Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Music - Hallelujah! Holiday Loot!

Now that the Holiday rush is over, the presents have been opened and everyone is mostly recovered from the feasting - it's time for a bit of fun!

Check out Edward Current's collaborative effort with composer/producer Steven Clark. An updated and hilarious version of Handel's Messiah!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - Fantastic Fantasia!

Today is the birthday of someone very special - and in honor of this special day, I have a special treat for your Thorsday Tonic.

From the classic Disney movie "Fantasia", 1940 edition. Beethoven's "Pastorale" ( 6th Symphony), performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of conductor Leopold Stokowski.

Happy Birthday, Dearest!

And Happy Boxing Day to All!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Music - White Christmas

via bitybooo

For your Monday Music - a clever remix of Michael Bublé with Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas".

Quote for the win:

"I promised my mom that I would be singing with you and...I have the technology!"


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The December Solstice

At 6:11 GMT (11:11 am CST) the north pole reached it's furthest tilt away from the sun, and the planet has achieved it's southern solstice. In the northern hemisphere, we experience the shortest period of daylight of the year, while the southern hemisphere receives its longest day. This is the time of the midnight sun for the south polar region.

As in June, the exact date and time of the December solstice varies from year to year, but it is always on December 20, 21, 22 or 23. Interestingly, because the earth's orbit around the sun is an elliptical pattern, the seasons are not exactly uniform in length. Northerners who love the warmer months will be delighted to learn that spring and summer are slightly longer seasons than winter and fall!

The Shortest Day
by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

For your Saturday Inspiration, here is the final violin concerto in Vivaldi's Four Seasons: Winter.
Performed by violinist Julia Fischer accompanied by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at the National Botanical Gardens in Wales.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Music - Count Your Blessings

Here is your Monday Music: the classic duet performed by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in my favorite holiday film, "White Christmas".

Thanksgiving is just behind us and a New Year approaches. The season of light is also here!

Enjoy the holidays and don't forget to count your blessings!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Per La Mia Bambina

Something special for your Wednesday Wonder. Enjoy!!

Kathleen Battle, who hails from Ohio, (UC conservatory alumnus) - sings O mio babbino caro (O my beloved father) from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

Happy Birthday, mia bambina!


Monday, November 11, 2013

On The Eleventh Day Of the Eleventh Month...

... at the eleventh hour, we will remember.

The Great War - as it was known until the second great war made a mockery of the phrase "Never Again" - dealt a wound to the collective human psyche which can still be felt today. Through stories passed down within families, through questions children ask as they pass poppy-festooned war memorials, through music, poetry and literature composed by people who had survived that time and who sought to process the senselessness and horror of it all, the human toll of that first truly worldwide conflict is remembered today.

In my own hometown, there is a statue of a caribou which was erected in a beautiful park to memorialize the generation of young men who had fallen at Beaumont Hamel on the first day of the devastating Battle of the Somme. Allied forces lost thousands of men during the horrific months-long Somme offensive. The battle was the inspiration for John McCrae's famous poem, "In Flanders Fields". Lesser known, except in Newfoundland, is that the tiny Newfoundland Infantry division of 780 men was among the first ordered over the side on the morning of July 1. 1916, launching the battle to open up the western front. Within hours, only 110 of the Blue Puttees, as they were known, were alive and of those, only 68 were able to stand for roll call the next morning. The loss of more than 500 young men from the tiny population of Newfoundland was a wound so deep that it underlines all war memorial services in Newfoundland to this day.

There are only five of the bronze caribou statues memorializing the fallen on that day; four of them are in France and Belgium and the fifth is in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Even less well-known, even by Newfoundlanders, is that before being sent to France to await orders as the strategy to open up a western front was pursued by the Allies, the Newfoundland regiment had been fighting at another infamous battlefield - Gallipoli. The Newfoundland regiment had actually been shipped out to Suvla Bay via Egypt in the early years of the war.

For today's Monday Music, I'd like to present a beautiful, moving and haunting song which describes the horror of WW1 from the point of view of an Australian infantryman who served in Gallipoli. The song is a searing and unforgettable reminder of the experiences of all of these "colonial boys" who eagerly stood up to serve King and country. Please take a few moments to listen to this amazing song.

To all who have served and who continue to serve: Thank you.

 The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Now when I was a young man and I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of the drover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915 my country said "Son
It's time to stop rambling, there's work to be done"
And they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war.

And the band played waltzing Matilda
As the ships pulled away from the quay
And amid all the tears, flag waving and cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

And how I remember that terrible day
How our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs to the slaughter.

Johnny Turk was ready, oh he primed himself well
He rained us with bullets and he showered us with shell
And in five minutes flat we were all blown to hell
Nearly blew us all back home to Australia.

But the band played waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the turks burned theirs
And we started all over again

Those who were living just tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
While around me the corpses piled higher

Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I awoke in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done and I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All round the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me.

They collected the crippled, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled in to Circular Key
And I looked at the place where my legs used to be
I thanked Christ there was no one there waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity

And the band played waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared
And turned all their faces away

So now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Renewing their dreams of past glory

I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
The weary old heroes of a forgotten war
And the young people ask "what are they marching for? "
And I ask myself the same question

And the band played waltzing Matilda
And the old men still answer the call
But year after year, the numbers get fewer
Some day none will march there at all

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

- Eric Bogle

Friday, November 8, 2013

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Good Day, Humans.

We had our first real snow on Tuesday.

Oh no, your eyes are not deceiving you

I said "snow".

What is this place?
Warm sun on my face, while the chilly air
lightly whispers against my body. Odd!
I think I like this!

