This sure didn't take long. The pseudo-scientists/naturopaths, (et. al.) have once again capitalized on the embarrassing panic caused by the swine flu (Or if you're hyper-sensitive and a Rabbi: Mexican flu). These people always seem to behave this way: be it autism, RLS, fibromyalga, or any other number of health issues that suddenly sweep across the mainstream media, you can be sure that out from the woodwork will burst forth a bevvy of conspiracy theorists and pseudo-scientists trying to get you to buy their books, dvd's, and CAM (the laughably rhetoric acronym for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine) treatments that they're absolutely certain will free you from the evils of "big pharma".

Like this guy:

What a surprise. Someone who assures us that they are very qualified, and constantly assures us that they are an "award winning health expert" finds a bunch of financial connections and presents them as scientific evidence that is supposed to make you all panic, freak out, and buy their books. The the only thing more difficult than getting through this video, is reading the sycophantic comments of Horowitz's true-believer army.

I'm not accusing Horowitz of lying (not this time), but he's a dentist. That, in and of itself, doesn't make him wrong, but it's a bit of a red flag. He does have legitimate degrees from accredited universities (Doctor of Dental Medicine from Tufts University, and a master's degree from Harvard, though I was unable to find what his masters was in), and his followers hide behind that. He's also an HIV denier, and an anti-vaccinationist. That, by itself, doesn't make him wrong, it just means that he has a terrible, anti-health track record.

The video he made offers as evidence only financial/career conflicts of interest and rising stock prices. Fine. I guess, as far as that goes (which isn't very far). That doesn't mean that the swine flu was created in a laboratory in order to make money. Companies simply can't will-into existence a new disease (especially something as complicated as a virus), but that doesn't stop Horowitz from pretending that a high profit-margin means massive government/pharmaceutical conspiracy. So that's his evidence: follow the money.

Sorry doctor (of dentistry...and self-described "Messianic Jew", self-described "prophet"). You need to do better than that.

And to the people who believe this nonsense, be consistent. Horowitz makes his claims based ENTIRELY on the financial motives of the government and pharmaceutical corporations. Fine, but if that's the tack you're going to take, check out Horowitz's extensive line of books and DVD's for sale. This man has much to gain financially from you believing his theory. So if money is the issue, I suggest you hold the same filter to Horowitz that he holds to the government, pharmaceutical companies, and the media.



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Sorry for not updating much. My health has had a few minor hiccups and I frankly didn't feel like writing anything.

You know what is awesome though? Monkeys and Planets. Have a couple:

Pictured: awesome squirrel monkey w/ strategically-placed rope. Nature, it seems, is well suited to Renaissance paintings of nakedness. Look at this thing! Can you think of a child (or, barring that, yourself) who hasn't lolled around exactly like this? Look at this and tell me we're not related.....I Dare ya. No. I DOUBLE-dare you. Didn't take the bait, eh? Stats: Canon Rebel XT, f/4.5, ISO-100, 1/200th sec exp time, +2 exp bias, 250 mm lens.

Jupiter, April 27. I've not taken a successful photo of Jupiter in a while. It's been gone all winter, and only recently re-appeared in the eastern pre-dawn (also known as the Zodiacal Light) sky. I kind of forgot how to image this planet, and several hundred failed photos later, I think I found my groove. Also my technology is a wee bit better. I did my usual camera-to-telescope setup (which I will one day photograph so I can stop mentioning it): Canon Rebel with a 2x barlow lens attached to my 8" refractor on a dob mount. But this time, I had a a 2x telephoto also attached to the camera. (the same telephoto that was used to take this picture), so Jupiter filled out a bit more of the frame. Additional stats: f/0, 1/30th sec. exp, ISO-800, +2 exp. bias. I really hate filling out the techy stats, even though I greatly appreciate it when other photographers do it.

And that's just the kind of hypocrite I am.



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Click!

H'okay, so I got this camera. It's fun. I bought it to do astro-photography, and that's precisely what I've been doing since late August. But did you know that cameras can photograph things OTHER than astronomical things? I had no idea! It took a few months to figure out what some of the settings meant, but by then it was winter...and to my international friends who may not have heard, Canada is ridiculously cold in the winter (except for the smug bastards on the west-coast!). I know...its shocking. Well, it's warmer now, and I've been going out with the camera and trying some stuff out. This is a remarkably fun hobby, and only now that I have a great camera, do I understand what all this photography hubub is all about.

Here are a couple that I've taken recently...More on my photostream here.





