Medieval Cats has an article titled Why Cats were Hated in Medieval Europe that I liked. It references Irina Metzler’s article Heretical Cats: Animal Symbolism in Religious Discourse which seems to be only available in German, and Joyce Salisbury’s The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages which is available in English as an ebook.

15th century manuscript from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Medievalisterrant chimes in with a post on Cats as pets in the Middle Ages.

Happy St. Brice’s Day

November 13th, 1002 Æþelræd Unræd ordered the slaughter of all the Danes in England. Although at that point Aethelraed could only really enforce his will in about a third of his domain, this ill-advised plan did manage to cause the death of Harald Bluetooth’s daughter Gunhilde, and in some histories the St. Brice’s Day Massacre leads directly to the conquest of England by the Danish King Sweyn Forkbeard (Gunhilde’s brother) and Sweyn’s son Knut the Great.

You can do science just as badly as you can do religion

I can’t read the Science Based Medicine website, despite my complete agreement with many of its conclusions, without getting annoyed by the priestly attitude of its authors.

They make broad generalizations that could often be equally well applied to the mainstream physicians the site claims are qualitatively superior. For example, from Scott Gavura, Naturopaths offer an array of disparate health practices like homeopathy, acupuncture and herbalism that are linked by the (now discarded) belief in vitalism – the idea we have a “life force”. I’ve certainly never had any difficulty finding doctors who believe in “life forces” and “souls” and such – the churches are full of ’em, seriously. And I’ve heard at least one physician recommend acupuncture, because it had worked on other patients of his.

SBM’s authors also often seem to promote a Medieval doctrine of contagion when they talk about alternative medicine – if any person who claims to be an herbalist or chiropractor does something wrong, this proves that all herbalists and chiropractors are equally wrong. Such a doctrine, if applied equally harshly to mainstream medicine, would make SBM’s own doctors somehow guilty for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. I can’t abide that kind of sloppy thinking.

I wish I could choose less preachy, more convincing allies. It’s good that SBM names and exposes actual quacks, and homeopathic superdilution remedies truly are outmoded nonsense… but I keep finding myself wondering if perhaps Medieval witch-hunters burned some folks who actually deserved it, occasionally.

India re-legalizes santhara

Jainism is arguably the oldest religion continuously practiced by mankind. Arguably, because Hindus say their tradition is older, and will often claim that Jainism is merely a splinter sect of Hinduism. Jains typically disagree, but Jains are non-violent and nominally atheists – so they don’t get a lot of respect from the violent theists that control most of the world. In any case both religions are so ancient that their origin stories are unlikely to have escaped embellishment by later generations.

Anyway, the BBC is reporting that India’s Supreme Court has revoked their earlier decision that made it illegal to voluntarily stop eating and drinking as a spiritual practice. Since this is often the only avenue a bedridden, terminally ill person has to gain release from incessant suffering, I have to applaud.

Advice from the Buddha

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: “Monks, one who has not fully known & fully understood conceit, whose mind has not been cleansed of it, has not abandoned it, is incapable of putting an end to stress. But one who has fully known & fully understood conceit, whose mind has been cleansed of it, has abandoned it, is capable of putting an end to stress.”

People are
   possessed by conceit
   tied up with conceit
   delighted with becoming.
Not comprehending conceit, they come to becoming again.
But those who, letting go of conceit,
are, in its destruction, released,
conquering the bond of conceit,
   go beyond
 all bonds.

As Mimi told me, “being focused is just remembering what you really want.”

The problem with privilege metaphors

It seems to me that we are all the recipients of unearned privilege. You were formed in the womb of your birth mother, to her great discomfort and inconvenience; and obviously nothing you did yourself made you worthy of this privilege – it was a gift, literally the gift of life itself, that you received for free. You had already been a freeloading moocher for nine months before you were even born!

