Tuesday, 29 April 2008

A Quick (And Late) Bit of Wisdom

Hmmm... don't know what happened yesterday to my Monday Bit of Wisdom. Without further excuse, here is a short, and late, thought to ponder on, courtesy of Jean-Paul Sartre:
"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you."

I quite like the defiance in that. Not mad keen on Sartre generally - much prefer the humanity of Albert Camus - but this is a good one.

And, seeing as how I was late with this one, here's another for free:
"Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance."

That's much more like the jolly old Sartre I've come to know and avoid - what a happy thought at the start of the week...

Friday, 25 April 2008

Friday Funny For This Week

Maybe I'm feeling particularly childish today (must be cos it's Spring or something) but I giggled like a giggling fool at this - The Potter Puppet Pals in Wizard Swears (Caution: contains free and gratuitous use of multiple naughty wizard swear words)

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Hermit or Hugger?

How misanthropic are you? Try this test from Blogthings and find out. I'm rather disappointed at coming out as only an aspiring hermit - I must try harder...

You Are 67% Misanthropic

Here's the truth: Most people suck. You are just lucky enough to know it.

You're not ready to go live alone in a cave - but you're getting there.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Monday's Bit of Wisdom #5

This week's thought comes from the witty pen of Terry Pratchett, via the very useful The Wit and Wisdom of Discworld:
On the veldt of Howondaland live the N'tuitif people, the only tribe in the world to have no imagination whatsoever.

For example, their story about the thunder runs something like this: 'Thunder is a loud noise in the sky, resulting from the disturbance of the air masses by the passage of lightning.' And their legend 'How the Giraffe Got His Long Neck' runs: 'In the old days the ancestors of Old Man Giraffe had slightly longer necks than other grassland creatures, and the access to the high leaves was so advantageous that it was mostly long-necked giraffes that survived, passing on the long neck in their blood just as a man might inherit his grandfather's spear. Some say, however, that it is all a lot more complicated and this explanation only applies to the shorter neck of the okapi. And so it is.'

The N'tuitif are a peaceful people, and have been hunted almost to extinction by neighbouring tribes, who have lots of imagination, and therefore plenty of gods, superstitions and ideas about how much better life would be if they had a bigger hunting ground.

Of the events on the moon that day, the N'tuitif said: 'The moon was brightly lit and from it rose another light which then split into three lights and faded. We do not know why this happened. It was just a thing.

They were then wiped out by a nearby tribe who knew that the lights had been a signal from the god Ukli to expand the hunting ground a bit more. However, they were soon defeated entirely by a tribe who knew that the lights were their ancestors, who lived in the moon, and who were urging them to kill all non-believers in the goddess Glipzo. Three years later they in turn were killed by a rock falling from the sky, as a result of a star exploding a billion years ago.

What goes around comes around. If not examined too closely, it passes for justice.

This marvellous passage comes originally from The Last Hero, and I am dashing out first thing tomorrow to buy a copy!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

At Last! A Voice for the Stork Theory

Pinched from Dorid over at the Radula, here is Sexpelled! - a very funny response to all the fuss over the Expelled movie - read all about it on Pharyngula.

I think this little video is by far the best way to respond - with humour, instead of getting as angry and vein-popping as the ID brigade do. Enjoy!

Saturday, 19 April 2008


A cute vid from Youtube:

Mind you, it may be cute, but it brought a tear to my eye at the end. Kind of sums up hope and sadness and resilience all in one fluffy little bird...sniff...

Watching Logie

There is a gem of a series on BBC Radio 4 at the moment - World on the Move. In it, they track, using satellite technology, the annual migration of various animals, including an African elephant, salmon, leatherback turtles, eels and birds, including Logie the osprey. I'm particularly interested in her, as she is flying back to her nest near Forres, not that many miles from me.