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Okay, here's the skinny: Over the course of the school year, one of the student newspapers at York University in Toronto, the YU Free Press has had their papers thrown out, often without provocation, discussion, or investigation. Suspicions were swimming around that pro-Israeli student groups on campus were to blame in response to anti-Israeli articles in the paper (lets be clear: anti-Israel is NOT antisemitism, no matter how much Alan Dershowitz tries to convince you otherwise). Recently, two students were caught red-handed on a cell-phone camera throwing out the papers. They have been identified, and as I write this, no punitive action from the University has been taken against this blatant attack on free-speech, academic freedom and even basic human rights.

Three videos were posted on youtube, and they were promptly taken down (suspicion is that it was these same pro-israeli groups, but I want to stress: As I write, this has not been confirmed, and is only suspicion).

I've been silenced by the academy before, and it is pretty much the worst thing academics can do to one another in a university setting. Naturally, I fully support the students who were on the recieving end of censorship. As skeptics, we should all be outraged by this blatant attack on this most basic rights: freedom of speech, and freedom from supression. I have permission from the student who shot the videos to publish these, and if you can, please post the videos on your youtube channel or your blog (I have the original file and the students contact information...should you wish to help make this go viral, contact me and I'll forward you the relevant information. I must also stress: ask permission from the author. Skeptics have been on the recieving end of censorship many times, often under the auspices of copyright infringment, so we cannot give the opponents this particular kind of ammunition).


video video

Below is the press-release of the YU Free Press:

URGENT: Free Speech on Campus Under Attack, YU Free Press Emptied From Racks and Thrown in Garbage

Attention All Friends and Allies:

On April 6, 2009 over 1 thousand copies of the latest issue of the YU Free Press, an alternative monthly newspaper at York University launched this school year, was systematically emptied from all of its brand new rack locations throughout campus and thrown in the garbage just hours after having been filled.

Recurring intermittently all year long but without any conclusive evidence as to who was doing it and under what motive, this shameless and boldfaced act of vandalism was finally documented by several on-the-scene witnesses and even captured by one of them on cellphone video as it unfolded (refer to attached videos).

The offenders have been identified as Aaron Rosenberg and Mark (Mo) Levin, two York University students and members of a campus-based Israel advocacy group known as Hasbara Fellowships who later defended their actions under the pretext that the YU Free Press publishes views, opinions, and in this particular instance cartoon images that are 'anti-Semitic' in nature.

What is of importance here is not so much the disputed content in question and whether or not it constitutes a particular kind of racism, but the fact that the elected response taken by these two individuals was to decide the matter for students rather than allowing them the opportunity to decide it for themselves.

The overall purpose of the YU Free Press since its inception has been to confront the glaring lack of media diversity on campus and, in doing so, provide a fundamental space for critical analysis and commentary of the news around us to a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff alike under an explicit social justice mandate – an effort that is fatally undermined when particular views that may be disagreeable to some of us are forcibly suppressed and debate about them effectively shut down.

It is no coincidence that these actions have occured in the wake of banned Israeli Apartheid Week posters, denied entry into Canada of British member of parliament and longtime Palestine advocate George Galloway, and revoked funding for essential services to new Canadian immigrants from the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) simply because its president dared to criticize Israel during its latest military offensive in Gaza. Only within the wider context of these separate but not unrelated events can this latest affront to free speech rights in Canada and on our campuses be understood and seriously challenged.

Formal complaints against these two individuals have already been filed and all existing channels of recourse – administrative, legal, or otherwise – are currently being pursued in order to ensure that they are held accountable for their actions and punished accordingly.

Should these two individuals ultimately go unpunished for what they have done, it should offer us much insight into what is for some of us an already clear double standard in the application of punitive measures towards students who commit what are deemed by the York administration as offenses under the draconian non-academic 'Student Code of Conduct'. When the Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York (SAIA-York) holds a rally to denounce Israeli war crimes and violations of international law during its latest assault on Gaza and attempt to expose the York administration's complicity in them they are fined, suspended, and vilified, but when two students take it upon themselves to walk through campus and throw entire stacks of a newspaper whose content they happen to disagree with in the garbage they can expect to see little in the way of disciplinary action beyond a token warning.

The YU Free Press, despite any and all efforts from narrow minded individuals to see the contrary, will not be silenced. These actions, if nothing else, will only prove that the more critical and dissenting voices on campus such as ours are refused the right to be heard, the louder we will become, the more curious people will be to hear what it is we have to say, and the wider our readership and base of support will grow.

We will continue to take principled stances on issues of moral consequence even when it may be inconvenient or unpopular to do so. Although some individuals may not necessarily agree with everything we have to say, they must at the very least respect our right to say it.

If through the conscious publication of content that would otherwise be trivialized, misrepresented under the guise of 'objectivity', or simply omitted altogether we have encouraged debate about it and widened the scope of free speech on campus in the process than we have fulfilled our central mandate – a fact that such reactionary responses do nothing to change and everything to confirm.

