Sunday, February 29, 2004


Enough with heavy topics today. I mentioned that I had purchased a Photon Instruments 5" refractor, and after a little bit of struggle, I am reasonably pleased with its optical performance. I also purchased a Losmandy GM-8 mount recently, used, for about $600 less than new. I was reluctant to buy Chinese for fear of putting money into the hands of a kleptocratic government that I consider the most likely future direct war threat to the U.S., but I was also a little wary because the Chinese factory quality control leaves a lot to be desired. I am so glad that I spent a bit more to get a used Losmandy. You can't see it in the pictures, but it is a real quality piece of work.

Here's a couple of pictures of the scope on the mount:

Now, the mount didn't come with what is called a dovetail plate. This mounts to the bottom of the telescope, and lets you slide the telescope in and out of the saddle quickly. I ordered up a dovetail plate ($75 from Woodland Hills Camera), but since the sky was gloriously clear Saturday, I decided that I couldn't wait, and I made an interim dovetail plate out of red oak, which you can see here:

It's actually pretty simple; I started with a 1/2" piece of red oak, then set the table saw to a 45 degree angle. I trimmed in down both sides to the required width. Then I kept trimming, until it actually fit into the dovetail. Then I drilled and tapped metric M6 holes into it, and screwed the mounting rings into the dovetail. It's not beautiful (the real part is black anodized aluminum), and I expect that it won't last forever, but it works for a few days. I can use drill some more holes and use it to mount any other telescopes or odds and ends.

Here's a detailed picture of the Losmandy GM-8 head:

I can't give a detailed description right now, but I called my son out to show off one of the nice features--that I can use the four button hand controller to pan slowly across the Moon's surface. (I've been using ancient mount technology until recently; I'm surprised that there isn't a steam engine in the mount that I use for the reflector.) He thought that was cool, but he was also really impressed how sharp to the Photon Instruments refractor is.

I will be doing some astrophotography soon. Alas, just as I was getting set up, my daughter called to talk about wedding plans, and as such conversations go, by the time I was back outside, the little motorcycle battery I have been using to power the mount had gone dead. By the time I finished recharging it, frost had formed on the front lens.

The incident Saturday night where I tripped over the power card, breaking the plug--well, not quite as catastrophic as the scene where Gilligan trips over the space probe, dooming the castaways to several more seasons on Gilligan's Island, but frustrating, nonetheless.

Friday, February 27, 2004

What Can We Deduce From the Priest Sexual Abuse Numbers?

It's always tricky working with statistics. Looking at this item by Michael Williams I found myself wanting to rewrite his ideas in a form that gave me more confidence in the conclusions. After pointing out that 81% of the sexual abuse victims were male, Williams argues that this suggests three possibilities:

1) Homosexuals are over-represented among Catholic priests compared to the population as a whole.

2) Homosexual Catholic priests are more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual Catholic priests.

3) Some combination of the above.

Now, let me try to rephrase his points into a form with which I am more comfortable, because there are some logical leaps in his article that may be correct, but that leave out some assumptions or steps.

Male priests abuse male victims 81% of the time. Homosexuals like to insist that pedophiles aren't really homosexuals. Okay, fine. I don't buy this, because you would then expect roughly equivalent numbers of male and female victims. Homosexuals like to draw a line between "pedophiles" (those who victimize prepubescent minors) and "ephebophiles" (those attracted to pubescent and later minors). Most seem to admit that "ephebophiles" who pursue same sex minors are homosexuals.

According to this detailed report (on p. 58), a majority of the victims were males 11-17--showing that the priests were largely homosexual "ephebophiles" not "pedophiles." We've therefore established that at least half of the priests engaged in sexual abuse were homosexuals.

So here's the question, rephrased from how Michael Williams asked it: Why is it that at least half of the priests engaged in sexual abuse of pubescent minors were homosexuals? Obviously, half of all of priests aren't homosexuals; it is a lot more likely that this reflects higher rates of sexual abuse by homosexual priests than by heterosexual priests.

