Saturday, May 30, 2009

Black Aurora

The Aurora Borealis is a fascinating sight to behold perhaps because,  for most humans, it does not appear in their sky.  I recall one crisp evening of my youth being called outside to witness a wisp of odd colored light in the evening sky and was told that it was the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.  I don't know if it was, but it sparked some primeval meme inside of me- one of those awe moments.
One can imagine the grand awe of early humans who ventured into the northern latitudes suddenly coming upon a bright reddish-green glow in the sky above in the dark of night.  Surely it must have conjured up thoughts of ghosts, monsters, and gods.

Yet one can only speculate what their reaction would have been to a black aurora- an even rarer type of anti-aurora.  Surely, demons and the Devil himself must have caused such an ominously odd-colored sky.  No doubt, at the first sight of such a baleful sight fires would have been lit and chanting would have begun to ward off those evil spirits.  Of course, the fire and song always worked; soon the blackness faded away.

How could early humans know anything other than sinister speculation regarding their darkening nighttime skies?  A clever shaman could enhance his reputation by incanting the 'good spirits'during this time, knowing full-well that, no matter what strange babble came from his mouth, soon the darkness would fade away.

Using data from four Cluster Spacecraft orbiting the Earth has now likely found the secret: black auroras are actually anti-auroras. In normal auroras, electrons and/or predominantly negatively charged particles fall toward Earth along surfaces of constant magnetic field. They ionize the Earth's atmosphere on impact, causing the bright glows. In black anti-auroras, however, negatively charged particles are sucked out from the Earth's ionosphere along adjoining magnetic field lines. These dark anti-auroras can climb to over 20,000 kilometers and last for several minutes.

It must have been frightening to have been a child living during those 'dark' times with myth, superstition, ghosts and odd and dangerous spirits floating all around, waiting to take hold of of you if you were not cautious.  I wonder if parents then did the 'Santa' trick on these children, suggesting that, if they didn't kowtow to the exact demands of their parents, the sky-goblins would grab them and take them away into the dark beyond.

Lucky for us we live in times of enlightening science.  Each day, scientists bring us new insights into the 'scary' world in which we live and, with each new discovery, our fear, our anxiety, our superstitious thoughts subside.

Friday, May 29, 2009

How Green is Your Mouth?

If it's green, use the men's room; if red, the ladies' room.  ScienceDaily (May 28, 2009) — Our brain is wired to identify gender based on facial cues and coloring, according to a new study published in the Journal of Vision. Psychology Professor Frédéric Gosselin and his Université de Montréal team found the luminescence of the eyebrow and mouth region is vital in rapid gender discrimination.

"Studies have shown that an androgynous face is considered male if the skin complexion is redder, and considered female if the complexion is greener," says Dupuis-Roy. "However, it is the opposite for the mouth. A woman's mouth is usually redder. Our brain interprets this characteristic as female."

Thus, green replaces the color blue for boys, while the girls can still claim red/pink as their own. Is that why red lipstick looks so great on women?

One More Litigation Threat

It occurs in regular cycles like lunar eclipses.  Today I received yet another threat of legal action against me. This is either the 3rd or 4th one over the past two years- from the same person.  Here it is:  Better stop it, Muck-maker. This is grounds for a civil suit. I'm saving it as evidence. 

Interestingly, it was under the thread, "Gosh, you sound stupid!"  Of course, it was not I who said 'you sound stupid!' but rather the same person who threatened me with a civil law suit.

Confused?  Well, so am I, but then, one never knows what rolls around inside of one's head.  This same author send a sarcastic comment to me when I posted the 'stupid' thread, which read,  Thanks for defining "stupid" and providing a big example in this post. IT describes you to a "t"

There you have it readers: a case of total confusion.  But wait, as the infomercials always say, there's more: Aha --so an insult stung, did it?  Maybe you should be more reluctant with YOUR insults

Who can decipher all of this?  is there a psychiatrist in the house???


The classic John Lennon piece,Imagine,, has a haunting beat and charming melody. Yet the lyrics raise the song to the highest level. 'Brotherhood, peace, sharing, love of neighbor, living as one' are classic themes of all religious faiths and of civil rights movements throughout the world.

