Jun 29, 2012

We Are Doomed

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.


Most of us think of the game rock, paper, scissors as a game of chance.

Some of us, like Douglas Walker, co-author of the Rock Paper Scissors Strategy Guide, consider it a game of physical and psychological skill.

And then there are the scientists at the University of Tokyo's Ishikawa Oku Laboratory, makers of the Janken robot, who have turned the game into an impossible endeavor.

You cannot beat the Janken robot at rock, paper, scissors. The robot will always win.

Also, Janken is the Japanese name of the rock, paper, scissors game.

So how does the robot always win? The answer is simple: The robot cheats.

Just sayin.'

William Henry on Merging with Icons

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

From For the Sexes by William Blake

A while ago I posted something about the pernicious role of iconoclasm -- and the second commandment -- in keeping humanity from direct interface with the divine. William Henry had touched upon the issue in an article on St. Francis of Assissi who developed stigmata, at least in part, because of his spiritual merging with religious iconography. I posited then that part of the motivation for iconoclasm is to keep us from the transcendent and mystical experiences that the Church has always found threatening. Direct experience of God was not something that just anyone was supposed to have.

I am currently reading Henry's Secret of Sion and he addresses the issue of icons as spiritual triggers, and the cruelty of a system that would deny them to humanity, very directly. He suggests that prior to the dark reign of the idol smashers, icons served an important and known function doing exactly what the second commandment says they shouldn't.

When the icons were made alchemy was the normal way of interacting with the world. Everything was viewed as in the process of transmutation or changing into something else -- like the acorn into the oak -- simultaneously unraveling and being reborn. Everything was transmutable, including the human body, which was viewed as a 'pupal' form of an ascended spiritual being, usually symbolized by the butterfly (earlier by the phoenix). All that was required to effect the transmutation was the Philosopher's Stone (= the pure tone or ring of the gate.) This (S)tone causes the body to emit or secrete an elixir - the Secretion of the Ages - that purifies the body, transfiguring it to light.

This is the key benefit of the Transfiguration icons. These images were designed not just to help the early Christians to teach about the Transfiguration through pretty pictures, but also to encourage them to re-shape their lives in accordance with the  hope or expectation of transforming into light (something our culture does not support). Through contemplation, meditation and reflection on the icon we begin to reflect the Light experienced by Jesus in our lives.

Unfortunately, in the seventh century Byzantine Emperor Leo III banned icons (726-729) in response to criticism from adherents of the new religion of Islam who proclaimed that icon/doors were false idols (more later).

. . .

Jun 26, 2012

An Ancient Mystery Tops an Ancient Mystery in Syria

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Wars are real archaeology blockers. Sometimes I think it's by design -- a deliberate attempt at some level of consciousness to keep humanity from its own secrets. The latest distraction from discovery is in Syria. This one involves something they're calling "Syria's Stonehenge" and there is much to recommend it as a site of interest.

Fifty miles north of Damascus is an ancient monastery, which is a fascinating site all on its own. But in 2009, archaeologist Robert Mason of the Royal Ontario Museum discovered remnants of a much older monument nearby.

The monastery itself, also called the Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, was built in the late 4th or early 5th century, he said, and contains several frescoes from the 11th and 12th century depicting Christian saints and Judgment Day. He told the audience at Harvard that he believes it was originally a Roman watchtower, partially destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt.

But the desert puzzle is much older.

Bits of tools Mason found nearby suggest the mystery he discovered in the desert is much older than the monastery. It may date to the Neolithic Period or early Bronze Age, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Gazette said.

So, Mason found ancient masonry tools. He also found remnants of stone circles, lines, and some evidence of tombs. If, indeed, this is a prehistoric sacred site, it speaks to that mysterious habit the ancients had of building sacred sites on top of sacred sites, as if the location on the earth itself holds some deeper significance.

But for now, as the military conflagration in Syria grows, we'll just have to take a wait and see attitude.


