Monday, October 30, 2006

"Oh, No, Not Another Learning Experience!"

That's the poster in someone's cubicle at work. I've had days where I have had far more learning experiences than I deserve.

Today's learning experiences involved machining. Telescope eyepieces come in two common sizes: 1.25" and 2" diameter barrels. (There used to be a Japanese standard size of .965", but it seems to be going extinct.) Many newer telescopes have a focuser that accepts a 2" eyepiece--and usually, they include an adapter that slides into the 2" focuser so that you can use 1.25" diameter eyepieces as well.

One of the advantages of the 2" diameter eyepieces is that you have a much larger piece of glass, and a somewhat wider field. It's much more pleasant.

The other advantage of the 2" diameter eyepieces is that longer focal lengths are commonly available with the bigger pieces of glass, which is useful for getting lower magnification and therefore a wider field. (Trust me, there are times you want less power, and a wider field, especially on galaxies.) For example, I don't think I've ever seen a 1.25" eyepiece with a focal length longer than about 55mm. But I have a 2" eyepiece with a focal length of 85mm.

Now, my 8" reflector, wonderful piece of optics that it is, only a 1.25" focuser. I discovered that by holding some of these 2" eyepieces above the focuser, I could actually get a pretty respectable image--and a very wide field (which is useful when hunting for faint objects that don't show up in the finder scope). Yes, I could buy a 2" focuser and install it, but that's quite a bit of work, and might involve moving the mirror mount within the tube, which means drilling fresh holes and patching the old ones--too much work.

Now, I've seen adapters that let you put a 2" eyepiece into a 1.25" focuser, and no, they aren't made by Mobius Strip Enterprises. Obviously, the adapter goes into the 1.25" focuser, and the 2" eyepiece sits above the focuser. The downside is that the adapter might reduce the edges of the cone of light coming from the telescope's mirror, making the image slightly less bright. Of course, the cone of light is often quite small, anyway, to get into a 1.25" eyepiece, so the loss is usually pretty trivial.

But what the heck, I've got a lathe, I'll make the adapter that I need! This should be really quick! And that's where the lessons were learned.

1. Start out with a 2.25" diameter, 3.5" long piece of Delrin.

2. Face the ends so that you have a perfect cylinder, with 90 degree angles on both ends.

3. Drill a 1 7/8" diameter hole 1.25" deep in one end, using the drill press. This isn't perfectly centered, but the drill press is powerful, and it's fast.

4. Use the boring tool on the lathe to make that hole exactly 2.00" inside diameter--and the boring tool also corrects whatever slight discrepancies there were in centering of the hole in the drill press. The boring tool makes the hole very exactly centered--within .001" or .002".

5. Drill a 1 1/8" diameter hole in the other end of the cylinder using the drill press, until it cuts through to the 2.00" hole.

6. Use the boring tool on the lathe to smooth and center that 1 1/8" hole (not actually enlarging it more than .01").

7. Now, what should be easy: turn the outside of the end with the 1 1/8" hole down to 1.2450", so it will fit into the 1.25" eyepiece holder. I'm going to cut away the outer 1" of the cylinder for a length of 1.5". This should be easy, right?

Here are the lessons learned.

1. When you start turning a 3.5" long piece of plastic, it is very, very easy for the pressure of the cutting tool to pop the plastic right out of the chuck. (Remember that because the end in the chuck is only a 1/8" thick wall (2.25"-2.00"/2), you can't really tighten the chuck down too aggressively because the plastic bends slightly.). The plastic pops out of the chuck, again. And again. And again. If you support both ends of the plastic, for example, by using a live center in the tailstock for the end that isn't the chuck, this isn't really a problem. But it turns out that having already bored that 1 1/8" hole in the plastic, my live center was too big to grab it. I improvised, using a 3/8" drill chuck in the tailstock to hold that end, but this really wasn't dramatically better than leaving it unsupported.

2. It is vitally important that the cutting tool in your lathe, when turning down a piece of plastic, be exactly perpendicular to the cylinder (that is to say, horizontal). If the cutting tool is much above or below horizontal, it cuts very poorly. I knew this--but didn't bother to check if I was off horizontal until I had seen the plastic piece flying across the garage a number of times.

Next time, I'll turn down the plastic to 1.25" on end end before boring the holes on each end.

And yes, it works very nicely. I was able to use the 85mm eyepiece, giving 17x, and one degree field of view.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I rolled out the 8" reflector this evening to finish off the roll of film in the camera. This time, I was using eyepiece projection with a 12.5mm eyepiece--meaning that all I could see was a portion of the Moon along the terminator. These can be spectacular photographs, if everything is sharply focused, as it seemed to be. The exposures I tried were 1/8h second, 1/4 second, and 1/2 second. I'll have Wal-Mart develop this tomorrow.

Every time I use this reflector, I am reminded of what a fine piece of optics it is. Big Bertha, having more than twice the aperture, will usually show more detail at the same magnification (as you would expect), Big Bertha seldom tolerates more magnification, under the same conditions.

