How Cats Domesticated Us….

July 7, 2009

This post doesn’t conform to the blog’s normal fare but, as a felin-o-phile (if that’s a word), I couldn’t resist.

New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade writes (in TierneyLab) of a study on the origin of domestic cats in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

All the other species, in the authors’ view, were bred by people for their desired qualities. Cats, being without utility, were not. Instead, they domesticated themselves and chose their own mates without human interference.

It all came about, the researchers concede, because of wild cats’ powers of observation. They had the wits to notice that the first human settlements were full of uncleared garbage strewn about by their slovenly inhabitants and so were overrun with rats, mice and sparrows.

I knew my cats were in control of my life but it’s nice to have a scientific study to back that claim up

As to the “no utility” claim, my cats keep me amused, help relieve stress, keep away rodents and redecorate the sides of my sofa.


Palin on the Political Prowl

July 3, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is walking away from her job and into what will likely be the Mother of All Presidential races in 2012.

The New York Times reports:

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska announced Thursday that she would step down by the end of the month and not seek a second term as governor, allowing her to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

“We know we can effect positive change outside of government,” she said in making the announcement.

Palin hinted earlier she may seek a U.S. Senate seat.

In case you forgot, Palin accepted the blessing of Pastor Thomas Muthee, who asked Jesus to fund her political campaigns, and protect her from witchcraft. And she went along with up. Let’s bring up that classic video.

And let’s not forget her answers to Katie Couric in a Sept. 2008 interview:

COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our– our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They’re in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia–

COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We– we do– it’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is– from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to– to our state.

About her taste in periodicals:

COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?PALIN: I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media —

COURIC: But what ones specifically? I’m curious.

PALIN: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name any of them?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where, it’s kind of suggested and it seems like, ‘Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C. may be thinking and doing when you live up there in Alaska?’ Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote in 2008:

Pentecostals are “gifted” people. Besides speaking in tongues, they also practice other “gifts of the spirit” (charismata) described in the New Testament, such as “interpretation” of tongues, prophecy, faith healing (”The prayer of faith will save the sick,” James 5:15), miracle working, and discernment of “evil spirits.” I saw some “casting out of spirits” (exorcisms) in that church. The Assemblies of God practice a direct worship, often with tears and raised hands, in intimate “spiritual” (emotional) connection with the creator of the universe. They are in love with Jesus and think he has a special love for them.

Most pentecostals are fundamentalists, believing that the bible is perfect and true, the only source of truth. I did not know a single Assembly of God believer who was not a young-earth creationist who believes dinosaurs roamed this planet a few thousand years ago. They believe in the non-metaphorical existence of demons and Satan (who, according to the book of Revelation, is a seven-headed dragon) who are roaming the earth luring vulnerable souls into evil. They believe in a historical talking snake and donkey, and in the existence of witches, wizards, and evil creatures that can infect not only an unlucky individual but an entire geographical region, which must be purged by prayer.

… They believe in an approaching Armageddon, a fiery end to the world, which they will escape in the Rapture. And that is what makes them so dangerous. They don’t really care about this world. They don’t want peace on earth — they want the violent biblical prophecies to be fulfilled so that they can get to heaven and be rewarded with eternal life. They want to say, “We told you so!” One of the pastors at Sarah Palin’s church announces that “the storm clouds are gathering.” Another of her Assembly of God pastors reports that “Sarah is a great woman. A religious woman.”

When Sarah Palin told her Assembly of God church earlier this year that the war in Iraq is “a task from God,” she was not speaking allegorically. As a pentecostal fundamentalist, she has to believe, as I used to preach, that we are indeed living in the end times. This is no harmless delusion. In America there is “no religious test,” and anyone can run for high office, as an individual, but that doesn’t mean we must not fear religious zealots exercising control. Although the First Amendment guarantees private citizens the “freedom of assembly,” the establishment clause requires that the government should be free from the Assembly of God.

Hat tip to Hemant Mehta


To Boldly Go…Away from Religion

July 3, 2009

TOSopeninglogo

I realize the Friendly Atheist has already posted this but I found this article by Nick Farrantello in The Humanist magazine so compelling I have to include it (especially so close to Independence Day since it’s about personal freedom). feel free to call me a copy-cat, FA fans.