And, most excitingly, you can actually track her progress online as she heads for her summer home. Her mate is already there waiting for her - he arrived on the 10th April. The latest news is that she is in the Lake District, so she only has a few hundred miles to go, out of a journey of over 3000 miles. She spent the winter on an island off the West coast of Africa and set off for Scotland on 12th March. You can track her progress at The Highland Foundation for Wildlife website.

It's fascinating, and a bit humbling (one of those times when humanity is put firmly in its place as just another species amongst many talented species) to see the scale of the journey, to see the planning and forethought, and presumably also the memory, that she must be capable of. She seems to stick close to the coast whenever she can, not surprisingly as she lives on fish, and I loved her bit of island hopping as she headed up the west coast of France.

I wish I'd known about this series earlier, and I'll definitely be following her progress, and that of the other animals on the site, in the autumn.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Friday Funny

Hey, it's Friday again! Don't know about you lot, but this particular Friday doesn't look too bad - the Sun is shining, my light tanks are full to the top, thanks to the rapidly lengthening days...but still, it's Friday, so here is the official Funny Friday post:

I've highlighted Overheard Lines before - such an elegant site and always something to make you giggle. Here are my picks for today - hope they make you laugh too:

24-year Old, In response To Her High Score On An IQ Test:

"This will show those people who think I'm more stupider than I really am!"

One Wins Every Single Election That Their Country Holds; The Other's a Democrat
Girl states she doesn't think "just anyone" should be able to vote in presidential elections.
Guy: "What, you're not a Communist, are you?"
Girl: "I don't really know the difference between Communists and Democrats."

High School Student at Lowell High School
"She's a two faced bitch, but not in a bad way."

Do You Have Enough For Everyone?
Girl to Guy: "If you do that, you won't get a treat. And you know what I mean by treat."

Brilliant! Happy Friday everyone!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Why Do We Do It? - a rant against market researchers

Here follows a rant.

I was at my local uber-hypermarket today - reluctantly, but I was in the area anyway and popped in for a few things. I survived in a reasonably calm frame of mind, and was leaving the store when a market researcher grabbed me. I should have walked on but, hey, it was a nice Spring day and I, stupid mug that I was, felt like helping my fellow human.

I left the shop ten minutes later feeling as if I had been stripped. Why do we do it? Why do we tell total strangers the most intimate details of our lives without even the promise of cold, hard cash?

Not only did this woman know my opinion on the biggest supermarket brand in Britain and their effect on my neighbourhood (told her that one in no uncertain terms), and which supermarket I used usually (it ain't this one - something she obviously found hard to believe), and about my shopping habits generally, she also knew...my full name, my address, my age, the fact that I am widowed without any children at home, and that I used to run my own business but that I wasn't doing that any more. Why did I tell her these things? WHY?

I nearly walked away from her twice actually, when I felt she was getting too personal, but politeness kept me there, and so she kept on digging, and I kept on squirming. What made it worse is that she didn't stay objective. She kept on making assumptions and interjections. When I said I thought that the best thing the company could do for the locality was to support local producers of food and other goods (it was all I could think of in response to the question) she then, when I was reluctant to say what the occupation of the head of the household was, said (forgetting in the ten seconds since I had told her, that I was a widow - thanks) "Is your husband a farmer?" Stupid cow.

I am so angry with myself for falling into this trap again. I swore I'd never do another survey after I let one of them into my house and they left with apparently every detail of my life and I was left feeling violated. That's what you get for being nice - no more Ms Nice Puddock! That is it! I came home and cut up my Uber-hypermarket loyalty card and tattooed onto the back of my hand - DO NOT EVER EVER SUBMIT TO ANOTHER SURVEY EVER AGAIN!!!

The Wonder of Dark Skies

I picked up this photograph over on APOD. Just look at that sky - a photograph of the sky over the town of Flagstaff, Arizona - yes, that's right, this is a photograph of the sky over a large town.