If homosexuals are proportionately represented among Catholic priests, this means that about 4% - 4.5% of Catholic priests are homosexual--and yet they represent, even taking the homosexual's preferred claim that "pedophiles" aren't homosexuals, at least 50% of the sexual abuse. In other words, homosexual priests who engage in sexual abuse of minors are at least ten times overrepresented from a normal distribution (Michael Williams' point #1).

Okay, maybe homosexuals are overrrepresented among Catholic priests. I'll buy the claim that someone who is conflicted about their sexual orientation might go into a line of work that requires them to be celibate, in the vain hopes that this will protect them from temptation. (That is Michael Williams' point #2.)

There is no way, however, that more than half of Catholic priests are homosexual in orientation. That would mean that homosexuals were at least 10x - 12x overrepresented in the priesthood. At best, part of the overrepresentation of homosexuals among molesters is #2. We are still looking at very disproportionate overrepresentation of homosexuals among molesters in the priesthood.

Masters, Johnson, and Kolodny's Human Sexuality, 4th ed., makes the claim that 26% of molesters go after boys only, with another 4% that go after boys and girls. The lowest claim that I have seen on this subject is from Janet Shibley Hyde, Understanding Human Sexuality, 4th ed., (New York, McGraw-Hill Co.: 1990), 422, which says that only 20% of child molestation is homosexual (and she uses that word). In conjunction with the data from Catholic priest molesters, and that only about 4%-4.5% of men in the general population are homosexual or bisexual, we see general agreement that the sexual orientation of child molesters is disproportionately homosexual.

This doesn't mean that every homosexual man is a molester, but it does mean that the traditional concerns about this have a factual basis. This is not simple ignorance. It is as valid a basis for discrimination as our laws that discriminate against drunk drivers (by prohibiting them from driving drunk) and against convicted felons (by taking away their right to possess firearms). Is this unfair to homosexual men who aren't interested in little boys? Sure.

Guess what? There's a lot of that sort of unfairness. If I walk down a dark city street at night, 200 feet behind a woman who doesn't know me, she will be afraid, and she will noticeably speed up her walking to get away. This isn't theory; I've had this experience before. I was at first offended and hurt, because I was a nice guy. If she had anything to fear from a guy, it wasn't from me; I would come to her defense. But she didn't know that.

Her "discrimination" against me for being a guy was completely rational, because she knows as a first approximation that a man is twice as likely to be a rapist as the average member of the population. (Simple math: effectively all rapes are done by men, who make up half the population. Ergo: any unknown man is twice as likely to be a rapist.) She loses nothing by assuming the worst of an unknown man, and she has much to lose if she incorrectly assumes that a guy is harmless.

I think the larger issue that no one wants to confront, however, is that child molesters are nearly always former victims. The exact mechanism, from what I have read, isn't completely understood, but some of the characteristics fit into several examples that I have blogged about recently:
The perpetrators in our sample had all had sexual encounters as children, and there was evidence of a relationship between this childhood experience and sexual abuse as an adult. The sexual abuse had a narcissistic quality to it that the perpetrator identified with the victim. The victim was usually the same sex as the perpetrator, and frequently the victim was approximately the same age as the offender when he was victimized, and in a number of cases the sexual acts were the same. In addition, the family backgrounds of perpetrators reflect deprivation and harsh treatment.[Kathleen Coulborn Faller, Child Sexual Abuse: An Interdisciplinary Manual for Diagnosis, Case Management, and Treatment (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 85-86]
Homosexuals fight any discussion of a possible link between child sexual abuse and adult sexual orientation. The idea, I am told, is preposterous. Why? It's not like I am proposing two completely unrelated activities, say, child sexual abuse and hating broccoli as an adult. Anyone that can't see a pretty obvious mechanism that could lead from one to the other must be extraordinarily clueless.

