Mooning your Venus

Last night, the Moon and Venus were pretty darn close to each other. But the frakking cold weather rolled in faster than I expected, but didn't blow the clouds away enough. Tonight I went out anyway just to see what kind of shots I could get. Here are some of the results:
Both pictures are taken with my Rebel XT, and from the best spot in the city to smoke Cuban cigars: my roof. The first image: f/5.6, ISO-100, 6 sec exposure, using 18 mm lens. The second image, : f/5.6, ISO-400, 1/2 sec. exposure, using a 75 mm lens




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And it gets ugly. Remember back in December when I copied and pasted an email from the folks at CFI warning about the non-binding UN resolution that has been dubbed the "anti-blasphemy law"? Well, emboldened by their victory, 57 member nations (mainly Islamic states) have introduced a binding resolution of their human-rights-squelching version.

If passed, it would be illegal in every UN member state to criticize a religion. Think about that for a second: For suggesting that certain types of terrorism may have a connection with Islam, you could go to JAIL. Bill Maher could go to jail for his film "Religulous" (assuming that he releases DVD well after the law would come into effect, since you can't apply the law retroactively). I wrote an article last year for the Trent student paper admonishing a fellow student's article who warned that the Danish cartoonists "should have learned their lesson from the outbreak of violence that followed the original publication", and under this law, I would go to jail for connecting religious extremism with the firebombings and assassinations.

This is, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, "totalitarianism defined".

From the 2008 draft:


“Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism.”
Do I need to point the the hypocrisy here? Why lament that Islam is wrongly associated with human rights violations, and then use the sensitive feelings of Islam as the impetus to violate basic human rights?

If this law is passed, I, for one, intend to break it at every opportunity. Religions don't have rights. Humans do. It's our job to protect people from religious bigotry, but it's not our business to protect the thin-skinned feelings of the religious ideas.

The UN is asleep at the wheel, and it's gone this far mainly because of states not showing up for the votes. Lets hope that democracies fight back and let these theocracies know that respect for the law and human rights is OUR domain, and they can't force us back to the dark ages.See this image? It's thoughtless, tasteless, unfunny and yes, inflamatory. But it's not illegal, and no one gets a free pass if they burn, stab, riot, or kill because of it. Not everyone is accountable to Allah, but everyone is accountable to the law.







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Cap-and-trade? Are you kidding me???

It seems that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Quebec Premier Jean Charest are trying to get the rest of the country and Barack Obama to play along with the out-dated and free-market driven practice of cap-and-trade, a system wherein if a polluter exceeds their allotted pollution levels, they can buy and trade more credits, allowing them to pollute more.

This is the same system that has been in place since 1990, and it DOES NOT work!

Instead of allowing companies to buy their way out of their environmental obligations, why not reward the ones that stay well below their pollution credits? The more they clean their act, the more bonuses they get?

Pictured: a typical suburb of Hamilton, Ontario

Free-market solutions to non-market issues don't work, and we have the asthma and lung cancer rates to prove it. What really slays me is that this is being pushed like it's some new, hot and sexy idea that is on the cutting edge of the green-economy (another laughable trend!). It's the same old song and dance that permits polluters to pay what amounts to a standard cost of doing business, with little repercussions or legal action against the worst offenders.



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Why Humanities?

As some of you are no-doubt aware, my education/academics is in what is nebulously called "the humanities", a meaningless term which is often met with derision from those in the physical sciences (who often denounce it for being maddeningly subjective), and the general public (who mock it as being $40,000 worth of education to study something as navel-gazing as love, fear, or symbolism in the Grapes of Wrath).

Well, the humanities ARE full of navel-gazing post-modernists (the literary post-modernist academics get a free-pass here, because I freaking love Neuromancer), theologists, and philosophers with no real attachment to the rest of the world beyond their own echo-chamber...my recent attendance at the International Studies Association conference in New York confirmed this assessment. But in this economic climate that is likely going to last longer than the first Great Depression, the Humanities are likely going to be among the first ones to get axed in favor of disciplines that it's easier to attach a cash-value to: biology, chemistry, physics, economics and business just to name a few. Humanities will have to prove that they're worth it.

