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May 19, 2007

Wicca — When does a cult become a religion?

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That's always the question, isn't it?

Neela Banerjee explored it as it pertains to Wicca in an interesting article that appeared in the May 16, 2007 New York Times.

FunFact: A 2001 survey found that Wicca was the country's fastest-growing religion, with 134,000 adherents, compared with 8,000 in 1990.

The picture above shows a Wiccan family's altar.

Here's the story.

    Wiccans Keep the Faith With a Religion Under Wraps

    Above the woman’s fireplace hangs her wedding picture, taken in a Lutheran church years ago. Below it, on the mantelpiece, is a small Wiccan altar: two candles, a tiny cauldron, four stones to represent the elements of nature and a small amethyst representing her spirit.

    The wedding portrait is always there. But whenever someone comes to visit, the woman sweeps the altar away. Raised Southern Baptist in Virginia and now a stay-at-home mother of two in this Washington suburb, she has told almost no one — not her relatives, her friends or the other mothers in her children’s playgroups — that she is Wiccan.

    Among the most popular religions to have flowered since the 1960s, Wicca — a form of paganism — still faces a struggle for acceptance, experts on the religion and Wiccans themselves said. In April, Wiccans won an important victory when the Department of Veterans Affairs settled a lawsuit and agreed to add the Wiccan pentacle to a list of approved religious symbols that it will engrave on veterans’ headstones.

    But Wicca in the civilian world is largely a religion in hiding. Wiccans fear losing their friends and jobs if people find out about their faith.

    “I would love to be able to say ‘Accept us for who we are,’ but I can’t, mainly because of my kids,” said the suburban mother, who agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity. “Children can be cruel, and their parents can be even more cruel, and I don’t want my kids picked on for the choice their mommy made.”

    She worries that because most people know little about Wicca, they will assume she worships Satan. She fears that her family and friends will abandon her and that the community will ostracize her.

    David Steinmetz, professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, said, “Wiccans have so many things stacked against them, from what the Bible says about the practice of magic to the history in this country of witch trials, that the image of them adds up to something so contrary to the consensus about genuine religion that still shapes American society.”

    Wiccans worship the divine in nature. Some practice it privately in their homes, and others worship with large congregations. Most people do not grow up Wiccan but come to it from another religion.

    “It’s a very open religion,” said Helen A. Berger, a sociology professor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. “Each person can do what they want, and they don’t have to belong to a group. They take things from a number of different sources, like Eastern religions, Celtic practices. You are the ultimate authority of your own experience.”

    But its symbols and practices elicit suspicion from outsiders, Wiccans and religion scholars say.

    Many Wiccans practice some form of magic or witchcraft, which they say is a way of affecting one’s destiny, but which many outsiders see as evil. The Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star inside a circle, is often confused with symbols of Satanism. (The five points of the star represent the elements of nature — earth, air, fire and water — and the spirit, within the eternal circle of life.)

    It is unclear how many Wiccans and other pagans there are. The 2001 American Religious Identification Survey by the City University of New York found that Wicca was the country’s fastest-growing religion, with 134,000 adherents, compared with 8,000 in 1990. The actual number may be greater, Ms. Berger said. Some people may have been unwilling to identify themselves as pagan or Wiccan for the survey. Others combine paganism with other religions.

    Wiccans face less backlash now than in the past. The Internet provides information about Wicca, and the popularity of the Harry Potter novels has made magic seem a force for good, scholars and Wiccans say.

    David and Jeanet Ewing, coordinators of two pagan groups in the Washington area, estimate that at least 1,000 Wiccans and other pagans live in Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. At least half actively hide their faith from their relatives, Ms. Ewing said. Many also hide their faith from their employers, Mr. Ewing said.

    One such person is a 58-year-old former Roman Catholic who has been an auditor for 30 years in what he calls “one of the most buttoned-down departments in one of the most sacrosanct agencies” of the federal government.

    “I put on this Joe Taxpayer suit, and it’s like living two lives,” he said. “A minority would have a problem with me, but it would be a big problem. They would assume we are doing weird things, illegal, immoral things, at all hours. They wouldn’t want to really know what we do, but they would go with their presuppositions instead.”

    The auditor said that by “coming out of the broom closet,” he risked ostracism at work and perhaps being pushed into early retirement, which would affect his pension. “I don’t even want to contemplate it,” he said.