One book that I read made an interesting point about how sexual abuse victims deal with their pain, especially once they start to confront it in therapy:
Apart from this obvious repression, a client may also have diminished the intensity of the event by some form of the disassociative process. As one woman so clearly summarized after describing years of brutal physical and sexual abuse by her father, "You know, being beaten up isn't that bad; after the first hit you don't feel it anymore." It is worth reflecting that these kinds of defenses may have been the person's protectors and friends -- in many instances a victim's only solace. When casting off these defenses and telling someone about the trauma, the person may feel that the only shield has been stripped away and that he or she is without anesthesia against the pain of the original assault. One client described a previous therapist, the leader of a woman's group who aggressively confronted the client's defenses before the group, in these words: "That therapist attacked me! She tried to take away my way of coping. I know I'm hard. I have a shell and there's some stuff I won't look at. But I protect myself the best way I know how. Who is she to attack me... trying to take away all I have that protects me from me?... Is she going to protect me? No!" [Diana Sullivan Everstine and Louis Everstine, Sexual Trauma in Children and Adolescents: Dynamics and Treatment (New York: Brunner/Mazel Publishers, 1989), 155-156]
I'm not expecting homosexuals to confront what is probably a very painful memory--one that many homosexuals have acknowledged that they have repressed. A survey done some years ago about drug and alcohol abuse in the gay community asked this question about child sexual abuse: "As a child, were you ever sexually assaulted or abused?" [EMT Associates, Inc., San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alcohol and Other Drug Use Anonymous Survey Appendix A, (San Francisco, San Francisco Dept. of Public Health: 1991), 6.] A startling 28% of the men and 48% of the women answered, "Yes." [EMT Associates, Inc., San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alcohol and Other Drug Use Anonymous Survey Vol. I, p. 24.] When compared to the survey results for more general populations, these are astonishing numbers for men, and somewhat surprising for women. One of the volunteered marginal comments on the survey included the painful acknowledgement:
I am beginning to deal with the possibility I may have been sexually abused as a child. I know I use alcohol to medicate that pain and my drinking has increased with 'seeping' memories and work stress. [EMT Associates, Inc., San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Alcohol and Other Drug Use Anonymous Survey Vol. I, 55-56.]
This unwillingness to seriously consider a possible connection between child sexual abuse and adult homosexuality is insane. I was astonished at how many books written even 15 years ago on the subject of child sexual abuse admit that adult homosexuality is a common response. Yet this has become almost like arguing for a flat-Earth today.

UPDATE: One reader points out that the suvey was not a random sample, because not everyone that was given a survey actually returned it, and may thus not be particularly representative. That's true (and it was true of Kinsey's sex surveys as well, but homosexuals were quite willing to use a misstated version of Kinsey's results to create the 10% myth). One of the difficulties when you try to gather any sort of data about a minority population is that you have to either:

1. Pick from a list of members of that minority population; or,

2. Survey the entire population, then identify members of the minority population as part of the survey.

For homosexuals, both of these are difficult problems. It's not like you can stand on a street corner and pick out homosexuals with any certainty. Yes, there are certain subgroups of homosexuals who stand out--but there are a lot that do not, and do not fit the stereotypes. A survey based on who is willing to identify him or herself as homosexual is going to bias the survey to those who are most "out" about their sexuality.

Option #2 is problematic both because to get a statistically significant sample, you will need a huge sample of the general population--and then you have the same problem about homosexuals who are closeted perhaps being less willing to identify themselves as such on a survey.

However, the reader who wasn't too happy about my use of the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health survey claims that the 30% and 48% numbers really aren't that far out of the norm:
And as you no doubt know, the values for men are within the range found in general population studies, (3-29%) and the women are just a bit above that (7-36%).
I am a little startled by those numbers. If those are numbers from current studies (that is to say, done more than ten years after the San Francisco Dept. of Public Health survey), then we are not comparing equivalent populations. I would expect there to have been an increase in child molestation rates because so many children are not being raised by their biological fathers now. For a variety of reasons, children growing up in the homes of their biological fathers are at much lower risk of molestation.

