Friday, September 28, 2007

Sanity in the Media.

The New York Times wrote a nice piece yesterday on the film "Expelled" - a controversial work which sets out to establish that scientists who promote "Intelligent" Design are being ostracized from academia.

What's interesting here is not the old re-hashing of discredited ideas, or even that Ben Stein narrates, or even that there's such a controversy about how real scientists like Dawkins, Eugenie Scott and PZ Myers were misled into being interviewed for the film (see here for some background), no.

What's really interesting that this is the first time in a long time that I can remember that the mainstream media hasn't pandered to every crackpot idea under the sun. It's refreshing to read that:

There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are “not within the scope or abilities of science.” (emphasis mine)
Finally! The Times has the guts to call it like it is.

Eating Stars for Lunch.

It's been a while since I've posted on astronomy, but this is a good one.

Observers using the Swift and Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellites have discovered a weird binary system - a neutron star devouring a nearby planet sized mass.

neutron star binaryArtist's Impression of neutron star system

The planet-sized object's minimum mass is only about 7 times the mass of Jupiter. But instead of orbiting a normal star, this low-mass body orbits a rapidly spinning pulsar. It orbits the pulsar every 54.7 minutes at an average distance of only about 230,000 miles (slightly less than the Earth-Moon distance).
"This object is merely the skeleton of a star," says co-discoverer Craig Markwardt of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The pulsar has eaten away the star’s outer envelope, and all the remains is its helium-rich core."
Astronomers postulate that the original system contained one very massive star, and one between one and three solar masses. The more massive star was very short-lived and ended it's life in a supernova explosion, leaving behind the neutron star.

Then, as the smaller star began to expand into a red giant, the neighboring neutron star's gravitational pull got a hold of it and started to pull material off onto the neutron star.

pulsar close binary
Today, the two objects are so close to each other than the neutron star’s powerful gravity produces a tidal bulge on its companion, siphoning off gas that flows into a disk that surrounds the neutron star. The flow eventually becomes unstable and dumps large quantities of gas onto the neutron star, causing an X-ray outburst. The neutron star has reduced the mass of it's companion to planetary sizes.

Once again, the quote "The universe is not only weirder than we imagine, it's weirder than we can imagine" applies.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Quick plug...

...for the day job. We've started a new blog over here that touches on what I do every day - check it out if you're into developing software applications.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Weeping painting a fake (surprise!)

I caught this brief mention in Time magazine last week in the "Milestones" section:

FOR TWO DECADES, PILGRIMS flocked to the Christ of the Hills monastery in Blanco, Texas, to lay eyes on what founder Samuel Greene Jr. and his fellow monks claimed was a miracle: a painting of the Virgin Mary that wept tears of myrrh. In 2000, after a fellow monk was convicted of indecency with a male monastic student, Greene also pleaded guilty to indecency. When the compound was closed, investigators found eyedroppers and bottles of rosewater used to fake the tears that prompted donations. Last year Greene confessed to the ruse, and his sexual relations with teenage students, to his probation officer. Greene, who died after taking medications, was 63. His death is under investigation.
Really, is anyone surprised? I would have thought that it's obvious that all of these crying/bleeding statues/paintings are either faked or are common, easily explained natural phenomena. Trying to cram as much irony as possible into the event, the fakers are also monks who were found to be sexual predators. I'm becoming more and more surprised when hypocrisy isn't a part of any religious article.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Atheists are everywhere...

While we're pretending to be Entertainment Weekly (see post below), I thought I'd mention how often it seems that we atheists are popping up, quite openly in mainstream media these days. It's not just Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and Hitchens, but folks from other walks of life too. For example, Jodie Foster is quite open about her atheism in a recent issue of EW also, and Cillian Murphy has been open about his conversion during the movie Sunshine.

It's good to see atheism becoming a subject that people have no problem admitting or talking about. Oh, and remember to see Contact.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Rules for Awards acceptance......

Apparently, there are new rules for awards acceptance speeches. As of last week, the only reason anybody wins an award is because Jesus helped them. No, there's no talent or hard work involved. God did it.

How do we know these new rules? Because Kathy Griffin dared to say at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards that:

"A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus," an exultant Griffin said, holding up her statuette. "Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now."
Sounds OK, right? Well not according to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. He characterized the quip as "hate speech" and on CNN said that it was worse than racism and akin to what Don Imus did in insulting the Rutgers basketball team. What's more, when the awards are broadcast, the remarks will be censored.

We're moving one step closer to a theocracy here. Kathy Griffin makes one statement of fact at an awards show, and it's censored. "Blasphemy" is now not allowed on network TV. It's a sad day when a simple factual statement - that Jesus had nothing to do with winning an award - is associated with real hate speech. Looks like we can chalk up another victory in the war on terror to religious nuts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

I want one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Jesus and Dogfighting....

Michael Vick recently said that through his dogfighting, he had "found Jesus". Quote:

"I'm upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God."
A couple of things here. First - Jesus shows up at dogfights? Who knew!

Second, and more seriously, I'm constantly amazed at how repentant people are after they've been caught, but never before. If they'd not been captured, they wouldn't have thought twice about apologizing, or saying things like:
"I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least."
So.....was he also ashamed and disappointed for the decade or so he was running an organized dog fighting kennel before he was caught? No. What's more laughable is bringing Jesus into this - where was Jesus when Vick was killing the dogs? Was he betting on the fights? Is Jesus only around to minimize prison sentences? As willing PR for criminals? Shouldn't he be intervening before criminal activity takes place?

I tell you, religion constantly amazes me.