Sadly, I think that the professional academics in the humanities are utterly incapable of making a case for themselves. Humanities professionals have lived in a bubble for the past 50 years, designing words for themselves only, and commenting on how academics have misread another academics theories that were built on another academic's ideas. Bloody self-serving circle-jerking elitists that make us the laughing stock of higher thought. Debating at high levels of abstraction is great, but who are you doing it for? Are you trying to change the culture? If so, then you should be directing your message not to other academics, but to the general public, and use words that don't make your audience feel stupid or inadequate. Are you trying to change policy? Again, direct your message to the bottom, not the pseudo-intellectuals in Ottawa and Washington. Whenever it is beholden to the humanities to address the public on these issues, they often resort to fluffy-white-washed language like "the nature of being human"....an insultingly meaningless term that means nothing to the academic, and less to the public who is now pissed that their time was wasted by this professional who gets paid to think (while they themselves have to go back to work in the factory, mine, garbage dump, or service industry serving low-fat soy half-caff mocha-frappa-lattes with cinnamon and chocolate to these very same academics and pseudo-academics).

The bottom line is this: the humanities are worth funding, perhaps now more than ever, not despite the economic crisis, but BECAUSE of it. Who better than to understand the metaphysical implications of a collapsed credit system than political scientists, historians, and cultural theorists? Who better can warn us about demographic shifts of poverty and religion than the cultural theorists (if they stop with their identity-politics and post-modernism for 5 seconds, anyway)? We're going to need to pull ourselves out of this mess, and we have an option: are we going to let the Milton Friedman-indoctrinated business and economics thinkers who screwed this all up in the first place re-shape our economy in the exact same way? Or are we going to let some people with a more diverse intellectual tool-set who understands labour, culture, value AND economics shape our system which right now depends on little more than consumption bought with fake money?

Some Humanities, in my humble opinion are less urgent, and could stand to take a back seat for the time being (Literature, Religion, Theology: I'm looking at you). But if the restructuring of our system is done by people with little-to-no understanding of politics, history, feminism, Marxism, and culture, then we'll all be going down this road again in a generation, and we'll be a lot poorer.

Thanks again to Britta for the NY Times link





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I used to get pretty bored with monochrome pictures of astronomical objects. Then I got into astrophotography and realized that it's a bit necessary at times in order to bring out details in my own shots, and I gotta say, I like what the result was:

This is the Orion Nebula, taken with a Canon Rebel XT, 300mm lens w/ a 2x telephoto adapter, mounted on an Astrotrac (Jesus, I hate listing off my gear, but I realize some people actually want to know these things.)




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Okay, it's a about time I write another Stargazer Steve. The paper that publishes them is now caught up, and here's the new one.

Uranus and Neptune: A nasty case of blue-balls

Uranus and Neptune are to each other like much like Earth and Venus are: superficially similar, but the contrasts stick out like a cosmic sore thumb. The two distant planets are roughly the same diameter, mass and composition, but they behave in startlingly different manners.

I like to compare planetary dimensions to that of the Earth, so here are some numbers to help put the two planets into some perspective: Roughly speaking, Uranus is 8x the diameter, 63x the volume, and 14.5x the mass. At just under 20x farther from the sun than the Earth is, A Uranian year is 84 Earth-years, and despite its huge diameter, its day is just 17 hours. Neptune is roughly 7x the diameter of Earth, 57x the volume, and 17x the mass. It is 30x farther from the sun than the Earth is, making its year 164 years long, while its day is around 16 hours.

