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Is God still speaking?

Why Evolution is True Feed - 4 hours 57 min ago

Coming back from lunch at the Lutheran Theological Seminary’s refectory (a great lunch spot I just discovered, and no tax!), I had a second religious encounter. Walking back to work, I passed the University Church, a Protestant Christian church with pronounced Left-wing beliefs (there’s a gay pride flag outside, as well as a Black Lives Matter banner), located only a block from my office. On one side of the church hung this banner with a quote from Gracie Allen (yes, the comedian), with the addition, “God is still speaking.”

I was intrigued by the quote, and thought it meant this: “There’s precious little evidence for God these days [i.e., the comma], but be assured—he’s still around [no period yet].” But that’s an admission that there’s not much evidence for God, which isn’t palatable for the religious. So I called a friend of mine, who used to be religious but is now a nonbeliever, and before I could even give him the quote, he told me what it was. (He still goes to a similar liberal church for social reasons and to be part of a group that does indeed effect substantive and positive social change).

So I asked my pal, “What do these quotes mean?”

He explained that this is a reaction to those fundamentalists and Biblical literalists who think that all morality is already in the Bible, can be derived from the Bible, and is unchanging. In other words, it’s a rebuke to those who say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” The lack of a period, and the “God is still speaking” part means that God is still, through the church, helping us find a better way to live.

I welcome a religious view that morality is changing, but I think that’s shortsighted. If God didn’t get it right in the Bible, why not? Why didn’t he tell us from the outset that it’s wrong to kill gays, wrong to enslave people, wrong to commit genocide? What’s the purpose of God’s continued speech?

Well, we all know the answer to that one: liberal religion is simply a way to filter a secular morality through a religious strainer. Morality evolves, and it’s not because religion evolves, for religion is always playing catch-up. And so we have churches like this one opposing bigotry and racism, but pretending to rely on religious and Biblical justifications to do that. I admire their mission and values, but why not cut out the middleman? Why not just admit that your view of what’s right doesn’t come from God, but that you’re simply putting it in the mouth of God, perhaps as a way to inspire people to do what they see as God’s bidding?

Indeed, my friend told me that even though he’s not religious, he sees interfaith activism as a powerful way to change society for the better. And it may well be. I just find it sad that you have to accept fairy tales to make society better. And indeed, you don’t really have to.  In many ways the largely atheist countries of Scandinavia and northern Europe have societies more moral than ours, yet they’re largely composed of atheists. As atheists often say, “You don’t need God to be good.” I’ll add that “You don’t need a religious society for that society to be good.”

Thus endeth my Wednesday postprandial sermon.

Categories: Science

Evergreen State offers a new course on hearing other viewpoints; professor is doomed

Why Evolution is True Feed - 5 hours 57 min ago

Bret Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying, until last year biology faculty at The Evergreen State College—otherwise known as The People’s Democratic College of Evergreen State, or TPDCES—have long departed, hounded out of Olympia, Washington for refusing to comply with black racism, and the school is back to its regressive ways. But, according to a reader who wishes to remain unnamed, there’s a new course in store for the students, one that has the potential to enlighten them. But I’m betting it won’t.

You can click on the title above, or simply read the course description below.  I’ve bolded the important parts, especially the last sentence!

“The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind” – John Stuart Mill

One purpose of a liberal education is to free or liberate students from narrow perspectives, limited thinking, partisanship, and categorical rhetoric in order to obtain knowledge. Affirmations of absolutes should give way to identification and clarification of ambiguities of complex topics. This can best be achieved in an environment where we are confronted with our preconceived notions of the world and are encouraged to engage in the dialectic: the rational exchange of conflicting ideas in a common pursuit of truth. This demanding work can be challenging in a setting where diverse viewpoints are absent. Lecture, and seminar topics will address the questions of how, when, and why the human mind can be resistant to realities that run counter to strongly held convictions. We will explore how the values that bind us into cohesive groups of like minded people can also blind us to our weaknesses. This interdisciplinary course will draw upon such diverse fields as moral psychology, social science, statistics, and philosophy. We will extensively consult with leading national experts on these topics while using Evergreen as a case study on how colleges and universities might address contentious issues of political diversity, free speech, freedom of thought, and censorship. Students and faculty will begin the quarter by identifying their own personal intuitions on relevant contentious issues. We will then independently examine a controversial question which we feel most certain and passionate about, but from the opposite perspective than we currently possess. In addition, students will individually engage with communities who have identities, values and opinions dissimilar to their own, while reflecting upon these experiences through writing. Through weekly readings, critical thinking skills will be refined through careful quantitative and qualitative examination of evidence while analyzing underlying assumptions and biases. Students will learn to distinguish between conceptual, empirical, and value claims while becoming adept at identifying logical fallacies. As a class we will cultivate virtues of intellectual humility with the primary aim of pursuing knowledge and truth ahead of social and political action. All perspectives on issues are not only welcome, but strongly encouraged. However, students who require “ideological safe spaces” where particular viewpoints are considered offensive may want to seek a different program.

How could such a course get into the curriculum at TPDCES? Who on Earth is teaching it?

