Kenny Vs. Spenny. I've been watching that show since it was little more than an occasionally gross comedy show between two (barely) friends on Showcase (for my American friends, that's sort of like the Canadian equivalent to, not really). After garnering the attention of Matt Stone and Trey Parker (of South Park fame), the show took off and started being aired on Comedy Central (for my Canadian friends, that's sort of like the American version of The Comedy Network....but really). I feared that, having 'gone American', Kenny and Spenny would take the show south, and start shooting in the U.S. Happily, they stayed in Toronto, and a good time was had by all (except Spenny, usually).

In a recent taping, their competition was to see who could piss off the most people. The result: deliberatley trying to offend the christian population of the entire city of Toronto. I'm speechless.

And, I can't wait to see that episode.

Wanna do science? Government cut your funds back? Give a shit about helping to entrench a brand that doesn't, in turn, give your same given shit about the fate of a species or its taxonomy? Then brother, there is a solution for you!

The world has lots of species. I mean, lots. You may think that spending $120.00 on groceries gets you lots of groceries, but that's peanuts compared to the world's species (thanks, DNA). With new techniques for finding such species, there seems to be more creatures than we can name. Sure, we have lots of banal latin for taxonomy purposes, but let's face it, Callicebus aureipalatii has! Ahhh....but, name your monkey,, then, my friend, your little simian friend will put the money back into monkey!

On the one hand, I think this is a decent consolation prize. Governments (especially ours) don't give a bejezzus about science that isn't directly and immediately related to the economy, healthcare, or the military, and so peripheral scientists, like BIOLOGISTS need to get their money somewhere. The same thing happened to the Canadian and American School system: conservatives (usually) cut funding, schools loose programs, private enterprise steps in and funds hockey-games, and basketball tournaments etc., in exchange for the school only selling their particular brand of soda and/or sports drink, and allow their respective logos to appear everywhere on the school grounds (I remember how ubiquitous Sprite was at my high school.....luckily I was a music-geek, so I rarely had to deal with the morons who proudly displayed their sports parephenelia bedecked with every logo they could get their moms to sew on to them). So here, the private sector has stepped in to provide funding when the government refuses to. Sounds like a pretty good deal, eh?

But on the other hand, what happens when companies realize that naming spiders, birds, plants and monkeys is not as lucrative as they had orginally hoped? Like all private enterprises, they will stop spending the money. That's what companies do. It is, for my opinion, one of the strengths of a government-funded science program: it can operate at a loss. The science, like the schools and the hospitals, is meant not just for one tiny facet of thinkers, but for the benefit of society at large, and it is within the government's best interest to ensure that these ventures don't fall ass-over-teakettle (as my mother would say). The flip-side of this is, of course, higher taxes. And we, like good little consumers have been trained to cringe at the mere idea of increased taxes. So on governments go, obliging the tax-terrified public's reactionary screams that their money is being wasted on petty things like, you know, SCIENCE, and strip funding drastically so that the a-political scientists have to go searching for funding elsewhere.

And so they turn to Nike, Sprite, and in a desperate grab for some much-needed funds. Yes, its fine in the short term, but these companies won't be around nearly as long as the science will, and they're going to stop seeing a payoff from naming species after their silly little wares.

It's good in the short term, but ultimately, it cheapens us all.

This week's picture is, yet again, astronomical in nature. Below is an image of the tiny moon of Saturn, Pan, a walnut-shaped moon whizzing through the Encke gap on the outer edge of of the A ring. Pan is a neat little moon, acting like a sheppard of the rings. Using it's gravity to clear a path for itself, as well as keeping its part of the rings dynamic, Pan is a bit like the Witch King. (I feel like I should explain that, meaning that Sauron (and also Saturn) is the Lord of the Rings, the Witch King (in this case, Pan) being a mere shade of the lord's power, doing its bidding. Not the best analogy, ever, I'll admit. Whatevs, have a moon:

It's a bit frustrating, not being able to take decent astronomical pictures of my own that go beyond the moon. I can see lots: intricate details of the moon, Jupiter and it's 4 Galilean moons, and last night I saw a globular cluster (still no Saturn and rings yet...its still too low on the horizon at dusk for me to see), but I am limited by my technology. Hopefully the new scope might prove fruitfull.