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"Why Shamanism Now?" with Christina Pratt

Working with the Spirits of the Land

Shamanism is the practice of direct communication with the Divine lifeforce present in all things. The purpose of this communication is to cultivate and maintain right relationship with all living things, human and non-human, seen and unseen, so that life flourishes. "To aim for flourishing gives humans a way cultivate a good life, without the errors of greed, excess, and selfishness," says host and shaman, Christina Pratt, "which are each dead end streets. All human life as we know it exists purely and only because Nature exists. And Nature exists purely and only because the Earth exists." Shamanic practices, geomancy, and feng shui each give humans practical ways to maintain good communication and reciprocity with the spirits of the land, the elementals, and the Earth herself. Anyone can begin to flourish from where ever they are with these practices. Flourishing begins by asking permission to do what we have come here to do. It is cultivated each day that we say "thank you" for all that comes into our lives-the food, air, water, and other gifts and resources that get us through the day. And finally to say, "I am sorry", for all the ways my ancestors and I have trespassed in our arrogance and ignorance that all life is Divine and interdependent, especially our own.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM Pacific

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Jun 25, 2012

RIP Lonesome George: Giant Galapagos Tortoise Dies

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Lonesome George was believed to be about 100 years old -- the last in a subspecies with a projected lifespan of 200 years. His life was suddenly and inexplicably cut short this weekend, bringing an end to his line, and highlighting the ongoing struggle between humans and rare animal species for survival on the Galapagos Islands. For more information on the mythical and totemic symbolism of the tortoise, see here

Lonesome George," the last survivor of the subspecies Chelonoidis abingdoni of the giant tortoises ("galapagos" in Spanish) that gave Ecuador's Galapagos Islands their name, was found dead over the weekend in its corral, Galapagos National Park said.

. . .

The tortoise came from Pinta Island, the southernmost of the Galapagos, and was rescued in 1972 by a team of hunters who were there to eradicate the goats, a species introduced by man that had virtually destroyed the habitat and brought the giant tortoises to the brink of extinction.

. . .

Different methods were used to stimulate reproduction, at first with females of the subspecies from Wolf Volcano on Isabela Island, with which George finally mated after being in their company for 15 years, but the eggs were infertile.

. . .

Next month an international workshop will be held to formulate a strategy for managing the tortoise populations over the next 10 years to ensure their comeback, Galapagos National Park director Edwin Naula said.

Jun 24, 2012

Spinning the Vatican: Fox News to the Rescue

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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As discussed, the Catholic Church needs a little help in the public relations department. The Vatican's response to reams of bad press has been, to a large degree, to create more bad press. Castigating the media hasn't helped. It turns out that being scolded by priests may work with observant Catholics but only seems to tick off a largely secular press corps. And having numerous cardinals and bishops making outrageous and ill-tempered statements, that just happen to make for great copy, doesn't really help either.

The Vatican has been fairly open about the need for a good spin doctor. They've been less open to the ideas generated by their own communications conference, which is to say, more openness and apology. Pope Benedict has, to some degree, but the Church certainly hasn't been either consistent or monolithic in that approach. And none of that contriteness and transparency has been displayed when it comes to scandals beyond the sex abuse issue they've been forced by circumstance to finally cop to. Instead, they've been prosecuting leaks and retreating to the cone of silence.

The announcement that the Vatican has tapped a new media adviser, and that he comes by way of Fox News, brings some assurance that they will at least be getting their act together in terms of message discipline. If there's anything Fox News does well, it's message discipline. (Ignoring for the moment the problem of Shep Smith. But he is a creature sui generis.) And it looks like Greg Burke is very much on it.

He defined his job, which he said he had been offered twice before, as being along the lines of the White House senior communications adviser: "You're shaping the message, you're molding the message, and you're trying to make sure everyone remains on-message. And that's tough."

Jun 22, 2012

The Ongoing Problem of Catholic PR -- (Plus Breaking News from Philly)

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

For Breaking news on the Philadelphia case, scroll down.

A while ago I posted something about the Vatican's inability to spin the sex abuse crisis in a manner that makes them look good. The public relations problems for the Catholic Church are only getting worse, apparently. Where to begin? Let's see... How about a banking scandal bizarrely linked to a dead girl who may be buried with a mob boss in a Vatican cemetery and a prominent Church exorcist who claims she was kidnapped by a Vatican sex ring... I mean Dan Brown on his best, most florid prose writing day, couldn't make this stuff up. Yet, the Vatican's response has been to blame Dan Brown and all the other word jockeys out there who keep making the Church look bad by reporting what they do. Then there's the fact that they've been dissed by one of the most Catholic countries in the world. And, for good measure, we could throw in the Legionaries of Christ who, with the help of Pope John Paul II, concealed its leader's mistresses, children, and rampant sexual abuse, for decades. A good write-up on new revelations about that fiasco can be found here.