Uranus, at magnitude 5.6, it is just barely at the edge of visibility to the naked eye. Don’t squint your eyes trying to find it without a telescope though, it’s stubbornly hard to see even with one, and you have to know exactly where to look. Yet still it was discovered in 1781, using almost exclusively mathematics. While observing the orbit of Saturn, something looked a little off-kilter, so astronomers and mathematicians alike postulated that there must be a planet out there, tugging on Saturn ever so slightly. After a few years of meticulous mathematical prediction and incredibly detailed star-charts (drawn by hand!), Uranus was eventually discovered by William Hershel. Seeing a weird orbit and predicting a planet further out is also how Neptune was discovered, again, using meticulous calculations and observations.
Okay, now to the meat-n-potatoes.
Uranus is, for lack of a better word, the most boring-ass-planet in the solar system. It’s largely featureless, has no serious weathering patterns, looks like a boring green-marble, and its rings are piddly-little things that weren’t even discovered until 1977 (and then, only by accident). But since everyone loves to make that stupid joke about “seeing Uranus”, I feel as though I should cut the planet a little slack, and point out some of its noteworthy aspects. Firstly, Uranus’ boring, featureless cloud cover is a bit of a curiosity in-an-of-itself: every planet has some degree of surface or cloud details, and in this case, boring is interesting. Secondly, it has a neat moon system: while none of the moons are particularly interesting, they do whiz around the planet faster than any other moon-system we know of. Thirdly and finally, Uranus is completely tipped on its side. This is indeed one of the great mysteries of the solar system: how do you knock a planet over is still a bit of a question mark, but recent computer modelling places much of the blame on a collision from an earth-sized (or larger) object from the Kuiper belt.

Neptune, however, is a big blue-ball of awesomeness. It has the strongest wind-storms ever measured in the solar-system, blowing at over 2,000 km/hr! The largest of the Neptunian storms is Earth-sized, and has been dubbed “The Great Dark Spot”, and is often accompanied by countless little (“little” in this case means the size of continents on Earth) white and dark storms affectionately called “scooters”, which dip in and out of the cloud cover like hurricane whack-a-mole. Like Jupiter, Neptune gives off more energy than it absorbs from the sun, hinting at some sort of internal power-source (most likely a still-hot core being yanked and squished by the orbiting moons). While the temperature at the clouds hovers around at a frigid -218 Celsius, the temperatures climb by orders of magnitude the deeper you go, until reaching the 7000-degree core (about the same as the surface of the sun); no other planet has such a temperature discrepancy. Neptune also has one of the neatest moons, Triton. Triton orbits Neptune in the opposite direction, indicating that it was most likely a captured Kuiper-belt object. Orbiting in the opposite direction (called “retrograde”) is not an entirely unusual way for a moon to behave, but the other moons that do are rinky-dink little pebbles compared to Triton, the 7th largest moon. Traveling retrograde means two neat things for Triton: 1) It acts like a huge, spherical, rocky, icy vacuum cleaner, sucking up all the debris that might otherwise slam into Neptune, and the majority of this material accumulates on the one side of the moon, making it very-slightly egg-shaped 2) It’s slowing down: the retrograde motion goes against the momentum of the rotation of Neptune, and this slowing means that Triton will one day slam REALLY freaking hard into Neptune (in about 4 billion years).Aside from the Voyager missions in the mid-late 80’s, we have sent nothing to the region, and almost all of our information comes from Voyager and the Hubble Space Telescope. There are no plans in the works to send any missions to either of these two worlds, as it’s very difficult and expensive to get things so far out in to the outer solar system. For now, we’ll have to keep pointing our telescopes and hope to gleam something new. But the secrets of Neptune and Uranus are many, and they are not to be revealed easily.






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Score one for the good guys and grass-roots movements. Remember the other day when I (re-)posted the banned Thunderf00t video? Well, watch this:




Groundswell action works.

And as anyone who has studied the elite-theory of political action and totally bought into it hook, line and sinker (I'm looking at you Professors Smith, Stavro, and Driscoll), eat it. Change comes from below, not from above




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Le Petit Steve

There was a comet out tonight. I'm still less than a year into serious astronomy, so this was a new treat for me. This particular comet, Lulin, once it's gone, will never be visible in our lifetimes, as it's an extremely long-period comet. Anyway, here's what I got on the first try:
And while I was out (in the -15 degree weather!), I grabbed this shot of the Orion Nebula, raw, and unprocessed:

Yet again, this is a very rewarding hobby.


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Still funny....

Once again, Cracked.com gets it so right.







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Remember yesterday's post? Well, it turns out that Canada is falling embarrassingly behind on the issue of net-neutrality:



This is a serious threat to freedom of speech. This time, it's not coming from a bunch of creationist zealots with a knack for spam-bot programing, but from the Canadian government making yet-another unholy alliance with the private sector to protect commercial interests at the expense of the citizen. Spread this video around if you're at all concerned about this as I am.

Thanks to my good friend (and blog follower) Britta for pointing this out to me.