Leaves are still on the shrubbery

and now they are covered with snow!

Scarlet foliage now draped in frosty white;

fluffy white collars on street lamps and railings.

Is this a magic place?

Some days, I think so.

It is a place where seasons flip and twirl

and the morning light shines down

on daily surprises.

I think I like this place.

It is obviously too cold

but still ...

I think I like it.

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

Snow Cat

The tiger stirred from sweet repose
For hunger grew once more...
Despite the cool, cool ice that froze,
The pain began to gnaw...
The boy-twin peers outside, but inside his
silly head thoughts of heroism and
adventure swirl.  He is a feline
Walter Mitty. (sigh)
His eyes now looked with stern intent
At creatures near and far,
Not one of these could be his friend,
For his sharp claws could scar...
He prowled along, with stealth, with guile,
His eyes like black night coals.
His hidden hunger would defile
His soul with evil goals.
He didn't pine for fruit or grass
Like other creatures would...
If he saw them, he'd merely pass
For he sought something good.
To him, that meant some meat to eat
And nothing else seemed right...
For this, he'd chase and he'd compete
With courage and with might!
He looked so sleek, so fit, so firm,
So proud and quite supreme...
Yet he must serve this Winter term
A prisoner to his dream...
The creatures feared him night and day...
They hid when he came close...
To him, they were his meat, his prey...
To them, his life he owes...

- Denis Martindale

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thorsday Tonic - A Better Worldview

P Z Myers posted this CFI ad (embedded below) on Monday. The reviews in the Pharyngula commentariat were somewhat mixed. Some people feel that the emphasis on cheery positivity and assertion that unbelievers "savor every moment" and are all "thrilled to be here" is simplistic and ignores the reality that unbelievers - like all people - come from a variety of life circumstances. Nevertheless, there was a general feeling that it is good to see ads like this which focus on the truth that god-belief is hardly the only way to experience joy, awe or hope.

I am one of the people who liked the ad in spite of its weaknesses, so I am reposting it here, along with the transcript of the ad which CFI provided. I hope we will see it on TV.

Millions of Americans are living happily without religion.

It's really quite simple.

We are the products of the billions of years that came before us, alive and awake for this brief period of time, savoring every moment, and committed to making the world a better place.

We are the human family -- connected. We experience together the human condition, in all of its triumphs and through all of its challenges.

We accept that our lives will end, but we take great joy in knowing that life keeps going.

We celebrate the advances and discoveries that, each day, improve lives, stir our imagination, and stretch the boundaries of the possible.

Ultimately, we know we are a tiny but unique part of the ever-evolving story of life in the cosmos, responsible for living our lives with honesty, dignity, compassion, and truth.

We also know it is a magnificent story, and we are thrilled to be here.

We are secular humanists, and we are living happily without religion.

Learn more at Living Without Religion.

Video produced by Seth Andrews, host of The Thinking Atheist

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday Tonic - Bob Newhart AND Bill Nye!

Ok, comedy fans - and science geeks, too! - this has got to be the best thing ever.

Last month, CBS announced that Bob Newhart would be returning to Big Bang Theory to reprise his guest role as Professor Proton, a TV personality and Sheldon Cooper's childhood hero. In September, Newhart won an Emmy for the guest role and it looks like CBS is smart enough to know a great thing when it sees it (unlike the luddites who have snubbed Bob Newhart over the past 5 decades when he was doing some of the greatest work in television comedy in one hilarious series after another, yet was always passed over at Emmy time).

On Thursday, November 7, Professor Proton returns!

But wait, it gets better! Not only will Bob Newhart reprise his Professor Proton for Thursday night's episode but, in their infinite wisdom, the BBT producers have also managed to bring in Bill Nye, the Science Guy (playing himself) as Proton's arch-nemesis! This is going to be epic!

Bob Newhart, Bill Nye and Big Bang Theory - it's a science geek/comedy trifecta!

Get your popcorn and settle in to watch (or cue up the DVR!) Thursday night's episode!

(to warm you up and/or hold you until Thursday night, check out the scene below):

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Good Day, Humans.

What a to-do last night!

I believe there was some kind of madness in the air.

Tiny humans running door to door,

shrieking and calling for treats.
The scene at this establishment last night.
Why ever did young humans interpret this
as an invitation? Sssssssilly humansss!

Or was it tricks?

I don't remember.

Anyway, who cares?

I was disturbed from my siesta.

Today, I must recover.

I shall lie down here and rest.

I will think of Eliot's wise words,

and listen to beautiful music.

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

“With Cats, some say, one rule is true:
Don’t speak till you are spoken to.
Myself, I do not hold with that —
I say, you should ad-dress a Cat.
But always keep in mind that he
Resents familiarity.
I bow, and taking off my hat,
Ad-dress him in this form: O Cat!
But if he is the Cat next door,
Whom I have often met before
(He comes to see me in my flat)
I greet him with an oopsa Cat!
I think I've heard them call him James —
But we've not got so far as names.”
― T.S. Eliot, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Isn't That Just Ducky!

Hello there!

I have a new sweater!

It's a pumpkin sweater!

I like wearing my pumpkin sweater.

I'm wearing it for Hallowe'en!

I think it might be lucky

to wear my pumpkin sweater

as we walk on the trails.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Isn't that just Ducky!