To say the Church has a PR problem is like saying there just isn't a tube of lipstick big enough for a pig that size. And constantly blaming the press corps for doing its job... Not helpful. But America's Roman Catholic Bishops have decided getting better flacks just might help, so they're gonna give that a whirl.

There's no doubt that America's Roman Catholic bishops have had their share of what might quaintly be called bad press. The priest sex-abuse scandal, a Vatican crackdown on nuns, a head-knocking fight with the president of the United States over contraceptive coverage -- none of these would qualify as good news.

. . .

"We need more help and sophistication in our messaging," said Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who decried the "latest debacle" of bad PR over the treatment of American nuns (which involves an investigation by the Vatican, not the American bishops).

O'Malley observed ruefully that when John Jay College released a landmark study last year of the causes and handling of the church's sex-abuse crisis, it "should have been a good moment for the church, and yet it was another black eye."

Jun 21, 2012

Warren Jeffs: FLDS Not Inbred Enough

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Warren Jeffs has released another proclamation to his flock and this one is... well...

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence in prison, has ordered most of his followers to stop having sex except for 15 men -- and the women they men choose --- designated to father all future children for the sect.

So, let's see... The remaining membership is estimated to be around 10,000, a lot of the young males were excommunicated to reduce competition, so it's probably a little female-heavy, anyway. My back of the envelope calculation says, a handful of men will all have harems about as large as Solomon's. Sounds, um, tiring.

Here's cult expert Rick Ross's take:

CERN Leaking Like a Sieve

Boy, the folks at CERN love to leak juicy tidbits. But this former flack knows spin when she sees it.

Ever since tantalizing hints of the Higgs turned up in December at the Large Hadron Collider, scientists there have been busily analyzing the results of their energetic particle collisions to further refine their search.

“The bottom line though is now clear: There’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look,” wrote mathematician Peter Woit on his blog, Not Even Wrong. According to Woit, there are rumors of new data that would be the most compelling evidence yet for the long-sought Higgs.

The possible news has a number of physics bloggers speculating that LHC scientists will announce the discovery of the Higgs during the International Conference on High Energy Physics, which takes place in Melbourne, Australia, July 4 to 11.

. . .

Of course, Gibbs reminds us that the rumors come with some caveats, such as the fact that they are vague and not completely reliable. Scientists outside the experiment also don’t yet know how much data has been analyzed from this year, meaning that the rumored results could disappear with further scrutiny. 

 Meanwhile, loooook.... Just like the Eye of Jupiter.

Jun 20, 2012

Pagan Kerfuffle Down the Beliefnet Memory Hole

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I was reading this ghastly story this morning about a man who was recently executed for witchcraft in Saudi Arabia.

According to SPA, the Saudi state news agency, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri, a man "found in possession of books and talismans" was beheaded in the southern province of Najran.

The BBC reported that the execution was carried out after al-Asiri's sentence was upheld by the Middle Eastern monarchy's highest courts, and that "no details were given of what he was found guilty of beyond the charges of witchcraft and sorcery."

Although Amnesty International stated that the country does not consider it a capital offense, executions on charges of sorcery and witchcraft have occurred in Saudi Arabia in recent years. 

Books and talismans... sigh...

The Solstice and the Serpent

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Well here's something I did not know.

This morning, while scanning the news for fun Summer Solstice events, I noticed this item on the Mother Nature Network. Apparently, the famed serpent mound in Ohio is aligned to the sun on this day. How marvelous. That puts this ancient curiosity amongst sacred sites all over the world as aligned to key astronomical events. I don't know that this will ever make Ohio Bush Creek a destination on par with Stonehenge (see above) but I actually find this slightly more fascinating.

Sunrise with a snake: Twenty miles south of Bainbridge, Ohio, a mysterious mound rises from the Earth. A bird's-eye view would reveal that this mound is in fact man-made, and that it is in the shape of a giant serpent.

On the summer solstice, the sun rises directly over the head of this serpent, which was likely created by the so-called Fort Ancient culture that thrived nearby between A.D. 1000 and 1550. The Serpent Mound park is open during daylight hours, so solstice-seekers can stroll around the ancient snake and imagine the early astronomers that must have overseen its construction.

I've never seen the serpent mound. Ohio is big state and I grew up on the other end of it. But it's always tickled me pink that this vestige of ancient wisdom appears in such an unlikely place.

Go Sheila!

