Get Ben Stein’s movie

JISHOU, HUNAN — Want to buy a propaganda film really cheap? Now’s your chance. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is now available to the highest bidder. Expelled was the 2008 embarrassment that tried to prove once and for all there was a vast conspiracy to teach evolution while suppressing Intelligent Design and other “explanations” of life on Earth, and putting Hitler in power. Or something like that. The New York Times called it “one of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time.” Narrated and hosted by the riveting Ben Stein, it tanked at the box office, so badly it seems, that its production company, Premise Media, is in bankruptcy court. According to a document (PDF) filed in the United States Bankruptcy Court of the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division, on May 31, 2011, the trustee of the bankruptcy estate is seeking to auction “[t]hat certain feature-length motion picture (‘Picture’) ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed’ and all collateral, allied, ancillary, subsidiary and merchandising rights therein and thereto, and all properties and things of value pertaining thereto.” The auction is scheduled to take place on-line from June 23 to June 28, 2011. As awful as the movie was, I reckon ...

More pesky high school students

JISHOU, HUNAN — And I’m not talking about Archie and Jughead, or even Beavis and Butthead. Amy Myers the Bachmann Slayer (and Scourge of the Right Wing) is not the only high school student making national news. Damon Fowler and Zack Kopplin, both of Louisiana, have made some national waves recently, too. Fowler is a 2011 graduate of Bastrop High School in Bastrop, La. Earlier this term, he learned that there would be a school-sanctioned official prayer at his graduation ceremony. He objected, and asked that the prayer be scotched. (FYI, the Supreme Court has held that public school-sponsored prayers are verboten under the First Amendment, which Fowler knows but the school apparently didn’t.) The ACLU followed up with a letter advising the school of the legal requirements and ramifications. School officials agreed to forgo the prayer. As if. In the meantime, the community got wind of Fowler’s objections and the shit hit the fan. Fowler got threats of violence and death. His fellow students turned on him. One of his teachers publicly berated him. His parents kicked him out of the house, and put his possessions (except his PS3) out on the porch. The graduation went on without him, ...

Something more informative than those cheesy USA Today graphics 1

Randall Munroe (Mr. xkcd) has posted a useful, informative chart about radiation exposures. Considering all the worldwide kerfluffle about radiation hazards from Japan, which will be almost nil for people thousands of miles away, reviewing the chart may make this complex subject more understandable.

Salt — the new gold! 2

JISHOU, HUNAN — Salt has just become the most sought after commodity in China since Japan’s looming nuclear emergency started a week ago. Prompted by word of mouth medical advice, Chinese — especially those in the eastern provinces close to Japan — have nearly cleared the supermarket shelves of salt. What salt is available is being sold at exorbitant prices, following the time-honored advice of W.C. Fields, “Never give a sucker an even break.” [Apparently, the word on the street is that iodized salt — if they are even bothering to check for the iodized part — is a suitable replacement for potassium iodide (KI) pills. KI doses are a preventive measure against radioactive iodine, a component of nuclear fallout, concentrating in one’s thyroid glands. Someone consuming enough salt to effectively replace KI pills would probably keel over from high blood pressure, or at least from excessive thirst.] Meanwhile, a fake email alert purporting to be from the BBC has circulated all around Asia, advising people to stay inside, avoid getting rained on, and to put betadine on the skin near their thyroid glands. BBC Flash news : Japan Government confirms radiation leak at Fukushima nuclear plants. Asian countries should ...

The Ballad of John Freshwater finally ends

JISHOU, HUNAN — Like the fabled “Song That Never Ends,” the story of John Freshwater, a middle school Ohio science teacher bent on proselytizing his students, seems to have gone on and on and on … The end is this: he will be dismissed from his teaching job at the Mount Vernon public schools. Actually, that’s the same ending as before, but he was entitled to an administrative hearing, which dragged on for almost two years. In a decision released this week, the referee for the hearing agreed with the school district, and said, “Yup, Freshwater is out.” John Freshwater purposely used his classroom to advance his Christian religious views knowing full well or ignoring the fact that those views might conflict with the private beliefs of his students. John Freshwater refused and/or failed to employ objectivity in his instruction of a variety of science subjects and, in so doing, endorsed a particular religious doctrine. By this course of conduct John Freshwater repeatedly violated the Establishment Clause. Without question, the repeated violation of the Constitution of The United States is a “fairly serious matter” and is, therefore, a valid basis for termination of John Freshwater’s contract(s). Further, he repeatedly acted ...

Another photo of Supernova 2010lt

Another photo of Supernova 2010lt
JISHOU, HUNAN — This Jan. 3 photo is by New Mexico photographer Joseph Brimacombe. The tick marks at 12:00 and 3:00 mark Supernova 2010lt, which was discovered a few days ago by 10-year-old Kathryn Aurora Gray of New Brunswick, Canada. I have made a close-up of SN2010lt from his photo, which appears after the full photo. The detail shows the “fuzziness” typical of a galaxy, in this case UGC 3378, which is 240 million light-years away from us. The supernova is within the fuzziness (and the same distance from Earth), so it’s part of the galaxy. Here’s a news report of the discovery I found online.