We are at this time asking all of our friends, allies, and supporters to please join us in our ensuing campaign to guarantee that our campus remains a space that is safe for free speech and the existence of a critical free press.

Thank you to everyone for all of your support,

The YU Free Press Collective


Below is a sample letter, that you can send York University President Mamdouh Shoukri expressing your outrage about this violation of free speech on campus (mshoukri@yorku.ca) and do not forget to CC the YU Free Press as well ( info@yufreepress.org).

sample letter:

President Shoukri,

I am outraged to learn that the latest issue of the YU Free Press, an alternative monthly newspaper at York, has been systematically emptied from its racks and thrown in the garbage by two individuals (students Aaron Rosenberg and Mo Levin) simply because they disagree with its subject matter or decided editorial slant. As President of York it is your responsibility to ensure that our campus upholds the fundamental principles of free speech and legitimate dissent, even regarding those views that you personally may happen to find objectionable and of a controversial nature. I urge you to do everything within the authority of your office to hold these two individuals accountable for their actions and ensure that meaningful measures are both implemented and enforced such that intolerance of this kind does not occur again without appropriate punishment. Please let me know what you are doing or plan to do in the immediate future to address these concerns. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME



This country is going down a dangerous path of censorship, and we still have time to act. This is our democracy, our country, our constitution, our human rights. Since they clearly are unable to grasp the basic tenents of a liberal democracy on their own, lets embarass them into doing the right thing.

Thanks.


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This makes me sad. When it was announced that the David Dunlap Observatory would be sold, I was once again disgusted with the state of the academy, as neo-liberal restructuring struck hard at this historic site of Canadian science. As a part of the "deal", the University of Toronto would shift funds from the sale to other astronomical research projects, such as at the Canada-France telescope in Hawaii (I have my own issues with this, as only graduate and post-graduate students of exceptional financial resources would have access to this facility, as compared to the DDO, which was universally accessible....once again, the rich get access to better education. Remember this example the next time some conservative/libertarian whines about how the poor are lazy, stupid, and without ambition).

Now, it seems like another major Canadian astronomical outlet is facing another blow. This time, it's coming not from a university trying to behave like a business, but from the federal government behaving like John McCain. The Mont Mégantic Observatory is getting their budget slashed by nearly half this year, and next year it will be entirely cut. Says facility director Robert Lamontagne:

"We don't know why we got such a small amount and why it's going to go down to zero in a year from now," he said this week. "We're the last large university-based telescope operating in Canada. The only thing we know for sure is we're getting less money this year and no money next year."


It seems like the Harper-led government is hell-bent on systematically destroying science in this country. Write your MP, and express your disgust with this cut. This government has got to go down, and sadly the spineless Liberals are still licking their wounds from Stephane Dion, and they're the only serious opposition to the Tories.

We're in for a long, dumb haul.

*UPDATE* Foolishly, I forgot to link to the news article. It is fixed now.

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Thanks to Rebecca Watson for the heads up on this. Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State for Science and Technology, has got to go. An online petition has been set up to help facilitate this.

Mind you, online petitions generally have about as much teeth as a newborn, but hey, this can't hurt one bit. It's possible that some more main-stream media outlets in Canada might open their eyes a little bit to this quack.

Good idea, Ottawa Skeptics!


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Do I have autism now?

Sweet. I managed to get a hold of a cable here, and upload the pictures from my camera. The shots of Mercury turned out about as well as I expected. Remember, I didn't use any special gear here, just my trusty Canon Rebel XT and the telephoto. When Mercury peaks in two weeks, I might pull out all the stops and hook up the camera to the 8". We shall see. Anyway, here are two of the better ones; you can clearly see Mercury in phase. Neat.

Mercury above Georgian Bay, Ontario.







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Mercury Militia...?

This weekend, I'm spending the Easter holidays with the family, and I just realized that I'm doing this for the first time since 2004. Friggin' undergrad work always prohibited me from taking any time to myself to spend a night or two back home. Anyway, here I am...

I was out tonight trying to take a picture of Mercury. Mercury is a notoriously hard thing to catch: conditions have to be relatively ideal, because it spends so little time in the sky, is only visible in the twilight for maximum 2 hours, sits so close to the sun that it tends to get washed out, and it appears very low on the horizon, so you have to be either at the top of a hill, or overlooking some water.

Being that Midland, Ontario is surrounded by water on all sides (it sits on a peninsula that is about a 30-minute drive from either side), so it's easy for me to get a nice low spot on the eastern and western (and northern) horizons. I snagged a bunch of great pics of Mercury tonight, using the same getup that Phil Plait generously linked to last month. I would post some pictures in this entry, but as I say, I'm in Midland....and I'm a bit of an idiot for not bringing the cable to attach my camera to my computer. So unless I can find one of those cables lying around this house, you'll have to wait until I go back home on Sunday.