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Sheila Polk, who successfully prosecuted James Arthur Ray in a trial I covered in excruciating detail, has won a well deserved, criminal justice award.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Sullivan Polk will receive the 2012 Arizona State Bar Michael C. Cudahy Criminal Justice Award next week at the state bar convention.

The Cudahy Award honors "that criminal prosecutor who, during his or her career, has worked tirelessly to advance the principles of criminal justice by representing the public's interest with integrity, fairness, tenacity, creativity, brilliance, and above all, professionalism."

. . .

She has been personally involved in a training program called "What You Do Matters: Lessons from the Holocaust," which teaches Yavapai County law enforcement officers how Hitler's rise to power came about through the sometimes-unwitting help of local officials.

That last bit about the Holocaust, I did not know. But it makes sense. Polk proved herself exquisitely capable of exposing both the psychology of influence and the banality of evil when she took down that tinhorn dictator who baked people in an oven masquerading as a sweat lodge.

Jun 19, 2012

The Vatican: Still Tone Deaf After All These Years

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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Just when you think Pope Benedict might be getting it, he dismisses generations of abuse at the hands of clergy as "a mystery." Understandably, this has angered survivor groups. SNAP's Barbara Dorris decried the comments as "platitudes, refusing to even accurately name the crisis."

" The pontiff's wrong: there's little mystery here," said Dorris in an emailed statement.

She cited priests' having `'sometimes almost absolute power, over devout and defenseless kids," as well as bishops who abuse power and `'ignore, hide and enable heinous crimes against kids."

The pontiff's unintentionally incendiary statements came in a pre-recorded address played during the grand finale of the previously discussed Eucharistic Congress in Ireland. And this was the event that was supposed to stop the Church's hemorrhaging in that country. I don't think this will help.

I will say this. His Holiness seems genuinely mystified.


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"Why Shamanism Now?" with Christina Pratt

Spiritual Gifts of Madness with Dr. Seth Farber

Dr. Seth Farber is a writer, social critic, dissident psychologist, visionary, and activist on many fronts. He joins us this week to discuss his new book, The Spiritual Gift of Madness: The Failure of Psychiatry and the Rise of the Mad Pride, available now from Inner Traditions. Join host and shaman, Christina Pratt, and her guest, Dr. Farber, as they explore the possibility that madness is a precious and dangerous gift. In his work Dr. Farber has seen repeatedly that many of those diagnosed as schizophrenic, bipolar, and other forms of "madness" are not ill but experiencing a spiritual awakening. He believes that that it is impossible for our society to awaken as long as the mad are suppressed because they are our catalysts for social change. At the same time those labeled "mad" must embrace their spiritual gifts and reclaim their role as cultural prophets to help the coming global spiritual transition. This week we discuss Dr. Farber's passionate work, his new book, and the rise of Mad Pride and the mental patients' liberation movement. He is our next guest for the Society of Shamanic Practitioners sponsored interview series. In this series we explore how contemporary shamans are meeting the challenges of their world.

This week's guest:
Dr. Seth Farber

Dr. Seth Farber is a writer, social critic, and dissident psychologist. He is also a visionary; activist in the human rights, Green and anti-war movements -- and a supporter of animal rights; and co-founder of the Network Against Coercive Psychiatry. His newest book, The Spiritual Gift of Madness: The Failure of Psychiatry and the Rise of the Mad Pride, is available now from Inner Traditions. His books include Lunching with Lunatics and Madness, Heresy, and the Rumor of Angels: The Revolt Against the Mental Health System. He is also an editor of the pioneering scholarly review, The Journal of Mind and Behavior.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM Pacific

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All episodes are now available in the iTunes Podcast Library.

Jun 17, 2012

Rep. Lisa "Vagina" Brown on Religious Freedom

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Nearly lost in the uproar over Rep. Lisa Brown's right to talk about her vagina, has been the substance of her comments on the Michigan State House floor. Brown framed her argument against Michigan's draconian abortion bill in terms of religious freedom.

Yesterday we heard from, uh, the representative from Holland speak about religious freedom. I'm Jewish. I keep kosher in my home. I have two sets of dishes -- one for meat, one for dairy, and another two sets of dishes on top of that for Passover.

Judaism believes that therapeutic abortion, namely abortions performed in order to preserve the life of the mother, are not only permissible but mandatory. The stage of pregnancy does not matter. Wherever there is a question of the life of the mother or that of the unborn child, Jewish law rules in favor of preserving the life of the mother. The status of the fetus as human life does not equal that of the mother.