In 2001, Flagstaff became the world's first International Dark Skies City. And, apparently, it isn't that hard to make our skies dark again. It is mainly a matter of thinking about the kinds of lighting we use - shielded street lights, more focussed billboard lighting - it's not rocket science, it just requires a bit of thought.

To show you what you could be seeing in the skies above your town or city if we got our lighting right, take a look at these photos, taken by Todd Carlson - the first during an electricity blackout near Toronto, the second once the power had been restored...

Why aren't we all jumping up and down to get our own skies looking like this? In the ten years since I moved to my rural location in the North of Scotland, the quality of my skies has become poorer as settlements in the surrounding area have grown. Maybe it's time I started trying to do something about the skies around here. If we can't have dark skies in the least densely populated part of the UK, what hope is there for anywhere else?

Find out more about dark skies and good lighting practice at
The International Dark Sky Association

Monday, 14 April 2008

The Martian Philosophy of Life (Monday's Bit of Wisdom)

I was so fed up with life in general that I had given up hope of finding anything vaguely uplifting or thought-provoking for today, so I thought I'd look for something that would help me, and maybe it might help you too.

I am trying really hard to find some point to life - being an unemployed atheist widow whose kid has flown the coop does have a tendency to remove most of the obvious ones - so I turned to a little book which I have quoted from before and found this:
But what makes life worth living? Any short answer will sound trite, but there really is no mystery about it. Ray Bradbury put it pithily in his short story And the moon be still as bright. This tells of Martians rather than humans, but the moral of the story translates.

"The Martians realized that they had asked the question 'Why live at all?' at the height of some period of war or despair, when there was no answer. But once the civilization calmed, quieted, and wars ceased, the question became senseless in a new way. Life was now good and needed no argument."

When times are hard and life is going badly, life can seem pointless. But when life is good there is no need to question. As in the example above, if one's work and home life are going well, it is in a way senseless to ask why such a life is worth living. The person living it just knows it is.
From Atheism - a very short introduction by Julian Baggini

I don't think this is a complete answer. In fact, I think both Baggini and Bradbury must have been in happy longterm relationships when they wrote these statements - it shows. But there is a kernel of something simple yet profound there. When you are living a good life, it is worth living. When things are going badly, you wonder what's the point of it all. Simple.

Not that this helps much if you are not happy in your work or home life - in fact, it might make people in my situation even more depressed. But the very fact that there are times in your life - when you are busy and occupied and happy - that you do not feel it necessary to ask the question "What's it all about?", is interesting.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Friday Fun Time

Yay! Three weeks in a row I've managed to come up with something funny. Maybe I've found something I can stick to. Today's little gem comes from The Onion - it's daft but it made me giggle. Hope it does the same for you.

Oh, all right, since you've all been good little bloggers this week, you can have another treat. Courtesy of Archie's Archive, why not try the Muppet Personality Test? I came out as Rowlf the Dog, who I don't remember at all, but who looks pretty chilled...I can only aspire...

You Are Rowlf the Dog

Mellow and serious, you enjoy time alone cultivating your talents.

You're a cool dog, and you always present a relaxed vibe.

A talented pianist, you can play almost anything - especially songs by Beethoven.

"My bark is worse than my bite, and my piano playing beats 'em both."

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Dawkins in Inverness - the movie

Via Richard Dawkins.net, here is the video of Richard's visit to Eden Court last week. It was a splendid evening and, despite having a dodgy throat, Richard set out the case for evolution and against religion elegantly and fully.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Vonnegut on Life (Monday's Bit of Wisdom)

Monday's Bit of Wisdom this week comes courtesy of Kurt Vonnegut, from his book A Man Without a Country:
"I turned eighty-two on November 11, 2004. What's it like to be this old? I can't parallel park worth a damn anymore, so please don't watch while I try to do it. And gravity has become a lot less friendly and manageable than it used to be.

When you get to my age, if you get to my age, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourselves asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, "What is life all about?" I have seven kids, three of them orphaned nephews.