Mercury takes up less space in the sky than Venus does, so the image is not as clear as in the link posted above. From what I can tell from the tiny display screen in the camera (which has fooled me in the past), the images clearly show a spherical object in a waxing gibbous phase. Let's hope the larger images turn out the same way!



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My DSi

I've been in a bit of a funk lately...hard to get motivated to write or research anything. It might have something to do with the recent several-day dump of snow we got after several weeks of false-hope inspiring warmth and sunlight. It might have something to do with my near-total burnout and ideological opposition to the academic field I have spent the last 5 years engaging in. It might have something to do with the 30th birthday looking down on me in less than a month. Whatever it is, a self-imposed seclusion has been setting in, and I needed something to distract me.

I bought the new Nintendo DSi. It is freaking sweet.
Pictured: Sweet.

The screen is brighter and bigger. The processor is faster, and I've so far encountered zero lag on even the more advanced DS games (LOTR Conquest, GTA ChinaTown Wars). It has a camera function that is actually more fun than it sounds (though the quality of the images is not much different from a typical cell-phone camera), and there is this neat little voice-recording application that I've already wasted about an hour with.

It has wireless internet capabilities, which is a huge plus....as a random example, this blog looks great on the DSi. But the browser itself is the Nintendo-exclusive browser, "Opera", which blows.
Pictured: The Opera browser.

To my great disapointment, the DSi doesn't play videos of any format, nor can it play anything in the browser requring flash/java. This means no youtube or any other imbedded video player. There is an SD slot, from which I thought I could play some video files....no-dice.
Pictured: No dice.

For all the surprising limitations of the new system, the brighter colours and screen make some of the DS games look almost like Wii-quality (almost). If you've got money to burn ($200 CDN!), this is a worthy purchase. Nintendo, as always, proves it to be the chameleon of the video gaming world, continuously changing technology and aesthetics to meet the shifting demands of the gaming culture. Sony hasn't changed the PSP too much beyond fixing bugs, and making the processor a little faster.







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Over Judgement Day

I played last night. T'was super-fun.

Thanks to Kelsey for recording this.







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Floody-floody

This isn't too far off from a conversation I had....several times....with the same person.







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THUNK!

Hey, remember that Art Show I entered? Well, turns out I won in the category of Best Photo!


Pictured: Award winner.
Who'd a thunk it?



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On sadness...

First off, let me say right off the bat that I am NOT suicidal.

Moving along.

It is a common misconception that suicide rates are at their highest during the Christmas holidays. Ostensibly, it's because people without many loved one feel lonely and decide it's too much. Another possible cause is the crippling debt, often realized during this time when everyone seems to be spending money, and a person realizes how hard (if not impossible) it would be to get out of debt (Remind me again why we bail out investment banks and not the people who owe the money to the investment banks?).

But in fact, it is this time of year that suicide rates peak. The likely suspect surrounds seasonal affective disorder (which has the uncomfortably apt acronym, SAD). I've had this before (what Canadian hasn't?), and it sucks. Thankfully, the sun spends more time in the sky, more light reaches my retina, and it gets warm enough that I can go for a walk without my hip killing me (for those who may not know, I've had a hip injury since 2003 that has been at times a living nightmare). SAD is truly that: seasonal. But for some, the warm season starts, and they find that they're still depressed. Depression is literally a killer here, as these people who suspected it was SAD suddenly realize that it's not the weather, but themselves, and then the worst happens.

This got me looking into suicide lately (on an intellectual, not emotional level....again....NOT suicidal), and I was saddened to see the suicide rates of the LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgendered) community. According to this very sad article, (bold mine)

"GLBTQ youth is four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth.

Yet, while the discrepancy between rates of suicide among GLBT and straight youth is well established and acknowledged to be accurate, there is no way to get precise data about the actual rate of suicide for GLBT youth...because coroners reports don’t disclose sexual orientation, and many families don’t acknowledge their children were gay and so don’t include the information on their death certificates. Further, some teens who commit suicide never disclose their orientation"

Some teens would rather kill themselves then come out of the closet.

Those in the transgendered community have a 31% suicide rate. Think about that....nearly 1 out of 3 people who consider themselves transgendered commit suicide. Over 50% of Transsexuals will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. Sadly still, stories like this are all too common. It doesn't take too much research to find a bevvy of stories surrounding GLBT suicide, assault, abuse and murder. I won't link any more, because I frankly find it too sad.

Remember this entry the next time you're hanging out with one of your homophobic friends...hopefully, you don't have any.



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