Well, the world has finally impoded in on itself, as my two most divergent interests have joined into one issue: skepticism, and professional wrestling.

The WWE (formerly the WWF for those of you not keeping track) has signed a cross-promotion/support system for Jenny McCarthy's, Operation Rescue. Operation Rescue is an organization which solicits donations under the guise of funding autism research, but what they don't tell you is that they recomend chelation therapy, and they also do public outreach to convince people that vaccines cause autism, vitamins can cure autism, and constantly propogate fear of doctors and of pharmaceutical products (you the equation, doctors + big pharma = sick people who get treatment, but not the cure....I confess, before skepticm, I bought that nonesense).

Just in case you're reading this and you're on the fence, vaccines do not cause autism. The research has been MORE than sufficient to demonstrate this. We still don't know what causes autism, but the research is hinting at a genetic cause (although environmental causes have still not been ruled out). Jenny McCarthy is the cheif proponent of the anti vaccination movement these days (yes, THAT Jenny McCarthy....the one who became famous as being the hot blond girl who ate her boogers on MTV. ok, I'll admit, that was a blatant ad hominem attack, but in this case, it's hard not to....McCarthy is both stupid and crazy. I'll leave the civil debate to the civil people), and she often uses the tactic of the emotional plea to convince people of her case, about how doctors forced her son to get the vaccine (I don't buy that), and how she wishes that doctors would listen more to the 'mommy instinct' (In the words of Steven Novella, "Your mommy instinct doesn't trump ton-of-science"). When she does base her arguments and not on emotionalism, she tries to make evidence-based arguemts, citing poorly-conducted, obselete studies which have been proven to be dishonest, fallacious, or have since been supersceded by better studies which contradict their findings. While I don't think she's being dishonest, I do think that she is just terribly, terribly mislead, and I wonder how many cases of mumps, measles or rubella it will take to convince her to abandon her dangerous propoganda.

And now, she's made a connection with the fans of professional wrestling, a demographic not exactly known for great cultural and intellectual advancements. I don't mean to disparage wrestling and all of its fans with out reason here...but in this case, I truly know what I'm talking about (for realsies, I used to be a professional wrestler, under the name of "Happy-Hour Seamus O'Leary" injury forced me to stop, but I wonder how long it would take for me to be driven out by the inane sub-culture?). This is already a crowd that is used to being manipulated by emotional displays of hardship, and are probably lacking in critical thinking skills department (a department which, incedentally is located WAY down the hall from the department of steroids, budweiser-drinking, t-shirt ripping and heavy-metal theme music).

I wonder how many of these wrestling fans are going to be swayed to not get their children vaccinated? I also wonder if/when McCarthy will come around the the side of evidence and realize she's been harming people....will she ever apologize? Will she ever advocate FOR vaccines to help undo the damage she's done?

Picture of the Week

Tonight, I went out for some star gazing, and got an exceptionally good view of the four moons of Jupiter (The Galilean Moons), which inspired this week's Picture of the Week:

The moons are, from left to right: Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto.

Io is the most volcanically-active body in the solar system, constantly reshaping its surface, so much so that it has surprisingly few impact craters. Geologically speaking, it's the greasy-teenager of the solar-system: pockmarked with countless volcanoes that spew out lava, like that kid from drama class. You know, THAT kid.

Europa is the baby of the Galileans, but recieves loads of attention from astronomers. After Mars, it is the most likley candidate for extra-terrestrial life. It's basically a giant ball-of-ice: the entire planet is completley covered with a thick layer of ice, under which, scientists expect to find a vast, planet-wide ocean of flowing water. On Earth, wherever there is water, there is life. Even in the most extreme of conditions, there is life (they're called 'extremophiles', species' which thrive off of extreme environments: extreme heat, cold, pressure etc...).

Ganymede is the giant of the family. It is bigger than Mercury, and nearly the size of Mars....and it's a moon! Its size/mass is such that it can even hold onto a very thin atmosphere (only Ganymede and Saturn's moon, Titan, are moons known to have this characteristic). Don't think about terraforming it for future colonization and exploration though, Jupiter's massive radiation shield would kill you in less than 10 minutes.

Callisto is as old-looking as Io is young. It is the aesthetic opposite of Io, completly geologically inactive, and covered with impact craters. Io, the Walter Matthau of the moon system, has the largest impact crater-densitity in the solar system. So's ugly and old looking.