I put my big question about life to my son the pediatrician. Dr Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: "Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is."

I concur.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Global Warming Takes a Holiday - maybe

Just picked up this interesting story over on BBC News - apparently, global temperatures are expected to dip this year, due to the continuing effects of La Nina.

Some scientists are now suggesting that either global warming has peaked, or that the Earth is better than we thought at regulating itself.

I haven't a clue, personally. I used to think global warming was probably real but whenever I see a bandwagon, I leap off, so once it became practically a crime to suggest that it might not be happening, I found myself tending towards that view, for the sake of free speech as much as anything.

But one thing's for sure - it looks as though we might be having another grotty summer here in the UK - dammit!

Another Funny Friday

I kind of ran out of steam on April Fool's Day, humour-wise, but I have struggled womanfully to dig up something mildly amusing...(it helps if you like Star Trek...or Monty Python...or both)

Oh, all right then, seeing you've all been good little bloggers this week - you can have another one - actually this one is really clever, I think - there's a lot of talent out there, I just wish I didn't have this irresistible urge to dash over to Ebay and buy lots of Lego...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Dawkins in Inverness

Well, it was true - Richard Dawkins really did come to talk to us in Inverness. I can still scarcely believe it. You have to understand that most speakers, musicians, actors, and thinkers never venture this far north. If they do make it to Scotland, they stop at Edinburgh or Glasgow. But, for some reason, Richard agreed to come to see us here. We certainly have a recently, and splendidly, expanded Eden Court theatre, but I think it was down to the persuasive charm of the lady who did the interview - Paula Kirby - so big thanks to her.

Richard kept us spellbound for two hours - well, most of us - there were a few critics in the audience, including the elderly couple next to me who clicked their tongues in mild disapproval at random intervals. In the first hour Richard, responding to questions from Paula, set out his arguments for evolution and against god, and the whole of the second hour was thrown open to questions from the audience. I chickened out of asking a question but there was a steady stream of more intrepid people who asked questions from the full range of belief and non-belief, and Richard answered them all well, though he did become (characteristically?) irritated with a couple of people who asked silly questions. He dealt with the church brigade with great courtesy, I thought, but he must get tired of the same old same old - I don't know how he does it.

What did I get out of the evening? Well, apart from the thrill of hearing the great man (and, yes, getting a book signed by him!), it was great to hear the arguments laid out so clearly. It was learning about evolution that turned me, almost literally overnight, into an atheist, so I knew the basics already, but seeing and hearing Richard himself set it all out so clearly was useful. And I learned some new stuff, like the issue of 'design' flaws like those backward bits in our eye, which adds weight to the argument for evolution of the structure of the eye, step by blind step, rather than design by blueprint - that was very interesting.

He looked tired though, and he had almost lost his voice after a vigorous debate in Edinburgh the previous night, so I hope he will take a break now that his tour is over, and regain his strength. He is such an important figure, not just for atheists, but for all who believe in using their brains and he MUST take care of himself!

Richard's visit had another good effect (apart hopefully from giving some of the local loony brigade a sleepless night or two.) On his website, as the visit got closer, atheists in the area began to talk to each other - to the extent that we agreed to meet after his talk. And so I spent an hour talking to three new friends in the cafe after the lecture, each of us clutching our shiny signed paperbacks. Wonderful to share experiences and stories and we have decided to meet again and perhaps set up a local atheist group, where we can talk, support and maybe even take a bit of action. I think Richard would be pleased.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Flying Penguins!

And here, from the BBC, is a fabulous and exclusive piece of film - don't know why it was produced today - people might think it was an April Fool. It is gorgeous.

Are You an April Fool?

There is a long tradition of April Fool's gags in the media. The Guardian has a fun quiz to test how gullible you are.

I got 7 right but then I am old enough to remember some of them!

To further test your gullibility, check out Reasonable Robinson's excellent Gullibility blog