If you are superstitious you'll never step on cracks.
When you see a ladder you will never walk beneath it.
And if you ever spill some salt you'll thrown some 'cross your back,
And carry' round a rabbit's foot just in case you need it.
You'll pick up any pin that you find lying on the ground,
And never, never, ever throw your hat upon the bed,
Or open an umbrella when you are in the house.
You'll bite your tongue each time you say
A thing you shouldn't have said.
You'll hold your breath and cross your fingers
Walkin' by a graveyard,
And number thirteen's never gonna do you any good.
Black cats will all look vicious, if you're superstitious,
But I'm not superstitious (knock on wood).

- Shel Silverstein

Happy Hallowe'en!

It's that time of year again!  The holiday that children love more than almost any other - Hallowe'en!
They get to wear a costume, go outside after dark with droves of other children, surprise and stump their neighbors and collect bucketsful of candy. What is not to love?

For your Thorsday Tonic today, in honor of the special day, here is a great little animated video which captures some of the fun of Hallowe'en while delivering one of my favorite pieces of music in one delightful package!

via hshawn00,  Camille Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Good Day, Humans.

Autumn is settling in and there is a nip in the air.

Really, I am being too kind.

Most mornings it is frigid out there.

I need a little comfort, a little escape.

I know! I will listen to a favorite poem.

You may watch and listen, too.

You're welcome.

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey, and plenty of money
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy, O Pussy, my love,
   What a beautiful Pussy you are,
            You are,
            You are!
   What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl,
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
Oh! let us be married; too long we have tarried,
   But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the bong-tree grows;
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
            His nose,
            His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
            The moon,
            The moon,
   They danced by the light of the moon.

- by Edward Lear

via Carol Rainbow

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nifty TBT - Coming Out As An Atheist

Come on in - the water's fine!

"It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price ... One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying." Morris West, The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1963.

On Facebook, people post old photos on Thursdays for "Throwback Thursday". I love looking at them, and I love that they remind people of important times in the past. I thought it would be fun to occasionally do a blog TBT. By reposting old blog posts to remind NiftyReaders of important ideas discussed in the past, maybe I can kickstart more discussion: how long have we been thinking about this or that issue? Has anything changed since the earlier discussion?  I had the idea earlier this month, but it was reading another blog today which helped me decide which old post to begin the series of TBT posts.

As of a few months ago, about 28% of those who supported marriage equality had changed their minds. Where once they opposed it, now they support it. A Pew poll asked them why they changed their minds and the results were very interesting. The largest group by far, 37%, said they changed their minds because they have friends, family members or acquaintances who are gay or lesbian. And that is true of other gay rights issues as well. Knowing a gay person or, more importantly, knowing that they know gay people, changes minds and changes beliefs.
This is exactly why it’s equally important for atheists to come out of the closet too, if it’s safe for them to do so... Ed Brayton, "Why Coming Out Matters", FreethoughtBlogs, October 24, 2013.

Ed Brayton's post this morning on his blog Dispatches from the Culture Wars, points to the importance of "coming out of the closet" - whether you are LGBTQ or a feminist or an atheist - and he posts some statistical evidence to back it up! This is something that several atheists have spoken about before, including me. For the first NiftyTBT, here is my July 2012 post on coming out as an atheist:

Get out of hot water FREE!
Millions of people the world over are atheist but only a tiny fraction of these people publicly identify as such for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons are that either they do not realise that they are atheist or they are afraid to acknowledge that they are atheist. Because of the harm that they see being caused by the power that religious dogma is given in society, some atheists become frustrated and discouraged about the number of closeted atheists in our midst, and sometimes their frustration spills out in accusations of hypocrisy - which sometimes pushes the closeted atheists more deeply into the closet.

I am an atheist who sometimes reaches that boiling point of mingled frustration, irritation and discouragement. Like most atheists, I used to be religious and like most atheists, I know only too well how hard it can be to let go of the security of a belief system inculcated from childhood - and which for many of us is intimately entwined with our identities, our families and our entire community support networks. If religion was a benign force in the world, as many closeted atheists clearly must still believe it to be, there would never be any reason to come out as an atheist.

But, religion is not a benign force in the world. Religion wreaks havoc on efforts to promote world peace. Religion mandates that women be treated as less than fully human, enshrining in its "holy books" the misogyny that permeates human culture and providing a "divine" justification for the oppression of half of humankind. Religion fosters - even insists upon - religious and racial bigotry. Religion suppresses and tries to destroy sources of human knowledge which threaten its power. It is accorded a level of obsequious acceptance and awarded a degree of power and influence that would be unthinkable for any other unelected, nontransparent entity in a modern, democratic society.

The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church. Ferdinand Magellan

The deference that is paid to religion has real consequences for humanity. In addition to the sectarian violence that rages all over the world, religious groups seek to stop scientific research which could yield outstanding new medical treatments that would greatly alleviate human suffering. Religion demands the "right" to decide for all of society what is moral and what ought to be legal, even when there is no consensus even among religionists on what is actually moral and what actually ought to be legal. It is inimical to individual freedom. Religion schemes and strategizes to persuade - through fear, bigotry and misinformation - just enough people to vote in favor of their agenda, thus turning a democratic Republic into a putative theocracy where a simple majority of religiously-influenced voters can take away human rights from women and minorities by anonymously pulling a lever in a ballot box.

Faith is essentially intolerant ... essentially because necessarily bound up with faith is the illusion that one's cause is also God`s cause. Ludwig von Feuerbach

Are you a closeted atheist?  Incredible though it may sound, it is possible not to realize that one is actually atheist. There is no shame or hypocrisy in it. While it is true that religion's greatest source of energy comes via true believers, religious leaders know that the number of zealous true believers is too small to secure real power in a culture, so they rely on the large moderate majority to protect and enable them to achieve their goals.  To that end, the strategic tool of childhood indoctrination and enormous social pressure to conform to "tradition", coupled with the more liberal mainline Christian ethics of the post WW2 western world, ensures that millions of people feel more comfortable continuing to identify as "believers" - even though they know on at least some level that they do not, really, believe everything that their religion tells them is ultimate truth. 

