths...

In addition, Lou points out that a number of species of moths are pests on household items, like grains, spices, and wool. So we have food to attract some species of moths. Lou also reminds us that butterflies and moths fly at different times:

...(most butterflies) fly during the day, and most moths at night. This results in moths being attracted to inside lights...Moths, on the other hand, might be outdoor species attracted by the lights of the home in the evening hours, or more probably, they might be the adults of species whose caterpillars chew on fabrics or stored foods...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The hand is quicker than the brain

While a Magician Works, the Mind Does the Tricks

According to some recent research, it appears much of a magician's art relies on gaps in our perception, which they have learned to exploit:

...a team of brain scientists and prominent magicians described how magic tricks, both simple and spectacular, take advantage of glitches in how the brain constructs a model of the outside world from moment to moment, or what we think of as objective reality...For the magicians...the collaboration provided scientific validation, as well as a few new ideas. For the scientists...it raised hope that magic could accelerate research into perception. “Here’s this art form going back perhaps to ancient Egypt, and basically the neuroscience community had been unaware” of its direct application to the study of perception, Dr. Martinez-Conde said...

There those darn Ancient Egyptians go again, figuring everything out thousands of years ago! Heh!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Is Hatshepsut still hiding?

DNA tests to study tiny mummies from King Tut tomb

This article is about the upcoming DNA testing on two infant mummies found in King Tutankhamun's tomb. But the part that interests me the most concerns Hatshepsut. I've blogged on the discovery of her body before ( here and here). The Discovery Channel special on the testing of unidentified mummies, in the quest to find Hatshepsut's remains, was certainly interesting. But there are now some problems. The media savvy Head of Egyptian Antiquities, Zahi Hawas has not exactly been forthcoming about his results:

...He has never disclosed the full outcome of the examinations of the mummy of Hatshepsut, Egypt's most powerful queen and the only female pharaoh. Nor has he submitted the results for a test by second lab, as it is a common practice. This has raised concerns about the validity of the Egyptian results...

In the last year, I've been reading of increasing concern in regards to the above. The thing is, even just a careful watching of the televised special reveals some concerns. First off, a great deal of the identification relies on a scan of a supposed tooth fragment imaged in an unopened canopic box. The box has been accurately attributed as containing the organs of Hatshepsut, and the mummy id'ed as her body is missing a tooth. But that seems rather flimsy evidence. (The box remains unopened, so we don't even know if the object is indeed a tooth.) In addition, Hatshepsut has always been portrayed as rather a petite woman. Yet this mummy is large and obese. In addition, a number of mummies from the Tuthmosis line have been accurately identified, all of them having rather similar facial appearances. Although a forensic match-up was provided in the documentary, the fact is, at least to my eyes, the faces don't really match up.

Friday, August 8, 2008

08' Perseid Meteor Shower

From Spaceweather.com:

...COUNTDOWN TO THE PERSEIDS: The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks one week from today, on Tuesday, August 12th. The best time to look is during the dark hours before dawn on Tuesday morning when forecasters expect 50 to 100 meteors per hour. Get away from city lights if you can; plan a camping trip! The darker the sky, the more meteors you will see...The source of the Perseids is Comet Swift-Tuttle, which has littered the August portion of Earth's orbit with space dust. The dusty zone is broad and Earth is already in its outskirts. As a result, even before the peak on August 12th, you may see some "early Perseids" streaking across the night sky...

Driving home from our Lammas Sabbat/UUA vigil the other night, Aug 3rd, I saw a very bright meteor. It was a very clear and beautiful night and Jupiter had been holding court. The meteor appeared fairly high up and too my left (I was traveling due south). There was a distinct arch to it's trajectory, which seemed to grow steeper as it fell to earth. I have the impression it may have landed somewhere, or at least it dipped below the southwestern horizon. But the most remarkable thing about it was that it developed a emerald glow just before I lost sight of it.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Burning Times, the Do-over

In the comments section of a post about Knoxville, Riverwolf relates the story of having the windows shot-out of a church he was visiting.

