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I’ve been busy of late and not keeping up with my blogging duties. Nevertheless, this morning I came across two things which I decided needed a place on this blog.
The first (found at The Awl) is a collection of images from Voyager and Cassini/Huygens which would make both Carl Sagan and Carolyn Porco proud. Note that all of the pictures interlaced in this video are raw image data from the missions… including the brilliant ice geysers of Enceladus. Ungh.
The song is The Cinematic Orchestra -That Home (Instrumental).
Click through to follow up with some fun NdGT adaptations. Read more…
I recently finished reading Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing while on vacation. A quick and easy read for those with a decent level of scientific literacy, it was graced by an afterward from Richard Dawkins. It’s unfortunate that Christopher Hitchens’ planned forward for the book was derailed by his illness; nevertheless, a book featuring two of the four prominent American scientist-atheists (joining Neil de Grasse Tyson and Dan Denntt) still provided quite a bit of umph to it.
I still intend to get around to doing a review of the book, but in the meantime I thought I would share this outstanding talk between the two authors. It was hosted by the Origins Project headed by Krauss at Arizona State University and featured a fine discussion on science in general, atheism and a bit on American politics.
This is no debate, as these two scientists share a similar world view and the audience also trended toward the science-focused, areligious types. Perhaps as a result, Krauss tends to earn some cheap laughs at the expense of the Republican leadership. That doesn’t prevent the video being well worth the viewing time for an intelligent discussion on abiogenesis, evolution and the exciting quantum physics discussed in “A Universe From Nothing.”
Peaceful protests were plenty in the days leading up to the execution of Troy Davis last night.
This week, the State of Georgia executed Troy Davis in a case that gripped the nation for all of 24 hours, but had earned the attention of anti-death penalty, human rights and criminal justice advocates for years. Davis had been convicted after two hours of deliberations for the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.
Before going further, I want to express my condolences to the MacPhail family for all they have been put through, from the loss of their Army Ranger, Police Officer and Good Samaritan son, brother and father. There is no question he died off-duty while fulfilling the oaths he took in his service to this country and to the city of Savannah. But this post and this issue is not about him, the victim. That is largely because the primary focus of the criminal justice system – the administration of the death penalty in particular – intentionally is not structured to factor in retribution.
This focus is why criminal cases are brought by the state (whether on the local or federal level) on behalf of the people and society as a whole. Accompanying civil suits may be brought by victims and their family to seek compensatory justice, but they are largely apart from the criminal cases. This is because criminal punishment is in the interests of society as a whole and not on behalf of the victims. It is also why we seek justice itself, instead of retribution.
A constant reader of this blog or anyone who has spent time discussing the subject with me will probably be able to tell that I’ve gone through a religious journey of sorts in the past few years. More accurately, I’ve delved into the topic, weighing philosophical, historical and scientific texts to determine that I am perfectly capable of being good without god and that, as a non-believer, I am proud to call myself an atheist.
While at times there are elements of religion I cannot accept or respect, I generally consider myself (or at least would like to consider myself) to be happily respectful of others’ rights to practice their religions and hold their own beliefs. I only ask that those individuals do not attempt to establish theocracies or impose their religious mandates on others.
My coming out as an atheist has also accompanied a continuing desire to learn more about various other religions. This edition of TED Tuesday includes three religious figures presenting at various TED conferences. They include a journalist experimenting with living an orthodox Christian life, a pop-culture pastor talking about how each of us should live uniquely, and an imam who just happens to be that guy building the mis-labeled “ground zero” mosque.
I rarely just operate as a bookmark to a blog post that I really like, but a gent named Darryl Cunningham put together an incredibly accessible and concise discussion (in cartoon form) of a topic that is dear to me: climate change. To be more precise, I’ve been fascinated by Americans (and, more recently, the Brits) and their ability to be engrossed in climate change denial.
Click the image below to be taken to Cunningham’s blog post and the full, multi-cel journey through the ridiculousness of deniers. For further reading, see the below links.