And that's about all I have to say about the Galilean Moons of Jupiter. Even with a pair of decent binoculars and a steady pair of hands they can be seen.

On a muggy night one mid summer's eve,
The sky was observed by some skeptic named 'Steve'
He tilted his telescope this way and fro,
Looking for Vega, Saturn and Virgo.

Anyway, I'm terrible at poetry....even intentionally crappy poetry. Here are some pictures.

On Pluto...

Yesterday, I wrote a little bit about our new Solar System family member, Makemake. Then it got me thinking about how vociferously the general public opposed the demotion of Pluto in 2006. So here are some thoughts and facts about Pluto, and the history of our classification that you might like to know:

Pluto was discovered in 1930. Big deal, we all knew that. We probably all had a generation of teachers who said "when I was a kid, Pluto was a big question mark. We didn't know exactly WHAT it was". Well, now we know a LOT about what it is, and a planet, it ain't.

Firstly, it's small. Less than 1500 kms in diameter, roughly half the size of Mercury. That's a little frakkin small for a planet, and it's certainly too small to hold an atmosphere (in the interests of full disclosure, the ability to hold an atmophere is not a requisite of what it means to be a planet).

Secondly, from what we can tell, it is REALLY icy. So icy, in fact, that if it were closer to the sun, say around the orbits of Mercury or Venus, it would have a huge ice-tail, like a comet. After a few thousand years, the ice will have been blown off, and Pluto would be even smaller!

Thirdly, its orbit is really freaky-deaky. It's on a tilt against the plane of the rest of the system (which is consistant with comets and the kuiper belt objects), and it even interesects with Neptune's orbit. Planets don't have orbits like that. Freaks like comets do. I'm certainly not suggesting Pluto is a comet, merely that its as much a comet as it is a planet. So the definition of both are too vague.

Fourthly, one of the requisites of the planet designation is that a planet has a certain leve of gravitational impact on the surrounding space. Pluto's mass is so rinky-dink, that it's larget moon, Charon doesn't orbit it the way other moons orbit their host planets. Since Charon is roughly half the size and mass of Pluto, the two bodies almost orbit each other, constantly dancing around each other in their unsual orbit around the sun. So much do they dance around each other that for a while, astronomers considered that Pluto was a binary planet system. Freaky.

One more point on this issue of school children now having to learn something wholly different from what we were taught. It's a bit of a silly issue, and I don't think that its a serious argument, but the next time someone says that to you, tell that this very process has happened before. In 1801, Ceres was discovered. It was thought to be a new, tiny planet between Mars and Jupiter. Then, they found another one, Pallas. Then another one, Juno. And again, Vesta. Astronomers realized they weren't looking at new planets, but a peculiar system that is chocked-full of rocky bodies. After nearly a half-century of teaching that Ceres et. all were planets, they were demoted, and the classification of the Asteroid Belt was born. Today, our situation is VERY similar: We find Pluto, and we think is a planet. We keep looking around in the area, and we find similar bodies: Eris, Makemake, Sedna, Orcus, Varuna....and eventually, we realized that we had something very different going on. We effectively had another asteroid belt in our system. Like the belt in between Mars and Jupiter, the Kuiper Belt contains huge amounts of bodies, some as large as Pluto, most as small as a pea.

H'okai, so, there were two options: 1) expand the definition of a planet to include Pluto, but would aslo force us to include Ceres, Iris and Makemake (then-named 2005Fy9), or 2) limit the defintion of a planet that would cut Pluto out, and effectively make a new designation for Pluto-like objects; after all, under the old way, calling Ceres an asteroid was also a bit ridiculous because of its spherical shape and its sheer size and mass.

They went with option 2, and we're all the better for it. As astronomers learned more about how the solar system works, they learned that our older ways of defining and classification were outdated and simplistic.

So Pluto gets demoted slightly, while Eris, Ceres and Makemake get a boost. If space had an ego, this would be a net-gain for our solar system. And now, our system seems richer to the average person: we now have THREE types of planetary bodies now: rocky planets, gas giants, and dwarf planets. Personally, I think Pluto can take one for the team. It's been coasting for too long on its affectionate position.