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means. George Bernard Shaw

Cultural believers are trying to have it both ways. Those who believe that there are many pathways to God, and who sincerely believe that their religion is one of love or peace, tend to reject the actual religion found in holy scripture and embodied by the fundamentalists of their faith. They wish both to believe and disbelieve. They wish to align themselves with the best of the modern, liberal religious sensibility - which is secular humanism by a more acceptable name - while denying the reality of the message in the dominant faith traditions.  They tell themselves that people who are intolerant of spiritual differences or who fight to deny others the freedom to develop and live by their own religious and moral values are not "true" Christians. They are uncomfortable with the way the religious right oppresses minority groups, but they stop short of taking effective action to push back against it. In the end, they support their extreme co-religionists because of their shared religious heritage - sometimes actively but more often just passively through doing nothing, keeping their heads down and continuing to enjoy whatever it is that their own church community gives them.  These people unintentionally form the cultural bulwark of reasonable, moderate, kind and compassionate religion which provides cover for fundamentalists with their unreasonable, extreme, cruel and oppressive agendas. 

The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. George Bernard Shaw

Did you just say you
 don't believe in God?
Easier to understand are the millions of people who do know they are atheist but who are too afraid to come out of the closet. One does not have to look far or for very long to find evidence of the socialpolitical and personal cost that open atheism can bring to an individual. The fear that many closeted atheists feel is genuine and completely rational. In many parts of the world, open atheism can get you persecuted, arrested and even executed. In the western world, atheists are openly vilified, compared to rapists, pedophiles and psychopaths and are discriminated against socially, politically and economically. Being openly atheist can cost you your friends, family and community. It will mean you will probably never be able to hold public office. It could cost you your job. It could cost you your safety and peace of mind.

And yet, by remaining silent, are we in the western world really safeguarding ourselves and our children? 

Just fifty years ago, before the global resurgence of religious fundamentalism, most of the developed world and much of the developing world was moving slowly but surely toward modernity. Most of the world had explicit goals for educational and social progress, including countries which today are rued by fundamentalist religious regimes. Universities, modern medicine and infrastructure and international trade were on the rise, and societies were proudly producing post-war generations eager to participate in the explosion of scientific and technological discovery that marked the second half of the twentieth century. But scientific achievement and progressive social and educational reform threatens religious elites and the rise of fundamentalism soon followed the brief, shining period of progress.  

The moderates in these countries did not imagine that the hard-won gains that had been so recently made could be rolled back. They did not think that the extremists among them could seize control of their countries and push them all back into a new dark age. But it happened. It happened with the unwitting help of the moderates who did not anticipate that while their more extreme co-religionists might only target vulnerable minorities at first, they would inevitably turn their attention to the insufficiently devout within the majority - the moderates themselves. By the time the moderates woke up to what was happening to their countries, it was too late. 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. Nelson Mandela

It is recognition of the ultimate consequences of society's continued acceptance of religious hegemony which prompts atheists to urgently challenge closeted atheists to take a stand for humanity. Insistence on the benignity of belief systems which wreak havoc on world peace, which mandate the oppression of women and which demean and discredit the highest achievements of humankind is irrational and destructive, even if the motive for doing so makes perfect sense to the moderate majority which is scrambling to protect its own cherished privileges and traditions.

The benefits that closeted atheists receive from their church communities are outweighed by the harm that religion is doing to those same communities and to the societies which they influence, to the earth via support for climate change denial through anti-science anti-intellectualism and to the whole of humanity through hatred, bigotry and the implacable religious drive for theological supremacy. Our fear of ostracism today ought to be outweighed by our concern about the kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. By coming out of the closet, atheists, agnostics and secular humanists will encourage each other to see that we already have the numbers to support thriving human communities, based upon better ideas than fear and misogyny.

In a world that is as oppressively and even violently dominated by religion as ever in human history, it may take more courage - even in societies which claim to protect religious freedom (for now) - than the average person can muster to come out as an atheist. 

And yet, I am asking you to do it.

We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face... we must do that which we think we cannot.
Eleanor Roosevelt

Some recommended reading:

The cost of staying in the closet. MarieAlena Castle, Atheists For Human Rights, 

Coming out of the closet,  Eric Jeffries,

Religious Moderation Enables Religious Fundamentalism,

The Clergy Project, a confidential online community for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs. The Clergy Project launched on March 21st, 2011.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris, 2004.

The God Delusion,  Richard Dawkins, 2006.

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, 2007.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Music - Heart of Hearts

To celebrate their 20th anniversary last year (2012), Newfoundland's legendary fok/rock band, Great Big Sea, released this new song "Heart of Hearts".

This is the accompanying video featuring the b'ys interacting with clips from GBS videos from over the years.

For your Monday Music, Great Big Sea: Heart of Hearts.  Enjoy!

Heart of Hearts

I drove a million miles with you,
I broke a million smiles with you;
I told a million lies with you,
What else could I do?

We answered every siren's call,
We watched the stars collide and fall;
Stood back to back against the wall,
We ran before we crawled.

All together now until the end,
When this story's over a new one begins;
In my heart of hearts,
There's a special place,
For every man who shook my hand,
And every girl who kissed my face;
In my heart of hearts there hides no shame,
In my heart of hearts I'd do it all again.

You always said you were the lucky one,
You always said the night had just begun;
We always stayed up till the morning sun,
And whistled something to the dawn.

