Happiness

Which would make you happier, winning the lottery, or becoming a paraplegic? The answer may surprise you. He isn’t the most charismatic speaker, but this is well worth a listen. It does get funny near the middle, lol.

This also reminds me of Spock’s words in Amok Time, “After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”

And then there’s what I always say, “The key to happiness is being easily amused.” :0)

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moss

if you look closely..
tiny veinless leaves
pealing gently off a stem and
trailing tendrils, fine like spider’s web

the little plants united
form a bed
soft to see, soft to touch
in the cool shade, out of the sun

Understanding Evolution

Evolution is simple, but often misunderstood.

First, a quick note about religion. Creationists have become a loud voice in social media and elsewhere. So much so, that some Christians assume their own denomination opposes evolution, even if it does not. “..of Americans in the 12 largest Christian denominations, 89.6% belong to churches that support evolution education”1 and yet some members of those faiths aren’t aware of this. Perhaps it’s because church leaders who support evolution don’t realize it’s unclear, and don’t think to inform their congregations about their views on science. Of course everyone has their personal view on the topic, but if the views of your church concern you and you have questions, talk to your minister. You may be surprised.

What is evolution? It is a natural consequence when organisms live in an environment. Individuals who do best at coping with their environment are more apt to reproduce, making the genes of those best at surviving more common. There is no goal to evolution. An individual may die before reproducing, due to poor adaptation or just chance, but statistically those who are better at surviving and reproducing will be more apt to pass on their genes. Over short periods of time, this can cause subtle changes in the population. Over extremely long periods of time, it can cause the entire variety of life we see on earth.

Long eared puppyPeople understand a dog breeder can breed hounds with long ears, until they get puppies with even longer ears. This is evolution through artificial selection, not unlike evolution through natural selection. But some people have more trouble picturing the evolutionary transition between species. One stumbling block is our conception of time. As an individual, we’re lucky if we live 100 years. So trying to comprehend over 3,000,000,000 years of evolution on our planet boggles the mind. Over that amount of time, organisms can develop massive changes, far more than a puppy with really long ears.

Another stumbling block is our concept of a species. As human language developed, we named organisms in our environment, particularly species there were helpful or harmful. When early man spoke of a bear, or an apple, he wanted his family to know what he meant. Each particular species seemed unchanging to them, and in many ways it still does to us. But upon further study, we find that populations flow and change, and defining a species is somewhat arbitrary. Some people believe evolution takes place only within a kind, not between different kinds–but the flow of genes is continuous. There’s no exact point where one kind ends and another begins, through time, or even in current populations.

In the June 2008 Scientific American article “What Is A Species?” 2 Carl Zimmer talks about how populations of gray wolves and red wolves have been collectively classified as one, two, three or more species. Some wolves are also interbreeding with coyotes, bringing their genes into the wolf population, as well. Using Latin taxonomic names like “Canis lupus” may make it seem species identification is set in stone, but even today, naming a particular population is still largely a matter of language and convenience. With the wolves, it became an issue because “endangered species” are protected under our laws. We’re just trying to define the species, so we can follow our own laws. Nature doesn’t recognize these species boundaries, they are artificial.

Manatee image from Kyle Kyle McBurnie, SD Expeditions http://sdexpeditions.com/

Manatee image by Kyle McBurnie,
SD Expeditions http://sdexpeditions.com/

Whether or not those wolves have evolved into different species, you may be thinking they are still all dogs, all one kind (not unlike our puppy with long ears). Perhaps it’s harder to see, for example, how manatees and elephants have a common ancestor. But is it really that hard? Their are toenails on a manatee’s flipper that look like the toenails of an elephant, and other morphological similarities. Their common ancestor probably looked something like the hippopotamus, which is semi-aquatic, although hippos are in a different genetic line.

But we don’t have to rely just on morphology, the fossil record, and speculation to determine how closely different species are related. Today we have the tools to map DNA. We use DNA evidence to solve crimes, to determine who fathered a baby, and to determine how closely different species are related. The more genes are shared, between individuals or between populations, the more closely they are related. All of the life on our planet is interwoven in this way, a diverse and wonderful mosaic.