There are some critics, however, of the song because Lennon asks to imagine no heaven, no hell, and no religion.  The PBS program, NOVA, presented an historical collection of film chronicling the initial 25  years of space exploration.  It was well-done and inspiring.  Yet, when some science teachers showed it in their classrooms, some fundamentalist parents objected to it.  Why?  Because, at the very end of the film, while the U.S. and U.S.S.R space modules made that historic connection 500 miles above earth- during the Cold War- John Lennon's Imagine was played in the background.

Imagine that.

Sixes on the Enneagram

We had a delightful visit this afternoon with a friend from out of town with whom we always engage in deep philosophical and theological discussions.  Although there were many themes bandied around, I had a eureka moment when we went through the personality types on the Enneagram.  The Enneagram system describes nine distinct personality types and their interrelationships, mapped around an ancient symbol of perpetual motion.  Ennea is the Greek word for nine.

Each of the nine personalities has its strengths and weaknesses, as do all personalities and I can recognize my own number and that of my wife very easily.  The descriptions given to each number are dead-on for each of us.

We are not sixes.  Yet, when we were discussing the characteristics of 'The Six' I knew that it described fundamentalist christions quite thouroughly.  The name given to this personality type is The Loyalist because, of all the personality types, Sixes are the most loyal to their friends and to their beliefs. They will “go down with the ship” and hang on to relationships of all kinds far longer than most other types. Sixes are also loyal to ideas, systems, and beliefs—even to the belief that all ideas or authorities should be questioned or defied.

Beliefs.  Faith.  Doggedness.  Righteousness.  Interestingly, on the website of The Enneagram Institute, I found that  George H.W. Bush is an example of a Six. Surely, so is his son.  So is Mel Gibson, J. Edgar Hoover and Nixon.

The Six typically have problems with self-doubt and suspicion. They fear being without support and guidance.  Sixes come to believe that they do not possess the internal resources to handle life’s challenges and vagaries alone, and so increasingly rely on structures, allies, beliefs, and supports outside themselves for guidance to survive. 

The three paragraphs above come from that website as is the following:

They are both strong and weak, fearful and courageous, trusting and distrusting, defenders and provokers, sweet and sour, aggressive and passive, bullies and weaklings, on the defensive and on the offensive, thinkers and doers, group people and soloists, believers and doubters, cooperative and obstructionist, tender and mean, generous and petty—and on and on. It is the contradictory picture that is the characteristic “fingerprint” of Sixes, the fact that they are a bundle of opposites.

Well, a 'bundle of opposites.'  In psychiatry talk,  that is often referred to as bipolar.  They must be hard to live with.  Were my wife a Six, we would not have married.  I dislike 'bundles of opposites' because to me they seem untrustworthy, cunning, deceitful.  I wonder how their marriage partners tolerate the ambivalence, the yes/no, the swings in attitude.  I wonder if many are on mood enhancers.

So, the characteristics of Sixes shouted out, "Fundamentalist Christian!" to me bang-off.  This characteristic from above, they believe that they do not possess the internal resources to handle life’s challenges and vagaries alone, puts the icing on the cake.  No wonder they believe in an active Supreme Being manipulationg factors in their lives.  No wonder they kowtow to the letter of the law from Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  No wonder they display 'meanness' and 'aggression' and 'bullying' and 'pettiness' and 'distrustfulness' - it's part of their personality.

Here is the final paragraph on Sixes:

The biggest problem for Sixes is that they try to build safety in the environment without resolving their own emotional insecurities. When they learn to face their anxieties, however, Sixes understand that although the world is always changing and is, by nature uncertain, they can be serene and courageous in any circumstance. And they can attain the greatest gift of all, a sense of peace with themselves despite the uncertainties of life.

A sense of peace.  Imagine that!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Music Soothes Circumcision Pain- Sure!

LiveScience reports:

Music may help ease pain and provide therapeutic benefits for babies undergoing common medical procedures, including circumcision, according to new research.

Neonatal units are increasingly using music as a way to manage pain for babies during routine practices. It is thought that playing music helps calm babies and stabilize some of their vital functions. However, past research has not been strong enough to back up these claims.


Sooth the pain of having the foreskin of a penis sliced off? It's a barbaric practice anyhow. What dolt thought it a good idea, anyhow? Woops! "Circumcision is commanded in Genesis 17:10-14 as an outward sign of a man's participation in Israel's covenant with God, as well as a sign that the Jewish people will perpetuate through him. The commandment is incumbent upon both father and child - fathers must see that their sons are circumcised, and uncircumcised grown men are obligated to perform the rite."

