Sunday, 22nd July 2018
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Strangen but - True!

By Bill Sones and Rich Sones, PhD

Q. Are atheists as moral as religious believers?

A. "Surprisingly, even atheists seem to think not,” says Bob Holmes in "New Scientist” magazine. "This belief is almost certainly wrong, but it reflects a long-standing bias that morality stems from faith.”

Suppose you are told about a man who tortured animals as a child and grew up to become a serial killer. Is it more likely that he was (A) a teacher, or (B) a teacher who did not believe in God? The correct answer is (A), since there are more teachers as a whole than teachers who are atheists. And if you change the question so that option (B) is "a teacher with religious belief,” the correct answer is, again, (A). When either version of this question was presented to more than 3000 volunteers from 13 nations, "In almost every country polled, more people made the error when B was the atheist teacher. This suggests they found an atheist mass murderer more plausible than a religious one. Remarkably, even those who did not believe in any God showed the same pattern.”

"But this is not borne out by the facts. In both the US and the UK, atheists are under-represented in the prison population and over-represented among civil rights and anti-war activists. The world’s most secular countries - notably in Scandinavia - are among the most peaceable and civic-minded.”

Q. If you want to meet an intelligent alien here on earth, where might you go?

A. To the sea. In his book "Other Minds: The octopus, the sea, and the deep origins of consciousness” philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith points out that cephalopods - especially octopuses and cuttlefish - have extensive nervous systems and complex behaviors which rival those of some pretty smart vertebrates (dolphins, primates, parrots …). Yet the last common ancestor of cephalopods and vertebrates was a flattened worm-like creature which lived 600 million years ago, before any organisms had made it onto land. "Because our most recent common ancestor was so simple and goes so far back, cephalopods are an independent experiment in the evolution of large brains and complex behavior. If we can make contact with cephalopods as sentient beings, it is not because of a shared history, not because of kinship, but because evolution built minds twice over. This is probably the closest we will come to meeting an intelligent alien.”

Q. The English language is rich in words but scant in the names of their originators. The following are exceptions. Can you name the coiners of "muppet,” "mimsy,” "bafflegab” and "scare quotes,” and their meanings?

A. As fans of "Sesame Street” no doubt know, Jim Henson coined "muppet” to describe the show’s iconic characters, writes Anu Garg on his "A.Word.A.Day” web site. The word, introduced in 1995, means "a stupid person” or "a fool.” "Mimsy” owes its origin to Lewis Carroll, who in 1855 incorporated it in a poem published in his periodical "Mischmasch,” later appearing as "Jabberwocky” in his novel "Through the Looking-Glass.” A blend of "miserable” and "flimsy,” it means "prim, "feeble,” "affected.”

"Bafflegab,” as the word suggests, is "obscure, pompous, or incomprehensible language,” first coined by Milton A. Smith, assistant general counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1952.

Finally, credit goes to philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe for "scare quotes,” introduced in 1956 "to indicate the writer’s disagreement or disapproval of the use of a term.” An example is "Columbus, ‘discoverer of America.’” In spoken language, the equivalent is "air quotes” (think of arms upraised, two fingers on each hand bent to suggest quotation marks).

Q. Calling all numbers lovers. Can you say what the following numbers signify: 7, 3, 8, 4, 5, 13, 9, 6, 2, 11? And why is 7 in the first place?

A. From 30,000 votes worldwide, author Alex Bellos compiled a list of the ten most popular numbers, with 7 capturing nearly 10% of the total, reports Brandon Specktor in "Reader’s Digest” magazine. Seven’s triumph seems to reaffirm "a human fascination that goes back thousands of years,” with Babylonian tablets rife with sevens. Plus, there are the seven dwarfs, the seven samurai, the seven deadly sins, seven days of the week, even seventh heaven.

But Bellos believes something deeper is at work: Seven stands alone as the only number from 1-10 that cannot be multiplied or divided within the group: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 can each be doubled (2, 4, 6, 8, 10) and 9 can be divided by 3. As he went on to characterize the lucky number 7: "It’s unique, it’s alone, the outsider. And humans interpret this arithmetical property in cultural ways.”