The image through the 8" at 56x is breathtaking. The whole Moon is visible, with a bit of black sky around it, and one of the brighter stars visible off to the side. The features are tack sharp, with high contrast on everything. I kept putting in more and more powerful eyepieces, trying to find where the image broke down.

Turbulence is a bit of a problem, but you can see the image waving because of it. For brief moments, the air stops moving completely, and the image is flawless. But other than the turbulence, wow! At 354x, the image was still tack sharp.

The next step up, using a 9mm with a 3x Barlow, gave 471x. At this level, in addition to turbulence, the image was starting to soften--and no amount of focusing would make it sharp. But there was still a bit more detail visible compared to 354x. In particular, I was looking at a rille near the terminator. It was just a wiggling line at 354x--but at 471x, while the rille was not quite as crisply defined, there was definitely more detail at the bottom and the sides of the rille. In some stretches, I saw (or at least think I saw) differences in width and the shape of the bottom of the rille.

The next step up, using a 7mm with the 3x Barlow, was 606x--and here the softening had gone too far. I was seeing less detail at the bottom of the rille than at 471x.

I have decided that the Losmandy GM-8 mount is just a little light for the 8" reflector. If I adjust the focus, it can take a couple of seconds at least for the mount to stop shaking. There might be a CI-700 or a G-11 mount in my future, especially if I can find one used and cheap.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Astrophotography Again

I believe that I mentioned the struggles that I have enjoyed in the cold, figuring out how to get the Losmandy mount aligned on the North Celestial Pole. I also discovered that the weight of the camera caused the diagonal on my reflector to unscrew--which had all sorts of shattering glass potential.

So, I pulled off the shelf the reflector that my father and I put together many years ago. I know it works for astrophotography; I've used it for that purpose before--and it is a pretty impressive optical system, especially for something that is only 8" in aperture.

I'm afraid that this telescope is at the upper end of what the Losmandy GM-8 can carry. Partly this is because of the weight; it weighs about 25 pounds. Partly this is because of its length, with the moment arm problem of something with a fair amount of mass at the ends of a fiberglass tube. (Fiberglass is stiff for its weight, but still not stiff in the sense of steel or carbon fiber composite.)

Still, for visual use, it works, and if I gave the timer on the camera a few seconds to fire the shutter, there was no visible motion, even with the wind blowing. (The camera is a Pentax ME Super, so I have to get the film developed at Wal-Mart. How quaint!)

Anyway, I shot some pictures of the Moon at prime focus, where you use the telescope by itself as the camera lens. Michael Covington's astrophotography exposure calculator says that I should use 1/250th of a second, so I did 1/500th, 1/250th, and 1/125th second exposures.

I dragged Big Bertha out as well, and since it can't track across the sky, this limits exposure time to 1/4 of a second or less. But hey, it's got plenty of light for the Moon. I used a 3x Barlow lens in between the camera and the telescope, not because I wanted the magnification, but because the focuser won't go far enough in to put the focal point into the camera body. A Barlow lens effectively pushes the focal point out a few inches. Covington's calculator suggested 1/30th of a second, so I did exposures at 1/60th, 1/30th, and 1/15th of a second. With the combination of Big Bertha's 2000mm focal length, and the 3x Barlow, I could not get all of the Moon on a single frame, so I may have a little less brightness than optimal.

The last set was to use eyepiece projection on the 8" reflector, where you attach the camera to an adapter that carries an eyepiece. In this case, a 25mm Plossl eyepiece made the Moon fit nicely within the film size. The calculator suggested 1/15th of a second, so I did 1/30th, 1/15th, and 1/8th of a second exposures.

I don't know if viewing conditions are better, or if my glasses are better than they used to be, but I had no problem getting what seemed like a very sharp focus with the Pentax. Focus is critical in astrophotography, and I have often found myself frustrated at this, but these seemed pretty decent.

Viewing conditions weren't great, primarily because the Moon was headed down, and there seemed to be quite a bit of turbulence above about 250x. At lower magnifications, however, such as 56x with the 8" reflector, and 80x with Big Bertha, the level of detail was breathtaking!
When Life Begins: No, This Isn't About Abortion

It involves something even a bit more miraculous. I mentioned a while back recently published research suggesting that the Earth already had an oxygen-rich atmosphere 3.8 billion years ago--which pushes photosynthetic life to earlier than 3.8 billion years ago. This cuts the time available for inorganic molecules to randomly, without direction, make the transition to life--and then evolve the really astonishingly sophisticated and complex ability to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose.

Now I see mentioned in the October 2006 Astronomy this new piece of evidence pushing back the first complex life to a surprisingly early stage:
Scientists studying the mysterious mounds along a 6-mile-long (10 kilometers) formation in Western Australia's Pilbara region say microbes formed the structures 3.4 billion years ago. The research, led by Australian Centre for Astrobiology doctoral student Abigail Allwood and published in the June 8 issue of Nature, challenges the idea that chemical processes formed the rocks.

Geologists call these layered features stromalites. Todays' rare examples arise as mats of microbial colonies trap and cement particles. But ancient rock rarely preserves microbes, so proving organisms formed these structures is difficult.

Allwood found seven different stromalite types. Each, she says, was part an ancient reef and occupied its own nice in that environment.