In any case, when the survey in question showed child molestations rates of 30% and 48%, respectively, the data that I was able to find on molestation rates for the general population was lower--although the very high end of the numbers for females were getting close to the S.F. Dept. of Public Health survey. The range of the 11 studies summarized in Bagley & King are 12%-40% of females, and 3%-8.6% of males.[Christopher Bagley and Kathleen King, Child Sexual Abuse: The Search for Healing (New York: Tavistock/Routledge, 1990), 76.] Faller quotes the same studies, though in less detail.[Faller, 19.] The Everstines use the figures 15%-45% of females and 3%-9% of males, but "believe that the currently accepted percentages for males who have been molested will be revised to 10% or 15% of the population when more accurate data are forthcoming."[Everstine & Diana Sullivan Everstine and Louis Everstine, Sexual Trauma in Children and Adolescents: Dynamics and Treatment (New York: Brunner/Mazel Publishers, 1989), 2.] These studies were conducted in Britain, Canada, and the United States, with Bagley and King asserting that child sexual abuse survey reports in California are unusually high, though it is unclear whether this is a methodological problem, or reflects higher incidence in California.[Bagley and King, 69.]
Coincidence? Or Cause?

There is a gay marriage lawsuit under way in Florida--but even those apparently supportive of gay marriage are a little concerned about the caliber of the lawyer and the plaintiffs involved in the case. What I found interesting is this description of one of the plaintiffs:
Rubin said he would file suit later this week on behalf of two men. Rubin identified only one of the two, who, Rubin acknowledged, has a checkered past.

William Patrick Ash, 39, has been arrested 11 times, including several charges of theft, check-kiting and serving beverages to minors, according to state records. Ash, who says he splits his time between Fort Lauderdale and San Diego, has at least two convictions, including a 1996 charge of living off the earnings of a prostitute.

In 1984, he lost his job as an aerobics instructor with the city of Fort Lauderdale. Officials said he falsified his r?sum?, in which he claimed he was a choreographer for Cats on Broadway, and that he started a fundraising project on behalf of the city without permission.

Ash, in a phone interview from San Diego, said he did not want his past to interfere with what he believed was a fairness issue. He claimed many of his problems stemmed from abuse by Catholic priests.
But not his homosexuality, I guess.
Will The Next Scrappleface Announce the Merger of the Holy Roman Catholic Church & NAMBLA?

This would be shameful if it were a secular organization. But from an institution that claims to be the representative of Jesus Christ?
More than 11,000 allegations of sex abuse have been made about Roman Catholic priests in the US since 1950, a new report is expected to show.

One diocese has already confirmed that nearly 4,440 priests - 4% of the total - have been accused of such assaults.

Groups representing victims of abuse say the final figure will be higher.


Some Roman Catholics will hope the report will help to close a painful and humiliating chapter in the Church's history.

But groups representing victims claim that people molested in their youth wait on average until they are 44 years old before breaking their silence.

They say there could therefore be thousands of cases still to emerge. has more on the results:
Eighty percent of the alleged victims were male, and just over half said they were between the ages of 11 and 14 when they were assaulted, a source who read the reports told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Eighty percent of the victims were male? Somehow, it doesn't sound like a particularly random distribution.
Dioceses nationwide received 10,667 abuse claims since 1950, according to a news release from the Diocese of Yakima, Wash. Of those, claims by approximately 6,700 were substantiated. About 3,300 were not investigated because the accused clergymen were dead.

Another 1,000 or so claims were unsubstantiated, the diocese said.
Let's see, if the claims not investigated because the accused were dead had the same ratio of substantiated to unsubstantiated, that would mean another 2871 uninvestigated claims that would have been substantiated.

Here is where it gets really horrifying:
The panel noted that any evaluation of the crisis had to take into account that much of the abuse involved men preying on boys, the source said. And the report said that church leaders' failure to discipline sexually active priests created an environment which made clerics reluctant to report abuse of children.
If this reluctance to report abuse had taken place in Hollywood, or the Democratic National Committee headquarters, I would be disappointed but not surprised. But in the Catholic Church?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Celibate Catholic Priests--An Interesting Twist

I am rendered almost speechless by this AP news article:
The interim head of the Springfield diocese apologized Monday for saying the Catholic sex abuse scandal stemmed from a belief once held by some priests that having sex with young men was acceptable.

Monsignor Richard S. Sniezyk said that as a seminarian and a young priest in the 1950s and early 1960s, he heard of priests who had sex with young men, but "no one thought much about it."