Nothing that frightening has ever happened to me. But coming out of a Goth/S&M club one night with a friend (I use to be active in that community), some character pitched a beer bottle at us from a passing car while yelling 'FAGS'. Certainly not comparable to gunshots, but at least somewhat unnerving.

While attending a horror convention in Denver in the mid-1990's, I remember discussing my fear that the Religious Right would focus on "the BDSM scene". Soon after my quasi prediction, such attacks came to pass. Hotels hosting BDSM events became the targets of boycotts. Cranky letters were published in local papers, "Do our neighbors know the Marriott Hotel is playing host to rapists, wife beaters, and perverts?", that sort of thing. Soon, Dominionist websites invested bandwidth to demonizing the lifestyle. S&M'ers became the poster children for all that's wrong with this country. (For some strange reason, the specifics of fisting and blood play held special fascination for the Religious right. This lead to some unintentionally funny reading, btw.)

Fortunately, the organization the National Organization for Sexual Freedom formed, an organization devoting battling misconceptions and propaganda aimed at the lifestyle. (But that's another story.).

I'm concerned our community (the Wiccan/Pagan one) is going to suffer increased attacks in the coming years. Just look at the recent flood of anti-Harry Potter hysteria. In the film "Jesus Camp" when the lead Dominionist brings up Harry Potter to the youthful crowd, she shouts (I'm paraphrasing), "You know what would happen to Harry Potter if he lived in the days of the Bible...HE'D BE PUT TO DEATH!". Dominionist literature pushes a horror film caricature of our belief systems, in order to scare people into believing we are crazy and dangerous.

But the Religious Right is not entirely alone in this. Atheist blogs often stereotype our beliefs, but fortunately they usually portray us as just harmless cranks. Many Atheists and skeptics are focused on the shortcomings of organized religion, so they reserve the balance of their angst for main stream faiths. (In fairness, I have to say I concur with most of their criticisms.) On the other hand, some others (termed Atheist Supremacists) hold a darker view, that being religion is like a disease which needs to be wiped out.

This brings me to the shooting at Knoxville. There's a fantastic piece at CrooksandLiars posted by Nicole Belle, guest blogged by NonnyMouse (a UUA member). I strongly encourage everyone to read it. NonnyMouse describes her church as noteworthy for its pacifism, compassion, tolerance, and welcoming nature towards any race, religion, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. She intelligently acknowledges the man who perpetrated the Knoxville crime as ill and in need of help. He is not the focus of her anger. She finds a more deserving target:

...My anger instead is concentrated on those people who callously use such vulnerable people, stirring up their bigotry and discontent, egging them to acts of violence. People like Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh who have made lucrative careers out of liberal-bashing. People who write things like "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder", "Let Freedom Ring," and "The O'Reilly Factor," - all literature found in Adkisson's home after the shooting. People like Ann Coulter who advocated attacking liberals with baseball bats. The hate-filled spewage from the right-wing media mavens is and should be held accountable for inciting such acts of violence and murder, those heartless, soulless, conscienceless opportunists who have gleefully participated in encouraging the Adkissons of America to take out their anger and hatred and frustration on liberals...

Many of us were struck by the outpouring of support for the Unitarians coming from diverse spiritual circles. We have reason to be proud of our communities. As NonneMouse points out, the Unitarians are models for us all:

...I have never before been so proud to be a Unitarian, as well as a liberal. Those liberals the rightwing continue to denigrate as weak-kneed cowards proved to be anything but...

She describes the heroic actions of those that subdued the attacker, and how the very best qualities of humanity were on display. One victims wife, Amy, described Adkisson as:

...a man who was hurt in the world and feeling nothing was going his way. He turned the gun on people who were mostly likely to treat him lovingly and compassionately and be the ones to help someone in that situation...' How is it, that someone who needs so much help, would turn his hatred on the very sort of people most inclined to help him?