If you start at the [formation's] deep-water end and trace it along the reef system, the numbers of stromolite shapes increase and become more complex and varied, juas as occurs in biological reef systems throughout the geologic record," Allwood says. Physical and chemical processes alone can't mimic this classical environmental response.
If this is correct--and it corroborates the other evidence suggesting that life was already present 3.8 billion years ago--it creates what I call the anti-Young Earth problem.

A lot of Creationists are absolutely insistent that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, even though the Bible doesn't ever make such a claim. (Hint: taking the Bible as literally true when you are reading a translation from a langugage with less than ten thousands words in its vocabulary creates some interesting problems.) They get insistent about this because if the Earth is 10,000 years old, there's no time for evolution.

At the other end, if these pieces of evidence demonstrate that life was already of surprising complexity at 3.8 billion or 3.4 billion years ago, then evolution starts to run into problems of "not enough time" from the other end. Evolutionary theory is built on random, undirected processes, relying on mutations, the vast majority of which are lethal, and many of the rest provide no advantage.

The transition from inorganic chemicals to something capable of self-replication is a major leap--one that evolutionary biologists are wise to avoid discussing too much, because it is a major step (dare I call it a leap of faith?) that makes evolutionary advancement seem pretty simple. Then to make the leap to photosynthesis--and have microbial fossils sufficiently abundant that we manage to find examples that are 3.4 billion years old?

Remember that skeletal fossil formation requires fairly unusual geological conditions, and microbial fossil formation, because it does not involve hard materials, is even more unusual--and from that far back? For everything to fall together so that in somewhere between 700 million and 1.1 billion years we have evidence of widespread and fairly complex life on this planet implies an astonishingly rapid development for a random, undirected process reliant on a mechanism (mutuation) that more 99% of the time produces a non-viable result.

A bit less arrogance from evolutionary biologists would seem wise.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

20" Inside Diameter Stainless Steel Rings?

If you have spent much time looking through Scientific American's classic, Amateur Telescope Making, you will recall seeing lots of pictures of steel skeleton tubes for larger telescopes. A series of rings (often six or seven of them) were welded to a dozen or steel rods. They look really heavy--but were they?

I have a 17.5" Dobsonian that was apparently the first telescope that a bunch of Boise families made some years ago. I do not know what they were thinking. It uses a Sonotube--but then it had a massively heavy wooden box built around it, upon which the altitude bearings are mounted. I'm not sure of the exact weight, but with the mirror out, this beast easily weighs 100 pounds. Since 20" inside diameter Sonotube weighs about four pounds per foot, the wood is adding a huge amount of unneeded weight. My goal is to get this beast light enough to mount on a Losmandy G-11 mount, and something that can mount to a dovetail--which would seem to preclude any of the truss tube designs that I have seen.

So what if I started over, and built one of those steel skeleton tubes to hold everything in place? Stainless steel is about .29 pounds/cubic inch. If I've done the math right, four 1/8" thick, 1" wide flats 90" long bolted (and lock washered) to five rings that 20" inside diameter, 1" wide, and 1/8" thick, totals less than 19 pounds. Even if I go up to 1/4" thick steel flats (which seems excessive), the weight is 32 pounds. The total stiffness of four 1/8" thick pieces of stainless, mounted to five rings, is quite extraordinary.

The flats are easy to get. But is there a source for 20" inside diameter stainless steel rings? Or can someone suggest an alternative material that is readily available? Would epoxying 1" sections of Sonotube add enough stiffness to the flats without the full weight of Sonotube? Perhaps I just should just stick with Sonotube.

Alternatively: instead of rings, I use construct this as a skeleton box, with the four flats held in position by 20" long flats of stainless steel. Using a total of five sets of four flats (the equivalent of five impossible to find 20" stainless steel rings), the total weight, if all of these are 1/8" stainless steel, is only 28 pounds (plus the weight of the bolts holding everything together). Add 37 pounds for the primary mirror, and about ten pounds for the secondary mirror, holder, and eyepiece, and this is 75 pounds. The bottom flat could even be machined with a built-in dovetail to fit the Losmandy mount.

This is still a bit too heavy for the G-11 mount--but I am wondering if there is some way to calculate the amount of flex that these parts will experience. Perhaps I don't need five rings. Perhaps the 90" long flats don't need to be quite so thick. It makes me wish that I had taken mechanical engineering classes. I know that Young's modulus describes deformation, but I'm not quite sure how to apply all this a real world problem. Perhaps it is time to go hit the library on this exciting subject.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Most Fascinating Science News of the Week, The Month--Maybe The Year

The New Jersey Coalition for Self-Defense blog linked to this absolutely fascinating and clearly relevant piece of scientific research about diet and violence--and if the research can be confirmed, suggests a way to substantially reduce violence--although unfortunately, opening up a never-ending string of lawsuits by the ambulance chasers. The article in the Guardian:
Demar has been in and out of prison so many times he has lost count of his convictions. "Being drunk, being disorderly, trespass, assault and battery; you name it, I did it. How many times I been in jail? I don't know, I was locked up so much it was my second home."