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...A steel-driving man

What the hell is happening to Youtube? It used to be a great open-sourced destination for user-created media the likes of which has never before seen. Yeah, it was full of afro-ninjas and dramatic hamsters, but you could also find things like the Chomsky-Foucault debate, loads of guitar lessons, old 1980's cartoons, vintage Randi vids, and any number of cool, usefull, funny, insightful things.

Then, around the time that Google bought it, a little function was introduced that allowed you to rate comments, and the trolls descended. Vote-bot spammers moved in and started to artificially flag videos as spam, offensive or inflamatory. This was an especially favorite tactic of creationist/christian users like that snake Venomfang and his throngs of mindless followers who mindlessly do his bidding. You know what? Just watch this:



If you have a youtube account, please re-post this video, and let's be a bunch of John Henrys andlet the frauds know we can't be pushed around by their robots.


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You know, being a child of the 80's, I'm a well-trained consumer. An entire decade of breakfast cereal and Saturday morning cartoons have made me part of the first generation to have their identity shaped almost entirely by the materials consumed and collected. Sure, as I got older, I've added a few tricks to my identity-repertoire, but I'm still a part of the first generation created out of pure capitalism.

As such, I'm utterly used to paying what the price-tag says. I don't haggle. I've worked in many stores where either older people, or foreigners would try to haggle over the price of a book, or a movie ticket, and it had to be explained to them very slowly that it doesn't work that way, and the price you see is the price you pay.

In New York City, they do things a little differently, at least at a few places. I stopped in a camera shop near Times Square, noticing some lenses for sale. I was going to pick up a telephoto extension, but when I saw the price-tag of $449, I backed off as politely as I could, calmly explaining that that was WAY out of my price range. I honestly was not trying to haggle, but the clerk seemed determined to loose money on this lens. After a series of me being utterly honest in my explanation that a succession of decreasing price tags, I had inadvertently talked him down to way-less than half of the asking price. This morning, I used it to take this:

Not particularly impressive, especially when you compare it to when I hook the camera up to the telescope, but it nonetheless has twice the resolution it would have had with just the regular zoom lens.


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I can haz birthdae?

Holy freaking crap. By an astonishing coincidence, I decided to have a look at the archives of this blog to see how/if I've developed as a writer, and lo! Today is the 1st birthday of Some Canadian Skeptic! Let's look a bit at some excitement over the past year. After all, I'm quite up-front with my admittance that this blog is partially to satiate my ego.

When I started this blog, it saw about 5 hits a day: 3-5 of those were from me, and occasionally I would get some additional crossover-traffic from Bad Astronomy and Skepchick whenever I posted comments over there. Nowadays, thanks to several links from Skepchick (usually in the Quickies), and two from Neatorama (not to mention several other skeptic bloggers of similar size to mine....you know who you are), I'm averaging between 80-100, and I have regular readers. I can't thank you all enough for continuing to visit, comment, and link. You keep me sane with a feeling that I'm connected to a larger community of like-minded people largely absent in my personal/professional life (though not completely absent). I'm no Phil Plait, PZ Myers, or Rebecca Watson, but having that many people regularly visit means a lot to me. And if I ever get this damn book idea into fruition, I hope you'll all go out and buy it!

My first commenter was Phil Plait! Holy Haleakala!

I lost count how many times Skepchick linked here in their quickies, but I remember the first time it happened (even if I forget the content, or when it was), and I'm sure I annoyed many of my non-skeptic friends with my phone calls telling them how super-awesome it was that my blog that they barely knew existed was linked to from another blog that they had never heard of, and was on a topic that I assured them was of some importance, and just what the hell is a blog, anyway? (I think it was the week that George Strombouloubpoulous had on both Jenny McCarthy AND Ben Stein). Oh, and the COTW win rocked my socks with the chicken pox.

I had a few angry commenters this year trying to start some jive. That's fine. But I'm more pleased with the dialogue that cross-pollinated into other blogs either from here, or to here. Remember the psychic in Barrie, Ontario who alleged that an autistic girl was being sexually assaulted? PZ Myers, Neatorama, and the SGU all talked about it....AFTER I did. Yeah, I was first. Pat me on the back. No? Fine, I'll do it myself. Like I said, "ego". Some dialogue got a little unpleasant, and I received a bit of heat from people in my personal life over my backing of PZ Myers during"crackergate". That's fine too. You know what else was fine? Meeting PZ in Toronto.