Over at Jeffrey Feldman's Framshop, there is "Taking a Stand against Rhetoric". Feldman is concerned with what he views as tolerance of violent rhetoric by traditional media, and even some left leaning new media. But:

...When female bloggers get an email from a right-winger threatening to rape them...the reaction is to take it seriously and call for it to stop--always...

Feldman then reminds us how everyone takes it seriously when others are targeted, such as African Americans or lesbians and gays. But he ask why is it that threats against liberals, or people expressing liberal views, are somehow taken less seriously? Feldman has a suggests what we can do about this:

...Now is the time for influential progressive bloggers who have not done so to put up a post that is 100% and clearly against violent rhetoric, and to state emphatically that it is an intolerable threat against women, gays, lesbians, people of color, and anyone else who voices their political views...

I agree. But that begs a question: Why is it that so many in the media seem to be downplaying the facts surrounding Knoxville? Why has his killer's choice of reading material been seemingly ignored. When Columbine and other school shootings happened, the media obsesses over what computer games the kids play or what music they listen too.

PZ Myers recently thrust himself into the controversy involving the desecration of a Catholic ritual. Fortunately, a number of people (from across the spiritual and skeptic spectrum) recognized these actions as bordering on hate speech. However, there also was some troubling rationalization (or downright encouragement) evident across much of the Atheist/Skeptic blogsphere. As discussed in Feldman's article, a raging double standard took hold on some upper tier blogs. For example Majikthise, who rightfully went to bat when a female blogger came under attack, came off as too eager to nullify the feelings of others. She decided to frame the episode (rather pedantically, in my opinion) as an exercise in free speech. Over at DailyKos, Darksyde also waxed poetic about PZ's right to free speech and the inanity of anyone taking offense. I guess religious or spiritual people don't deserve a base-line demonstration of human empathy.

We must speak out against violent rhetoric. Wiccans and Pagans are used to being targets of Dominionists. But I fear there is also a problem arising in the 'Atheist Supremacists'. Some seem to revel in an evangelizing Spock-like omniscience and hold everyone and everything to an absolutist philosophy. (Of course, I must point out that many Atheist/Skeptics are not like this. Many "A" bloggers did not post about the PZ Myers incident and seemed to wish the whole thing would go away.)

We need to be proactive. Of course, none of us wants to see more Knoxvilles, or be the target of a hate crime. But I fear--as the election nears--things will get worse. It's frightening to realize there's a big chunk of the US population that's threatened by people who are open and tolerant. But we can't allow our religion to be stereotyped or framed. Speak up if you see someone misrepresenting our views. Post a comment. Provide reference and links.

On a mailing list a number of years ago, I got into a bit of a flame war. The details are irrelevant, but I was told: "How dare you subject us to your open minded views!" How dare I! Well, I do dare. We all should.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

"When Eros Sings: Variations on a Theme"

In the Boston area, Desmond Ravenstone will be preaching at Arlington Street Church this Sunday, August 3rd at 11:00am.

From an email/mailinglist posting:

"...When Eros Sings: Variations on a Theme" addresses what 'sexual diversity' really means (polyamory, BDSM, etc.) and how progressive people of faith can meet the challenges this poses. There will also be a "talk-back" discussion after the service during the coffee hour in the parish hall. Arlington Street Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, is located at the corner of Arlington and Boylston Streets in Boston's Back Bay. Visitors are always welcome..."

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Celebrate Pagan Tattoos

Livia Indica, of MagicHills, has a companion blog called NeoPagan Ink. From her new blog:

...I love tattoos! And so do a lot of my fellow NeoPagans. But, for some reason, I've always had a hard time finding pagan-specific tattoo art online. So I started a new project. This blog is a place for NeoPagans of all kinds to show off their ink. Tattoos with pagan-specific themes are welcome as are any kind of tattoos you have on your NeoPagan body. Feel free to also submit images of your piercings, brandings, scarifications or other body mod art. To submit your images, and a little background about your art, please email me at: neopaganink@gmail.com.