Well, the listed professor happens to be none other than Dr. Michael Paros, who teaches biology, just like Weinstein and Heying. And he happens to be, as I noted months ago, the only Evergreen faculty member who issued a statement in support of Bret Weinstein (see more here, though the statement isn’t reproduced). Paros said he expected to be called a bigot for supporting Weinstein, but I haven’t followed up on whether that happened.

If anything is tinder for another conflagration at TPDCES, it’s this course. It’s not a science course, so it will be taken by humanities students—the Regressive types. The last sentence is a direct slap in the faces of Regressives, as is the one about how tribal values can blind one to one’s weaknesses! How can the Cultural Revolutionaries stand it? Will Paros be forced to sit in class wearing a paper cone-hat and with a sign of shame around his neck?

More questions: whom will the students seek out having “identities, values, and opinions dissimilar to their own”? Republicans? Poor people? White people? And who will the “national experts” on these topics be? I can think of some: Greg Lukianoff of FIRE, Jonathan Haidt, Nicholas or Erika Christakis from Yale, Jordan Peterson, Weinstein himself or, Ceiling Cat help us, hard-ass conservatives like Ben Shapiro. (I doubt the students could listen to a whole talk by Shapiro without losing it.)

Yes, this could be a great course and an eye-opener for the students, and Paros is clearly offering it because he’s distressed at the thuggery, regressiveness, and close-mindedness of both the faculty and students at TPDCES. I wish him luck, but I have little hope that the students won’t picket this course or try to shut it down. I fear that Paros’s effort is doomed, but I sure hope not.

Categories: Science

How the Earth stops high-energy neutrinos in their tracks

For the first time, a science experiment has measured Earth's ability to absorb neutrinos -- the smaller-than-an-atom particles that zoom throughout space and through us by the trillions every second at nearly the speed of light. The experiment was achieved with the IceCube detector, an array of 5,160 basketball-sized sensors frozen deep within a cubic kilometer of very clear ice near the South Pole.
Categories: Science

How the Earth stops high-energy neutrinos in their tracks

For the first time, a science experiment has measured Earth's ability to absorb neutrinos -- the smaller-than-an-atom particles that zoom throughout space and through us by the trillions every second at nearly the speed of light. The experiment was achieved with the IceCube detector, an array of 5,160 basketball-sized sensors frozen deep within a cubic kilometer of very clear ice near the South Pole.
Categories: Science

Lightning, with a chance of antimatter

Researchers find that lightning strikes causes photonuclear reactions in the atmosphere, creating antimatter.
Categories: Science

Lightning, with a chance of antimatter

Researchers find that lightning strikes causes photonuclear reactions in the atmosphere, creating antimatter.
Categories: Science

New method to measure neutron star size uses modeling based on thermonuclear explosions

Neutron stars are made out of cold ultra-dense matter. How this matter behaves is one of the biggest mysteries in modern nuclear physics. Researchers developed a new method for measuring the radius of neutron stars which helps them to understand what happens to the matter inside the star under extreme pressure.
Categories: Science

New composite material made of carbon nanotubes

Due to their unique properties, carbon nanotubes would be ideal for numerous applications, but to date they cannot be combined adequately with other materials, or they lose their beneficial properties. Scientists have developed an alternative method of combining, so they retain their characteristic properties. As such, they 'felt' the thread-like tubes into a stable 3-D network.
Categories: Science

The Cultural Revolution hits a Canadian university: grad student teacher bullied for promoting free discussion in her class

Why Evolution is True Feed - 8 hours 57 min ago

Wilfred Laurier University is a public university in Waterloo, Ontario, and has just become the target of international opprobrium after its persecution of a graduate teaching assistant became public this week. The teaching assistant, 22 year old Lindsay Shepherd, is now one of my heroes for standing up for the principles of free speech and pushing back against the bullying of her professors and the University who want Suppressed Speech.  Here she is:

Lindsay Shepherd. Photo by David Bebee

What happened? Well, as reported by several sources, including the Globe and Mail, Shepherd, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in cultural analysis and social theory, was teaching a tutorial on language to first year students when the subject of personal pronouns arose. As you may have heard, this year Canada passed a federal law that added “gender identity and gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Act (“Bill C-16″).  It’s not completely clear whether this law criminalizes those who refuse to use a person’s chosen pronoun—”him”, “her”, “zir”, “it”, “they”, and so on—but the paper reports that this seems likely, at least in one province:

 The Ontario Human Rights Commission states clearly on its website that refusing to refer to a person by their preferred name and pronoun “will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education.”

I think it’s a matter of civility to use whatever pronoun a student wants.  But should one be forced to do that? Isn’t that a violation of freedom of speech? Well, repeated refusal to use a preferred pronoun seems to me to be harassment, and that shouldn’t be tolerated. Others may differ, and at any rate this matter is not an open and shut case.

The most famous opponent of the forced use of preferred pronouns is Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. As I’ve said before, he’s all over the Internet, but I haven’t had time to examine his views carefully; and what I have seen suggests that he’s both very smart and somewhat unhinged. Be that as it may, he engaged in a debate about pronoun usage and transgender people on Steve Paikin’s  “The Agenda” show last October.  Here’s the 54-minute video in which Peterson debates other people, including another professor from UT, Nicholas Matte from the Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies. You needn’t watch the whole show (I did soon after it aired), but if you have time I’d recommend it:

Shepherd apparently showed her students a three-minute clip from this show, featuring Peterson vs. Matte, to demonstrate the controversy about pronoun use. She herself claims that she’s on Matte’s side, but wanted to inspire discussion in her class. That seems fair enough.