All together now until the end,
When this story's over a new one begins;
And in my heart of hearts,
There's a special place,
For every man who shook my hand,
And every girl who kissed my face;
In my heart of hearts there hides no shame,
In my heart of hearts I'd do it all again.

Never had a destination or a protocol in mind,
Never had a chart to guide us down the tide;
Never had no money, but I always had the time,
To finish all your lines.

So far behind us, so far to go,
A melody reminds us what we've always known:
Time will never find us in the secrets of the show,
Up or down the road, so on we go.

All together now until the end,
When this story's over a new one begins;
And in my heart of hearts,
There's a special place,
For every man who shook my hand,
And every girl who kissed my face;
In my heart of hearts there hides no shame,
In my heart of hearts I'd do it all again.
In my heart of hearts I'd do it all again.
In my heart of hearts I'd do it all again.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

It's Cloud Illusions All The Time

Both Sides Now

Rows and flows of angel hair
and ice cream castles in the air
and feather canyons everywhere,
I've looked at cloud that way
but now they only block the sun,
they rain and snow on everyone
so many things I would have done
but clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it's cloud illusions I recall,
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and ferris wheels,
the dizzy dancing way you feel
as every fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way
but now it's just another show,
you leave 'em laughing when you go
and if you care, don't let them know,
don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now,
from give and take, and still somehow
it's love's illusions I recall,
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud
to say "I love you" right out loud,
dreams and schemes and circus crowds,
I've looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange,
they shake their heads, they say I've changed
well, something's lost but something's gained
in living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now,
from win and lose, and still somehow
it's life's illusions I recall,
I really don't know life at all.

- Joni Mitchell

(In loving memory: MTG October 16, 1933 - June 6, 2009)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Welcome, Little One!

Today is the two week birthday of a very precious baby. In honor of the new arrival, I'd like to share the song linked below. Tim Baker's incomparable lyrics capture the feelings that so many of us "elders" experience as we welcome a new generation into this beautiful, exhilarating, terrifying, wonderful world that we all share.

From everyone in the NiftyUniverse:

Welcome to the world, little one!

Welcome   -lyrics, Tim Baker

You'll be a bright light coming out of the dark
All the doctors blinking hard
You'll be lightning coming out of the storm
Like a message, like a miracle

You will do all right
You've got your mother's eyes
You've got your daddy's head
Everything you need

For this hard ride
They'll be strapping you on
All the ups and downs and you can't get off
Yes, trouble we're handing off
And you've got to do better than us

It'll be all right
You've got lots of time
You've got your daddy's love
Everything you want

I can feel you and what you're gonna be
You'll be stronger, you'll be smarter than me
Oh baby, I'll say it again
You're the most incredible thing

I'm sorry, this is it
It's cold and hard and badly lit
And there's no backing out of it
So forget where you've been
It'll never be that good again
And we must only look ahead
Soon you're 33
And everything you tried to be
Is pulled apart by fear and greed

So do I welcome you to it?
Sing let the goddamn games begin
'Cause the god that gives deliverance
Has this thing for disappearing, kid

When they're fighting on the beaches' heads
The five am to Winnipeg
The nights of fights and poison pits
The needle edge of old regret
But the wind will always shift again
And the breath beneath your epaulettes
Is strength enough to carry this.

Let young hands build you up
Carve your face in honest rock
With sunlight on your noble jaw
May young hands build you up
I'm happy that you've come along
I'm happy that you've come, I'm happy that you've come

Oh baby, I'll say it again
I'll say it again, I'll say it
You're the most incredible thing

There is a rough live version of the song performed by its creators, Hey Rosetta! here. It has an honesty and humanity - literally a circle of friends sharing the welcome - that I really wanted to express in my personal welcome to our sweet new baby.

The live version below is sublime (you will want it for your Ipod, I swear). Turn up the volume, take it to full screen and enjoy.

via Hey Rosetta!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday Tonic - Bandages

I've posted this song before. It's a great song, and now here it is again with a wonderful and very original video.

I had to ask myself - should this be a Monday Music or a Tuesday Tonic?  It is both music and a tonic, but since the song has already been featured on Monday Music, here it is today as your Tuesday Tonic.

Give yourself a gift - take 6 minutes out of your day, click on the video and watch it full screen with the sound turned right up. It is visual and auditory food for the spirit. It starts out pensive but finishes with an exuberantly life-affirming party!


It will come around
but everything is now
I know everything is right now

And the loneliness is a lot
the nothing weighs a ton
I mean the nothing weighs a fucking ton

That half of the bed
empty like a page
all the cursive claims you've yet to make

All the promising lines
bending like her spine
oh the whiteness that your pen could write

If you get these bandages off
you can stand, you can walk
leave these towels and gauze
you'll get up, you'll get out
into the sun

That's where we belong
we've been abed too long
all our weaknesses are growing strong

But the winter always ends
with water on your lips
the april rain comes swinging in

Get these bandages off
let me stand, let me walk
leave these towels and gauze
let me up, let me out
into the sun

Cause come she will
Oh come she will

She comes oh
she comes son
she comes...

- Tim Baker

Monday, October 7, 2013

Monday Music - In The Hall of the Mountain King

For your Monday Music - something to get your blood pumping!

Berliner Philamoniker performs Edvard Grieg's In The Hall of the Mountain King (from Peer Gynt Suite).

Turn up the sound and enjoy a sublime 2 1/2 minutes!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The ACA - Health Reform Explained

Today's Nifty PSA is pretty self-explanatory. Most of us haven't a sweet clue what the Affordable Care Act really says. This video helps to shed light on some of the mystery and misconceptions.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tuesday Tonic - Make Your One Life Extraordinary!

