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 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


...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..."