But several students (who, of course, remained anonymous) complained to the University, and Shepherd was called in for a private shaming and criticism session by faculty and University officials. Fortunately, she was savvy enough to record the whole 43-minute interrogation on her computer rather than taking notes. You can find the full recording and some of the transcript at The National Post, but below is a 10-minute excerpt that gives an idea of what was going on. Shepherd’s interrogators/shamers were her own supervisor, professor Nathan Rambukkana; another professor, Herbert Pimlott; and Adria Joel, Laurer University’s manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support. Do listen to this ten minutes. Here’s a brief summary from the G&M:

During the interrogation, Ms. Shepherd is told repeatedly that she is guilty of spreading transphobia – in violation of the university’s policy and also, most likely, of Ontario’s human-rights code. At one point her supervisor, Nathan Rambukkana, compares her actions to endorsing white supremacy. “This is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler,” he tells her.

What did Ms. Shepherd do? She played a three-minute video clip from a TV program that had been broadcast on TVO. It featured a debate over transgender pronouns. The role of Hitler was played by Jordan Peterson, the notorious University of Toronto professor who has thrown the entire academic world into conniption fits with his alleged hate thoughts. Among other things, Prof. Peterson argues that Ontario’s human-rights code could compel people to use non-gendered artificial pronouns – a position that Ms. Shepherd’s superiors at WLU evidently share. [JAC: Shepherd apparently agrees with them, too!]

Ms. Shepherd attempted to explain that she doesn’t even agree with Prof. Peterson. She simply used the clip to help frame a class discussion – an explanation that her interrogators ignored. When she asked which students had complained and how many, she was told that information was confidential. When she pointed out that the pronoun controversy has already been widely aired in public, she was told that some ideas are too “problematic” to be introduced into the classroom. When she voiced her opinion that universities should be places for debate, she was told that she’s created a toxic environment for students. When she said she had remained neutral and not tried to impose her own views, her supervisor, Prof. Rambukkana, told her, “That’s kind of part of the problem.”

You can hear this below.What a bunch of sanctimonious twits and bullies those three interrogators are! I’m so proud of Shepherd for standing up for herself in the face of these head-thumpers, even though she was brought to tears several times.

Here are the two professors who went after her:

Wilfrid Laurier University professors Nathan Rambukkana, left, and Herbert Pimlott, right. From National Post.

And here’s Adria Joel:

Now had Shepherd not recorded this session, and then decided to release it to the news, she undoubtedly would have been sanctioned, or even removed from teaching that class. But her interrogation was so nasty, so insensitive, so oblivious to the purposes of free discussion in a college education, that its release proved completely embarrassing for the university. There was a public uproar, and President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah MacLatchy was forced to issue a public apology to Shepherd. Fine, but the apology was hedged, for it includes this (my emphasis):

Through the media, we have now had the opportunity to hear the full recording of the meeting that took place at Wilfrid Laurier University.

After listening to this recording, an apology is in order. The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd. I will convey my apology to her directly. Professor Rambukkana has also chosen to apologize to Lindsay Shepherd about the way the meeting was conducted.

I remain troubled by the way faculty, staff and students involved in this situation have been targeted with extreme vitriol. Supports are in place at the university to support them through this situation.

She’s troubled not just by how Shepherd was treated, but by the way “the faculty, staff, and students involved in this situation” were “targeted with extreme vitriol”. Well, they should have been! So long as they were criticized for their sniveling cowardice and snowflake-ness, as well for bullying Shepherd, and not threatened personally, vitriol is the appropriate response. What MacLatchy is trying to do is apologize to everybody so she doesn’t have to take a stand. Her cowardice is also reflected in what she’s doing to “fix” the situation:

The university has engaged an independent party to assess the facts of the matter including a review of related processes going forward. The review is intended to support improvement in our processes. The university is committed to ensuring that the vitally important role of Teaching Assistant supports an enriched learning environment for all students.

Let me be clear by stating that Laurier is committed to the abiding principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

Yeah, right! They surely weren’t espousing those principles in the meeting with Shepherd. MacLatchy has also convened a “task force” to “delve into these issues.” Seriously? Why can’t she just adopt the University of Chicago’s free speech principles and be done with it?

Professor Rambukkana has also issued an apology to Shepherd, and it’s more or less the craven, insincere document you’d expect. All of a sudden he’s backed off hectoring of his own student and has completely rethought his principles—in only a few days. What really happened is that he’s simply embarrassed at being the butt of public anger.

I suppose all this has ended well, though I’m not keen on President MacLatchy’s blanket apology to everyone. What we see here, though, is what happens all the time in American and Canadian universities; we simply don’t know about it because it isn’t recorded. This is what happens in Title IX inquiries, where accusations and accusers remain anonymous and those accused aren’t allowed to confront the accusers or even have a lawyer. While the U.S. is succumbing to a lunatic, right-wing President, our universities are succumbing to a Regressive Leftism that gives lip service to free speech but suppresses it when such speech becomes ideologically inconvenient.