1. National Center for Science Education: What do Christians REALLY Believe about Evolution?
2. What Is A Species?

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Happy Chinese New Year!

chineseny03 On the Chinese calendar the year is 4712, leaving our little western second millennium in the dust! This is the Year of the Sheep, Goat, or Ram. Although considered unlucky by some, people born in the Year of the Goat have many good qualities.

Some people born in the Year of Goat include Steven Wright, George Harrison, Joe Frazier, Leonard Nimoy, Ethan Phillips, Mel Gibson, Gary Sinise, Steve Jobs, Mikhail Gorbachev, John Grisham, Jimmy Page, Barbara Walters, Willem Dafoe, Geena Davis, John Denver, Fabian, Sandra Bernhard, Joni Mitchell, Lynn Redgrave, Jimmy Smits and Boxcar Willie.

Knock on Wood

Are you superstitious? Does superstition fit in with your religious views? Do you actually “believe” your superstitions, or do you feel they are not true but do them anyway?

I’m not religious or superstitious, but there is one superstition I do religiously. Whenever I talk about something that has been going well, and I want it to continue to go well, I knock on wood. I feel even more compelled to do it when things are bad (like a serious illness in the family). If it’s something important, just thinking about it may make me knock wood, even though I didn’t say it out loud. I’m an atheist, I don’t have any religious views that support this practice. I don’t honestly believe it will do any good, but it makes me feel better. I knock on wood because my mother did. She was a devout Catholic, a religion that does not condone superstition.

My husband does consider himself superstitious. He says “rabbit, rabbit” at the beginning of the month, and he doesn’t like me to move certain items in the house when his sports team is doing well. He likes to carry a lucky item. For a while he carried a crystal blessed by a witch, even though he doesn’t believe in that religion, he’s an atheist.

It’s funny, though.. My husband does think you can jinx yourself, but he’d never heard of knocking on wood before. He hasn’t picked it up from me, either. So he’ll talk about something that’s going well say when we’re in the car, and then laugh at me because there is nothing made of wood in the car for me to knock on. He told me he’ll start knocking on wood, when I start saying “Rabbit, rabbit.” /(=∵=)\

E-Cigarettes: An alternative for those who really can’t quit..?

I’ve seen some news stories on the dangers of e-cigarettes. I can’t help but wonder if all the “dangers of ecigs” study funding is from the tobacco companies. Who else would be funding these studies, who else would care?

Sure, if you don’t smoke already, I’m certainly not suggesting you go use ecigs. But for those people who really can’t quit smoking, the ecig alternative seems less dangerous.

My elderly brother had many, many health problems. He started using these, and even though he made this change late in his life, I’m still sure ecigs added months or even a years to his life. His lungs could not take any more damage, he was on oxygen (and before he started using the ecigs, he would still take off his oxygen and smoke on the porch, not often but he did it).

If you smoke, by all means, try every way to stop! But if you still keep going back, and really can’t stop, at least consider using ecigs. I think this alternative could lengthen lives and improve quality of life, and it’s not getting any good press. And I’ve even seen some people post that ecigs helped them quit entirely.

Media/Politics

The U.S. media is shit, which is why you have to listen to others like BBC, Al Jazeera, and smaller sources like blogs. The Daily Show is more trusted than our news channels, and it should be because you are more likely to get the truth. The worst crime isn’t even the lack of information to the public, it’s the fact that reporters have the job of holding government accountable–and they’re steered away from that task, by the huge conglomerates that control our news now. This complicity is as much to blame for the rampant corruption in Washington as the corporate money in politics.

You can get news on the internet, but it doesn’t have the clout of the major news outlets that once helped keep our politicians accountable (particularly the old newspapers). Things like online petitions can help–companies and governments recognize the fact now that real people are signing these–and they have to throw the public a bone once and a while. But still it isn’t the same.