Demar has been taking part in a clinical trial at the US government's National Institutes for Health, near Washington. The study is investigating the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements on the brain, and the pills that have effected Demar's "miracle" are doses of fish oil.

The results emerging from this study are at the cutting edge of the debate on crime and punishment. In Britain we lock up more people than ever before. Nearly 80,000 people are now in our prisons, which reached their capacity this week.

But the new research calls into question the very basis of criminal justice and the notion of culpability. It suggests that individuals may not always be responsible for their aggression. Taken together with a study in a high-security prison for young offenders in the UK, it shows that violent behaviour may be attributable at least in part to nutritional deficiencies.

The UK prison trial at Aylesbury jail showed that when young men there were fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the number of violent offences they committed in the prison fell by 37%. Although no one is suggesting that poor diet alone can account for complex social problems, the former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham says that he is now "absolutely convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour, both that bad diet causes bad behaviour and that good diet prevents it."

The Dutch government is currently conducting a large trial to see if nutritional supplements have the same effect on its prison population. And this week, new claims were made that fish oil had improved behaviour and reduced aggression among children with some of the most severe behavioural difficulties in the UK.
The scientist at the National Institute of Health running this study explains why he thinks this dietary change makes a difference:
His hypothesis is that modern industrialised diets may be changing the very architecture and functioning of the brain.

We are suffering, he believes, from widespread diseases of deficiency. Just as vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, deficiency in the essential fats the brain needs and the nutrients needed to metabolise those fats is causing of a host of mental problems from depression to aggression. Not all experts agree, but if he is right, the consequences are as serious as they could be. The pandemic of violence in western societies may be related to what we eat or fail to eat. Junk food may not only be making us sick, but mad and bad too.


The researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which is part of NIH, had placed adverts for aggressive alcoholics in the Washington Post in 2001. Some 80 volunteers came forward and have since been enrolled in the double blind study. They have ranged from homeless people to a teacher to a former secret service agent. Following a period of three weeks' detoxification on a locked ward, half were randomly assigned to 2 grams per day of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for three months, and half to placebos of fish-flavoured corn oil.

An earlier pilot study on 30 patients with violent records found that those given omega-3 supplements had their anger reduced by one-third, measured by standard scales of hostility and irritability, regardless of whether they were relapsing and drinking again. The bigger trial is nearly complete now and Dell Wright, the nurse administering the pills, has seen startling changes in those on the fish oil rather than the placebo. "When Demar came in there was always an undercurrent of aggression in his behaviour. Once he was on the supplements he took on the ability not to be impulsive. He kept saying, 'This is not like me'."

Demar has been out of trouble and sober for a year now. He has a girlfriend, his own door key, and was made employee of the month at his company recently. Others on the trial also have long histories of violence but with omega-3 fatty acids have been able for the first time to control their anger and aggression. J, for example, arrived drinking a gallon of rum a day and had 28 scars on his hand from punching other people. Now he is calm and his cravings have gone. W was a 19st barrel of a man with convictions for assault and battery. He improved dramatically on the fish oil and later told doctors that for the first time since the age of five he had managed to go three months without punching anyone in the head.
Now, this doesn't seem to be case for everyone. I wonder if it might be something where some people are simply not able to handle the shortage of omega-3 as well as others. For example, the article explains that kids without behavioral problems don't seem to get much benefit from omega-3 rich diets. But if a small percentage of our population has a serious inability to control rage because of a dietary problem, that's something that can be fixed. It might also explain why the 20th century saw a rather impressive increase in violence in the U.S.:
Over the last century most western countries have undergone a dramatic shift in the composition of their diets in which the omega-3 fatty acids that are essential to the brain have been flooded out by competing omega-6 fatty acids, mainly from industrial oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower. In the US, for example, soya oil accounted for only 0.02% of all calories available in 1909, but by 2000 it accounted for 20%. Americans have gone from eating a fraction of an ounce of soya oil a year to downing 25lbs (11.3kg) per person per year in that period. In the UK, omega-6 fats from oils such as soya, corn, and sunflower accounted for 1% of energy supply in the early 1960s, but by 2000 they were nearly 5%. These omega-6 fatty acids come mainly from industrial frying for takeaways, ready meals and snack foods such as crisps, chips, biscuits, ice-creams and from margarine. Alcohol, meanwhile, depletes omega-3s from the brain.

To test the hypothesis, Hibbeln and his colleagues have mapped the growth in consumption of omega-6 fatty acids from seed oils in 38 countries since the 1960s against the rise in murder rates over the same period. In all cases there is an unnerving match. As omega-6 goes up, so do homicides in a linear progression. Industrial societies where omega-3 consumption has remained high and omega-6 low because people eat fish, such as Japan, have low rates of murder and depression.