I’ll give the last word to Ms. Shepherd, and I wish her well. We have here a brave young woman who stands up for her principles under enormous pressure, and I hope she achieves great things. She seems to know more about what education is about than either of the bullying professors or the University President herself.

Moral of the story: A university must be repeatedly publicly shamed, internationally, in order to apologize (oh, but keep the task force & investigation). Even then, ambiguous about free speech. Also, make sure to secretly record all meetings or they won't take you seriously.

— Lindsay Shepherd (@NewWorldHominin) November 21, 2017

h/t: Merilee, Diana

Categories: Science

Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ Regressives

Why Evolution is True Feed - 10 hours 12 min ago

My next post will be about the kerfuffle at Laurier University in Canada, in which a graduate teaching assistant was reprimanded for presenting her class with views deemed ideologically incorrect. (In one of her classes she showed a video clip of a television panel on the “pronoun” controversy to stimulate a discussion.) It’s a disgusting tale of a Regressive university’s efforts to enforce a particular point of view and keep any alternative from being presented—even though the teaching assistant’s own views aligned with those of the university—but, as you’ll soon seen, it ended fairly well.

The Jesus and Mo artist created a timely cartoon stimulated by this, and added a note in his/her/hir/their/its email:

The latest free-speech controversy at a Canadian university prompted this one. If the secretly recorded audio doesn’t make you want to resort to epistemic violence, nothing will.

Here’s the cartoon, called “micro”:


Categories: Science

Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution is True Feed - 10 hours 57 min ago

Reader Andrée Sanborn from Vermont sent a series of pictures of an unusual insect that were taken in July (but sent in mid-October). Her captions are indented.

Case-bearing Leaf Beetle larva (Cryptocephalinae)

July 22, 2017

This was an exciting find for us. It wasn’t just a lifer, it was one of an entire subfamily that I had never known or seen. We all know leaf beetles to some extent: seed beetles, tortoise beetles, calligrapha beetles, the Colorado potato beetle, flea beetles, even ladybugs. But this is the larva of another: a case-bearing beetle“Larvae are casebearers, living in and protected by a case constructed of their fecal matter and sometimes plant debris. The case is shorter than the larva that remains folded inside it. Eggs are laid in carefully sculpted packets formed from feces and abdominal secretions. . . “

I saw a minute lump (or dot) on an alder leaf. A flea beetle was inspecting the lump. I could tell immediately that this was a living creature because of the color and pattern. I did some shots, took the leaf, and took it home for inspection. We had a great time figuring out what it was: we went through sawfly larvae, spiders (at one point, it looked like spider legs coming out of the case), until finally, after all the photos and observations, I thought of case bearers. The only case bearers I knew of at that point were moths, but I searched for others and found Cryptocephalinae. Discovering the ID of a new insect without help from scientists is one of the most exciting things to do. Of course, what those entomologists have taught me through discussions of their finds and my photos is what prepared me to be able to figure this out. That excitement is why I have submitted only this individual in this email.

I kept the larva in a mason jar with alder leaves for a while but I didn’t like how the life cycle was progressing so set it free.  Unfortunately, I have never found another. I so wanted to see the adult.

By the way: if anyone is interesting in insect hunting, I suggest groves of alders. They sustain a huge assembly of insects and, therefore, birds, especially warblers, that feed on them.

The fecal-looking larva in the field:

The rest of the shots were taken inside:
A photobomb from one of the cats of one of my daughters for Caturday (I shouldn’t judge. My Oliver is awful.): To give an idea of what adults look like, here’s an adult from what is probably a different species, Cryptocephalus nitidus:
Categories: Science

Wednesday: Hili dialogue

Why Evolution is True Feed - 11 hours 57 min ago

Good morning on the day before Thanksgiving in America: Wednesday, November 22, 2017. The campus is empty, and all employees (and most faculty and grad students) will be gone till next Monday. I’ll be here all week folks; don’t forget to try the roast beef!  It’s National Cashew Day, the world’s second best nut (macadamias are first). Actually, cashews are technically not nuts but seeds, so it’s the world’s best seed. It’s also The Day of the Albanian Alphabet, celebrating the meeting in 1908 that standardized what had been at least six separate alphabets.

On this day in 1718, the British pirate Edward Teach, better known as “Blackbeard“, was killed in battle against a Royal Navy ship.  On November 22, 1928, the first performance of Ravel’s Boléro was held in Paris.

Of course this day is etched in American memories as the day in 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, also killing a police officer (J. D. Tippit) and wounding Texas governor John Connelly. Exactly five years later, the Beatles released the “white album”, technically known as “The Beatles”. On November 22, 1975, Juan Carlos became the King of Spain after Franco finally joined the Choir Invisible. Exactly two decades later, the movie Toy Story was released as the first full-length film created entirely from computer-generated images. Finally, it was on this day in 2005 that Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female Chancellor.

Notables born on this day include Abigail Adams (1744), George Eliot (1819), André Gide (1869), Charles de Gaulle (1890), Benjamin Britten (1913), Terry Gilliam (1940), Billie Jean King (1943) and Mariel Hemingway (1961). Those who expired on November 22 include, besides Blackbeard and John F. Kennedy (see above), Walter Reed (1902), Jack London (1916), Arthur Eddington (1944), Shemp Howard (1955; He was, for a while, one of the Three Stooges, but not a popular one. Wikipedia notes “he was called “Shemp” because ‘Sam’ [his real last name was Horowitz] came out that way in his mother’s thick Litvak accent), C. S. Lewis (1963; died on the same day as JFK),  Mae West (1980), Hans Adolf Krebs (1981), and Lynn Margulis (2011).