I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs. Why are you asking me to adopt yours?

And finally, Mr. Speaker, I'm flattered that you're all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.

Jun 16, 2012

Fingerprints of the Neanderthals

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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As discussed, a recent discovery attributes what is possibly the world's oldest art not to Homo sapiens but to Neanderthals.With results of the finished study now published in Science, comes a more thorough reassessment of Neanderthals and their place in prehistory.

Several times in the past 10 years scientists have had to rewrite the textbooks on Neanderthals, the latest species of human to go extinct. Once the archetype for primitive, uncivilised behaviour, the species, illuminated through fossil excavations and lately analysis of their genome, has emerged as being not too dissimilar from our own.

Contrary to their dim-witted image Neanderthals have been found to have used tools, to have worn jewellery, and, lastly, to have interbred with our Homo sapiens ancestors to such an extent that 4% of every modern European's genome is traceable to Neanderthal origins.

In my lifetime, Neanderthals have gone from being an early stage in human evolution, to a totally separate species, to a coexisting subspecies that interbred with Homo sapiens. This is what I mean when I say that good science -- and the past itself -- is self-revising. Many of our assumptions about Neanderthals merit reexamination. It is now clear that they were not the stupid distant cousins of proto-humans. They appear to have been at least as intelligent and creative as our direct forebears. And it may well be that even some of the cave art that has been attributed to Paleolithic humans was actually the creation of Neanderthals.

Jun 15, 2012

Church Fights Legislative Battle Against Its Victims

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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Just when I thought I couldn't be any more sickened by the Catholic Church's handling of its sex abuse crisis, comes a New York Times piece on their ongoing war against the victims of abuse that they enabled for generations. This particular battle is being fought on the legislative front. As more and more states consider extending or eliminating statutes of limitations for civil and/or criminal litigation, the Church is mobilizing to decrease their own legal exposure.

The Church is pulling out all the stops, deploying not only priests and bishops, but parishioners, lobbyists, and publicists. Hiring pros gets expensive but I guess when you've already paid out billions in settlements, and dioceses like Milwaukee are facing bankruptcy, it's a drop in the bucket. Their primary argument predictably revolves around reliability of evidence. As Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference told the State Legislature:

“How can an institution conceivably defend itself against a claim that is 40, 50 or 60 years old?” Mr. Brannigan said. “Statutes of limitation exist because witnesses die and memories fade.”

Yep. Cold cases are hard to prosecute. But statutes of limitation are based largely on the severity of the crime as weighed against the difficulty of prosecution. So it comes down to just how seriously we take the sexual abuse of children. There is no statute of limitations on murder even though "witnesses die and memories fade" and some of us see sex abuse as comparable. Some survivors will tell you that murder would have been kinder.

Jun 14, 2012

Carrie Underwood on Marriage Equality

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I'm not even entirely clear about who Carrie Underwood is. I don't follow pop country and American Idol makes me puke, so she's just never been on my radar. But at this moment I'm loving her. A number of evangelicals aren't, apparently. And only time will tell if she faces the sort of backlash Dixie Chick Natalie Maines did when she dared to speak her mind on controversial subjects. But Carrie Underwood has come out as unabashedly pro-gay marriage.

"As a married person myself, I don't know what it's like to be told I can't marry somebody I love, and want to marry," she said. "I can't imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love."

Yeah. You know how Christians are supposed to be all about love? And make no mistake. Underwood is a deeply committed Christian.

She said, however, that her liberal attitude towards same-sex marriage comes because of her Christian values, rather than in spite of them. Though raised a Baptist, a church that tends to oppose homosexuality, Underwood and her husband Mike Fisher, a professional ice-hockey player, now worship in a non-denominational congregation.

"Our church is gay friendly," she said. "Above all, God wanted us to love others. It's not about setting rules, or [saying] 'everyone has to be like me'. No. We're all different. That's what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other. It's not up to me to judge anybody."

Jun 13, 2012

A Galaxy Far, Far Away

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Japanese astronomers claim to have found the oldest galaxy, competing with other claims yet to be confirmed.

The Japanese team calculates its galaxy was formed 12.91 billion light-years ago, and their research will be published in the Astrophysical Journal. The scientists with the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan used the Subaru and Keck telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea.

. . .

