Go to church, win a prize!

This news is either weird, or offensive, I’m not sure what. One of the local churches is holding some kind of bombastic special event — sturm und drang Christian style — at which they will hand out prizes. Examples include a TV, a vacation, … a car! Need I say that the church is Pentecostal? Maybe it’s just me, but Pentecostal-style churches seem to borrow heavily from secular entertainment shows for their services. Now, they are  adopting a game-show mentality to win people to the Lord. Visitors might now say, as they leave a service, “Well, I wanted to be born again, but I was really holding out for that convertible.”

Voyagers are still muses after 3 decades

Thirty years ago, the US launched twin probes towards the outer planets. Taking advantage of the favorable arrangement of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, the Voyagers swung by the four gas giants over the course of a decade, returning valuable data and beautiful, compelling images of the Big Four. The Voyagers kept on going, heading for interstellar space. Astronomers told us they would travel for hundreds of thousands of years before reaching another star system, since space is pretty damn big, but that caveat did not prevent some SF writers from using the Voyagers as a plot device. Thanks to a team led by astronomers Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, each probe carried on its side a metallic phonograph record (with a stylus included, in case alien space scientists had moved onto CDs) containing messages in dozens of Earth languages, photographs, music, tidbits about our biology and relative size, the location of our home world, and so on. John Carpenter’s movie Starman begins with the launch of the Voyagers and quickly establishes that an alien civilization has intercepted one of the probes, and followed its handy roadmap back to Earth. In the movie, the alien scientist, played by Jeff Bridges, ...

Where were they?

The big news this weekend is the earthquake in Indonesia, a big one which has killed 3,000 or more people. Where were the great prognosticators? Did any of them predict such a catastrophe? Given their self-promotion, one would assume that they would have certainly sensed a 6.2 magnitude earthquake. Eric Julien, the comet collision dude, sent out alarmist bulletins warning those living along the Atlantic Coast that a tsunami would occur on May 25. He mentioned nothing about catastrophes in the South Pacific. Stan Deyo, who styles himself an earthquake predictor, suggests on his website that he in fact forecasted the quake. As if. Deyo’s site includes a daily thermal map of the world. Circles on the map indicate likelihood of tectonic activity, he claims. Well, his map does in fact include a circle near the epicenter of the Indonesian quake. There are also scores of other circles all over the map, and AFAIK no quakes or temblors have been reported at all those sites. Saying Deyo predicted the quake is like saying I can predict it will rain  tomorrow. If I don’t mention a locality, I am bound to be correct, since at any given time it is raining ...

Idiosyncratic graduation ceremony

So, this evening we graduated 41 seniors, with none of the church-state drama some other Kentucky high schools are suffering through. In fact, our ceremony was, as usual, quite pleasant. Being a small school helps, since reading only 30-40 names goes a lot quicker than 300-400 or more, but we have honed the ceremony down to the essentials. Herewith is a summary of the evening’s festivities. Times are approximate, since I was not really keeping track of time. At 5:45, students enter auditorium to precessional by brass quartet, followed by faculty. Invocation, very non-denominational, by female Episcopal minister. (3 minutes) Head of school offers welcoming remarks and addresses class. (About 10 minutes) Alumni award is given to a member of class of ’84. (About 15 minutes) Featured speaker is departing history teacher, who recalls his youthful optimism of the late ’60s and charges the seniors with the task of retaining theirs. Then he sings the Bob Dylan song, “Forever Young,” accompanied by one of the seniors on guitar. Who knew he could sing? [Last year, a math teacher danced during his speech. Don’t ask.] (About 15 minutes) Honors graduates are recognized, Commonwealth Diploma graduate recognized. (10 minutes) Awards are given ...

Cometary comedown

Well, suffice it to say, a comet did not hit the earth, as self-described expert Eric Julien had predicted for May 25.  As NASA and most other sane observers realized, the alleged perpetrator passed by the earth some six million miles away about ten days earlier, sending no rogue fragments toward the Atlantic Ocean, as Julien had warned. Interestingly, Julien’s posse of supporters gradually abandoned him as the cometary impact date approached, perhaps put off by his near manic insistence of being to able to predict comet trajectories better than the world’s astronomers and his seeming ignorance of the laws of physics. Exopolitics.org, which had championed Julien’s prognostications, distanced themselves from him with a lengthy open letter to site visitors, and George Noury of Coast to Coast AM also averred on air that perhaps Julien was a teeny bit wrong about this whole comet caper. Julien, for his part, still seems conviced that something significant will happen sometime around the 25th of May, and his new site suggests that a fragment may have hit, but the impact is being kept hush-hush by the powers-that-be. Whatever. Why can’t these psychics/channelers/astrologers/alienwatchers just admit they’re wrong?

Update: Shelby County graduation & prayer 2

This from the Courier-Journal: Shelby County school officials have decided to omit formal prayers from the June 2 graduation ceremonies, following a complaint from a student and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The school “will be compliant with the law and also provide a respectful and dignified program for all students,” he said a day after meeting in closed session with the Board of Education and a lawyer — while residents held a prayer vigil outside. Kidwell added that traditional prayers at a school banquet and an awards ceremony also will not be held. The student who filed the complaint is Arshiya Saiyed, a 17-year-old Muslim woman. She told the C-J that there were other students at Shelby County High School who agreed with her. Her complaint and the fact that she is Muslim have brought out the worst in conservative commentators and bloggers. Just a quick search on www.technorati.com turned up reams of invective against Saiyed, Muslims, the ACLU and the so-called “War on Christianity.” She’s a brave young woman and I wish her well. (She will also attend my daughter’s college next year, so Saiyed also has good taste.) Whether there will be no prayers at all ...