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, we have another enigmatic Hili Dialogue. When I told Malgorzata I didn’t understand it, she replied:

Oh! It can be a cultural problem! In Polish there is a saying that a person is like an open book which means straightforward, easy to understand, just go and read it. Now, Hili tries to read books which are above her ability to understand. So she mistakenly associates this saying with something that is difficult to fathom. She is now trying to decipher the traces on the floor and it’s not so easy. Hence her comment. It’s funny: I can’t imagine a Pole who would’ve any trouble with understanding this dialogue.

Well, the phrase is similar in English but the dialogue is still enigmatic:

Hili: A floor is like an open book. A: What do you mean? Hili: That it’s not always possible to understand. In Polish: Hili: Podłoga jest jak otwarta książka.
Ja: To znaczy?
Hili: Nie zawsze daje się zrozumieć.

I found this tw**t; be sure to watch the video—the best Christmas video ever!

#November1st so like..

Categories: Science

New Tools Against Antibiotic Resistance

Science-based Medicine Feed - 12 hours 3 min ago
Antibiotic resistance is a serious problem that may lead to a post-antibiotic era. However, there are potential solutions that deserve research priority.
Categories: Science

Burn it all down

Pharyngula Feed - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 2:29pm

Now a Minnesota state senator, Dan Schoen, is resigning.

Lindsey Port, a DFL candidate for office in 2016 who is running again for a House seat next year, said Schoen grabbed her buttocks at a Democratic National Committee meeting in Minneapolis in 2015.

Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, said Schoen sent her a string of text messages when she was a candidate for office inviting her to drinks, including one not intended for her that read: “I almost got her. Working on her pretty hard, but I almost got her.”

A Senate employee said Schoen sent her an unsolicited photo of male genitalia.

What the fuck has been going on? It’s about time these jerks got booted out of office, but now I’m wondering where all these men who disrespect women came from, how they endured so long without exposure, and how they managed to get elected to office. I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable just giving a friendly hug that women invite, even, and I can’t quite imagine reaching out and grabbing the butt of a co-worker under any circumstances. I also can’t imagine trying to “get” someone.

Never mind me. I’m just an alien from planet Flooforb who accidentally stumbled through a one-way portal to your planet, and I haven’t adapted at all to your social politics yet.

Nor do I want to. Way too much involuntary manipulation and exchange of bodily fluids. Ick.

Categories: Science

Trump defends Roy Moore

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 1:38pm

Even Republicans have distanced themselves from the hyperconservative creationist Alabaman Roy Moore, now accused of sexual assault and harassment, and previously infamous for installing the Ten Commandments in front of the Alabama Supreme Court and having been removed from a state Supreme Court judgeship not once, but twice. As you probably know, he’s now running as a Republican for Jeff Sessions’ Senate seat. The Republicans have run away from Moore faster than if he were a skunk with his rear pointed at them, and even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has floated the possibility of expelling Moore from the Senate for immorality and unfitness for office were Moore to be elected.

When someone’s seen by Republicans as a a discredit to their own party, you know he’s a disaster. Yet, according to CNN, Trump has just “all but endorsed” Moore:

President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended embattled Alabama Republican Roy Moore, all but endorsing the Senate candidate who has been accused of sexual assault.

“He denies it. Look, he denies it,” Trump said of Moore. “If you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours. He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And look, you have to look at him also.” Several women have come forward and accused Moore of pursuing romantic relationships with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, and several others also have accused him of assault.

. . . “We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat, Jones. I’ve looked at his record. It’s terrible on crime. It’s terrible on the border. It’s terrible on military,” Trump said. “I can tell you for a fact we do not need somebody who’s going to be bad on crime, bad on borders, bad for the military, bad for the Second Amendment.”

Trump on Tuesday left the door open to campaigning with Moore.

“I’ll be letting you know next week,” he said, when asked whether he will campaign with Moore.

Trump repeatedly emphasized that Jones has denied the allegations brought against him.

Trump declined to say whether he believed Moore’s denials, but when asked he again pointed to the denials.

“Well, he denies. I mean, he denies. I mean, Roy Moore denies it. And by the way, it is a total denial. And I do have to say 40 years is a long time. He’s run eight races and this has never come up. Forty years is a long time,” Trump said, pointing to the amount of time that has passed since the alleged behavior.

And indeed, Moore does deny it, so I, at least, wouldn’t immediately pronounce him guilty of the initial count, and can’t really rule him unfit for having asked out women of legal age when he was older. But I believe that other allegations of sexual assault have come forth since I’ve been in Mexico and without the American news.

Regardless, though, even if he’s completely innocent of the accusations, he’s still unfit to serve. The man is simply a brainless ball of right-wing ideology marinated in evangelical Christianity. It’s a recipe for disaster, even for Republicans. If  Trump had any brains (a debatable issue), he wouldn’t endorse or campaign for Moore. But who has ever praised the neuronal complement of The Donald? So while the Republicans are destroying themselves through a lack of cohesion and an inability to get anything done, even with a Republican legislature, President, and Supreme Court, the Democrats have a chance to pull together. Sadly, we’re just as riven by identity politics as the GOP is by various degrees of cluelessness and stupidity.