Making Makemake

UPDATE: In the interests of getting my facts right, I made a mistake when I charactarizered the Kuiper Belt as the birthplace of most of our comets. That's wrong. The Oort cloud is.

I'm going to the moon! Sort of. I've recieved lots of participation medals when I was in elementary school. This one tops them all.

In other space news, lets talk about planets.

Here is a very rough, crude explanation. There are loads of subtleties, but this is, in a very down-and dirty way, an accurate portrayal: Planets stop at Neptune. This is not a prerequisite for what defines a planet, but merely a consequence of the solar system's formation: the large amounts of heavy elements were able to maintain their structure in the inner solar system, making the rocky planets. In the outer system, the heavy elements formed nothing larger than the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, as the immense gravity produced by the gas giants drew in most of the matter in the area. Once the sun flared into existance and blew all the extra particles off into space, it could only get about as far as the kuiper belt for the heavier particles, and the oort cloud for the lighter particles that did not/could not get sucked into the gravity wells of early planets. The Sun's gravity is holding these belts in place, and the kuiper belt is recently becoming one of the most-researched parts of the solar system, as it is the birthplace of most of the comets, and is also home to more plutoids (the recent moniker given to pluto-like dwarf planets, characterized by their small gravitational effect, their spherical shape, and high ice-content) than ever thought before.

Including the newest member to the solar system family, Makemake. Formerly known as 2005 FY9, Makemake is roughly 1600 kms in diameter, around the size of Saturn's second-largest moon, Rhea (the one thought to have rings as well, making it the only moon known to have rings....and as a quick note of interest, Rhea was discovered in 1672 by Giovanni Cassini, and it's poetically approrpriate that it was the Cassini probe that found the suggestion of Rhea's rings), and is the fourth dwarf planet in the solar system.

So our family tree now looks as follows (I'm not going to inser hyperlinks on the planets you're likely already fairly familiar with....or should be, dammit!):

Rocky planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars.
Gas Giants: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune.
Plutoids: Pluto, Ceres, Eris, Makemake.

Just as a point of interest here, I find Ceres to be the most fascinating. Its the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, compromising roughly one-third of the belt's mass. Discovered in 1801, Ceres was once thought to be a planet, and it was followed by a string of other discoveries of "planets" in the belt....astronomers of the day found about 6 'planets' until they realized what they were looking at was a huge belt of asteroids. Ceres was downgraded to asteroid status until Pluto's demotion from planet status in 2006 (it was either remove Pluto from the list, or make Ceres and Eris and 2005 FY9 also planets). Without my doing any serious research, I wonder if Ceres was formed as it was and not a larger planet because of the tidal forces of Jupiter preventing clumps of rock from getting too big. I'll have to ask Phil about that.

Welcome to the family, Makemake. I'm glad you don't have a typical Latin/Roman name

Dearest one of God? Moi?

Oh, email scams. You come to me about 1 a day now, and you always make me laugh. It would be selfish of me to keep your joy all to myself. I feel like I should share you for everyone, like this one, that came this morning:
July 15, 2008 1:28:26 AM
From Mrs Susan Morgan

N�[38 Rue Des Martyrs Cocody Abidjan,Cote d'Ivoire

ATTNDEAREST ONE OF GOD I am the above named person from Kuwait. I am married to Mr.Abram Morgan, who worked with Kuwait embassy in Ivory Coast for nine years before he died in the year 2004. We were married for eleven years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only four days. Before his death we were both born again Christian. Since his death I decided not to remarry or get a child outside my matrimonial home which the Bible is against. When my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of $2. 5 Million (Two Million Five Hundred U.S. Dollars) in the bank here in Abidjan in suspense account. Presently, the fund is still with the bank. Recently, my Doctor told me that i have serious sickness which is cancer problem. The one that disturbs me most is my stroke sickness. Having known my condition I decided to donate this fund to a church or individual that will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct herein. I want a church that will use this fund for orphanages, widows, propagating the word of God and to endeavour that the house of God is maintained. The Bible made us to understand that blessed is the hand that giveth. I took this decision because I don’t have any child that will inherit this money and my husband relatives are not Christians and I don’t want my husband’s efforts to be used by unbelievers. I don’t want a situation where this money will be used in an ungodly way. This is why I am taking this decision. I am not afraid of death hence i know where I am going. I know that I am going to be in the bosom of the Lord. Exodus 14 VS 14 says that the Lord will fight my case and I shall hold my peace. I don’t need any telephone communication in this regard because of my health hence the presence of my husband’s relatives is around me always I don't want them to know about this development. With God all things are possible. As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the bank here in Abidjan. I want you and the church to always pray for me because the Lord is my shepherd. My happiness is that I lived a life of a worthy Christian. Whoever that wants to serve the Lord must serve him in spirit and Truth. Please always be prayerful all through your life. Contact me on the above e-mail address for more information’s, any delay in your reply will give me room in sourcing another church or individual for this same purpose. Please assure me that you will act accordingly as I Stated herein. Hoping to receive yourreply.