Oddly but accurately titled “Star Trek Made Me an Atheist,” Farrantello shows how the original series (TOS to Trekkie Geeks) made him compare the worldview of the USS Enterprise crew with what he saw around him in religious institutions.

He writes: [A]s a boy I found it increasingly hard to understand why Christians weren’t acting the way Kirk and Spock were. If there was a God, some being causing earthquakes and hurling hurricanes, why wouldn’t Christians (or Jews or Muslims for that matter) fight against such a being? What I was learning on Star Trek seemed more moral to me than what I was learning in church.

I really have no other commentary to add. Well said.

For me, the pinnacle of the article is Farrantello’s inclusion of this classic Kirk monologue from the episode “Who Mourns for Adonis?”

[Remember] who and what you are: a bit of flesh and blood afloat in a universe without end. And the only thing that’s truly yours is the rest of humanity. That’s where our duty lies!

Such a profound statement from such an often-campy space opera reminds us all why the show was so far ahead of its time (and maybe our time).

Live long and prosper…




When Tweets Go Bad…

July 3, 2009

Sometimes, allowing Twitter to automate your RSS feeds can back(side)-fire.

The Wall Street Journal found that out the hard way with this tweet.

And I thought the Feds tore her a new one — guess they left her with a little cheek.

In Polling We Don’t Trust: Follow the Money

July 3, 2009

Charles_Darwin_seatedThe Freakonomics blog at The New York Times, in it’s continuing quest to point out problems with misusing statistics and polls, wrote yesterday:

According to a Zogby poll taken this year, Darwin’s 200th anniversary, Americans favor intelligent design over Darwinian theory. According to the poll, 33 percent of respondents said they agreed with Darwinism, but 52 percent agreed that “the development of life was guided by intelligent design.

A slam dunk for the ID crowd? Not necessarily. Read on.

The poll was commissioned by The Discovery Institute, which advocates intelligent design. This is the kind of thing that gives Gary Langer fits.

That’s the kind of thing that should give all of us fits. Langer, by the way, believes bad poll modeling is often a culprit in inaccurate polling rather than the perceived truthfulness of the respondents. He writes in a 2007 blog:

But why admit that you built a bad model, asked the wrong question, asked it badly, forgot the follow-up, or just can’t figure it out, when, heck, you can just blame the respondent instead

Even if the Zobgy poll was slanted due to improper questioning or other shenanigans, it may not that be far from reality. The freethinking and scientific community must do a better job in educating the public on the reality of evolution and the inconsistency of intelligent design. Ideas?


Quote of the Night

July 3, 2009

scan0061As midnight passes, as the wine glass is slowly emptied, as the cat snores on the sofa’s spine, the quote of night is inspired by tonight’s Zen-heavy themes. Here’s 1960s Asian philosophy maven Alan Watts on Zen:

“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”


The Wheels on the Karma Go Round and Round

July 3, 2009

Although I don’t see the need for the ancient rituals, robes and other traditions, I have found the Zen Buddhist Order of Hsu Yun to offer a more secularized version of Zen (or Chan) Buddhist practice that really provides me with real-world, practical insights.

One of the order’s best online articles is an essay about the Buddhist/Hindu concept of reincarnation or rebirth. The concept seems to take on a mostly supernatural flavor in most Buddhist and Hindu traditions but I found myself agreeing with the more practical explanation offered by ZBOHY teacher Chaun Zhi Shakya.

He writes:

[I]n Zen, questions about reincarnation just don’t arise… we have no use for a system that teaches us that we will be reborn as another creature. That system won’t help us attain our freedom now. Zen encourages us to awaken to ourselves through our own efforts, to understand our true nature as human beings, and to live our lives in that nature.

While many Zen Buddhists will likely say “that’s not the Zen I learned,” I find his explanation compelling and that’s one reason why I consider Zen an effective practice to help me bring about happiness in my life and the lives of others. It’s not a magic formula but the techniques seem to help me better understand the true nature of reality — to the limited degree my “meat computer” can comprehend such a concept.



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