Where is our candidate: the Democrat who can win in 2020?

Categories: Science

Video game improves balance in youth with autism

Computers and Math from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:58pm
Playing a video game that rewards participants for holding various "ninja" poses could help children and youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) improve their balance, according to a recent study.
Categories: Science

Biomechanical model could reduce wobbling of pedestrian bridges

Matter and energy from Science Daily Feed - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:58pm
The dangerous wobbling of pedestrian bridges could be reduced by using biomechanically inspired models of pedestrian response to bridge motion and a mathematical formula to estimate the critical crowd size at which bridge wobbling begins, according to a study.
Categories: Science

A lunch in Puebla

Why Evolution is True Feed - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 12:30pm

One day during the meeting, my affable host Juan Matienzo offered to take me out for a typical Puebla lunch.  There was, he said, a special goat dish served only in November, made with goats that had been taken on long hikes (I don’t know what that does to the meat). I instantly acceded, of course, and we drove off to a remote region of town to try this delicacy.

Welcome to El Burladero, which I believe refers to the wooden barrier around the edge of a bull ring where the banderilleras and matador stand when not engaged with a bull (yes, there are still cruel bullfights in Mexico).

One wouldn’t know, from this unprepossessing facade, of the culinary delights within.  First, you park in a courtyard. . .

. . . and then enter the bullfight-themed restaurant, which has been there for decades. The restaurant was almost empty as we were there at 2 p.m., which apparently is early for lunch in Mexico. Most Mexicans, I’m told, have a reasonable breakfast in the morning, then the big meal of the day (comida) at about 2:30-3:30 pm, and a lighter dinner at about 9 p.m. When we had finished our meal, the restaurant was full, and everyone was eating the same thing: a tureen of stewed goat (see below).

We were handed menus and, as one should, I told Juan that he should do all the ordering as he was a local and had been there several times before.  So here’s my report on the meal. Juan ordered, and I sat back to await the viands. The first dish, one of three appetizers, was chalupas, small corn tortillas with green or red sauce and shredded chicken.

Then  guajolotes (“turkey”), a small sandwich made with turkey, guacamole, crema, and other stuff that I didn’t notice while I was wolfing it down:

Third appetizer: mollejas, deep-fried chicken gizzards served with guacamole, lime, and various salsas. You make your own nosh by mixing these ingredients in a fresh, warm tortilla.

Then the pièce de résistancemole de caderas, made from the hip of one of those hiking goats, stewed in a thick and savory broth. It was a huge hunk of meat which you could put into tortillas or simply fork off the bone. Then you’d drink the soup, which was incredibly luscious, meaty, and savory. It was a spectacular dish:

Here’s Juan with his portion. I believe these are from the hips of the goat, but perhaps a local can enlighten us:

During lunch the tiny but friendly owner, Don Onésimo, came by several times, as Juan told him I was from America and had come to eat his food. He seemed pleased, and even more so when I told him I greatly enjoyed his meal. We posed together under a bull’s head. This owner has managed the restaurant for 53 years, and had another restaurant before that!

I found a video made by the restaurant with bullfighting music, prominently featuring the goat, which is what the restaurant is known for. But they also show the chalupas and other dishes.


Many thanks to Juan not only for taking me here for lunch, but for his attentive hosting throughout the meeting. Muchas gracias, amigo!

Categories: Science

SpaceX Resuming Launches from Damaged Pad 40 on Dec. 4 with Station Resupply Flight for NASA; Covert Zuma Remains on Hold

Universe Today Feed - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:48am

SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 was the last International Space Station resupply mission to lift off successfully from pad 40 on July 18, 2016, prior to the Cape Canaveral, FL, launch pad explosion with the Amos-6 payload that heavily damaged the pad and infrastructure on Sept. 1, 2016. Cargo launches for NASA will resume with Dragon CRS-13 in December 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After postponing last week’s liftoff of the covert ‘Zuma’ spy satellite due to last minute concerns about the reliability of the payload fairing encapsulating it while poised for liftoff at KSC pad 39, SpaceX is set to at last resume launches from their previously damaged and now repaired Cape Canaveral pad 40 on a cargo resupply mission for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS) on Dec 4.

NASA and SpaceX have jointly decided to move forward with the Dragon CRS-13 cargo blastoff apparently because the mission does not involve use of the problematical payload fairing that halted last weeks planned Falcon 9 launch with the rocket and the mysterious Zuma payload.

Zuma was ready and waiting at pad 39A for the GO to proceed that never came.

Then after a series of daily delays SpaceX ultimately announced a ‘stand down’ for super secret Zuma at pad 39A on Friday, Nov. 17, for the foreseeable future.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff of clandestine Zuma spysat to low earth orbit for a classified US government customer is postponed indefinitely from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, from last targeted launch date of 17 Nov 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/

Since SpaceX’s Dragon gumdrop shaped cargo freighter launches as a stand alone aerodynamically shielded spacecraft atop the Falcon 9, it does not require additional protection from atmospheric forces and friction housed inside a nose cone during ascent to orbit unlike satellites with many unprotected exposed surfaces, critical hardware and delicate instruments.