Remain blessed in the Lord. Yours in Christ, Mrs susan morgan

So touching. I hope those bastards at The Scam Batier don't harass you. After all, no doubt you are just good, god-fearing christians who want nothing but to spread the gospel. I'm sure your motives are as pure as your grammar is poor.

Last night, I took this photo.

Amateur astronomy makes me really happy.

Picture of the Week

Okay, so the format of this blog, and the strange shape of this picture, means that there is considerable distortion of one of my favorite images of the Pheonix mission thus far. So I encourage you to click on the image to see a full-size, high resolution version.


This week, on Donahue...

At the risk of alienation,

Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League. It's been suggested that I went too far in a previous posting by saying, "fuck you" to him. Let's be clear, I wasn't saying it to him simply for the recent PZ Myers affair, but in the end of a long string of hatefull, tribal nonesense. Here's just a brief outline of some of this shit that this hate/fear monger has pulled in recent years:

1) Senator Charles Schumer opposed the appointment of William Pryor Jr. to the Supreme Court, drawing attention to the overtly religous manner in which he has behaved in the past. Donahue admonished the senator for this, claiming that if Pryor were Jewish, there would have been no objection.

2) In 1996 Donahue took exception to the Joan Osborne song, 'One of Us'. The song explores the ideas about what it would be like if God were a human being. Donahue exclaimed, "It is no wonder that Joan Osborne instructs her fans to donate their time and money to Planned Parenthood. It is of a piece with her politics and her prejudices. Her songs and videos offer a curious mix of both, the effect of which is to dance awfully close to the line of Catholic baiting."

3) Donahue took excpetion to the 1999 Kevin Smith film, Dogma. Donahue organized national and virulent protests against the film (even before it was released!), complaining that the main character was a descendant of Mary, and also worked in an abortion clinic. Smith later recalled that Donahue, "...actually invited me out to have a beer after making my life hell for six months."
4) In a discussion of the then-upcoming Mel Gibson parade of anti-semitism/film, The Passion of the Christ, Donahue claimed that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the Messiah." On CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Donahue exclaimed, "And the people who are clamoring this -- this rhetoric, this cacophony against Mel Gibson, boy, are they going to have to pay for it when it's all over!" The next day on Scarborough Country, Donahue continued, "After all, 15-year-olds, they go to abortionists. They get their babies killed without parental consent. The new Puritans [those criticizing The Passion of the Christ] don't seem to worry about that. They like gay sex. They like [the film] The Dreamers, a brother and sister who bathe together and stuff like that. The same people in The New York Times who say this movie, I don't think it's not really right for kids, they have no problems when it comes to sodomy. It's smoking they don't like and Catholicism." After the release of the film, Donahue was mocking the film's detractors who claimed that it was "fascisitic queer-bashing", and replied, " I don't know what about -- the queer-bashing is all about. I'm pretty good about picking out who queers are and I didn't see any in the movie. I'm usually pretty good at that."

5) In 2007, Donahue called for a boycott of the film, "The Golden Compass", claiming that the film "denigrates Christianity" and promotes "atheism for kids". As a result of this cry, an Ontario school board pulled the book from its library shelves.

6) In 2005, following yet another catholic priest molestation scandal, Donahue asserted that it was a homosexual scandal, not a pedophilia scandal".

7) Similarly, Donahue opposed a bill proposed by the New York State Legislature that would add clergymen to the list of professionals who were mandated reporters of suspected child abuse under existing statutes. Instead, Donahue and the Catholic League supported a bill that would have expanded the definition of child abuse to include consensual sex between teenagers.