I'm happy to report that Livia has posted a pic of my beetle tattoo! Thanx, Livia.

Hands off the Astrolabe!

British Museum buys medieval astronomy tool

A mere toy when compared to the Greek Antkythera Mechanism:

...LONDON - A rare astronomy tool that helped medieval scientists tell time will remain in Britain after the British Museum scrambled to come up with the money to buy it. The brass device, called an astrolabe quadrant, had been sold at auction last year, and the museum was outbid. But money from the National Heritage Memorial fund, The Art Fund and the British Museum Friends helped the museum purchase it recently for 350,000 pounds ($700,000)...

But seriously, it's sad that museums have to scramble to scrape up funds to preserve national treasures. Astrolabes were a critical tool in astronomy and astrology. A similar situation is happening at the world's libraries. Over at Wildhunt, there's an interesting post about the possible breakup of an occult book collection:

"...A remarkable collection of rare and ancient volumes on the arts of magic and summoning ghosts could be broken up and sold off due to a funding crisis. The Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, based at the University of London, is the UK's largest of its kind ...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Antkythera Mechanism keeps rocking

Discovering How Greeks Computed In 100 B.C.

More and more is being deciphered about the amazing 'Antkythera Mechanism':

...After a closer examination of a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology known as the Antikythera Mechanism, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games...Only now, applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, have experts been able to decipher inscriptions and reconstruct functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The latest research has revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Vigil for Victims of Knoxville Shooting (Updated)

Yvonne says:

...If anyone wants to send condolences, you can do so at this special blog set up by the Unitarian Universalist Association...

Thanx, Yvonne. People from across the spiritual spectrum are holding vigils. Our coven will be participating this weekend. Check the UUA link above for more information and find out ways to help.

(Update--There's now a relief fund setup for the victims: Knoxville Unitarian Universalist Association Launches Relief Fund. Thanx again, Yvonne.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Attack on Unitarian Universalist Church, two dead.

Man Charged in attack at church

Deranged man enters Unitarian Universalist church with shotgun, kills two people:

...An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian Universalist church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its support of liberal social policies, police said Monday...

Yup, police found a note in the guy's vehicle, mentioning his hatred of progressive values. From the article:

...The Unitarian-Universalist church promotes progressive social work, including advocacy of women and gay rights. The Knoxville congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Mummy

New DVDs: ‘Vampyr’ and ‘The Mummy’

I recenlty read a brief review of the original 1933 version of "The Mummy", starring Boris Karlof. I have the blank version of the film, but another print is being release in conjunction with the newest mummy movie.

Critics are certainly welcome to their opinions. But the review makes some statements that I think should be challenged. First off:

...there are no sinuous camera moves...Rather, the film is characterized by the stillness within its vertically composed images and the studied stiffness of the performances, particularly that of Karloff, who holds himself ramrod straight, barely moving a muscle of his body or his face, which is covered in a network of narrow wrinkles..."

On the contrary, there's some inspired camera work. The scene near the beginning where the just discovered box containing 'The Scroll of Thoth" is opened is particularly memorable. In regards to Karlof's "stiffness", is he not 'of the living dead'? In "The Mummy", the character of Im-Ho-Tep wields his power through mastery of Egyptian magic and mysticism. Although immortal and able to magically effect those around him, he is a fragile being, kept alive through a curse and by his own will. People fear him, not because of his physical prowess, but because he can control--even kill--by thoughts and words alone.

But then the reviewer makes this comment:

... Disguised as a wealthy Egyptian aristocrat, he is in fact Im-Ho-Tep, a priest of Isis executed 3,600 years ago for daring to love a temple virgin...

Well, that's factually wrong. In the movie, Karlof's Im-Ho-Tep was a High Priest of Anubis, not Isis. It was the female lead, Im-Ho-Tep's love interest (in the played effectively by Zita Johann) who was a High Priestess of Isis. As far as I recall, the status of her maidenhood was never explored.