Click the image to go to http://darryl-cunningham.blogspot.com/2010/12/climate-change.html
I was a bit busy last week and wasn’t able to do one of the things I really wanted to: write about space and a few extraordinary developments that have been announced or released lately. Namely, there’s been more fun with exo-planetary systems, Europa and asteroids.
F-Yeah Exo-Planetary Systems
A few months ago I wrote about the discovery of a hot “near-Earth” named GJ 1214b. The rocky planet measuring about six times the mass of the Earth was discovered at about 40 light years distance using the Radial Velocity method of exo-planetary detection (measuring red-shift of a star to determine slight wobbles caused by a star — in this case, GJ 1214 — orbiting along with exo-planet(s) around their common center of gravity).
Scientists at a conference in France announced this week the discovery of two new exciting sets of exo-planetary systems, each distinguishing in its own way. The first, which has been observed primarily using Radial Velocity is the discovery of the stellar system with the most known planets outside of our own solar system. HD 10180, a Sun-like M-Class star sitting about 128 light years away hosts a whopping seven planets.
NASA released the above animation of the planetary system around HD 10180.
Click through for more discussion and discovery.Read more…
I’ve been meaning to write a bit more and clarify my thoughts and feelings on the Cordoba Initiative’s plans for a community center and mosque in lower Manhattan. Last week, I strung together a bit of a rambling post discussing how disappointed I am in the sweeping tide of anti-American behavior taken up in the name of “American values” throughout this nation.
The proposed Cordoba House is an uncomfortable issue for most and brings up conflicting feelings and desires to both defend American freedoms and empathize with the families of September 11, 2001 victims.
Part of my desire to discuss the topic more was the realization that I hadn’t articulated well exactly what it was that I found offensive and anti-American. So let me be clear, opposing the Cordoba House is not anti-American. It is merely the attempts to use the government or government means that is anti-American and, quite simply, unconstitutional.
While technically, the movement to have the former Burlington Coat Factory building landmarked was not specifically tied to the building of a mosque (and it would not have completely blocked the construction, but simply made the plans more difficult as the exterior of the building would have had to be preserved) and was, therefore, not relating to the establishment, promotion or obstruction of religious freedoms. Despite this, few would argue that the facts really hid the between-the-lines anti-Islam motivations thereunder. This would be no different than the post-Edwards v Aguillard move of creationists to remove overt religious references to religion or god in the newly revamped intelligence design movement. Everyone knows the motivation has no basis in science, but in religious ideology.
In the case of the Cordoba House, pushing to landmark and make more difficult the conversion of the building at the proposed site was a measure to use the government to obstruct the construction of a privately funded, otherwise legal religious building and institution. In other words, this move represented an effort to violate the Establishment Clause.
I’ve settled into a nice niche with respect to Twitter news. Yes, you can get some breaking stories truly from the masses via Trending Topics, but I also rely on two specific sources for news updates. One is for headlines and the other is for commentary.
Mike Bloomberg marked the Cordoba House victory from Governor's Island (nee Nutten Island), where the Dutch first settled New Amsterdam.
This past week has seen two important victories for liberty in America. Yet somehow, the news accounts are all over the place. If you look at a Red station/website/paper (e.g., anything owned by Rupert Murdoch), the sky is falling. If you’re on Twitter or Tumblr, you’d think everyone had decided to sing Kumbaya and that all the world’s ills are over. Obviously, the reality is somewhere in between. And, at least in my eyes, these victories for liberty were but speed bumps that have not halted a harsh and brutal wave of oppression that ironically brandishes the name of freedom.
The victories of which I speak were both very important. The first came on Tuesday when the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously against a measure to grant landmark status to the building that once housed The Burlington Coat Factory and now is planned to be torn down and replaced with a 13-story community center called the Cordoba House. The second was Wednesday, when a California jurist enjoined enforcement of a ballot initiative that effectively banned same-sex marriage in the state. While these two levees pushed back the waters of hatred and bigotry (of late, quite commonly in the name of fundamentalist Christianity), this country is leaking like a sieve elsewhere and that the victories were necessary at all is reflective thereof.