8) Following a South Park episode which refused to portray Mohammed (as per a decision by Comedy Central, not Matt Stone and Trey Parker), and showed Jesus (along with President Bush) deficating on an American flag (done satirically, of course), Donahue exclaimed, T"he ultimate hypocrite is not Comedy Central — that's their decision not to show the image of Muhammad or not — it's Parker and Stone. Like little whores, they'll sit there and grab the bucks. They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus. That's their stock in trade."

9) Donahue demanded that John Edwards fire two of his campaign staffers citing some personal blog entries writen which negatively portray the catholic church in its efforts to fight the pro-choice community, as well as the idea that women are merely vessels for procreation. Donahue: "It is not enough that one foul-mouthed anti-Christian bigot, Amanda Marcotte, has quit. Melissa McEwan must go as well. Either Edwards shows her the door or she bolts on her own. There is no third choice—the Catholic League will see to it that this issue won't go away. McEwan resigned in Feb/07, citing the hostility of the Catholic League, and emails threatening her with rape and murder.

10) In 1994, Donahue and the Catholic League sponsored bus advertisments discouraging condom use.

11) During a 2001 appearance on Hardball, Donohue articulated his opposition to stem cell research as follows: "You can't take the egg of the bald eagle and kill it or move it, and yet we're talking about human embryos as if they were a piece of putty, and if that were the case, we might as well serve them as appetizers at a human embryonic cocktail to people."

12) In 2003, Donohue defended a controversial remark made by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) equating homosexuality with bigamy, polygamy, incest, and adultery, saying: ''To defend the institution of marriage is pro-civil society. This traditional institution cannot be defended if all alternative lifestyles are treated as its equal."

13) In 2004, Donahue referred to the "gay death style," remarked, "God forbid we'd run out of little gay kids," claimed that Senator John Kerry "never found an abortion he couldn't justify," and claimed that "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular ... Hollywood likes anal sex."

Now, some of the instances listed above may seem like the bitchy little ramblings of a hate-filled prick who gets easily offended (or at least pretends to be offended). Some other instances are staggering examples of the sheer reach and power of Donahue and the Catholic League. The League has over 300,000 members in the United States (a 2006 figure), and the crucial difference between him and me, is that people listen to him. People will cast their votes based on what he says...and as we can see, what he says is always hatefull, bigotted, racist, homophobic and downright evil. Donahue's voice is one that not only shapes minds, but changes policies as well.

So I ask you to consider, is my telling him "fuck you" really that inapropriate? Am I the one who is truly vitriolic? Or am I simply responding in kind (at least, as close to that as I can...I'm not demanding he be fired from his position in the League, nor am I advocating that media outlets issue a boycott from him speaking on their airwaves)....He is an absolute scumbag of the worst kind: a racist hate-monger one that hides behind his particular interpretation of religion...and is powerfull and influential. Me? I'm just a dipshit little skeptic whose impotent voice occasionally tells people (who deserve it), to fuck off.

And one final note, perhaps the most important point. Lest it be (yet again) misconstrued that I am anti-catholic. I'm not anti-catholic, anti-christian, or anti-religious. My particular brand of agnosticism/atheism works for me, and I fully recognize that some religions work for others. I have been to many different relgious services: I have taken communion and I have genuflected; I have worn a kippah in synagogue, and taken my feet off in temple; I have even followed the name of Mohammed with "Blessings and peace be upon his name" out of respect for a muslim friend. I only ask that I am afforded the same curteousy that I extend.

What I am against, however, is bigotry and bullying done in the name of religion. This includes (but not limited to) anti-semitism, institutionalized homophobia, the anti-abortion movement, and whenever a church tries to influence a secular state. I am against the Catholic League, not Catholics, or Catholocism. (Indeed, as far as Christian denominations are concerned, I've always respected the far more scholarly methodology of the Catholic church). Telling them to fuck off is too good for them...but if I played by their rules and tactics, I would be advocating violence against its members. I honestly couldn't care less which religion a person does or does not adhere to....where I draw the line is when its devotees try to impose their beliefs and practices on everyone outside their organization. You can be as bigoted and racist as you want, so long as you 'keep it in the pants'.