Btw, Zita Johann was an inspired choice for the roll of Anks-En-Amon/Helen Grosvner. According to the commentary, she practiced spiritualism. Someone even states that she 'cast circles'! However, I cannot find any independent confirmation of that.

I have the Universal "Legacy Collection" for 'The Mummy'. It's excellent and has good commentary. Sadly, the sequels Universal dreamed-up in the 40's, and included in the 'The Legacy' collection, were rather piss-poor. They didn't advance the story and the mummy devolves into a hulking murderer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Invite the Bees II

In my post "Invite the Bees", I discussed making a simple beehive for solitary bees. I hobbled together such a beehive from pieces of scrap 2x4's. 4 wood screws hold the three pieces together nicely.

As recommended by the Xerces society, I drilled holes of several diameters, as different species tend to be fussy concerning the size hole they choose for depositing their eggs. Each species seems to prefer different materials for sealing up the nests once eggs are deposited, such as wax, mud, or plant material.

That is born out by the bees that found a home in my hive! Yes, I have bees!

Here is a pic of my do-it-yourself hive:

A close-up of some of the holes:

In the upper left, you see one hole filled with a brownish material. You also see that in the hole in the extreme lower right. At first, this substance was green, appearing to be chewed-up plant material, but over time, it turned brown. Underneath that hole, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th are plugged with a waxy polymer sort of substance. The 3 holes starting from the upper right are plugged with mud. If you look carefully, you'll see the 3rd hole has a tiny opening. Bees have natured their and burrowed out.

When I first placed my hive up, it was shaded under a bush. No bees came. After giving it a couple of weeks, I moved the hive to my porch. There it got a couple of hours of sun, face on. Within just a few days, bees showed-up.

I know you can buy these things pre-made. But all I've seen only have holes of one size, so you will be only attracting bees which prefer that size. You'll be helping bees, which have been under a lot of stress lately. If you have children, have young friends, or are a teacher, this is a great way to encourage and interest in science and entomology.

Few things bring one closer to the Goddess and God, than the study of insects.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Only when the clock strikes 13..."

Don't drink and practice wicca

Someone please tell me this is not true:

"...Gunther told police that she and several friends were in Oak Hill cemetery in Lebanon around 12:15 a.m. practicing a Wiccan ritual involving candles, incense and driving swords into the earth during the full moon. During this ritual, Gunther accidentally ran the sword through her foot; she also admitted to having consumed alcohol earlier in the evening...

Hysterical. Booze, graveyards, swords, and Wicca! Was this a ritual or someone's idea of re-staging "Horror Hotel"? Goddess, you instruct us all.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Frankincense: It's what's good for you

Frankincense and Mirth

Many ancient cultures knew of the healing and spiritual benefits of Frankincense. There's now tentative scientific confirmation of the healing power of this remarkable tree resin.

...Pharmacologists in Israel have found that frankincense... relieves anxiety and depression, at least in mice...researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and elsewhere report that the active ingredient in frankincense lights up brain receptors that play a role in the perception of warmth on the skin and might help...

Many of us use frankincense (often combined with other ingredients) in our rituals and magic. I fondly remember buying my first sizable quantity of frankincense (and myrrh) from Enchantments in NYC; when I made my request of the proprietor, he instantly pronounced me a 'frankincense and myrrh man'. He was right:

...spiritual adepts greeted the news with knowing nods...“I’m not surprised,” Stacy Rapp and Cat Cabral said in unison last Friday behind the cluttered apothecary counter at Enchantments, an occult supply shop in the East Village...“Any kind of magic you’re doing,” Ms. Cabral said, “frankincense would be great for...happiness, or success, or attention, even.” Ms. Rapp, the store’s owner...noted that frankincense is also a “solar scent” and therefore linked to joy and to life-giving forces...

Some researchers are questioning the studies findings, as mice are certainly not a perfect analogies for humans. But one of the studies co-authors is Rapheal Mechoulam, who has considerable clout in the field of psychoactive substances, as he's one of the people who discovered the active ingredient of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol. Dr. Mechoulam defends his study:

“...There is a complete parallelism between this test and human tests in other drugs,” Dr. Mechoulam said. “Valium will do exactly the same...”