Richard Ellis of the California Institute of Technology, an influential expert in cosmology and galaxy formation, said the latest work as more convincing than some other galaxy discoveries.

He said the Japanese claim is more "watertight," using methods that everyone can agree on. But he said it's not much of a change from a similar finding by the same team last year.

. . .

Current theory holds that the universe was born of an explosion, called the Big Bang, about 13.7 billion years ago. So astronomers using the most powerful telescopes available are peering deeper and deeper into that dawn of the universe.

Jun 12, 2012

Dead Emperor's Army Grows

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The troop strength of the Terracotta Army guarding China's first emperor proves to be greater than thought, as 110 more warriors are unearthed.

The life-size figures were excavated near the Qin Emperor's mausoleum in China's northern Xi'an city over the course of three years, and archaeologists also uncovered 12 pottery horses, parts of chariots, weapons and tools, the official said.

. . .

Shen said experts had expected the colours on some of the warriors and wares uncovered at the site to have faded over the centuries, and were surprised to see how well preserved they still were.

The finds also included a shield that was reportedly used by soldiers in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), with red, green and white geometric patterns.

Qin Shihuang - the Qin emperor who had the army built - presided over the unification of China in 221 BC and is seen as the first emperor of the nation.


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"Why Shamanism Now?" with Christina Pratt

Nourishing Destiny

The summer solstice is a time of fullness, expression, and manifestation in the physical world. And yet, in the frenzy of summer vacations, weekend get-aways, summer lovers, and the drug-infused blaze of Burning Man we forget entirely why we are here. Join host and shaman, Christina Pratt, and remember. It is our habit as contemporary people to go toward excess and indulgence: to spend too much, out reach our grasp, and start off where we have not yet begun. This is the misunderstanding of the great, warm wealth of summer, the waste of our true yang resources. We must learn to invest well in the seeds of our authentic true nature offered up by our Dreamer Manifestor and planted in the earth ritual at the spring equinox. Summer is the time of the Heart, of full sun, and of the god/goddess united at the Solstice. Before you light the traditional Solstice fire to dance, rejoice, and celebrate life with your community, consider the plants of purpose you are tending. What do you love enough to bring to life? It is time to nourish your destiny with the deep songs, longings, and visions of your heart and your own inner reflection of Divine Unity.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 11:00 AM Pacific

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All episodes are now available in the iTunes Podcast Library.

Jun 11, 2012

Zombie Apocalpyse: An Archetypal Journey

Article first published as Zombie Apocalpyse: An Archetypal Journey on Blogcritics.

A spate of cannibalistic attacks has raised public fears to such an extent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had to address concerns with assurances that the "CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead (or one that would present zombie-like symptoms)." It doesn't help that almost exactly one year ago they put out Zombie Apocalypse guidelines, in a strange and darkly prescient attempt to engage the public through humor.

Zombie Apocalypse: It's a funny phrase, evoking the more colloquial meaning of the word apocalypse - which is to say, a gruesome battle, ending the world as we know it. But that is not what the word actually means. Apocalypse comes from the Greek apok√°lypsis and means something more along the lines of "the big reveal" or "lifting of the veil." In that sense, a Zombie Apocalypse is an oxymoron. Zombies are all about ignorance.

Zombies tend to spike in the public imagination when we are struggling against some fear of authoritarian control. They reflect a collective anxiety about being reduced to mindless automatons, animated only by base impulses to eat... and shop. In the Dawn of the Dead movies they spend a lot of time at the mall, glazed over with their need to consume, the same in undeath as in life.

Jun 10, 2012

Vatican Event Loses Out to Soccer in Ireland

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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In 1932 a Eucharistic Congress in Ireland was testament to the power of the country's Catholic faith in freeing them from British rule. Today's Eucharistic Congress marks an attempt to staunch the bleeding from the Church's self-inflicted wounds.

An international conference celebrating Roman Catholicism opened Sunday in Ireland against a backdrop of anger over child abuse cover-ups and evidence of declining faith in core church beliefs.

More than 20,000 Catholics, many from overseas, gathered for an open-air Mass in a Dublin stadium at the start of the Eucharistic Congress, a weeklong event organized by the Vatican every four years in a different part of the world. The global gathering, begun in the 19th century and last held in Quebec in 2008, highlights the Catholic Church's belief in transubstantiation, the idea that bread and wine transforms during Mass into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.