"I was not argued out of faith - I was inspired out of it." Brandon Fibbs 

For your Tuesday Tonic today: a special treat from Plumbline Pictures. The elegant, inspirational and beautiful message of this video is only matched by its stunning visual beauty. Bonus: After the main video there is a seven-minute montage of iconic film images.

The video (linked below this post) is in HD. Do yourself a favor: close the office door, turn off your phone, bring the video up on full screen, turn up the volume and soak up the goodness. You'll feel relaxed and restored after this rejuvenating Tuesday Tonic!

Here is a transcript* of the video:

One Life...

As a Christian, I believed, as most persons of faith do,
that this life was temporary,
a sort of proving ground, in which we made ourselves worthy, through our beliefs and our deeds,
for an eternity spent with god in paradise.

The most critical decision anyone could possibly make, was to accept god's redemption
for their broken, sinful nature,
and to love others into the Kingdom of God.
Because this mortal existence was destined to evaporate in the blink of an eye
it was critical to understand the bigger picture
and recognize that only eternity mattered.

Absolutely everything else was superfluous.

All pleasure, all happiness, all love,
even all the good you did in this life
was to be jettisoned
if it in any way distracted you from your heavenly goal.

Pain and hardship was to be endured cheerfully
because the worst of it was nothing compared to the glory that awaited.
This life was merely a foretaste of things to come,
a trial run, an existential impostor, a pale reflection of future glory.

As an atheist, however, I have a very different perspective.

When I gave up a belief in god, I also relinquished any sort of claim on an afterlife
While such a surrender is not, by definition, required by atheism,
I have found as much evidence for life beyond death as I have for the god
who supposedly awaits us in it.
As with the concept of god,
I see far more persuasive evidence that the afterlife is an human construction
meant to allow us to pretend we can cheat death
and hold our tenuous mortality at bay.

The afterlife exists only within the pages of our ancient books;
we have no true evidence for it.

We have no reason to believe human beings have eternal souls
or that anything outlives the cessation of our wondrous but constantly degrading biological machinery.

Life is not some sort of launching pad for something greater.
The human story is far simpler
and far more profound:
this is the only life you and I will ever have. Right here. Right now.

The belief in an afterlife cheapens and diminishes the value of this existence,
and dehumanizes the people in it.

It hobbles our ability to live life fully
because we imagine there's something much better waiting in the wings. It's the ultimate greener grass.

If life is eternal, then where is the sense of urgency?
We take our pleasure and our pain less seriously.
Such a belief allows us to downplay our own discomfort, biding our time for relief later.

We consent, we surrender, we settle.

Such a belief gives us the ability to overlook injustice
because an omniscient god sees all and metes out punishment even after death.
But if there is no afterlife,
much less an ultimate judge keeping tally of our sins and transgressions,
it means we are responsible for our own choices, actions and deeds.

You are not some sort of spiritual marionette,
with the forces of good and evil pulling your strings.
No one made you do anything, and no one will absolve you of it later.
You are not born monster,
you become a monster through your own choices.

We must not shirk our responsibility to see justice done in the here and now.

Knowing that this life is all there is pushes you to live well,
not because of some reward or punishment, but because this is all you have.
The truth is, our desire to love brightly,
live fiercely,
hold death at bay
and mourn our dead
shows that, whenever we may claim to believe,
it's not how we actually live.

Look around you.

What you see is all there is or ever will be.
Don't neglect it. Don't trivialize what it offers or who you shares it with you.
The great American poet Walt Whitman said:
"O Me! O life!...of the questions of these recurring What good amid these, O me, O life?
Answer: That you are here, that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse."
George Bernard Shaw said:
"Life isn't about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself."
Some people are terrified at the prospect of creating their own meaning and purpose.

They prefer to have something larger and smarter than themselves in charge.
Others, like myself, find it liberating.

You are the captain of your ship.

Your fate is in your hands.
You carve your own shape from life's marble.
While religion forces you into prescribed molds,
forbidding and punishing those who leak out into other shapes,
a life without faith has no prescribed limits.

Stop allowing religion to permeate you with fear,
and trick you into believing that your life must be lived within the tiny boundaries of suffocating ideology.

Your freewill is not the false freedom religion prescribes.
Don't live as if everything is predestined.
Your steps are not ordered.
You do not have a destiny.

You are not a automaton.

Nothing is written.

This is not terrifying, it is emancipating.

It is one of the great privileges of being human.

Instead of working toward some ephemeral reward,
turn those energies to the here and now.

Seize this empowerment.

Decide for yourself.
Your world is moldable.

You can change it.

It responds to your touch.

Death could come for us at any second.

We are breathtakingly fragile.

Recognize that you are human, that you are mortal,
that your time here, in cosmic terms, is a blip of a blip.
But that is what makes us so precious.

An eternal being is not rare or special.

Instead, our lives are defined by our limitations.

We are exquisite exactly because we are rare,
because we are born, bloom and perish.

And when this life ends-
and it will end for us all, prince and pauper-
all we experienced, all we loved, all we learned, all we changed,
will vanish.

This is not a hopeless situation, as some assert.

It merely transfers importance from there to here.
It exchanges false hope for present actions.

When I die,
my body will disintegrate back into the atoms which make up its constituent parts
I will, once again, become stardust.

I will feed the cosmos,
and I find that breathtaking.

You are but an infinitesimal speck in a Cosmos that has not the agency to know or care of your existence.