Thus Dragon is deemed good to go since there currently appear to be no other unresolved technical issues with the Falcon 9 rocket.

“NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting its 13th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for no earlier than 2:53 p.m. EST Monday, Dec. 4,” NASA announced on the agency blog and social media accounts.

The Dec. 4 launch date for Dragon CRS-13 was announced by NASA’s space station manager Dan Hartman during the Orbital ATK Antares/Cygnus launch campaign that culminated with a successfully blastoff last Sunday, Nov 12 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia’s eastern shore.

But the targeted Dec 4 liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, was cast in doubt after SpaceX disclosed the payload fairing issue related launch delay on Friday.

Since last week SpaceX engineers have been busy taking the time to carefully scrutinize all the pertinent fairing data before proceeding with the top secret Zuma launch.

“We have decided to stand down and take a closer look at data from recent fairing testing for another customer,” said SpaceX spokesman John Taylor last Friday.

Covert Zuma spysat is encapsulated inside the nose cose at the top of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in this up-close view from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, taken on Nov. 17, 2017. An unresolved issue with the nose cone caused indefinite launch postponement. Credit: Ken Kremer/

All of SpaceX’s launches this year from Florida’s Spaceport have taken place from NASA’s historic Launch Complex-39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Pad 39A became SpaceX’s only operational Florida Space Coast launch pad following a catastrophic launch pad accident last year on Sept. 1, 2016 that took place during a routine fueling test that suddenly ended in a devastating explosion and fire that completely consumed the Falcon 9 rocket and Amos-6 payload and heavily damaged the pad and support infrastructure.

Since the Amos-6 accident workers raced to finish refurbishments to NASA’s long dormant pad 39A to transform into operational status and successfully launched a dozen missions this year.

Simultaneously additional crews have been hard at work to repair damaged pad 40 so that flights can resume there as soon as possible for the bulk of NASA, commercial and military contracted missions.
Meanwhile SpaceX wants to upgrade pad 39A to launch the Falcon Heavy and crewed Dragon flight. But those launches cant take place until pad 40 resumes operational status.

The Dragon CRS-13 mission was recently announced as the maiden mission for the reopening of pad 40.
Altogether Dragon CRS-13 will count as the fourth SpaceX Dragon liftoff of 2017.

The 20-foot high, 12-foot-diameter Dragon CRS-13 vessel will carry about 3 tons of science and supplies to the orbiting outpost and stay about 4 weeks.

It will be a reused Dragon that previously flew on the CRS-6 mission.

“The Dragon [CRS-13] spacecraft will spend about a month attached to the space station,” NASA said.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket goes erect to launch position atop Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on 1 Jun 2017 as seen the morning before later afternoon launch from inside from the pad perimeter. Liftoff of the CRS-11 resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) slated for 1 June 2017. Credit: Ken Kremer/

The prior Dragon CRS-12 resupply ship launched from pad 39A on Aug. 14, 2017 from KSC pad 39A and carried more than 6,400 pounds ( 2,900 kg) of science experiments and research instruments, crew supplies, food water, clothing, hardware, gear and spare parts to the million pound orbiting laboratory complex.

Dragon CRS-9 was the last ISS resupply mission to launch from pad 40 on July 18, 2016.

The recently arrived Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship is expected to depart the station from the Earth facing Unity node on Dec. 3 to make way for Dragon’s berthing at the Harmony node.

Orbital ATK Antares rocket blasts off from the ‘On-Ramp’ to the International Space Station on Nov. 12, 2017 carrying the S.S. Gene Cernan Cygnus OA-8 cargo spacecraft from Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Credit: Ken Kremer/

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of SpaceX CRS-13, Zuma and KoreaSat-5A & Orbital ATK OA-8 Cygnus and NASA and space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Up close view of SpaceX Dragon CRS-9 resupply ship and solar panels atop Falcon 9 rocket at pad 40 prior to blastoff to the ISS on July 18, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches and lands over Port Canaveral in this streak shot showing rockets midnight liftoff from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 12:45 a.m. EDT on July 18, 2016 carrying Dragon CRS-9 craft to the International Space Station (ISS) with almost 5,000 pounds of cargo and docking port. View from atop Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral. Credit: Ken Kremer/

The post SpaceX Resuming Launches from Damaged Pad 40 on Dec. 4 with Station Resupply Flight for NASA; Covert Zuma Remains on Hold appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science

Could Magnetic Sails Slow an Interstellar Spacecraft Enough?

Universe Today Feed - Tue, 11/21/2017 - 11:07am

The number of confirmed extra-solar planets has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years. With every new discovery, the question of when we might be able to explore these planets directly naturally arises. There have been several suggestions so far, ranging from laser-sail driven nanocraft that would travel to Alpha Centauri in just 20 years (Breakthrough Starshot) to slower-moving microcraft equipped with a gene laboratories (The Genesis Project).

But when it comes to braking these craft so that they can slow down and study distant stars and orbit planets, things become a bit more complicated. According to a recent study by the very man who conceived of The Genesis Project – Professor Claudius Gros of the Institute for Theoretical Physics Goethe University Frankfurt – special sails that rely on superconductors to generate magnetic fields could be used for just this purpose.