Of course, all these graphs prove is that there is a striking correlation between violence and omega 6-fatty acids in the diet. They don't prove that high omega-6 and low omega-3 fat consumption actually causes violence. Moreover, many other things have changed in the last century and been blamed for rising violence - exposure to violence in the media, the breakdown of the family unit and increased consumption of sugar, to take a few examples. But some of the trends you might expect to be linked to increased violence - such as availability of firearms and alcohol, or urbanisation - do not in fact reliably predict a rise in murder across countries, according to Hibbeln.
There's a detailed technical explanation as well:
Essential fatty acids are called essential because humans cannot make them but must obtain them from the diet. The brain is a fatty organ - it's 60% fat by dry weight, and the essential fatty acids are what make part of its structure, making up 20% of the nerve cells' membranes. The synapses, or junctions where nerve cells connect with other nerve cells, contain even higher concentrations of essential fatty acids - being made of about 60% of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA.

Communication between the nerve cells depends on neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, docking with receptors in the nerve cell membrane.

Omega-3 DHA is very long and highly flexible. When it is incorporated into the nerve cell membrane it helps make the membrane itself elastic and fluid so that signals pass through it efficiently. But if the wrong fatty acids are incorporated into the membrane, the neurotransmitters can't dock properly. We know from many other studies what happens when the neurotransmitter systems don't work efficiently. Low serotonin levels are known to predict an increased risk of suicide, depression and violent and impulsive behaviour. And dopamine is what controls the reward processes in the brain.

Laboratory tests at NIH have shown that the composition of tissue and in particular of the nerve cell membrane of people in the US is different from that of the Japanese, who eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from fish. Americans have cell membranes higher in the less flexible omega-6 fatty acids, which appear to have displaced the elastic omega-3 fatty acids found in Japanese nerve cells.

Hibbeln's theory is that because the omega-6 fatty acids compete with the omega-3 fatty acids for the same metabolic pathways, when omega-6 dominates in the diet, we can't convert the omega-3s to DHA and EPA, the longer chain versions we need for the brain. What seems to happen then is that the brain picks up a more rigid omega-6 fatty acid DPA instead of DHA to build the cell membranes - and they don't function so well.

Other experts blame the trans fats produced by partial hydrogenation of industrial oils for processed foods. Trans fats have been shown to interfere with the synthesis of essentials fats in foetuses and infants. Minerals such as zinc and the B vitamins are needed to metabolise essential fats, so deficiencies in these may be playing an important part too.

There is also evidence that deficiencies in DHA/EPA at times when the brain is developing rapidly - in the womb, in the first 5 years of life and at puberty - can affect its architecture permanently. Animal studies have shown that those deprived of omega-3 fatty acids over two generations have offspring who cannot release dopamine and serotonin so effectively.

"The extension of all this is that if children are left with low dopamine as a result of early deficits in their own or their mother's diets, they cannot experience reward in the same way and they cannot learn from reward and punishment. If their serotonin levels are low, they cannot inhibit their impulses or regulate their emotional responses," Hibbeln points out.
You can read the scientific paper about this here. I strongly encourage you to read either the entire article in the Guardian, or the paper.

Sobering, isn't it? My wife has noticed that kids today are dramatically less capable of self-control than when we were young. We've assumed that it was the daycare generation. But perhaps what we are seeing is the dramatic transformation of our diet from the early 1960s when my wife and I were growing up, and the 1980s and 1990s. Do you know that Coca-Cola used to use cane sugar, but they switched to corn syrup some years ago? I believe that the only way to get cane sugar Coca-Cola now is to buy the Kosher for Passover Coca-Cola. (Why corn syrup isn't kosher is explained here.)

I've seen the claim made that corn syrup places a part in increasing myopia--although at least one of the places that I've seen making this claim is selling omega-3 supplements. However, scientific journals have published papers that would indicate some connections between infant diet and visual development that fit into the omega-3 hypothesis.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Kind of Sad, But Perhaps A Warning Sign for the Catholic Church

Rod Dreher is a columnist for National Review, and until recently, a Roman Catholic. This column describes (perhaps at too much length) the recent decision of he and his wife to move to the Orthodox Church. (In his case, it sounds like a Russian Orthodox Church, but the differences between that and the Greek Orthodox Church aren't that huge.)

I must confess that I don't quite understand the level of emotional attachment that some people have for a particular Christian denomination. I was raised in the Salvation Army denomination (until my eight year old arrogance got carried away, and I declared myself an atheist to stop going). My wife and I have attended Protestant churches of a number of denominations over the years, but if you ask us what we are, the answer has never been, "Nazarene," "Southern Baptist," "Church of God," or "Reformed Church" even though we have attended churches of all those denominations. The denominational differences within Protestantism, for the most part, aren't the major determinants of which churches we have attended.

Dreher's discussion of the pain associated with leaving the Roman Catholic Church makes me think of what I might feel if I were to become a citizen of another country. That would freak me out as much as Dreher's decision to leave the Catholic Church, and for much the same reason: for close to 400 years, for sixteen generations (at least on some lines), my family has been American. Across this country are the final resting places of roughly 30,000 of my ancestors, and probably 150,000 of my first through thirteenth cousins. My family is not just of American citizenship; in a very biological sense, America is now made up of my family.