We are a secular society now. Yes, I recognize the deep religious tradition we share, and that's partially why our laws do not discriminate for/against a religion, and do not prohibit one from practicing their faith the way they wish. But that time has passed, and diversification is the order of the day: religious/non-religious, gay/strait, pro-choice/pro-life....we all live together now, and no one church gets to dicate terms over another group.

So yes, Bill Donahue, fuck you. You're not a Catholic. You're an embarassment to Catholicism, Christianity, and the United States. Nothing about you and your group is good or viturous. Most of the Catholics that I know are good, honest, and above all, respectful people. For some, their goodness is informed by their Catholicism, for others, its simply a reflection of their inherent goodness. Catholics the world over have largely learned to get along in the world. When will you catch up and realize you don't run the show? You're not the pope. In fact, I agree with PZ's description of you and your League as "demented fuckwits.

As for everyone else, I sincerely offer my apologies if you were offended. It was not my intention, and hopefully you know me for the paper-tiger that I am. This is one of those cases where "Steve the Skeptic" may be at odds with "Steve just some guy". Skepticism/Humanism can, at times, be an inherently combative enterprise, and occasionally steps on the toes of good, well meaning people. I make a better skeptic than a humanist, and this is a humanist issue. I've had a year full of powers-that-be bringing down their collective thunder down upon me, so when I hear a story about it happening somewhere else, I can be a bit sensitive. I still meant everything I said in the original post, even more so since PZ and the douchy kid are having their university careers threatened, as well as their very lives. I'll side with those that recieve the death threats, not the ones giving them. "Why bother picking a side at all? Why not let this inane bullshit go?" Good question, but then I would be a pretty piss-poor skeptic if I didn't chime in, and stand in solidarity, meagre though my voice is. I could have simply left this post on my skeptic blog (where it was originally posted), and not bother copy and paste it to the personal blog...or if I did, I could have cleaned up the language a little bit. Perhaps, and that's something to consider for the future. The main reason I posted it on the personal blog is simply to keep livejournal from closing the rarely-used account....sorta like how wolverine needs to keep sticking out his claws to keep the wounds from closing over.

So to the probably none of you that have read this, my longest blog entry EVER, all the way up to this point, thanks alot, and hopefully you weren't offended, and hopefully I have my position a little more clearly.



Talk about a ham-fisted title.

Skeptic sites are rife with examples of the dangers of poor critical thinking: alternative medicine that kills people, psychics that charge sexual abuse and ruin lives, and creationists feining intellectual curiosity by admonishing evolution in schools.

There are other dangers of a lack of critical thinking, some far less fatal, and infinatley more creepy and gross. I draw your attention to the Etoro, a small tribe in Papua New Guinea. I'm sorry if this comes off as incredibly euro-centrist and relativist, but the Etoro are....well...really gross. They believe that young boys should perform oral sex on the village elders, so that by ingesting the ejaculate, they will absorb the life force of the elders.

Ummm....yuck, and weird.

So normative is this practice that heterosexual relations are limited to a small portion of the year, so that the women may become pregnant (this might be the first case of a human sexual mating season that I've ever heard of). It gets weirder.

Women are discouraged from having sex outside of this mating season because it's viewed that they steal (and waste) the life force. Boys are taller than most, are suspected of injesting more semen than is considered average, and are considered witches, who rob life force from their fellow boys. I wonder how I would fit in here. I'm shorter than the average man, so no one would accuse me of eating too much semen. On the other hand, I might be forced to injest more in order to grow taller.

Now, unless there is an STD swimming around in the gene pool, this practice is probably physically harmless. Still, this sounds both weird, and hella-gross to me.

I've put off long enough talking about this issue, its high time I chimed in.

Here is the very brief primer of what happened so far:
1) Some university kid rabble-rouses at a Catholic mass and steals the eucharist, holding it "hostage" (kinda reminds me of the 'don't taze me, bro' kid).
2) Parishoners violently try to get it back from him. He escapes.
3) Kid recieves threats on his life, as Catholic activitsts the world-over liken this to a hate-crime, and a kidnapping.
4) Fearing for his life, the kid returns the cracker.
5) Not enough, Catholics cried. He should be expelled from university, and Catholic League president, and hate-filled prick-of-ages Bill Donahue launches a campaign to lobby the president of the kid's university to expell him...over a cracker. The spineless University, like all universities do, sided not with their student, but instead issued a statement about how important the catholic community is to the school.
6) Meanwhile, the death threats continued.
7) PZ Myers, skeptical and humanist science blogger chimmed in, saying that if people were to send HIM a consecrated eucharist, that HE will defile it for all the world to see.
8) Bill Donahue called for him to be fired (nevermind that his university has nothing to do with his blog), and PZ had death threats from Catholics who don't like to be mocked.