Q. Cat lovers, you may have wondered sometimes when observing your darling Fluffy, are cats really domesticated or merely tame? What is domestication, anyway?

A. Domesticated animals are generally characterized as tame, with their tameness passed to their offspring; not able to mate and feed themselves without human assistance; not easily interbred with their wild counterparts; and exhibiting physical changes often seen (in mammals) as more baby-like. But cats haven’t changed much physically or genetically from their African wildcat ancestors. In fact, says Tina Hesman Saey in "Science News,” "Many felines still choose their own mates and hunt for food. Cats’ famed aloofness may be another clue that their domestication isn’t fully complete.”

But others disagree, arguing that domestication occurs when a hunter stops being interested in simply killing and eating an animal and starts being interested in the animal itself. In Mongolia, for example, horses roam free and their owners catch them, as needed, for riding or milking. "Once you’ve seen that, you can’t think that domestication is just about parking animals somewhere,” says evolutionary biologist Ludovic Orlando of the University of Copenhagen. "It’s about the process of interacting with them and developing a relationship with them.”

(Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Waterford Crafters offered platform at Ireland's largest Craft and Design Fair

Three of Waterford's finest craft businesses will display their wares at Ireland's largest craft and design fair this January at the RDS in Dublin.

Wild Oats Soaps, Mireog and Pippa Sweeney Designs will join some 450 other professional crafts businesses from January 21st to 24th at ‘Showcase 2018'. The three craft businesses will be showcased under the ‘Made in Waterford' stand, which is hosted by the Local Enterprise Office in Waterford. The show is attended by trade buyers from more than 25 countries keen to find unique products from Ireland.

The Waterford Local Enterprise Office will host the ‘Made in Waterford’ stand at the 2018 Showcase expo. Speaking of the upcoming event Head of Enterprise at the Local Enterprise Office Waterford, Richie Walsh said, "We are hugely keen to support and grow business in Waterford and this is an opportunity to offer an international sales platform to some brilliant local businesses, all of whom have capacity and scale to grow both in the national and international market. Irish craft and design are at the forefront of the global market and further growth is predicted and we hope to capture a good percentage of that market for Waterford."

Wild Oats produce a range of award-winning natural handmade soaps, bath milk and moisturising body oils. Founded by Karen Cottier, who later partnered with analytical Scientist Deirdre Meany, the Lismore duo combine their love of things natural with scientific attention to detail. The soothing properties of Oats, which are at the heart of all their products and because only the best will do, it's only natural that Waterford's own Flahavans are their oats of choice. Wild Oats products are stocked in Dublin and Cork Airports, as well as a range of shops nationally.

Mireog illustrator Shona MacDonald designs and makes a unique range of organic t-shirts, recycled notebooks and fair-trade tea towels in Irish and other Celtic languages, all designed and hand-printed in her studio in County Waterford and greeting cards which are digitally printed in Ireland. Shona's products are already available for purchase online and at a range of art and gift galleries across the country.

Pippa Sweeney is a Waterford based artist, designer and award-winning children’s author. She is also the owner of the Beach House Gallery in Dungarvan. Working from her studio at The Beach House, Pippa creates her felt art and gift ranges. Although the Irish landscape is a major inspiration for her textiles, she loves to work playfully and this is also reflected in her Good Wishes gift range which combines love, luck and little wishes as framed wall art to suit every family celebration. Pippa is a member of the Design and Craft Council of Ireland, has a Masters in Illustration and studied needle felting under Master Felter Birgitte Krag Hansen. Her products are available to purchase at the Beach House gallery or at a range of gift galleries throughout Ireland.

At the Showcase 2018 event at the RDS, Wild Oats Soaps will be at stand F80, Pippa Sweeney Designs will be at stand F79 and Mireog will be at stand F81.

For further details on the Waterford Crafters and their participation in Showcase 2018 see

Waterford Today weekly horoscopes

Wednesday 3rd January - Tuesday 9th January

Aries 21st March-21st April

You’re feeling optimistic as the year begins Aries, and, as with the law of attraction, that positivity attracts good things and better opportunities. Trust your intuition and you will find yourself naturally in the right place at the right time. Put distance between yourself and anyone who is on a more negative vibe. They will literally suck the energy out of you.