Dreher was driven out by the willingness of the Catholic clergy, especially at the higher levels, to tolerate and then cover-up molesting priests--and from his description, this attitude hasn't really gone away:
And then I discovered entirely by accident -- indeed, in the process of helping bring a friend into the Church -- that a priest at the parish was not supposed to be in ministry. He had been suspended by his diocese in Pennsylvania after formal abuse accusations had been leveled against him. The priest came back to his hometown, Dallas, and got other work -- but was helping out on the weekends in this particular parish. It turned out that the pastor knew all about his past, had concluded that he had been falsely accused, and put him into active ministry in the parish -- without telling the parish, or even his bishop. Now, this priest might well be innocent -- nothing has been proved against him -- but that is not the point. The point is, and was, that he was not supposed to be in active ministry, yet the pastor and those closest to him chose to deceive the bishop and the parish about the matter. The priest in question -- orthodox and personally charismatic -- lied to me in a manipulative way about how he had come to Dallas (he said the liberals in his old diocese had driven him out), and lied to my catechumen friend, who is a liberal, in the same manipulative way (he told her the conservatives had driven him out). This was too much.
I am sure that Dreher is not the only Catholic to leave the Church because of this. Let me be very clear on this: priests are human, too. That some of them can't contain their sinful nature is not a surprise, nor do I hold the Catholic Church to a standard of perfection on this. The serious problem isn't priests that can't keep their hands off little boys; it is that the Church knew about these problems, and covered it up for at least decades, often making little or no effort to remove pedophile priests from positions of power.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Really Touching Film

I don't watch a lot of movies on television (who has time?) but my wife is miserably sick with some sort of upper respiratory infection at the moment, and we were curled up in front of the idiot box when The Human Stain came on one of the cable channels. We missed the first few minutes of it, but from reading reviews of the movie when it came out, I was able to piece together what happened.

I'm not going to tell you what the secrets are that are revealed--but I will tell you that it is a film about tragedies and secrets, and how the sins of one person and one time perpetuate into the future. Anthony Hopkins plays a college professor at the end of his career and life; Wentworth Miller plays him as a young man, hiding what was, in 1944, a terrible secret--today, it would be something to celebrate, not to hide. Nicole Kidman plays his girl friend, with an even more terrible secret from her past, and an ongoing disaster (played by Ed Harris). To give some idea of the skill of the actors involved, Gary Sinise delivers, as usual, an excellent performance--and it pales in comparision to Hopkins, Miller, Kidman, and Harris.

Anyone that can watch this movie and not be powerfully moved is has a heart of stone. Perhaps it because I have known too many people who've been through some of these tragedies.

It was edited for cable, so some of the stronger language was skillfully redubbed with euphemisms, and there might be a bit more of Nicole Kidman revealed in the theatrical release than we saw. This is definitely an adult film, meaning that much of what we learn about these tragedies is not suited to pre-teens, and perhaps some early teenagers. (They are likely to be bored by it anyway.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Andromeda Galaxy Through Big Bertha

Through 70mm binoculars, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) is a smudge. Even in an 8" reflector, it's not much to look at--you can see why there was serious debate, even into the beginning of the 20th century, whether this was a gas cloud in our galaxy (admittedly, one with a lot of stars in between us and them), or another large collection of stars--an "island universe" to use the picturesque expression first used to describe another galaxy.

Our word "galaxy," by the way, comes from the Greek "galactos" for milk. The Milky Way, of course, is our galaxy. And yes, there is a dwarf satellite galaxy named Snickers, although there is some dispute about whether it is a galaxy or simply a hydrogen cloud--but it is the ultimate form of product placement, I suppose, for Mars Corporation, the maker of Snickers candy bars.

Anyway, back from the etymological/peanuts/chocolate tangent. I dragged Big Bertha out this evening, and after a little hunting with the 70mm binoculars, I was able to find the Andromeda Galaxy--and then I was able to aim Big Bertha at it well enough.

Picking the right eyepiece for a deep sky object is always an interesting challenge. As the magnification increases, all other things being equal, contrast drops. For an object with low surface brightness, such as a galaxy, it helps to keep magnification low. At the same time, if the magnification is too low, you have a high contrast object surrounded by blackness.

Of course, I was using 2" eyepieces for this. The Russell Optics 85mm eyepiece was a bit low a magnification (23.5x); the 18mm University Optics orthoscopic (111x) gave just the bright core of the galaxy and a little bit of surrounding haze of stars. There's a weird military surplus eyepiece that came with Big Bertha that, while a pretty poor eyepiece in some abstract sense, turned out to be close to perfect for this application. I think it may be about 60mm (33.3x). The bright core was plenty visible, but enough of the surrounding halo of stars was visible that you could see where the long exposure photographs of Andromeda give that spectacular image that most of you know:

Anyway, it inclines me to want to find some way to make Big Bertha equatorially mounted, so that I can do some long exposure astrophotography.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Need Some Laughs?

The Onion is pretty funny, and has been known to skewer leftist delusions on occasion, such as this marvelously funny--and quite accurate piece:
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA–The mainstream acceptance of gays and lesbians, a hard-won civil-rights victory gained through decades of struggle against prejudice and discrimination, was set back at least 50 years Saturday in the wake of the annual Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade.

Participants in Saturday's Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade, which helped change straight people's tolerant attitudes toward gays.