And yet, you -finite, fallible you-
are able to take it in, to investigate it,
to examine it, to interrogate it, and even,
to some degree,
to comprehend it.

You possess the most special power of all:
a human brain capable of rational thought.

The ability to reason.

That is what makes you marvelous.

It is what sets you apart from all the other animals sharing this planet with us.

You can peel back mysteries and see the clockwork of the Cosmos.

That should make you feel...


You only get this one chance
this one chance to experience this exquisite planet.

The world is vast and full of wonder.
Replace judgment with curiosity and explore.
Be famished, every day, to learn something new.
Love incandescently and be loved the same in return.
Laugh as often as possible.

Instigate happiness-
for yourself and for those around you.

Aid in transforming the suffering of others whose brief flicker in this universe may be one of pain and anguish.

Stop judging others and trying to control how they live and who they love.

Stop killing time, treading water and running in place.
Stop limiting yourself.
Risk standing out.

Dare to be unique and unfettered.
Dare to dream big and live even bigger.

This is it. This is all you get.

One life.

No exceptions.

It's not for the timid,
but it rewards the bold.
How will you make your life...

- Brandon Fibbs, January 2, 2013

I can hardly believe that this video has only about 6,600 views - I hope NiftyReaders will share the link and do something about that! (This video is a feast for the eyes: the niftiest way to view it is to turn off the CC and just take it all in).

* transcript via transcriptsearch.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday Music - Sisters!

Today's Monday Music break is in honor of my sister, who celebrates a birthday today!

Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen (both parts sung by Rosemary Clooney): Sisters!

Happy Birthday, Sis!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Thank Gods It's FreyaDay!

Good Day, Humans.

It is a glorious early fall day and it ought to be a very good day.

But it is not.


Look at us!

My human has shut us all up in her study to write.

Just look at us! Buried indoors while the sun shines outside!

Do you see that door, Human?

Do you see that glorious sunshine just outside there,

just beyond our reach?

This will not do! I must put my paw down.

Wait! She is getting up! She must have heard my impatient remarks!

She is closing that infernal machine!

We are going outside!

I am always so gratified when my Human listens to my wise words.

Good day, Humans. Yes, it IS a good day!

Thank gods it's FreyaDay!

That's betterrrrrr!

A wish

Of all our sunny world
I wish only for a garden sofa
where a cat is sunning itself.

There I should sit
with a letter at my breast,
a single small letter.
That is what my dream looks like.

- Edith Södergran (1892-1923)
   poet and photographer of cats
   via Cultural Cat

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

It's National Voter Registration Day!

Rachel Maddow reminded her readers this morning that today is National Voter Registration Day. Seems like a very good time for a Nifty PSA!  Here is a little background about the currently dismal track record of our American citizenry regarding the exercise of our right to vote, and a little more about the dangers of allowing that dismal record to continue. Below, you'll find some useful links to learn more. 

"In the United States, voter registration is the responsibility of the people, and only 70 percent of Americans who are eligible to vote have registered." (

Let's do the math: There are more than 300 million citizens of the United States. 30% of 300,000,000 is 90 million people.  Even if only half of those people are over 18 years old and eligible to vote, there would be 45 million eligible voters who have not yet registered to vote.

Among the 70% of eligible citizens who have registered to vote, the number who actually do vote is shockingly low. The per centage of actual voters by age cohort ranges from less than 30% for registered 18-29 year olds, to a high of just over 60% for 60-69 year olds.  There is not a single age cohort from age 18-49 years old which has a voting record of more than 40%.

Why is it that in a nation that fought a historic battle for independence - not to mention the right to representative self-government - so few of the people today actually exercise that right by voting?  In a world where self-government and constitutionally-guaranteed individual freedoms are a rare and precious commodity, it beggars belief that people who have it do not appear to cherish it and fail to guard it vigilantly. The assumption seems to be that gains once made can never be lost. But millions of Americans are confronted with another, grimmer, reality.

"...that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth." (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address)

The underpinning ideal of our democratic republic is that the government is of the people, by the people and for the people, and our method of ensuring this as a people is through our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. The people are empowered to fire legislators who do not represent their best interest. This power of the people is meant to balance the power of the corporate and religious elites who usually succeed in buying control over society - thus using it to further their own ends at the expense of the people - unless they are prevented from doing so by robust legal protections. The great American experiment was the first time in human history that a serious attempt was made to prevent political power from becoming concentrated into a few hands, where it can be abused. Wealthy aristocracies and priestly classes had controlled every society on earth until the American republic came into being. Tearing down the scaffolding which supports gross economic and political inequality is the very foundation of what makes America exceptional and it is the heart and soul of the American Dream. The United States became a beacon of hope and opportunity for ordinary people all over the globe - and it still is today - but the pressure has never ceased from conservative groups determined to return us to the medieval kind of social, political and economic inequality that has historically been the norm for human societies.

The balance of power between regular working people and powerful elites can only be maintained when the people vote. Various laws have been enacted over the centuries to try to protect this balance by protecting the rights of individual citizens against powerful elites, but the tension is always there, with the powerful constantly chipping away at citizen protections. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act  thus opening the door once more to the kind of voter suppression that the powerful can and will force onto the less-powerful whenever it is given the opportunity to do so. Within weeks, several states rushed to pass restrictive voting laws which will disenfranchise thousands of eligible American voters.

These voter suppression laws are written and passed by legislatures filled with representatives hand-picked by enormously powerful and wealthy corporate and religious groups in order to ensure an outcome which will suit their own interests and not those of the people of the United States. In a democratic Republic, the idea that corporate or religious elites could rise to such power and influence that they could establish a de facto feudal economic system and authoritarian theocracy - almost exactly the conditions over which this country fought the War of Independence - is startling.  It should only be possible if a majority of the people allow it to happen, through ignorance, through apathy or through intimidation.