So just to clear up any confusion that may still linger: 1) Postmodernism is an intellectually lazy discipline with a very limited reach, and it is selfish and greedy to analyze issues of history, politics, and culture through this singular, narrow lens. Oh, and the postmodern preachers have deified Foucault and Derrida in a way that would make them roll over in their graves. 2) Those people who were coming down on Jay Novella and Writerdd were complete and unbelievable pricks who clearly wanted to express rage about something, ANYTHING. 3) I still think PZ was 100% right to force the hand of the crazy-wing of the catholic community, and that the sacredness of that symbol does not extend to me, and so I am under no cultural obligation to keep my mouth shut just because SOME people take that symbol very seriously. It's the old adage, "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". True. But you can also catch more flies with shit. I'm not going to sugar coat any issue just because some people find it a difficult pill to swallow, especially since they make no effort to do the same to me (No, I'm not going to your hell, no homosexuals aren't deviants, and yes, a woman has the right to control her own fucking body).

Okay, that last bit was more acidic than I intended this post to be.

The point is, this has been a great skeptic year for me and I'm very grateful to every other skeptic blogger who has linked here, and to everyone who has ever taken the time to give a shit about what I have to say. Canada is still largely a hostile place to the skeptic/atheist, and we have a lot do. I can promise that I'll fight even harder this coming year and we won't let the woo gain a single inch.

Thanks everyone.




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I'm back from New York City, reasonably rested, and it's time to get posting again.

1) People: I've always found New Yorkers to be a bit obnoxious the way they always seem to brag about their city being the best city in the world. Well, they're absolutely right to brag. It was a culture-shock for the better when I noticed how comfortable and safe I felt in that foreign city, even more so than literally EVERY city in Canada I've ever been too (Though Halifax might escape this condemnation). Strangers will happily carry out regular conversations about the president, where you had dinner, or their entire life story, and not once did I feel creeped-out. I cannot extend this compliment to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, London, and especially the smaller towns like Peterborough, Barrie, Orangeville, and Midland. How could so many Canadian cities fail so terribly in the basic-humanity department and New York, a city with generations of bad reputation for rudeness and anger, get it so right?This super-awesome diner at W101 and Broadway had the best service, coffee, and patrons of any place I've ever been.

2) Sights: Central Park, Times Square, Union Square, Hayden Planetarium, WTC Groun Zero, Radio City Music Hall, Central Park.....these are just some of the places we went, and we couldn't even see half of what we wanted to. There is an endless reservoir of things to do and it kind of feels as though you're in a bit of a dream world, to be surrounded by all of these places and buildings that have a sort of mythic property to them (thanks to Seinfeld, Night Court, and about a bazillion other TV shows and movies shot/set in New York).
This is that totally-rad three-sided building. We just stumbled upon it by accident. FYI: it's near Union Square.

3)Significance: I mean, come on. It's friggin NEW YORK CITY fer cryin' out loud. You don't have to travel far in the city to find something that seems to have been totally put there for your benefit. Like this, a giant-dancing sandwich-man:There aren't many things in my life which I could consider sacred anymore. Still, it was a bit of an emotional moment to stand in Strawberry Fields (which I've wanted to see since I was 16), and stand on the very spot where John Lennon was shot.

4) Outlook: How messed up is it that I feel more at home in a foreign city than any domestic city? I hope to go back, and I see why this city has such a mythology surrounding it. Its people are incredibly up-front with you, and they won't hesitate to tell you what they think of you....but I never once thought it was out of malice, anger, or aggression...just honesty. Canadians can take a lot from this lesson, since the worst social crime a Canadian citizen can commit is to have an opinion. New Yorkers seem to be refreshingly uninhibited by bullshit arbitrary rules of politeness and civility, and in so doing, taught me how rude politeness can be, and how disrespectful civility can be.

New York: Thank you for rocking so hard.
New Yorkers: Thank you for being so frigging great.
That Homeland Security chick who yelled at me in New Haven: Fuck you. It was a picture of the fucking flag and a clock for fuck's sake. I sincerely doubt that terrorists of any stripe have got their sights set on a train station in Connecticut.Terrorists apparently are dead-set at destroying this.