"I'd always thought gays were regular people, just like you and me, and that the stereotype of homosexuals as hedonistic, sex-crazed deviants was just a destructive myth," said mother of four Hannah Jarrett, 41, mortified at the sight of 17 tanned and oiled boys cavorting in jock straps to a throbbing techno beat on a float shaped like an enormous phallus. "Boy, oh, boy, was I wrong."

The parade, organized by the Los Angeles Gay And Lesbian And Bisexual And Transvestite And Transgender Alliance (LAGALABATATA), was intended to "promote acceptance, tolerance, and equality for the city's gay community." Just the opposite, however, was accomplished, as the event confirmed the worst fears of thousands of non-gay spectators, cementing in their minds a debauched and distorted image of gay life straight out of the most virulent right-wing hate literature.
Still, their overall assumptions are pretty much on the left side--and their language is sometimes not work safe. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a satirical website on the right end?

There is, which is sometimes more clever than funny, but there is also a new website that seems to be aiming more at the paradigm: Guns'n'butter. A recent example:
South Koreans thank Jimmy Carter for their mortal peril

By Vladimir Chang
Authoritarianism Correspondent

SEOUL -- South Koreans today thanked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for putting their entire civilization within moments of thermonuclear annihilation.

"Yesterday I was just a fool thinking that the wonderful middle-class life I have created for myself and my family would continue indefinitely, perhaps even forever," said South Korean computer programmer Heung Moon. "Now I know that my job, house, family, and everything I hold dear in this world could be wiped out at any second upon the whim of a homicidal madman. Thanks, Jimmy Carter!"

"I've always wanted to see a beautiful orange mushroom cloud moments before being vaporized," said electronics company executive Lee Min. "Thanks, Jimmy Carter!"

South Koreans effusively thanked Carter for his famous 1994 trip to Pyongyang, during which he negotiated a deal, later finalized by then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright, in which North Korea pledged to halt its nuclear program. The North Koreans used the deal to buy enough time to build a handful of nuclear bombs, which now threaten the very existence of all 49 million grateful South Koreans.

Carter is known to be the only person on earth who actually believed the North Koreans would uphold their side of the agreement. But the ever-polite South Koreans thanked the former president for his efforts anyway, saying that they were happy to be the victims of such a nice, well-meaning person.

Carter insisted on Monday that the complete and utter failure of his diplomatic efforts in North Korea, which led directly to Kim Jong Il's acquisition of untold numbers of thermonuclear devices, did not prove that his negotiations 12 years ago were futile.

"I don't care what the newspapers say," Carter said. "I know my efforts were worthwhile because they won me the Nobel Peace Prize. Are you going to believe one little nuclear explosion or five experts selected by the Swedish Parliament?"
Other recent news articles include "U.N. airlifts food to starving French fashion models" and "Mexico to build 700-mile-long ladder."

Friday, October 6, 2006

Is The Term "Homosexual Pedophile" Oxymoronic?

It is an article of faith in homosexual circles that a pedophile, by definition, is not a homosexual. They insist that someone who is sexually attracted to prepubescent children is not a homosexual. Someone needs to tell the scientists doing work in this area about this. I found an article by the Family Research Council (not a pro-gay source, obviously) that cited a study in the well-respected Archives of Sexual Behaviorthat used the term "homosexual pedophile" without any awareness that this is utterly wrong! Sure enough, when I dug around, I found a copy of the article, and the Family Research Council's citation was correct.

The study itself is Ray Blanchard, Howard E. Barbaree, Anthony F. Bogaert, Robert Dickey, Philip Klassen, Michael E. Kuban and Kenneth J. Zucker, "Fraternal Birth Order and Sexual Orientation in Pedophiles," Archives of Sexual Behavior 29:5 [2000] 463-78. The abstract describes the paper's purpose:
The purpose of the paper is to examine whether the well-known "birth order effect" (homosexual men are more likely to have older brothers--but not necessarily older siblings than heterosexual men) applies to homosexual pedophiles as well: Whether homosexual pedophiles have more older brothers (a higher fraternal birth order) than do heterosexual pedophiles was investigated. Subjects were 260 sex offenders (against children age 14 or younger) and 260 matched volunteer controls. The subject’s relative attraction to male and female children was assessed by phallometric testing in one analysis, and by his offense history in another. Both methods showed that fraternal birth order correlates with homosexuality in pedophiles, just as it does in men attracted to physically mature partners. Results
suggest that fraternal birth order (or the underlying variable it represents) may prove the first identified universal factor in homosexual development.
The paper itself acknowledges what has been long known--homosexuals are more likely to be interested in children than heterosexuals:
The best epidemiological evidence indicates that only 2–4% of men attracted to adults prefer men (ACSF Investigators, 1992; Billy et al., 1993; Fay et al., 1989; Johnson et al., 1992); in contrast, around 25–40% of men attracted to children prefer boys (Blanchard et al., 1999; Gebhard et al., 1965; Mohr et al., 1964). Thus, the rate of homosexual attraction is 6–20 times higher among pedophiles.
I've pointed out before that the evidence is clear that homosexuals are overrepresented among pedophiles, and that a very PC journal like Archives of Sexual Behavior published a paper that uses a term like "homosexual pedophile" shows that the gay claim that pedophiles can't be homosexual is simply wrong.