Ignorance and apathy have been manifestly evident everywhere. Even people who vehemently describe themselves as "not racist/classist" nevertheless point to racist/classist justifications for these profoundly unAmerican laws and believe them to be simply "common-sense". The most frequently cited justification for these laws (and denial of their role in voter suppression) is some version of "I can't drive/buy liquor/open a bank account without a driver's license and neither can anyone else so I don't buy the argument that these people can't get a license!"

The claim that one cannot function in society without a license (and therefore it is already necessary for everyone to have one) is false, but there is also a subtler and more deeply disturbing denial of the truth by Voter ID supporters. Most people who support Voter ID refuse to accept the fact that voter fraud is almost non-existent (therefore eliminating the only justification for these dangerous democracy-crushing laws) and they also deny that there is any hardship involved in procuring a driver's license.

The reality is that thousands of Americans neither have a license nor can afford to get one. Many thousands of others choose not to drive and also do not wish to purchase a driver's license.  Many thousands of others are denied a driver's license - due to age or infirmity, for instance. These people can and do function in our society every day. Yet, millions of their fellow citizens are comfortably prepared to strip these citizens of their right to vote.

Gee, you don't suppose there could
be a politically-motivated strategy
behind voter ID laws?
There are fees which must be paid to obtain a driver's license. There are fees to keep the license valid year after year. The licensing process requires documents that many thousands of Americans simply do not have in their possession - original birth certificates, for example. Obtaining these documents costs more money. And time. Usually, obtaining those documents requires providing even more documents or proof which many thousands of Americans either cannot get (because they no longer exist or never existed due to clerical failures), or cannot afford to get because - once again - obtaining official documents always involves paying fees. For many thousands of American citizens, the fees involved are prohibitive. For many thousands more who do not intend to drive a vehicle, the fees are both prohibitive and senseless - why should any American citizen be forced to purchase a driver's license when he or she does not drive?

The "common-sense" apologist for these vote suppression laws argues that it is just one of the expenses that citizens must pay to get the drivers license without which no one can function in American society. The fact is that many thousands of people can and do function in American society without a driver's license, but the ones who do not have one or choose not to have one are being penalized with what is essentially a poll tax - they will be forced to pay for an unwanted or unaffordable piece of ID strictly so that they will not be denied their right to vote.

The argument for the so-called "free" state ID's is similarly flawed. These alternative state voter IDs are not free because in order to fulfill the documentation requirements to get that "free" ID, the citizen must pay numerous fees to obtain that documentation. You can't get the ID without the documentation and you can't get the documentation without paying fees. Once again, if the only reason to purchase these documents is to obtain the "free" state ID in order to exercise your right to vote, then that ID is a poll tax by another more politically correct name. These laws unfairly target the poor, the young and the elderly. It is the young and the poor that voter suppression advocates would really like to shut down, and with the help of the Supreme Court, they may very well succeed.

Will the American people allow this to happen?

Don't just stand there... do it!
When all eligible voters in the country perform their civic duty at every election, and when all eligible voters make it their business to stay informed about the issues that face the nation, then it becomes far more difficult for any one group, no matter how well-organized and determined, to seize control of the government. That is what Americans must do.

Make sure you are registered to vote. Don't assume that you are registered. During the 2012 primaries, thousands of people were shocked to discover that their names had been stricken from the voter lists without their knowledge. Florida has purged nearly 200,000 names from its voter list, including seniors and veterans and it continues to purge. Pennsylvania tried to deny voting rights to nearly 10% of its eligible citizens. The 2013 ruling by SCOTUS has opened the door to further restrictions which could prevent tens of thousands of eligible voters in dozens of states from exercising their right to vote. That is the intended outcome behind these laws: there really are groups of your fellow citizens who feel that large numbers of Americans should be deprived of their right to vote.

Voter suppression threatens our Republic, but there are still enough voters to put a stop to it if only every citizen who can vote, does so. There are as many eligible voters who do not vote as there are who do vote - more, in fact. Voter turnout could potentially be double what it has historically been. The current voter suppression tactics - ambitious though they undeniably are - would not disenfranchise enough people to overcome the will of the people if only the majority would take a stand against these undemocratic actions, register now and vote in every election.

Your vote counts. Your vote can help save the USA - seriously. It really is that important.

Remind your friends and family to be sure to register and be sure to vote.

Resources for Eligible Voters:

Register to Vote  General information about voter eligibility (and how to find out if you are eligible) as well as state regulations on when and where to vote, with appropriate direct links.

Fair Elections Legal Network: Gives an overview of recent states' legislation designed to further restrict voting rights and provides resources and strategies to help citizens to protect their rights.

Voter ID Toolkits:  Practical help in navigating the "free" state ID process. State-specific toolkits for Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Texas.

Can I vote?  Need help with voting? You've come to the right place. This nonpartisan web site was created by state election officials to help eligible voters figure out how and where to go vote. Choose a category below to get started.

Rock the Vote   Rock the Vote is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization in the United States whose mission is to engage and build the political power of young people.

Our   Declare Yourself is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign to empower and encourage every eligible 18-29 year-old in America to register and vote in local and national elections.

League of Women Voters:  The League is proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level of government, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public.

Register To Vote. org is a nonpartisan organization committed to reaching the estimated 30 percent of eligible Americans not registered to vote. We simplify the voter registration process, making it faster and easier for you to get involved and become an active voice in our democracy.