So it is in Genesis, well, no wonder it is an ignorant idea. Lots of highly inhumane and brutal stuff crammed into those pages. The Jewish metzitzah b'peh ceremony is especially questionable and curious.

There is an organization with the strange name, Mothers Against Circumcision, whose website has much information on the subject. Horray for mothers!

Nonetheless, it seems that the heinous blood ritual will continue from father to son as a tradition of passage, replete with wailing boys receiving their first taste of what life has to offer them.

Music, huh?

Six Catholics, Two Jews

At the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court would have, in religious affiliation, six Catholics and two Jews, with just one Protestant on the Supreme Court, 89-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens. How's that for imbalance? Does one's religious faith, traditions and beliefs shape the decisions of a judge or Justice? And why are there no evangelical Christians waiting in line?

One might recall that this nation was founded on the principle that there be no religious litmus test for its citizens nor its leaders. The wise Founding Fathers knew well the bloody religious wars on the European continent and wished for none of that in this newly created democracy.

Yet, poll after poll suggests that America is one of the most religiously affiliated nation in the modern world. How well are we citizens able to set aside our religious beliefs as we enter the voting booth? Does religious affiliation skew the vote in one direction or the other?

We know for sure that those who identify themselves as Protestant Evangelicals have voted for Republican candidates in overwhelming numbers in the past several elections. The Catholic vote is much more difficult to pigeonhole as they vote in fairly equal numbers for Democrats and Republicans. Jews have traditionally been strong supporters of the Democratic slate, although their population is fairly small, accounting for only 2% of Americans.

Apparently, that leaves the so-called un-churched Americans to choose the national leaders of this nation. According to our Founding Fathers, that is the way it ought to be. Nonetheless, people of strong religious beliefs are ever-vigilant, ever-active in the political affairs of this nation. The Prop 8 fiasco in California obviates the involvement of church in state affairs.

One would be shocked if an atheist or an agnostic were to be nominated for the Supreme Court. Imagine the uproar all across the land with demonstrations in the streets and at the White House. Imagine a Human Secularist as SCOTUS nominee! The nation would be torn apart in anguish.

Imagine Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin reappearing in the middle of the hubbub and asking, "What's going on here?" Then the answer, "The president nominated a non-believer to the highest court in the land!"

Imagine that.

Gosh, you sound stupid!

I received a short but blunt comment to monitor which read, "Gosh, you sound stupid! I'm sorry to say it --but gee, you do!"  It went with the thread,  Liberty University Bans College Dems." I sound so stupid, the woman told me.  She's an oh-so righteous fundamentalist christian and, therefore, she knows 'stupid.'

stu-pid: 1 a: slow of mind : obtuse b: given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless manner c: lacking intelligence or reason : brutish
2: dulled in feeling or sensation : torpid
3: marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting : senseless

Interestingly, the etymology of 'stupid' is from Latin stupēre: to be numb, be astonished. The English word, stupefy, more correctly relates the original meaning of the word.

Perhaps that is what the woman meant by her comment: She is astonished, numbed as she absorbs my blog postings- totally blown-away, in 21st century American vernacular. "I wish that I could present so many varied and interesting topics to my readers as Mudrake offers his. I'm astonished with the wide variety and depth of his posts, while I'm stuck with my bigoted homosexual posts and decrying secular humanists! It's stupefying!"

I do not believe in ghosts nor the Easter Bunny. Adam and Eve were mythical creatures. The Earth was created over billions of years. The age of the human race is more than 8,000 years. The animals that exist on earth today are modified from their original form through adaptive evolution. Life on earth arose from primordial earth-chemicals enriched by space debris from meteorites and comets. Jesus was a man. No human has ever escaped the permanence of death. The miraculous suspension of the physical laws of nature is not possible. The book called The Bible was a mythically-enhanced anthology of the trials and tribulations of a wandering Middle Eastern tribe. The deeds of heroes increase in complexity and valor with each re-telling of the story. Babies are born without sin. Humans created gods to ameliorate their fears and ignorance. Afterlife is a ruby-slippers wish. Religious wars that have killed untold millions of innocent human beings were based on superstitious righteousness and bigotry. Religious words, thoughts and admonitions cannot be part of a truly free, democratic political system. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were two of the most cunningly deceptive leaders of this nation.