"They did good ministry, they were good to their people, they were kind, compassionate, but they had no idea what they were doing to these young men that they were abusing," Sniezyk told The Boston Globe on Sunday. "It was that era of the '60s - most of it took place from the mid-'60s to the early-'80s - and the whole atmosphere out there was, it was OK, it was OK to do.

"Certainly that atmosphere is not present in the church today," he said.
I am still trying to make sense of this.

Did they think that the Church's celibacy rule had been repealed? No. There were priests that married in secret, but they knew that they were breaking the celibacy rule.

Did they think that the Church's position on homosexuality had a special exemption for priests? I can't believe that any of them thought that.

Did they think that taking advantage of teenaged and younger boys was okay? Apparently so.

I am still flabbergasted that such a point of view was accepted among priests in the 1950s--at a time when homosexuality was not just illegal, but still widely regarded with disgust and horror in America, and when the pursuit of children for sex was not just illegal, but regarded as one of the great evils. The Catholic Church needs to come up with some pretty convincing explanation for why priests held such a point of view--and make sure that it never comes back.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Declaring Victory on the Photon Instruments 5" Refractor

I took it to a star party last night. I had a chance to look at Saturn through several different telescopes, both reflectors and refractors, under the same sky, and the same conditions of darkness. There was only one telescope that showed more detail on Saturn than my Photon--and that was an Astrophysics Starfire 7" apochromatic refractor. (These aren't made anymore, but I am sure that I could buy one used for $7500-$8000.)

I looked through a 6" Chinese achromat sold under the Galileo brandname. Cassini's Division was invisible, and there was no detail on the planet itself. I looked through a Meade 8" Dobsonian. Ditto.

The Starfire was indeed an impressive view--but it did not show dramatically more detail on Saturn and its rings than the Photon Instruments 5" refractor. In both cases, Cassini's Division was black at the ansae (the left and right sides of the planet), and visible in front and back of the planet. It was perhaps a little blacker in the Starfire, and there was more detail visible in the clouds on the planet.

Now, the Starfire's image was definitely brighter and whiter, as you would expect with almost twice the surface area to gather light. The Photon's image would have broken down at the magnification that the Starfire was using, and this is definitely one of the virtues of the apochromatic design--it tolerates high magnification much better. The Starfire was also color-free, while the Photon definitely a slight violet haze around Saturn. Still, the difference was not startling between the two, and I feel like my Photon Instruments was a real bargain.

I had a chance to look at Jupiter as well through both the Starfire and the Photon Instruments. Jupiter was still low in the sky, and seeing conditions necessarily limited what either refractor could do. Still, the Starfire's advantage in image detail (once you ignore a bit of color fringing) was not dramatic.

The next step is to install a Chromacor, and see how much better I can make this.

Friday, February 20, 2004

The Glories of a Refractor

Last night was the first really good night for observing in many months. It was cold, of course, but only about freezing. The sky was completely clear, although there was a lot of moisture impairing transparency. I was able to put the Televue Ranger and the Photon Instruments refractors side-by-side on the same objects, without the sound of chattering teeth distracting me. The Photon Instruments has a huge advantage in aperture--127mm vs. 70mm--but the Televue Ranger is about as good as it gets without being an apochromatic refractor.

On Venus: both showed gruesome purple halos, with the Ranger perhaps having some slight advantage. Venus, of course, shows a gibbous image right now, and there is no detail--just blinding white clouds.

On Saturn: the Photon Instruments showed at least one cloud band on the planet, as well as a clear and unmistakable Cassini Division in the rings. The Ranger showed no detail on the planet, and the Cassini Division was more implied than clearly visible. In both cases, image quality started to break down at high power. The Ranger image broke down at 120x; the Photon Instruments broke down at 229x. The limitation here, I think, was the seeing (mostly transparency).

Star testing: I remain convinced that the Photon Instruments is undercorrected, about 1/3 wave. Oddly enough, I was unable to get diffraction rings out of the Ranger. I suspect that I need more magnification than I can get without using a Barlow.