An opinion poll of Irish Catholics found that two-thirds of Irish Catholics don't believe this, nor do they attend Mass weekly. The survey, published last week in The Irish Times with an error margin of 3 points, also found that just 38 percent believe Ireland today would be in worse shape without its dominant church. And just three-fifths even knew the Eucharistic Congress was coming to Ireland.

Ireland is becoming a secular country where the Church's big, international event has been eclipsed by Sunday's soccer game. What a difference eighty years and a sex abuse scandal of epic proportions makes.

Jun 7, 2012

Mammoths of the Midwest

Mammoth mammoth bones are being retrieved from an Iowa family's backyard after their accidental discovery of a four foot femur.

The bone was discovered two years ago, and now the family's quiet home in Oskaloosa has turned into a bustling excavation site, where the bones are kept in the living room, according to ABC-affiliate ABC5-WOI in Des Moines. The University of Iowa Museum of Natural History reportedly has stepped in to oversee the research.

“The size of this discovery is quite uncommon,” Sarah Horgen, the museum's education coordinator, told ABC News. “It’s pretty exciting-–partially because the mammoth is being discovered where it died. And we know that because we’re finding very large bones right alongside very small bones.”

The mammoth bones, reported to be at least 12,000 years old, were found about 10 feet underground. "The conditions of the bones were ideal," archaeologist Marlin Ingalls of the Iowa State Archeologist's office told The Huffington Post.

Jun 6, 2012

Vampire Graveyard

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Iron rods? I thought they had to be wooden stakes. Clearly I've seen too many movies. 

Archaeologists in Bulgaria have found two medieval skeletons pierced through the chest with iron rods to supposedly stop them from turning into vampires.

The discovery illustrates a pagan practice common in some villages up until a century ago, say historians.

People deemed bad had their hearts stabbed after death, for fear they would return to feast on humans' blood.

Similar archaeological sites have also been unearthed in other Balkan countries.

Views of Venus

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Well, we missed it. Nothing but clouds and rain here. But thanks to the magic of technology, voilà ici!

More viewing options and information can be found here.

Amish Hate Crime Case Going Forward

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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Every so often you read a legal decision so clear, so lucid, that, for a moment, all the lights in the room seem brighter. Such language issued from Judge Dan Polster in his dismissal of the First Amendment claim of the sixteen Amish men accused of a hate crime against other Amish victims. In short, Judge Polster found that an assault based on sectarian differences can be charged as a hate crime.

"In fact, violent acts of the kind charged in the superseding indictment are designed to punish individuals who exercise their religious beliefs, or to chill others from doing so," he wrote.

. . .

"By the Defendants' logic, a violent assault by a Catholic on a Protestant, or a Sunni Muslim on a Shiite Muslim, or an Orthodox Jew on a non-Orthodox Jew, would not be prohibited by this statute," Polster wrote.

It's just beautiful logic and completely demystifies defense attorney Dean Carro's argument that "intrareligous actions" are not covered under the law.

Jun 5, 2012

Vatican Explains It All For Sister Margaret Farley

Article first published as Vatican Explains It All for Sister Margaret Farley on Blogcritics.

I can't remember when or how I learned that a great many nuns were not so down with the Catholic Church's rules on abortion and birth control. It may even have been from my grandmother who, like many women of her social station and era, did a lot of charity work. She was nothing if not pragmatic and she saw the hard reality of women living in poverty who can't plan their pregnancies. My grandmother was far more tolerant than many of her generation when it came to reproductive rights.

Nuns do a lot of outreach in poor communities and they have a better view of that toxic alchemy than does much of the greater society. And I dare say, they understand it a far sight better than do the men of the Church - especially in the hallowed halls of the Vatican. To the nuns who are working directly with women in crisis, there is nothing abstract or idealized about the birth control question. They see the toll of teen pregnancy, rape, incest - the endless cycle of abuse and exploitation from which so many women and girls in poverty have little insulation or means for recourse. They see the toll of ignorance that arises from the curtailing of sex education - yet another casualty of the culture wars.

In a way that it never has in dealing with the sex abuse crisis, the Vatican is cracking down on these uppity nuns who aren't toeing the Church line. The main issues seem to be support from nuns on Obama's health care plan, their lack of full-fledged homophobia, and something the Church calls "radical feminist" ideas. I guess that means supporting anything that doesn't keep women barefoot and pregnant. Oh, and any whisper of women's ordination, which, if you'll recall, Pope Benedict has named a "grave crime" on par with sexual abuse.