Starshot and Genesis are similar in that both concepts seek to leverage recent advancements in miniaturization. Today, engineers are able to create sensors, thrusters and cameras that are capable of carrying out computations and other functions, but are a fraction of the size of older instruments. And when it comes to propulsion, there are many options, ranging from conventional rockets and ion drives to laser-driven light sails.

Project Starshot, an initiative sponsored by the Breakthrough Foundation, is intended to be humanity’s first interstellar voyage. Credit:

Slowing an interstellar mission down, however, has remained a more significant challenge because such a craft cannot be fitted with braking thrusters and fuel without increasing its weight. To address this, Professor Gros suggests using magnetic sails, which would present numerous advantages over other available methods. As Prof. Gros explained to Universe Today via email:

“Classically, you would equip the spacecraft with rocket engines. Normal rocket engines, as we are using them for launching satellites, can change the velocity only by 5-15 km/s. And even that only when using several stages. That is not enough to slow down a craft flying at 1000 km/s (0.3% c) or 100000 km/s (c/3). Fusion or antimatter drives would help a bit, but not substantially.”

The sail he envisions would consist of a massive superconducting loop that measures about 50 kilometers in diameter, which would create a magnetic field once a lossless current was induced. Once activated, the ionized hydrogen in the interstellar medium would be reflected off the sail’s magnetic field. This would have the effect of transferring the spacecraft’s momentum to the interstellar gas, gradually slowing it down.

According to Gros’ calculations, this would work for slow-travelling sails despite the extremely low particle density of interstellar space, which works out to 0.005 to 0.1 particles per cubic centimeter. “A magnetic sail trades energy consumption with time,” said Gros.”If you turn off the engine of your car and let it roll idle, it will slow down due to friction (air, tires). The magnetic sail does the same, where the friction comes from the interstellar gas.”

Artist concept of lightsail craft approaching the potentially habitable exoplanet Proxima b. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo

One of the advantages of this method is the fact that can be built using existing technology. The key technology behind the magnetic sail is a Biot Savart loop which, when paired with the same kind of superconducting coils used in high-energy physics, would create a powerful magnetic field. Using such a sail, even heavier spacecraft – those that weight up to 1,500 kilograms (1.5 metric tonnes; 3,307 lbs) – could be decelerated from an interstellar voyage.

The one big drawback is the time such a mission would take. Based on Gros’ own calculations, a high speed transit to Proxima Centauri that relied on magnetic momentum braking would require a ship that weighed about 1 million kg (1000 metric tonnes; 1102 tons). However, an interstellar mission involving a 1.5 metric tonne ship would be able to reach TRAPPIST-1 in about 12,000 years. As Gros concludes:

“It takes a long time (because the very low density of the interstellar media). That is bad if you want to see a return (scientific data, exciting pictures) in your lifetime. Magnetic sails work, but only when you are happy to take the (very) long perspective.”

In other words, such a system would not work for a nanocraft like that envisioned by Breakthrough Starshot. As Starshot’s own Dr. Abraham Loeb explained, the main goal of the project is to achieve the dream of interstellar travel within a generation of the ship’s departure. In addition to being the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, Dr. Loeb is also the Chair of the Breakthrough Starshot Advisory Committee.

A phased laser array, perhaps in the high desert of Chile, propels sails on their journey. Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives

As he explained to Universe Today via email:

“[Gros] concludes that breaking on the interstellar gas is feasible only at low speeds (less than a fraction of a percent of the speed of light) and even then one needs a sail that is tens of miles wide, weighting tons. The problem is that with such a low speed, the journey to the nearest stars will take over a thousand years.

“The Breakthrough Starshot initiative aims to launch a spacecraft at a fifth of the speed of light so that it will reach the nearest stars within a human lifetime. It is difficult to get people excited about a journey whose completion will not be witnessed by them. But there is a caveat. If the longevity of people could be extended to millennia by genetic engineering, then designs of the type considered by Gros would certainly be more appealing.”

But for missions like The Genesis Project, which Gros originally proposed in 2016, time is not a factor. Such a probe, which would carry single-celled organisms – either encoded in a gene factory or stored as cryogenically-frozen spores – a could take thousands of years to reach a neighboring star system. Once there, it would begin seeding planets that had been identified as “transiently habitable” with single-celled organisms.

For such a mission, travel time is not the all-important factor. What matters is the ability to slow down and establish orbit around a planet. That way, the spacecraft would be able to seed these nearby worlds with terrestrial organisms, which could have the effect of slowly terraforming it in advance of human explorers or settlers.

Given how long it would take for humans to reach even the nearest extra-solar planets, a mission that last a few hundred or a few thousand years is no big deal. In the end, which method we choose to conduct interstellar mission will come down to how much time we’re willing to invest. For the sake of exploration, expedience is the key factor, which means lightweight craft and incredibly high speeds.

But where long-term goals – such as seeding other worlds with life and even terraforming them for human settlement – are concerned, the slow and steady approach is best. One thing is for sure: when these types of missions move from the concept stage to realization, it sure will be exciting to witness!

Further Reading: Goete University Frankfurt, Journal of Physics Communications

The post Could Magnetic Sails Slow an Interstellar Spacecraft Enough? appeared first on Universe Today.

Categories: Science


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