Canadian schoolgirl discovers supernova 1

Kathryn Gray, 10, was studying starfield photos on her computer at her home in Birdton, New Brunswick, Canada, when she spotted something that looked like a supernova. It was, and she’s the youngest person ever to find one. A supernova is the last gasp of a massive star that’s run out of nuclear fuel to “burn.” The star collapses in seconds, and the falling material gets very hot, very fast and explodes. UPDATED TO CORRECT AN ERROR. In this case, Supernova 2010lt (Kathryn’s Supernova?) exploded because it was unable to regulate nuclear fusion. There was a runaway reaction, leading to a sudden, catastrophic explosion. The pre-supernova star may be quite dim, but the explosion makes it thousands of times brighter — for a very short time. Astronomers looking for supernovas compare recent photos of the sky with older ones, to see if anything has changed. Kathryn hit paydirt. Here’s an animation to show what she saw. The star in question is in the galaxy UGC 3378, the bright spot at 8 o’clock relative to the supernova, in the constellation Camelopardalis. It’s 240 million light-years away, so that should give you an idea how bright that supernova is. Or was, since ...

The shrinking Arctic polar ice cap

This is from the PBS News Hour website. It’s an image of the northern polar ice cap as it appears now, superimposed on a photo of the ice cap from 10 years ago. Looks like Santa Claus may have to relocate. Seriously, though, the melting of all that ice means it’s been getting warmer, on average, up North. That rise in temperatures affects wildlife, and also global sea levels. The melted ice has to go somewhere, after all. Conditions are similar in the Antarctic. So, while it’s hard to believe with all the snow we’ve been getting lately, the Earth is getting gradually warmer. Remember, weather is not climate.

Happy Winter Solstice!

It’s today, at 6:38 PM EST (6:38 AM Wednesday my time). I hope you got a chance to see the lunar eclipse, because I’m on the wrong side of the world for it. Just for the record, this is the shortest period of daylight in the northern hemisphere for the whole year. And the furthest south on the horizon that the sun will rise and set. Now the days will get longer, and the sun will move toward the north. Good reason for a celebration! Have some glögg! It’s a traditional holiday punch in Sweden and the other north lands. The really old fashioned way to make it was to leave out the sugar, and instead drink the punch while holding a sugar cube in your teeth. At least, that’s how my grandpa did it. Sugar was expensive way back when.

Arsenic-based lifeform? Maybe, maybe not. 5

JISHOU, HUNAN — Just a few days ago, the Internet was in a hub-bub about the discovery of a strain of bacteria that thrives in an arsenic-laced environment. Several biologists, however, are not so convinced, and have pointed out weaknesses in the scientific paper announcing the discovery. Carl Zimmer at Discover magazine just published a summary of some of these objections. The late astronomer and author Carl Sagan once wrote that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” In other words, if you claim you saw a UFO zipping across the sky from your backyard, your photographic “proof” had better not look like blurry shot of a modified dinner plate. Briefly, that’s what critics of the arsenic-loving bacteria paper are saying. They believe the authors’ methodology and analysis is flawed, so they want further evidence that these bacteria have really incorporated arsenic into their DNA, for example. This is how science works. Even Newton and Einstein, whose theories of gravity and relativity are now considered foundations of modern physics, had their critics when they were first published. Science is all about testing and verification of hypotheses. Peer-reviewed journals, like Science, run submissions past a panel of editors, who judge in part whether ...

Best answer for your alternative science/medicine believing friends

xkcd nails the argument against alt-med and alt-science nonsense. If it all really worked, somebody would be using it for practical purposes. Click on the image to see the original, so you can read the mouse-over comment there.

News of the week: new life forms and Noah’s Ark in Kentucky 8

JISHOU, HUNAN — You win some, you lose some. In the nifty cool corner, we have NASA scientists discovering a strain of bacteria that actually likes arsenic so much to incorporate it in their DNA. No word yet on their reactions to old lace. Or elderberry wine. In the dunce-cap corner, we have Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear crowing that the Commonwealth is giving millions of dollars in tax breaks to a Noah’s Ark-themed (as in religious) amusement part. The first bit of news is exciting, because until this week biologists believed all life on Earth is based only on CHONPS (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur). Now we know some bacteria can live on CHONAsS. (I can just hear the jokes in high school biology classes now …) Phosphorous and arsenic are neighbors in the periodic table, with similar chemical properties. It’s what makes arsenic (As) poisonous. Our cells grab hold of the arsenic, thinking it’s phosphorus, but, alas, it’s just different enough that it kills us. These bacteria, found in an arsenic-laden lake in California could care less. Arsenic, shmarsenic. Chances are, they were not aboard the Ark with Noah’s kin and all those animals. Genesis says nothing ...
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