Tangled Bank #54

More gems from science bloggers. Check it out!

Prayers and school ceremonies

Friday is graduation day for our seniors. As ceremonies go, it is brief (being a small school and having a streamlined program helps), consisting of an opening prayer, various speeches, a few awards, the diploma handoffs and a benediction. Since we are a private school affiliated with the Episcopal Church, the presence of the prayers is not a big deal. They are usually non-denominational, and have been offered by rabbis and ministers. Back in the day, I attended a public high school on Long Island. I recently found the program for our graduation ceremony. In keeping with the demographics of the area, a rabbi offered the opening prayer, a Presbyterian the benediction, and the school choir (of which I was a member, thank you) sang, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” If anyone objected to the religious nature of these three items, word never came my way. But what should happen if a member of the community objects to such prayers, as happened in Russell County last week and may happen in Shelby County this week? Are religious prayers appropriate for public-school graduation ceremonies? Here we tread on the treacherous ground of separation of church and state. In the ...

Enforcing TV pablum

When they weren’t protecting our shores from non-English speaking illegal aliens, our Senators were busy safeguarding our children from naughtiness on network TV. The Senate unanimously passed a bill to levy a fine of $325,000 for any infraction of broadcast indecency. Janet Jackson’s microsecond-long “wardrobe malfunction” on broadcast TV and conservative media watchdog groups flooding the FCC with complaints about offensive programming prompted the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which was passed Thursday. The act, in part, increased the maximum penalty for infractions of broadcast “decency” ten-fold to make the fines mean something. Some Senators had been angling for a more punitive $500,000 cap, in fact. The legislation, which still has to be reconciled with similar bills in the House, targets the broadcast networks, which have pushed the decency envelope to remain competitive with the cable networks. Jackson’s momentary baring of one breast, which was supposedly accidental, during the 2004 Superbowl broadcast set off howls of protests from the bluenoses among us. One would have thought the sight of a bare breast was the worst thing since 9/11. Meanwhile, conservative watchdog groups have virtually automated indecency complaints, requiring cooperative viewers (whether they have seen the offending program or not) only to ...

It’s not just the symbolism of walls that’s a problem

In their latest incursion into meaningless legislation, our senators passed a measure Thursday, 63-34, that recognizes English as the national language, and another, 58-39, that recognizes it as the “common and unifying language” of the USA. They also approved a measure that would require immigrants wishing to take advantage of new immigration legislation to “know English.” All three were amendments to the Senate’s immigration reform bill, and will really have no effect on the way business and politics are conducted in the nation. The Senate bill still needs to reconciled with a House version, so the “English is spoken here” amendments may not survive the process. The national language amendments are more posturing by our legislators, who are trying to convince us that they are actually doing something of meaning in Washington. English is already the most widely spoken language in the USA, for obvious reasons. We once were a British colony. Despite significant French and Spanish colonization early in our history, English remaIns the dominant language. All immigrants, if they expected to survive, had to learn English. For my grandparents’ generation, it was a matter of pride to learn English. Their children were lucky to hear the old country’s ...

The Germans took down their wall; US senators want to build one

I am speaking of course of the latest hare-brained solution to the “immigration problem” from that august group of brainiacs, the US Senate: a triple-layered wall over part of the 2000-mile Mexican border. The Senate, in its efforts to address an election-year pseudo-problem, voted, 83-16, to erect the wall at strategic points along our southern border, and to install 500 miles of vehicle barriers to keep campesinos from driving into our fair nation. The House for its part wants to erect about 700 miles of barriers along the border. This while sections of the interstate highway system develop potholes large enough to swallow small cars, and bridges near the point of collapse. This while the war in Iraq sucks huge sums of money from the Treasury. The whole immigration crisis is just an election-year ploy to distract the public from the issues that really matter.  Rattling immigrants’ cages gets them out into the streets, providing yet more distractions, and puts everyone on the defensive. Meanwhile, Pres. George W. Bush manages to walk a fine line between anti-immigration extremists on the one hand and more laissez-faire supporters down in his neck of the woods on the other. Immigrants, illegal or otherwise, ...

New theories suggest Big Bang was a Big Bounce

A group of cosmologists at Penn State University have applied a quantum theory of spacetime to the question of the Big Bang, and discovered that a previous universe may have existed before ours blossomed into existence 13 billion years ago. The results suggest that the Big Bang was in fact a Big Bounce. As the previous universe collapsed upon itself, it rebounded, creating in the process the universe in which we now live. Such a scenario has been previously suggested, but the Penn State group may have the first solid data verifying the hypothesis. Cosmology, or the study of the origin and evolution of the universe, depends of two disparate branches of physics: general relativity and quantum physics. General relativity is Albert Einstein’s theory of gravitation, which in fact predicted the occurrence of a Big Bang a decade before there was any observational evidence supporting the event. The theory enables astrophysicists and cosmologists to understand in part what the early universe, with its densely packed matter and energy, may have looked like. Quantum physics deals with the subatomic world. As it turns out, the extreme density and temperature of the early universe would have had profound consequences for the behavior ...
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