Orion Nebula (M42): The Photon Instruments gave a lovely image at 127x. I couldn't see any of the E, F, G, or H stars fo the Trapezium (nor should I), but A, B, C, and D were crisp and flicker-free. The lack of tube currents in a refractor, I am beginning to think, has a lot to do with the superior image quality that refractors have for their size. With only 127mm of aperture, the Photon Instruments is certainly no deep sky telescope, but within its limitations, it does a fine job.

I pulled out the 8" reflector as well, to see how it compares on Saturn. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of collimation, and the batteries on my new laser collimator are dead. I don't know if the problem was having left it on, or being out in the cold aggravated battery death. Saturn was certainly not impressive because of the collimation problems. (This is also one of my objections to reflectors--the need to collimate them often.) One odd aspect, however, is how much whiter Saturn is in the reflector than it is in the Photon Instruments refractor, where it is a yellow color. I don't mean that Saturn is brighter in the reflector--it is actually a different color.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Continuing Scandal Involving the Catholic Church & Homosexuality

Also from the Independent:
A priest was found dead two days after meeting a Roman Catholic bishop over a letter alleging the bishop was part of "a ring of homosexual priests".

The Rev John Minkler, 57, was found dead on Sunday in his home in Watervliet, New York state. Police there did not say how or when he died.

The Bishop of Albany, Howard Hubbard, said on Monday: "He was very disturbed that his name was associated with this letter, and he wanted to assure me he was not its author."

The letter was written in 1995 but surfaced last week after a press conference with a lawyer who has represented alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests. The Albany diocese said Mr Minkler was identified as the author in a TV news report. It could find no letter in its files.

Last week Andrew Zalay claimed that Bishop Hubbard had abused his brother Thomas 30 years ago. Thomas committed suicide in 1978. Bishop Hubbard says he has never broken his vow of celibacy, and he has denied ever sexually abusing anyone. He says he has handled all claims of abuse seriously and dismissed abusive priests.
It now appears that Minkler committed suicide. Why?

Here's another news account of this death that makes me wonder a bit:
On Friday, the church announced that Minkler had disavowed authorship of the letter and had said he had never contacted the archdiocese. On Monday, they released Minkler's signed statement to that effect.

But the head of Roman Catholic Faithful, a Chicago-based group of conservative Catholics, disputed that account. Stephen Brady said Minkler had been working with him for three years to uncover homosexual activity in the Albany Diocese.

"Reverend Minkler was scared to death that the bishop would find out," said Brady, president of the group that opposes any weakening of church positions against homosexuality, birth control and abortion.

"He called me Saturday and left a message on my voice mail, saying, 'I need your help with Hubbard.' I was not able to get back with Father Minkler," Brady said.

Brady said Minkler wrote the letter, which was signed only as "Henry."

Copies of the letter were made public last week by Albany-area attorney John Aretakis.

Aretakis, who has represented dozens of victims of clergy sexual abuse and has accused the diocese of mistreating victims, ignited the controversy surrounding Hubbard at a Feb. 4 news conference at which he produced a typed, unsigned suicide note from a former mental patient who indicated a sexual relationship with Hubbard. He also arranged the Feb. 5 news conference at which Hubbard was accused of paying a teenage runaway for sex in the 1970s.
Here's a bit more from Newsday about the 1995 letter that seems to have led to at least one death (cause undetermined):
Albany - A priest was found dead Sunday, two days after meeting with Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard over a 1995 letter alleging the bishop was part of "a ring of homosexual Albany priests."
The New York Post coverage is also disturbing. Although quoting an unnamed police official that there were indications that was suicide:
"We've been apprised of Rev. Minkler's death and we're awaiting the results of the autopsy," said Albany District Attorney Paul Clyne.

WRGB also quoted Clyne as saying that Minkler's death came "under strange circumstances that bear watching."
This article also seems to imply that this was more than an allegation against Bishop Hubbard:
The bishop said he was "stunned" by Minkler's death, and said the priest assured him as recently as Friday that he was not the source of criticism of Hubbard's handling of a series of child-abuse cases involving Albany priests.
Of course, conspiracies of silence involving powerful gay men and murder aren't new. See this coverage in the Bakersfield Californian, provoked by the murder of Assistant District Attorney Stephen M. Tauzer. The abstract gives you something of where this is going:
Powerful gay men. Vulnerable teen-age boys. Murder. For years, some prominent local men who led secret lives were rumored to be protected. Whispers surrounding another important man's death prompt the question: Is there really a conspiracy?