Today: Venus Transit 2012

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

It won't be visible from Earth again until 2117. Today the planet Venus will transit the sun and astute sky watchers in the Northern Hemisphere will see it as a tiny black dot moving across the sun's surface.

Transits of Venus happen in pairs eight years apart, with more than a century between cycles. During the pass, Venus appears as a small, dark round spot moving across the face of the sun, like a bug on a dinner plate.

. . .

Tuesday's transit, which bookends a 2004-2012 pair, begins at 6:09pm EDT (2209 GMT) and lasts for six hours and 40 minutes. Times can vary by seven minutes depending on the location of the observer.

Skywatchers on seven continents, including Antarctica, will be able to see all or part of the Venus transit, which should only be observed with telescopes outfitted with solar filters to protect the eyes.

MSNBC has detailed information on how the sun can be viewed safely.


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Around the Web, Around the World

"Why Shamanism Now?" with Christina Pratt

Loneliness and Solitude

Loneliness and isolation have risen sharply in America over the past couple of decades, a trend exacerbated by the time and energy we spend cultivating our vast, but shallow social networks through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Loneliness is an internal psychological state that is not fundamentally changed by external conditions. "When loneliness rises to the surface of our awareness it is an internal voice calling us into solitude and honest self connection," explains host and shaman, Christina Pratt. "It means we are avoiding the very self we are looking for outside of ourselves liking on Facebook and following on Twitter." When we have the courage of heart to turn inward, into the loneliness, solitude, and the inner self we have isolated, we can change the fundamental conditions of our psychological state. If we restore our intimate connection with that inner self, we restore our appetite for intimacy and authentic connection with others in the world. Shamanic healing, which bypasses the psychology and moves from the heart, allows us to find the stamina to move through our loneliness and to create the fruitful solitude necessary to develop soul satisfying connections in our inner and outer flesh and blood worlds.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 11:00 AM Pacific

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Why Shamanism Now? on Co-Creator Network
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Jun 3, 2012

Warren Jeffs: Born Again Feminist?

Sure, there's a certain train wreck quality to it all, but I kind of wish people would stop giving Warren Jeffs's deranged ramblings so much ink.

"Let women be free, to be educated, to have full law protection from abuse, ye nations." (Verse 9 of the revelation of Sunday, May 13, 2012 at the State Prison in Palestine, Texas.)

. . .

How striking that a man convicted in Texas of molesting little girls is now calling on nations to protect little girls -- all women actually. "Full law protection." Yup. That's what he said.

Can I get an "Amen?"

We shall see how faithful his followers are. 

Except that child molesters don't think they're abusing children. It's true love. They say things like, "I would never hurt a child."

Scientism at CERN

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I've long been a little chary about the Large Hadron Collider. I don't know if it really could open up a black hole and "swallow the earth" as some critics fear. But I also don't know that it couldn't -- law of unintended consequences and all that. It just takes on a whole new level of seriousness when you're tinkering around with the building blocks of the universe. There's more than a whiff of hubris that comes from CERN.

On the one hand, I'm sort of relieved that they're winding this grand experiment down. On the other, I kind of can't believe the arrogance of their stated position in doing so. According to CERN director Ralph Heuer:

We will know by the end of this year whether it exists or whether it is non-existent.

Except you can't prove a negative unless the positive is already known. I can prove there's no milk in my cereal bowl because I know what milk is and where my bowl is. But if I've never seen milk, I really can't. In point of fact, all they can know at the end of the year is whether or not they've proved the existence of the Higgs Boson or whether it will remain a mystery for the time being. You can't prove the non-existence of the God Particle any more than you can prove the non-existence of God -- a concept that continues to confuse dogmatic atheists. Not everything can be measured empirically. To say otherwise is the very definition of scientism. And to assume that because you haven't proved something when you've reached the limits of existing knowledge and technology is to damn the future. If science isn't self-revising it isn't science anymore.

I don't know why I'm a little stunned at the arrogance coming out of CERN considering the nature of this experiment... but I am.

Jun 1, 2012

The Gospel of Hate

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Have you heard the good news? No homos in heaven! Hallelujah!

Come on. Sing it with me. Such a clever little ditty.

I know the the Bible's right
Somebody’s wrong
I know the Bible's right
Somebody's wrong
Romans 1 and 27
Ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven

From the mouths of babes, my friend. From the mouths of babes.

"And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet." ~ Romans 1:27

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