5)Skepticism: I didn't have many opportunities to do any real skeptic-field work. As the only one in our group who wears his skeptic-colours on his sleeve, I thought it a bit rude of me to keep insisting on letting me see a psychic, or the Scientology Celebrity Center. Still, there were lots of fodder for a skeptic to dig his claws into. Like this:
I noticed at least 6 places that an ATM was placed right beside the entrance to a psychic's shop. It was...gross.



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I'm not going to be updating for the next few days, as I'll be going to New York City to attend an international relations conference (but really just to see the city). I'll be returning with pictures and (hopefully) stories about my journeys to the region (we're also stopping in New Haven, CT, home of Steven Novella....though I seriously doubt he'll just be hanging out at the Amtrack station on Saturday night), but in the meantime, how's about you:

Check out my flicker photostream (Lots of my astro-photos are on here)
Have you seen me play a George Hrab tune yet?
Why not add me on Facebook, and we can be super-awesome Facebook friends.

Well, I'm off to learn ways I can make the world a more diplomatic and safer place for American interests.

Stay frosty.





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From the Vaults....

Although this particular blog is just under a year old (buy me blog-day presents in a couple of weeks), I've been blogging/online journal(ing?) Since 2002. Every now and again I like to look into the stuff I've written in the past to see how much I've grown (or not) as a writer, and as a skeptic.

Then I came across this entry. It recounts a...conflict of interest. I was uncomfortable that day, and the lesson I've learned since then is that as soon as I realize a fundamental contest of ideology is unavoidable, I should pick up my gear, and get the fuck out of there.

You might want to read the thread too that followed. That blog was almost never read except by those in my contacts list, but that entry raised the ire of the christian community.

FYI: My hometown, Midland, Ontario, is a VERY christian community. I did not fit in.





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Fucking PETA.

The have a tendency to piss me off. As with all things PETA, they don't know how to make a real argument, so they think that they need to shock and scare people into submission. They must not have too much faith in their positions if they need to use images like this:This is marketed to children. Seriously.

They have a terrible history of conflating arguments, equating the way animals are treated to some of the worst chapters in human history, usually slavery or the holocaust.

Well, they're at it again. They have recently stood outside the Westminster Dog Show dressed as KKK members, handing out leaflets that equated the American Kennel Association with trying to build a master race....which is, I guess, what the KKK was all about? It wasn't, but facts don't matter to PETA, only ideologically-driven shock/scare tactics. It nonetheless still smacks of the old PETA equation: animals ≥ minorities.

Look, I get the argument of trying to elevate animals to human levels. I get that. But don't sit there and tell me that a Jew is a chicken, or a African-American is a dog.

Part of the PETA dogma is to educate how man is just another animal, and that it's wrong of us to exploit just another animal. Fine. But fuck, man...pick your battles with a little more care and tact! If every species is just one part of the same family that is called "animal", then wouldn't it be better to take on the rampant slavery and indentured servitude that goes on in the United States and Canada RIGHT FUCKING NOW, forcing migrant workers to pick strawberries, tobacco, peaches etc., for 14 hours a day, and if/when they go home they are more in debt than the were before, but their bodies are ruined from forced labour so they end up starving themselves and their families?

No, I suppose that a fucking boring-ass dog show is more important.

Fuck I hate PETA.

For more opinions (in case you didn't get a big enough dose of my presumptuous ass), go here.






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There are very few people out there who understand just what the crap my academic tradition is in, let alone what the crap it means. My "bio" says that it's in politics and history, but this is woefully insufficient. I'm a political economy guy. The does not mean the politics of the economy, but the economy of politics; the give and take game of speculation of how politics, law, and political structures shape everyone's life in ways that are poorly understood. Central to political economy (in my opinion) is labour theory: the degree to which policy and culture is influenced by work and workers, and oftentimes the degree to which work and workers get shat on by free-market ideology (which, in case you haven't been paying attention, collapsed).