Wow! Frankincense is as good as valium! I nearly just fell over on the dash to the censor. But not everyone like the incense. Ms. Rapp of Enchantments said:

"...it makes me think of church, which is not a good association...”

How true. Last year I burned a little at a Christmas party. The people who hosted the party had their place done-up in typical seasonal fashion. Just about everyone seemed of an earthy, older hippie persuasion. Of course, I asked if it was OK to light some up. After a few minutes, a couple people there were completely freaking out. I'm talking shear panic. Turns out a big chunk of the people there were hard-core Atheists. One said the smell reminded them of church, which caused a holiday bunch of "not good association" to descend on the crowd. I brought the censor outside.

A few days later, I went to another Christmas party. This one was hosted by a friend of mine who happens to be very politically conservative. (For example, car of the fellow hosting the party sported 'GW' and "NRA" bumperstickers.) Most of the crowd lean to my friends persuasion. Playing guitar at the gathering was a local Xtain pastor. I could not resist, and struck up a coal and plopped on some frankincense and myrrh. The scent generated immediate interest, people asking what it was. Everyone seemed to like it. When the pastor got a good whiff, he asked "Is that what I think it is?" I told him, and he jokingly asked "So where's the gold leaf?"

I'm fascinated by the two different reactions. Here's a direct link to the abstract for the paper: "Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain".

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is "Darwinism" a bad word?

Let’s Get Rid of Darwinism

Charles Darwin's name is right up there with the other giants of science, like Newton and Galileo. He is such a scientific super-star, the term "Darwinism" is often substituted for the means of evolution, "natural selection", described by Darwin. In fact, in the popular press, the entire field of evolutionary science is often simply termed "Darwinism". In "Let's Get Rid of Darwinism", NYTimes blogger Olivia Judson suggests that Darwin's fame and intimate association with evolution may be causing problems for the advancement of the field and it's understanding by the general public. Darwin's fame, it seems, comes with a price:

...But his giantism has had an odd and problematic consequence. It’s a tendency for everyone to refer back to him. “Why Darwin was wrong about X”; “Was Darwin wrong about Y?”; “What Darwin didn’t know about Z” — these are common headlines in newspapers and magazines, in both the biological and the general literature. Then there are the words: Darwinism (sometimes used with the prefix “neo”), Darwinist , Darwinian....

...Why is this a problem? Because it’s all grossly misleading. It suggests that Darwin was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, of evolutionary biology...

...He wasn’t, and it has. Although several of his ideas — natural and sexual selection among them — remain cornerstones of modern evolutionary biology, the field as a whole has been transformed...

The author brings up a number of recent discoveries in evolutionary science, all of which were unknown to Darwin, such as the concepts advocated by EO Wilson:

...natural selection does not just shape individuals — It can also act on family groups, and thus drive the evolution of cooperation and other altruistic behaviors...But because individuals have some genes in common with their family members, they can make an indirect genetic contribution if they help their relations to reproduce instead of reproducing themselves. Such “kin selection” is thought to have contributed to the evolution of the social insects — especially, ants, bees, wasps and termites — where only a few individuals reproduce and everyone else looks after the offspring...

Because the field of evolution is currently so diverse, the author has a suggestion:

...I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology...Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn’t think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today...

...Darwin was an amazing man, and the principal founder of evolutionary biology. But his was the first major statement on the subject, not the last....

Uncoupling Darwin's name from evolution at first struck me as somewhat odious. However, besides Darwin's name being overused in the serious press, isn't it also used nearly as a curse by Creationists, Young-earth Fundamentalists, and Dominionists? Such people love to demonize the man.

Many Wiccans and Pagans believe names and words have power. Darwin did enough for the Science of Evolution, literally risking all and dedicating his life to it. Why not let him rest. Maybe now is the time to gently take it from his arms and continue the fight ourselves.