Monday, February 9, 2004

Photon Instruments Refractor: Finally, the Limiting Factor Seems to Be the Conditions

The sky was almost completely clear today; the snow is mostly melted; it was, compared to the last month, almost sunbathing weather--in the high 40s today! I put the telescope out before dinner, and when I went out an hour later, the glass seemed pretty much adjusted to outside temperatures.

I was able to see diffraction rings on both sides of focus: a fair amount of undercorrection, but at least there are recognizeable diffraction rings outside focus.

On Saturn at 190x--Cassini's Division all the way around the planet, and really black at the ansae (the outermost extensions of the rings). I could see at least two cloud bands on the planet.

So I put in the 5mm eyepiece, for 229x. I didn't see any more detail, but there wasn't great decline caused by increased fuzziness. The 4mm eyepiece takes you up to 286x, and here there was definitely beginning to be some noticeable decline in image quality.

Oddly enough, chromatic aberration wasn't all that serious of a problem. It was visible, but not terribly disturbing.

At this point, I can't tell if the limiting factor is the optics, or the viewing conditions. Saturn wasn't looking so good by 9:30 PM, even though it was now directly overhead, but that could have been increased moisture in the air. I didn't see any dew on the lens--but at this temperature, it would have been ice.

Jupiter was low on the horizon, which is never a good situation (too many extra miles of air to scramble the image), and so it's hard to criticize the telescope for this. There were certainly at least two dark equatorial cloud bands visible, even with the less than optimal conditions.

Of course, it's terribly cold outside, and for Saturn, I had to literally lie on the ground to aim the finderscope at Saturn. At least it's just cold and wet now, instead of having to lie down on snow.

So here's the choice: spend $89 on the Baader Planetarium Fringe Killer (a filter that selectively blocks the violet part of the spectrum where most chromatic aberration comes from, allowing more precise focus of the rest of the light), or spend >$500 for the Chromacor, which corrects both chromatic aberration and undercorrection. Or, sell this, and spend the big bucks for a true apochromat. At least my conscience wouldn't bother me now selling this one.

Saturday, February 7, 2004

Photon Instruments Refractor: Continued Progress

I attempted to change the air spacing on the objective by reducing it from 2mm (the included aluminum spacer ring) to 1.5mm (the rim of a Philadelphia Cream Cheese container). This clearly made the images less crisp, so I just reassembled everything again--and now I seem to have real diffraction rings on both sides of focus. They aren't identical (that would indicate perfectly corrected optics--at least, neutral, neither overcorrected nor undercorrected), but they are at least something like plausible diffraction rings. Perhaps the reassembly of the objective again put everything back in proper position, the way it was before being jostled around in transit from Arizona to here.

When I first went outside with the tube, the image of Saturn was actually pretty crisp, but as the glass cooled, everything degraded. By the time I was ready to go outside again, the sky was clouded over again. But I am at least beginning to get some confidence that this refractor will be a useable scope.

I have been told that Photon Instruments may not have responded to my email because of the MyDoom virus--they apparently were so overwhelmed with garbage from this that they had to throw away vast quantities of email in their inbox. I am going to make another try at contacting them.

Friday, February 6, 2004

Pope Calls For Fairness

In judging priests accused of sexual abuse. Well, okay, yeah, I guess that is appropriate. I would be a bit more impressed if the Church had done a little better job of being concerned about the monstrous crimes being committed against kids and teenagers, and showed a bit more contrition for having ignored the problem as long as they have.

This isn't a trivial case, nor is the Catholic Church being unfairly pursued on this. The article reports that "more than 325 of the United States' 46,000 clergy have either resigned or been barred from church work." That's a little under 1% of the priesthood who have been caught, and where the evidence was strong enough to lead to resignation or the Church excluding them. What do you suppose the rate would be of priests who got away with it? Perhaps 2x or 3x as high? This is a pretty shocking percentage--far too high to say, "Well, the Church recruits from the general population, so you have to expect that."