That's the primer, so hopefully you'll understand where I'm coming from when I post this link. Recently, York University, that bastion of Marxist and Political Economy thought (if you're at all interested, I recommend you look up Leo Panitch) was facing its longest strike in history. There is lots of misinformation out there (owing to the general fear and hatred of Unions in this country) over what it was about. It was not about the strikers wanting more money. That's anti-union propaganda bullshit. The strikers were primarily masters/PhD's who were T.A.'s, and contract professors.....they were striking for the same job security and benefits that other universities give their staff of the same position. Professors would not be able to make any significant plans because many of them could only count on work for no more than 8 months of the year. That's a pretty embarrassing way to treat people who educate the higher echelons of the school system.

So, in the glorious Canadian tradition of not allowing workers to protect themselves with the only weapon they have (collective bargaining), the Ontario government stepped in, and forced the strikers back to work.

Well, it seems like that was illegal, and unconstitutional. And thanks to anti-union propaganda, no one will bat an eye because people hate unions, even the ones who benefit directly from union activity. Under international law, a government can force strikers back to work if the continuation of the strike will put the health and safety of the population at risk, or would create a national crisis.

The York strike hardly applies here.

There are lots of libertarians that cross-pollinate into the world of skepticism, and this is why I bring up an article about unions and strike-busting. Libertarians hate unions, and many libertarian blogs I've read about this York strike were applauding the government for forcing them back to work. And herein lies the inherent contradiction in most libertarian theory: It's free-market for the poor, welfare for the rich. Once the machinations of the the free-market (union activity grows very organically out of a free-market system...after all, what could be greater than a bunch of workers not waiting for the government to help them, so they help themselves?) start working against the ruling class, the libertarians whine and cry for the government to put a stop to this, because their precious-precious free-market bullshit has just came back to bite them in their over-fat ass. And once the "crisis" is over, they go back to bashing both governments and unions, and people buy it hook, line, and sinker.

Did you have a weekend? Yes? Thank a union.
Do your children have to work? No? Thank a union.
Do you have health insurance? yes? Thank a union.
Is your employer liable if you get hurt because of an unsafe work environment? Yes? Thank a union.
Do you get paid more than $1.00/hour? Yes? Thank a union.

These and countless other rights that you enjoy are the direct result of workers who have fought, been beaten, arrested, and even died for what the free-market or the government would not enshrine. We're far from from an ideal world for work and workers, with the free-market appealing to the government to strip away basic human rights from workers. There is still more "work" to do.

So the next time your parents, boss, or friends start rallying around anti-union bullshit, send em here. They've benefited directly from the very unions which they wish to destroy, and they've got to be set straight.





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Darwin's birthday is this week. As with last year, it got me thinking about evolution, the war on evolution, and creationism....pretty standard skeptic fare, really.

Then I stumbled upon this insanely stupid video:
(And yes, if you go to the actual page, I'm the one who left he only comment...at least as far as I've written this sentence)

So in case you didn't get the point of video, its point is that the Giraffe's heart is terribly strong in order to pump blood all the way up the neck, against gravity. It's so strong, in fact, that if the animal bends down, that heart should still be pumping the blood into the head, accelerated by the force of gravity. This would cause the blood to pool into the head faster than the heart can pump it out (because, you know...that heart is so friggin strong, that it's actually laughably weak!), and the giraffe's head would EXPLODE! Since the head doesn't explode, that means God is holding back the tide of brain-explodeyness. What, what?


Dude....you okay? Wake up sleepy-head

I'm not a biologist. I have no biology education beyond what I teach myself. But you'd have to be a fucking retard to think this. Hearts are strong. How else would I get rid of all that human blood in my basement? But if a heart can pump something out, it can suck it back in. The Giraffe isn't going to overcome the pressure of a complex cardiovascular system by simply BENDING OVER!

And besides, if there was an intelligent designer, every fan of Douglas Adams knows it was Ford Prefect, 2,000,000 years ago.





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Facebook and embedded advertisements: two things guarunteed to provide the occasional dose of disingenuous or weird. Combine them, and you get this:



*shudder*

That makes my eyes hurt my brain.





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Holy bookstore!

via Neatorama

This is neat. A bunch of churches have been converted into restaurants, coffee shops and bookstores.

If I were religious, I would weep at the secularization of a holy building in the name of a blatant commercial enterprise.