Taurus 22nd April-21st May

You might be experiencing a lot of pent-up emotions after the festivities. It could just be that you partied a bit too hearty and are feeling the ill-effects of over-indulgence, lack of sleep and the post Christmas blues as a result. Or there could be a genuine need to release some difficult and long held grievance that resurfaced when you were around family members. Confide in a friend.

Gemini 22nd May-21st June

You could feel like you’re walking on egg shells with someone Gemini. It seems your quick wit and their super-sensitivity are not a good match. It could just be down to exhaustion from the frolics of the festivities so try as much as you can not to let it spoil your mood. Your fun-loving nature is much admired so put yourself among people who share your zest for life.

Cancer 22nd June-22nd July

Looking for the exit Cancer? It seems you may have had enough of something and are looking for a way to escape. It could be that being cooped up with the family over Christmas has you experiencing some cabin fever, that what you thought would be a relaxing period, free from the daily grind, was exhausting in a whole other way. Get out in the fresh hour for an hour or two on your own if possible.

Leo 23rd July-23rd August

Self-preservation is the order of the day Leo. You’ve got a big heart and will, no doubt, have been making sure everybody around you was having a good time of the festivities. You yourself may be feeling a bit deflated after it all so take some time to look after yourself now. Get some rest, get some pampering if at all possible and do something to nourish your soul.

Virgo 24th August-23rd September

The best of intentions amount to nothing if you don’t put them into action, otherwise they’re just nice thoughts. So if you’ve been meaning to get back on the health and fitness wagon, then for heaven’s sake, stop talking and get doing! The benefits you’ll experience will serve you so well in your day-to-day life. You’ll have more energy, better mood and will sleep better too. It’s a no-brainer really. What are you waiting for?

Libra 24th September-23rd October

Now that all the excitement has died down, and especially if you’ve had a lot of family and friends commitments and have felt run-ragged, do something to relieve the overwhelm, something to quieten your mind. Frustrations and anger will soon dissipate when you allow everything to slow down and settle back to a more sedate rhythm.

Scorpio 24th October-22nd November

The New Year gets off to a busy start for you Scorpio and your head could be well and truly spinning from all that’s happened over Christmas and the pace that life begins with at the start of 2018. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but you will need to pace yourself where possible and delegate whatever you can whenever you can. Financial security is well starred.

Sagittarius 23rd November-21st December

You might find you’ve had quite enough of people in general thank you very much! Usually social you really will just want to close the door and cosy up at home without any distractions. It could be that you’ve seen another side to certain friends and family members that you’re not sure you like, or that your perspective on what’s important in life has changed considerably.

Capricorn 22nd December-20th January

Whereas some star signs will have had their bellyful of family and friends and are glad to wave them off, you could find that you’ve loved every minute of being in the bosom of family and friends and are quite sad to see them go. Or it could be the realisation that you or someone else, won’t always be around to enjoy these occasions, that has you wanting to hold them a little tighter for a little longer.

Aquarius 21st January-19th February

In previous years, you may have poo-pooed the making of resolutions or refused to follow the herd when it comes to fitness fads etc. This year though your eyes could be firmly on the prize. Your laser focus is training in on the future you want, personally and professionally, especially if you feel you’ve been chasing something forever, this is the year you resolve to make it happen.

Pisces 20th February-20th March

Don’t get sucked into someone else’s drama Pisces. Your calm nature often results in others seeking out your opinion on their various dilemmas. Recognise that some people simply thrive on conflict and if there’s none about they’ll gladly create some. If you hear them knocking on your door, make an excuse to leave yourself so that they can’t park themselves on your couch to bend your ear


Letters to the Editor

  • Our View

    Time for a breakJust as the height of Summer begins it seems that it is also the time when our politicians begin their yearly departure from Dail Eireann. While not many professions get as much holiday time as politicians do you have to ask the question whether they merit such long breaks?There are many who would immediately answer that they don't really deserve such long holidays, that they barely seem to spend any time in the Dail at all and after all they are well remunerated for the long hours …

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