The woman who labeled me 'stupid' believes the opposite of what I wrote in the paragraph above.

"Stupid is as stupid does.' - Forrest Gump.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It and We Came From Outer Space

Remember that 50's sci-fi film, 'It came from ourter space!'  Nine years ago a meteorite landed in a remote lake in Canada and scientists now know that it contains carbon compounds necessary for human life.  Formic acid, a molecule implicated in the origins of life, has been found at record levels on the Tagish Lake meteorite. Formic acid is one of a group of compounds dubbed "organics", because they are rich in carbon.

The particular types, or isotopes, of hydrogen that are found in the formic acid show that it most likely formed in the cold regions of space before our Solar System existed.  The acid is known to act as a "reducing agent" - acting as a magnet for oxygen atoms during chemical reactions - and facilitate the conversion of some amino acids into others. It may also be implicated in the transformation of the more primitive RNA into DNA.

It seems clear that the origins of life on earth resulted from carbon 'stuff' from comets and meteorites that were captured by earth's gravity.  As Carl Sagan used to say, "We are star stuff!"

Sotomayor Nomination Puts GOP in a Bind

"Latinos rejoice in Sotomayor nomination" is the headline on CNN. They go on: In the wake of the nomination, Hispanics celebrated Sotomayor as a symbol of success and also as a reflection of the changing demographics of the country. In a sense, she is the Hispanic community's answer to Obama's narrative -- a sign that, as Lopez said, anything is possible in America if a person works hard enough, no matter their race or economic situation.

That puts the ever-shrinking southern white, male Republican Party behind the eight ball. If they filibuster the nomination or even look like they are attempting to obstruct her nomination, the GOP loses what few Latinos and Hispanics still remain in their party.

Women, too, will find it particularly disgusting when the male GOP senators find fault with her credentials and her accomplishments. Such a battle against her nomination will blow yet another large hole in the sinking barge known as the GOP.

Make Way for Ducklings!

There they were, eight fuzzy ducklings watched over by Mrs. Duck, walking through our back yard.  Every once in a while, Mother Nature gives us a little treat.

Torture-loving Christians

One wonders if some evangelical christians found some perverse pleasure while watching Mel Gibson's,  The Passion of the Christ.  Who knows what goes on inside of people's heads? 

 World history books drip with the blood of humans who suffered mercilessly at the hands of 'people of God.'  Were the Inquisition torturers sadists who fully enjoyed their work? Do ministers and priests enjoy the rape of children under their authority?  Did the Catholic nuns receive some odd pleasure rapping the knuckles of their students?

Torture-loving people such as these are clearly mentally deranged and belong in psychiatrist offices and/or prison cells.

Now, we read of yet another psychologically challenged knot of humans living in our neighborhoods right here in America.  They love torture; they believe in torture.  CNN reports that a recent Pew survey found that 62 percent of white evangelical Protestants say that the use of torture against suspected terrorists can be often or sometimes justified in order to gain important information.  Conversely, only 40% of 'religiously unaffiliated' people thought the same.

What is it about these odd fundamental christians?  I have a whole nest of them who virtually fly about my blog, waiting for an opportunity to attack my thoughts and beliefs and to set me 'straight on the truth.'

I've always thought that they were warped, and now it seems that my intuition is correct.  They believe in torture even though experts in the field blatantly admit that torture doesn't work.  Did torture 'work' on Jesus? Did 183 incidents of water boarding make Khalid Sheikh Mohammed reveal 'the truth?'  Facts seemingly never get in the way of those who know 'the truth.'  

I have a theory about why evangelical/fundamentalist christians are blase regarding the torture of humans: their seeming indifference to the horrors of torture, their insouciant acceptance of the practice may stem from over-exposure to the brutalities credentialed in the Old Testament during their childhood.  As children, they were forced to listen to, to read, even to memorize the   violent episodes of smiting, annihilation, and wholesale slaughter of other tribes by 'God's chosen people.'  These children soon developed a nonchalant attitude towards war, punishment, slaughter, and revenge which, no doubt, damaged their innate revulsion of such inhuman practices towards fellow humans.  