But not every birth is equal. Recent research claims that poverty diminishes mental capacities from birth. It’s fairly clear that the richer your parents and community are, the more unearned privileges you will eventually enjoy – for example, the children of Barack Obama enjoy vastly more privilege than the children of impoverished Arkansas sharecroppers, or the children of impoverished Native Americans on the Res.

Right Wing radio pundits like to split common people along color lines by screaming of “black criminality” and “black on black violence”, but criminality and violence correlate far more with poverty and lack of opportunity than with any skin color. Left Wing bloggers like to split common people on color lines by screeching “white privilege” – as though privilege did not correlate with wealth, and as if there were no privileged people of color.

These talking heads, Right and Left, are of their own free will servile to the ruling class. The .001% of humanity whose titanic wealth makes them immune to law would prefer that the rest of us split on color lines, gender lines, religion, anything that will keep us from uniting. If we could put aside our differences, it might interfere with the continuing concentration of the Earth’s vast resources into fewer and fewer hands – or even reverse that trend.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a sacred cow?

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry wrote an article about the way most modern people have debased science into a caricature of pre-renaissance religious dogmatism, simply substituting white lab coats for black cassocks.

…let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation. That’s the science that gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet. But what almost everyone means when he or she says “science” is something different.

To most people, capital-S Science is the pursuit of capital-T Truth. It is a thing engaged in by people wearing lab coats and/or doing fancy math that nobody else understands. The reason capital-S Science gives us airplanes and flu vaccines is not because it is an incremental engineering process but because scientists are really smart people.

In other words — and this is the key thing — when people say “science”, what they really mean is magic or truth.

The Intarnets are up in arms. Criticize capital-S science, or the inanity of assuming that science and religion are conflicting methods of solving the same problems? Oh please. Richard Feynman brilliantly plowed that furrow in 1956, and nobody’s really changed their opinion on the subject then or since. What’s important here is that somebody criticised Neil DeGrasse Tyson! Quelle horreur!

The Peaceful Cut

Despite the cruel factory versions of these rituals that are often practiced today, both Jewish kosher shechita and Islamic halal dhabīḥah were originally intended to be merciful.

Dr. Temple Grandin has published extensive evidence that inhumane slaughter harms every creature involved in the process – not only do the animals suffer, but the people who perform the slaughter are psychologically impacted as well. And the cost of inhumane slaughter is higher, when done on industrial scales, than processes that minimize cruelty, so the factory owners are losing money. There are negative effects for consumers, too – although there’s not a lot of evidence that the carcasses of animals that died traumatically are actually unhealthy to eat, the meat of livestock treated ethically is of provably higher quality. Many people dislike the taste of meat from animals killed in fear and anguish; it is measurably chemically different due to bruising, hormone release and similar effects.

Today most people are divorced from their food sources, and will happily eat a cheeseburger while decrying the cruelty of hunters. They don’t seem to have any idea how much unnecessary pain and suffering their food dollars are enabling; most vegetarians, for example, have no idea how much suffering is attendant upon their dietary choice.

This one’s for Samip!

I’ve been told I should post more about philosophy and theology… this is actually about religious demographics, but it’s still very philosophically interesting.

Map of 2nd largest US religions by state

“To put the map in context […] let’s acknowledge at the outset that it doesn’t take very much to be the second-largest religion in South Carolina. It is a solidly Christian, and particularly Protestant, state, and all the minority religions combined comprise only a tiny fraction of the population.”

Delaware is one of only two states where Hinduism is considered to be the second largest religion.

Total Lunar Eclipse Tonight

“And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” — Joel 2:30-1, KJV

NASA has more prosaic information, which should be more useful to most of us.

Here in the Eastern Daylight Time zone, the moon’s going to be completely full at 3:42:18 AM on 2014-04-15. The total eclipse will last from 3:07 to 4:25, peaking at 3:46, so it ought to be quite beautiful if the weather co-operates.

Since I worked all day and was in Boston all weekend, I will most likely be asleep. Enjoy it without me!