UPDATE: There's a lot more interesting material in this study. While the authors are partial to the idea that the correlation of homosexuality to increasing numbers of older brothers might be the result of some sort of hormonal effects on the younger brothers: "maternal antibodies to Y-linked minor histocompatibility antigens (H-Y
antigens), which are raised in increasing concentrations by each succeeding male
fetus," they also acknowledge:
The most popular rival hypothesis is the notion that sexual interaction with older males increases a boy’s probability of developing a homosexual orientation, and that a boy’s chances of engaging in such interactions increase in proportion to his number of older brothers (e.g., Jones and Blanchard, 1998). Although this hypothesis may seem intuitively plausible, there are little empirical data to recommend it (see discussion in Purcell et al., in press).
It seems an appropriate area to examine--especially with the strong correlation of child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality. The paper also acknowledges something that homosexuals refuse to admit:
The proportion of pedophiles in this study who were exclusively or primarily interested in boys, as assessed from their offense histories, was 25%. This result is consistent with previous studies that suggest the prevalence of homosexuality is about 10 times higher in pedophiles than in teleiophiles (Blanchard et al., 1999; Gebhard et al., 1965; Mohr et al., 1964).
UPDATE 2: Oh yeah, count on USA Today to contact experts about the subject:
NARTH states on its Web site that gay men are three times more likely than heterosexuals to have sex with minors; it also says about 35% of pedophiles are gay. It attributes these figures to studies published in 1984 and 1992 by Kurt Freund, a Toronto researcher who died a few years ago.

USA TODAY asked experts on pedophilia and sex behavior research to evaluate these studies.

The verdict: They don't support a claim that gay men are more likely than heterosexuals to abuse minors. In fact, Freund explicitly points this out, says physician John Bancroft, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.

Freund's sample of sex offenders finds that male pedophiles are more likely to molest boys than girls.

A 'separate sexual orientation'

But NARTH's claim that 35% of pedophiles are gay stems from "a flawed assumption" that men who prey on young boys also are attracted to grown men, says Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist Frederick Berlin, an expert on sexual disorders.


No scientifically conclusive research exists that would answer questions about pedophiles' sexual orientation, says Berlin.

But clinical experience with pedophiles suggests "it's kind of a separate sexual orientation," says David Finkelhor, author of four books on child sexual abuse and director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. "Often they have no attraction to adults whatsoever."

Bancroft agrees. "They're men interested in children. They're more interested in boys than girls, but they're interested in kids, not adults."
Does anyone find something...interesting...about how Berlin and Finkelhor can make such claims, when published, peer-reviewed research on the subject--and in a serious, well-regarded journal like Archives of Sexual Behavior--directly contradict them? At best, I would hope for something like, "Well, there's been a lot of contradictory research" or "There isn't general agreement on this."

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Humor: New Phone Menu

My friend Peter Buxtun sent me this:

We should hear this when calling government, phone company, etc.


Press "1" for service in English.

Press "2" to disconnect until you learn English.

Hang up if you hear: "Good Morning, this is The Bilgewater Corporation, your call is VERY important, but because we fired most of our operators, you must wait half an hour to speak to a person."

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Why Child Molestation Is Bad

When the first accounts reported that the murderer in Pennsylvania was taking revenge for something that happened when he was 12, I wondered: molestation? This would seem to suggest that:
A man who laid siege to a one-room Amish schoolhouse told his wife he had molested young children decades ago and left a note saying he had "dreams of molesting again," state police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller said Tuesday.

Police said they could not confirm the claim by Charles Carl Roberts IV and that family members knew nothing of the alleged molestation.


Authorities said Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver and father of three who lived in the area, wrote what appeared to be suicide notes before taking guns and an estimated 600 rounds of ammunition to the tiny school.

Roberts did not appear to be targeting the Amish, though, state police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller said Tuesday. He said Roberts apparently chose the school because he was bent on killing young girls as a way of "acting out in revenge for something that happened 20 years ago."

From the notes Roberts left behind and the telephone calls he made, it was clear he was "angry at life, he was angry at God," Miller said. Co-workers said his mood had darkened in recent weeks, but suddenly brightened over the weekend, Miller said.

"A few days before the shooting a weight was lifted," Miller said Tuesday.
The weight was lifted because he had figured out what to do, and had made up his mind.

From everything that I have read, child molesters aren't born; they are a consequence of having been abused under certain specific conditions that cause them to identify with the molester. It sounds like Roberts was sexually abused at age 12, either ended up molesting girls at some point that has not come to the attention of authorities, or thought that he was going to do so--and decided to take revenge on little girls for "tempting" him, while killing himself. (Molesters often persuade themselves that they are being seduced or tempted by children, rather than see themselves as the problem.)

I know that a lot of other bloggers (especially the law professor bloggers) don't understand why I am so enraged by child molestation, but this is the reason: it leads to enormous damage, and the damage keeps going for generations.