    A New York marketing executive finds the city so secular that being passionate about religion is often met with a smirk, and it would be worse if people knew he was Wiccan, he said. “In my personal and private life, I like to be taken seriously,” he said. “Pagans are associated with the ’70s and hippies and counterculture. New York is a Type A city, and it’s all about getting ahead, and the kooky ones don’t get ahead.”

    Members of other religions, including Jews and Catholics, have sometimes been forced to mask their faith in the past because of religious bias, Professor Steinmetz said. But it is rare, he added, for people to keep their religion from parents and grandparents, as many Wiccans do.

    The Virginia mother has not told her mother or grandmother that she is a Wiccan. “I have a deep-seated fear that they will say, ‘I can’t be a part of this, you’re raising your kids as evil,’ ” she said.

    She attends classes about Wicca on Friday nights, and she has yet to caution her older child, a preschooler, not to tell anyone about them.

    “My son says, ‘Yeah, Mommy’s going to witch school,’ ” she said. “I’m just waiting for the day he says that in front of a teacher.”

May 19, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Altec Lansing USB-Powered Portable Speakers

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Long story short: By plugging into your USB port instead of the headphone socket, the speakers get their power from the computer so there's no need for a separate transformer and power wire.

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Also, you bypass the sound card in your computer so audio quality should be noticeably better.

Read a very detailed review here.

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$107.

May 19, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Book of Disquiet — by Fernando Pessoa [3]

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Whenever my ambition, influenced by my dreams, raised up above the everyday level of my life, so that for a moment I seemed to soar, like a child on a swing, I always — like the child — had to come down to the public garden and face my defeat, with no flags to wave in battle and no sword I was strong enough to unsheath.

I suppose that most of the people I chance to pass on the street also feel — I notice it in their silently moving lips and in their eyes' vague uncertainty, or in the sometimes raised voice of their joint mumbling — like a flagless army fighting a hopeless war. And probably all of them — I turn around to see their slumping, defeated-looking shoulders — share with me this sense of salesmanly squalor, of being no more than humiliatingly vanquished stragglers amid reeds and scum, with no moonlight over the shores or poetry in the marshes.

Like me, they have an exalted and sad heart. I know them all. Some are shop assistants, others are office workers, and still others are small businessmen. Then there are the conquerors from the bars and cafés, unwittingly sublime in the ecstasy of their self-centered chatter, or content to remain self-centredly silent, with no need to defend what they're too stingy to say. But they're all poets, poor devils, who drag past my eyes, as I drag past theirs, the same sorry sight of our common incongruity. They all have, like me, their future in their past.

At this very moment, idle and alone in the office, because everyone else went to lunch, I'm staring through the grimy window at an old man who's slowly teetering down the other side of the street. He's not drunk; he's dreaming. He's attentive to what doesn't exist. Perhaps he still hopes. If there's any justice in the Gods' injustice, then may they let us keep our dreams, even when they're impossible, and may our dreams be happy, even when they're trivial. Today, because I'm still young, I can dream of South Sea islands and impossible Indias. Tomorrow perhaps the same Gods will make me dream of owning a small tobacco shop, or of retiring to a house in the suburbs. Every dream is the same dream, for they're all dreams. Let the Gods change my dreams, but not my gift for dreaming.

While thinking about this, I forgot about the old man. Now I don't see him. I open the window to get a better look, but he's not there. He left. For me he had the visual mission of a symbol; having finished his mission, he turned the corner. If I were told that he'd turned the absolute corner and was never here, I would accept it with the same gesture I'm about to employ to close the window.

Succeed?...

My hapless peers with their lofty dreams — how I envy and despise them! I'm with the others, with the even more hapless, who have no one but themselves to whom they can tell their dreams and show what would be verses if they wrote them. I'm with these poor slobs who have no books to show, who have no literature besides their own soul, and who are suffocating to death due to the fact they exist without having taken that mysterious, transcendental exam that makes one eligible to live.

May 19, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

ColorCutter — 'Cut and color at the same time!'

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Long story short: Inventor Perry Kaye put an X-Acto knife inside a Magic Marker.

Mashup extraordinaire.

As it says on the website, "Cut and embellish perfect finished edges in one step."

Demonstration videos here.

$5.99.

[via Dale Dougherty and MAKE magazine, Volume 10]

May 19, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Octopart — 'Search engine for electronic parts'

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It is what it says.