How else can one interpret the results of this survey as well as the further fact that evangelical/fundamentalist christians were some of the most vocal supporters of the preemptive invasion of Iraq back in 2002-2003?  'Smite thine enemy' - lessons learned in bible school- surely hindered many from closely examining the data presented by the Bush Administration as evidence for the need for such an invasion.  The fact that 'thine enemy' were Muslim surely ameliorated normal compunction towards bombing raids on a city of 5,000, 000 people. 

The queerly curious aspect of the belief-system of these 'christians' is their relentless touting of 'pro-life' values. Sadly and commonly, these so-called 'values' are limited to a 9-month term of human gestation.  Typically, the slap on the baby's behind is a reminder to the youngster that he or she is on their own for the duration of their lives.  These guardians of the uterus wash their hands of any further obligations because there are more uteruses which need protection.

It is up to the 'secular humanists' of America, then, to guard the rights of the newborn, to help insure food, clothing, shelter and medical care for the baby and its mother. It will be the secular humanist who will help defend the child from religious intrusion into its life.  It will be the secular humanist who fights to keep the leaders of this nation from engaging in religious wars.  It will be the secular humanist who will insist on a no-torture policy of this government.  It will be the secular humanist who will help teach the child tolerance of other cultures, other ways of life.

The evangelical/fundamentalist is too damaged from over-exposure to the cruelties of the Bible during childhood to effectively teach the subtleties and vagaries of the human spirit to the youth of this nation. This task, therefore, must be taken up by secular humanists who have not lost touch with tenderness, with compassion, with empathy for others. 

 The song, 'Onward Christian Soldiers' may be sung in churches, but ought not become part of our National Anthem.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Profanely Beautiful: Carmina Burana

Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is a boldly raucous faux-religious masterpiece celebrating, of all things, the life of the commoner in the 13th century.  The piece is inspired by a collection of 24 medieval poems. They are secular songs for singers and choruses to be sung together with instruments and magic images which mimic grand church music.
The lyrics are fairly useless unless one remembers  Latin verse.  Further, Orff throws some Middle High German and Old Provençal. Even though the piece is sung as if it were a Biblical acclimation, the subject matter covers a wide range of secular topics: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.  Clearly not religious issues.

 The drawing of the wheel found on the first page of the Burana Codexincludes four phrases around the outside of the wheel and the musc is based on the idea of the turning Fortuna Wheel.

The recording on this Youtube presentation is not particularly well done and is a bit slow in tempo and lacks the crispness of the recording I enjoy.  Nonetheless, it offers the first-time listener a good audio and visual presesntation of the piece.

Decoration Day

My family called it 'Decoration Day' when I was a kid.  I never asked 'why?' yet it was fun to decorate our bikes with flags, ballons, and streamers and ride through the neighborhood, blowing our bike horns.  We also had relatives over and ate outdoors.  Perhaps as a child I got the impression that Decoration Day was a salute to Spring, after the cold, hard winter had passed.

We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.

Today I know better.  It is more aptly named, Memorial day, although a festival to Spring seems so much more logical.

We have created a day to remember war.  Not only war, but death- often of men in the prime of their lives.  My eldest uncle died in WW I somewhere in France of pneumonia, not a gun shot.  No doubt, he was in one of those miserable trenches that each side dug, like moles, hiding from those in the other death-traps.  After the war, my grandmother went with other Gold Star Mothers on a ship to France to receive some sort of plaque and to see the grave of her son. 

The Army cap in the photo is from another uncle who served in WW II.  His sister had stored it in her closed, along with the 48-star flag, after his death.  As the lone surving nephew, I now have it.  The leather strap above the brim has rotted off,  along with some moth holes in the top.  I never got a chance to ask my uncle about his war years as he was a severe alcoholic and not welcome in our house.  His memories died with him at his early death.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Perhaps my oldest uncle died in Flander's Fields. I do not know, because our family never discussed 'war' things. Still, my life, as the lives of most Americans, is splattered with war memories on both sides of the Atlantic.  Many of my German relatives lie in their graves, having fought for 'righteousness.'  I snapped the photo below on one of my trips to Germany.  The phrase, 'Wir starben für euch!" atop the cross translates, 'We died for you!"  Indeed they did as did the American soldiers.  Christian crosses, Christian graves.  God is on 'our side.'

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