Since I'm not, I'd like to point out that IMO, it amounts to little more than a blatant commercial enterprise being sold to another blatant commercial enterprise. Seriously, how much money does it cost to build and maintain these churches...over CENTURIES! Churches rake in billions of dollars every year and pay no taxes. The cultural argument is also rather weak because people worship ownership capitalism as much as they worshiped God and Jesus, so there is little net-loss/gain of cultural value.


I can think of three positive changes taking place here: a)customers are getting some actual return on their investment, b) the building is at least more honest than when it was under clergy hands, and c) if there is any child-rape, the perpetrators go to jail, not another franchise.





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It looks like I'll be going to New York City! Neat! The impetus of the trip is to attend an International Relations confrence, but to be honest, I'm really just interested in seeing the city. After all, the Hayden Planetarium is there, and so is this guy:
I'm coming, bitch

Should be a good trip.

Meanwhile, here's a picture of part of the moon I took last night:


You can clearly see the Tycho crater, named after Tycho Brahe, 16th century astronomer who had a pet elk, and a dwarf named "Jeff" who he believed was clairvoyant and kept him under the table during dinner.

Any suggestions on what I should do in New York? Lemme know!






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Phil Plait posted an entry about the possible fraud in the much-debunked Wakefield "study" linking thimerisol to autism. The thread got nasty, with one parent of an autistic child trying to bully the thread that "Studies be damned" and to "Tell me I'm wrong. I dare you.". You are wrong. Studies NOT be damned, and you can't rely on your terribly small sample size of your ONE child and use that anecdote to support a series of other anecdotes, all of which have been torn apart by empirical evidence. Empirical evidence doesn't grieve over children, doesn't wish for something. I threw my hat in the ring, and below is what I posted.

But it seems like the mercury-militia has infiltrated this thread and have infected it with that terrible Huffington Post piece (that caused me to cancel my subscription) and other anti-vaxx propaganda.

And these same people make the specious argument plucked out of thin-air about “money talks”, drawing in historical examples because they can’t use real scientific examples.

Phil is right: Wakefield be damned. His original study was ill-conceived and poorly-executed in the first place, and had a ridiculously small sample size. Governments, scientists and universities, both public and private have investigated this claim to within an inch of its life. But give these ideologues an inch, and they take a mile.

How much more public funds do you want to waste trying to find an answer that doesn’t exist? What study will it take you to drop your fallacious claim? It is this same claim that is scaring parents from getting their kids vaccinated and we’re seeing outbreaks of the Mumps, Measles and Rubella in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and The United Kingdom. Diseases which are easily preventable, cause needless suffering, and have KNOWN consequences! Thanks to frauds like Wakefield and cheerleaders like McCarthey, many children will develop blindness later in life, or find themselves to be infertile.

Other children won’t grow up at all.

The body count is rising, and as much as I hate sounding like a sychophant, Phil (and Orac and Steve Novella) should be applauded for tirelessly writing about this exhausting debate, one which has had a SOLID answer for at least 5 years.

Earlier people in this thread have resorted to bullying (”Tell me I’m wrong. I dare you”), a degree of active ignorance that can only be described as sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling “blah-blah-blah” (”Studies be damned”) and flat out lying (”The doctors conceded that the child was healthy and developing normally until her 18-month well-baby visit, when she received vaccinations against nine different diseases all at once (two contained thimerosal)”…no, the girl had a terrible degenerative flaw in her mitochondrial DNA).

Their tactics are clear, and their argument is as thin as their skulls are thick.






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Mimas is your mass

Holy freaking crap, I photographed Mimas tonight!

Firstly, I took this picture (hooking up my Rebel XT up to my 8" Orion XT8 on a dobsonian mount, for those who aren't keeping track)


When processing that shot, I noticed a little red dot. I've ruled out every other possiblity (camera glitch, spot on the lens), and I tracked its motions in the 60 other shots of Saturn I took that night, and compared the time of the photo with some planetarium software (Stellarium). After ruling everything else out, that little red dot is the moon Mimas.

Normally Mimas is way too small to be photographed with my equipment, but it was illuminated by the bright rings of Saturn.


Happenstance smiled upon me tonight.






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Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic - Designer: Douglas Bowman | Dimodifikasi oleh Abdul Munir Original Posting Rounders 3 Column