Arwen O'Reilly featured it in her "Tips and Tricks" column in the latest issue (Volume 10) of MAKE magazine, as follows:

    Smart Parts

    Eric Wilhelm raves about octopart.com, a search engine for electronic parts. "You enter the part number, or simply its title or use, and Octopart returns the best matched components, their prices and availability from several suppliers, and links to the catalog pages. What's even more exciting is the concept of Octopart searching through a web page, determining which specific parts are mentioned, and generating a personalized shopping cart with the cheapest and most readily available parts."

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I wouldn't know — the only electronic parts I'm comfortable with are light bulbs and such.

Not true for lots of you, though, of that I'm certain.

Why, I have reason to believe that one of my readers is right now on the verge of creating the world's first wormhole detector.

How do I know this?

Because I hear tapping sometimes up inside my skull, when it's really quiet outside.

What else could it be?

May 19, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Book Wizard

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From the website:

    Book Wizard — Bookmark, Booklight, Page Counter & More

    This neat Book Wizard gadget provides reading light just about anywhere without disturbing others!

    Just clip it on a book and read away.

    But that's not all!

    This compact little LED multitask light has a built-in digital read timer, alarm clock, magnifier, page mark and more.

    Great for adults and children.

    The book wizard will encourage children to read which will have a positive effect on vocabulary and thinking.

    The light is ideal for parents and children who like to wind down toward bedtime with their favorite book for a session of bedtime reading.

    Features a sturdy clip that easily attaches to books and magazines.

    The programmable timer will keep track of how much time you have been reading before going to sleep.

    You can enter the page number so that you can easily continue reading whenever you are ready.

    There's no more folding the page you were finished reading or page marks that get lost.

    You can use the wizard as your primary alarm clock.

    As a bonus gift we include a course on how to improve the speed at which you read.

    6" x 3.5".

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Orange, Yellow, Green or Blue.

$14.95.

[via McKinley Rodriguez, age 10, who wrote, in the latest issue (Volume 10) of MAKE magazine, "I got a thing called a Book Wizard today. It looks a bit like an oversized LED book light, but it's actually a device that you clip onto your book that has the time, date, timer, and a few more groovy gadgets. A really cool thing that it does is you can type in what page you are on and it will remember that."]

May 19, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

'A penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building could kill a pedestrian below' — True or false?

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It's been an urban myth since long before I was a boy and I'd never seen any proof it's not a fact.

Until I read an article in the May 10, 2007 issue of The Hook that described recent experiments by University of Virginia physics professor Louis Bloomfield which pretty much debunk the contention.

Here's the story.

    Deadly pennies?

    In 2001, UVA physics professor Louis Bloomfield made national headlines for catching cheaters. Six years later, Bloomfield is making headlines for catching something else: pennies.

    Bloomfield, author of the 2006 book "How Everything Works," will be featured on the ABC news show 20/20 this week [May 11, 2007] to debunk the widespread myth that a penny falling from a skyscraper could kill a pedestrian below. At ABC’s request, Bloomfield designed an experiment — a weather balloon that spits out pennies. He sent it to several hundred feet and stood below, trying to catch the coins. According to an article published on abcnews.com, he missed, but several hit him, including one that smacked him on the chin. Rather than sustaining a fatal injury from the plummeting cent, Bloomfield calls the sensation “like getting hit by a bug.” Pennies, according to the professor, are affected by air resistance, and so no matter what height you drop them from, they don’t reach a high enough velocity to cause harm.

    Not so for other objects. “Even if they’re relatively small, if they’re aerodynamically streamlined — like a ball point pen — they’ll reach the point at which they’re going a couple of hundred miles an hour,” Bloomfield says, “and that’s dangerous.”

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Here's a link to the abcnews.com article.

May 19, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Zerk Ultimate Laptop Lounger — 'If you're going to work for 72 hours straight, you better be comfortable'

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Hard to argue with that, what?

From the website:
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Zerk GT/LX Ultimate Lap Lounger

If you're going to play for two, seven or even 72 hours straight, you better be comfortable.

Hence, we've created a superior game chair that's both comfy and able to put up with the special brand of abuse that only diehard gamers can supply.

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Something to chew on: Dads buy them for their sons for the same reason Homer bought Marge a bowling ball.

You might need two.

Dimensions (inches):

• Zerk GT: 19W x 63L x 26H

• Zerk LX: 24W x 63L x 26H
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Red, Blue, Tan, Purple or Black.

$199.

May 19, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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