This whole situation reminds me of the mohamed cartoons a while back.

Growing up catholic, I know FULL WELL the concept of transubstantiation, and that for catholics, the cracker isn't simply a symbol of jesus, but jesus himself.

But similar to how the depiction of mohammed is forbidden for muslims and not the rest of us, so too does the concept of transubstantiation. The cracker becomes jesus for catholics, not the rest of us. This kid was probably just some smarmy-little-shit who excercised poor and tasteless judgement. But guess what, catholics? He's allowed to! You don't get impose your tribal, superstitious voodoo onto a public instiution and call for his expulsion. Insult him all you want (I would actually join you, but for the fact that I can't stand you, and a life-time of catholic education is about all I can take), but his education is not your business.

I won't even bother commenting on the laughable hypocrisy of those issuing death threats to the student and to PZ. You freaks are what is causing this new wave of what you like to call "new atheism' in the first place.

Also, you can stop likening this to a hate-crime, and a kidnapping. Talk about a gross insult to the people that actually do lose loved ones to hate-crimes and misanthropes just likened them to a tasteless cracker.

And as for the Catholic League, the best thing I can say is 'fuck you'. American catholics should be embarassed by your particular brand of homophobic, anti-intellectual hate-speech. There is a good reason the Vatican typically distances itself from you freaks. Bill Donahue, I've met a pope once in my life. And you, sir, are no pope.

I can't wait to see what will happen if/when PZ gets his hands on a communion wafer. Whatever happens, I'll stand (or write) in solidarity.

I has a telescope!

H'okay, so..

A few months ago, I got my hand on a second-hand, barely functioning telescope. Thanks to some help (and eyepieces!) from the good people at the Peterborough Astronomical Association, and John at the Buckhorn Observatory, I got it up to mostly-working order. And just a few minutes ago, using my regular, no-frills digital camera held up by hand up against the eyepiece, I snapped this:

Cool. Tonight is supposed to be a mild, clear night. We'll see what happens!

UPDATE: It was a really clear night, and I saw Jupiter really clearly. I could see the four big moons, and I could even see it with two stripes in the upper and lower hemispheres. Since my scope isn't 100% functional, I wasn't able to use the most ideal eyepiece in order to get a photo. Regardless, this was about as close as I can get to a religious experience!

Picture of the Week

H'okai, So....

I think its high-time I started a new feature at this blog, and a recent slew of hella-pretty pictures from Hubble have inspired what will be the new weekly feature: Picture of the Week. It will probably usually be something astronomical in nature, since I tend to gravitate (HA!) towards those pictures, but they will always be science/skeptically themed. So with that in mind, here is the first one:

This is a picture of a ribbon of gas, compressed by a nearby supernova shockwave. It reminds me of the Nexus from Star Trek: Generations. In any case, VERY nice picture!

I haz a birfdae!

OMG! I haz a 141! And it R my birfdae!

To celebrate Canada Day, I slept in unil 1:00 pm, drove to peterborough, had dinner out at Boston Pizza (after all, what could be more Canadian?), and watched Kids in the Hall.

For those who don't know Kids in the Hall, look them up. If you're like me, and are a fan of Sketch-comedy (such as 'MadTV' and 'Mr. Show with Bob and David'), you'll love Kids in the Hall. A lot of today's comedians cite this show as one of their inspirations.

I would even go so far as to say that it's the greatest Canadian comedy show ever...better than SCTV, 22 Minutes, Corner Gas, and the early Canadian-heavy-content days of SNL. As far as Sketchcom, for me, only Monty Python and Mr. Show are in this league.

But I blather.

Happy birthday, Canada. You're 141. Try and treat your poorer citizens a little better this year.

Pareidolia: a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Phil Plait likes to display various instances of this phenomenon on his site.

Well, thanks to a few tips (I'll be honest, I flat-out poached this from neatorama), I got a great one-up on Phil: 65 things that look like Pac Man.

Suck that, Phil!

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