I used to have great respect for this Pope. Statements like this, however, make me wonder how much in touch he is with human nature:
He called for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and other Vatican councils to work better together in instructing seminarians "to adopt the necessary measures to assure that priests live in conformity to their call and to their commitment to perfect and perpetual chastity for the Kingdom of God."
The chastity requirement is not Biblical. For roughly half the time that there has been a Roman Catholic Church, priests were not required to be celibate; this is a medieval innovation, and whatever the merits of the argument for it were in 1100, they do not seem all that sensible now.

However, I do not agree with those who say that celibacy is the core problem of these sexually abusive priests. If this were the case, we should expect that the victims would be overwhelmingly females. (Assuming that priests are overwhelmingly heterosexual.) Yet from all that I have read, the victims are overwhelmingly males. Why is that? I fear that for a lot of young Catholics who are struggling with homosexuality, the priesthood may seem like a way to avoid confronting their sexual preferences. What is causing those sexual preferences? Hmmm. Here we are again with an institution in which sexual abuse of minors is common; and the institution seems to have a fair number of priests who sexually abuse minors. Do you suppose that there might be a pattern here, that one causes the other?

We know that one particular category of child molester--the fixated pedophile--tends to be aware of their sexual preferences pretty early on--often by the time they finish college--and that they tend to go into vocations or avocations that give them access to children (and from what I have read, disproportionately boys). At least one book on the subject suggests that the pedophilic preference develops because the victim is molested in a fairly narrow window of sexual development--a point where the mixture of pleasure and humiliation causes them to repeat the pattern.

I wonder if part of why this pattern has become so common is that the Catholic Church failed to intervene early enough to stop people like Father Geoghan and Father Shanley (one of the founders of the North American Man-Boy Love Association) from abusing children. Not every victim will become a molester, but it does make you wonder what happened to Father Geoghan and Father Shanley as choir boys, doesn't it? That some of these priests have told their victims that homosexual sex with a priest is a "sacrament," just enrages me. It also makes me wonder if that was the excuse used to excuse these crimes against them, three or four decades ago.

UPDATE: At least one reader thinks that I am being unfair in making assumptions about priests that Father Geoghan and Father Shanley might have had, a long time ago. As I said, "makes me wonder." It is entirely possible that this pattern of behavior that Geoghan and Shanley (and many other priests) have engaged is not the result of priestly abuse. As I said, "makes me wonder."

He also asks "if priests were being convicted at higher rates than rabbis, ministers, or imams." An interesting question. Does anyone have any data? The report indicating almost 1% of serving Catholic clergy have either resigned or been removed because of molestation is a pretty astonishing rate--far higher than I would expect from an average population.

It is certainly the case that media attention tends to be strongest on clergy involved in child molestation, perhaps because we tend to have higher expectations of the morality of the clergy. And yes, I go a little off the rails about child molestation. I have talked to a lot of victims over the years (although most were not victims of clergymen), and to say that it angers me a lot is an understatement. For those who don't understand my anger about this (and yes, I get email occasionally from people that don't understand what the big deal is about adults pursuing teenagers for sex), let me recommend you read I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. It is one of those books that you read a few pages, put it down, cry for a while, and read a few more pages.

I'm sure that there are books by men survivors of child sexual abuse out there, although I haven't read any of them. The conversations that I have had with such survivors have been painful enough.

I get a little enraged when I see the damage done by child molesters, and I especially get enraged when I see someone using a position of authority--especially a position of moral authority--to justify such a crime. Over the years, I have seen more than a few news stories of Protestant pastors who have abused their authority in similar ways. I am not aware, however, of any denomination that has made a repeated pattern of transferring such monsters around, allowing them to continue their crimes. This is why I am so upset with the Catholic Church's power structure--not with Catholics, and not with Catholic priests (the vast majority of whom, obviously, are not molesters).

UPDATE 2: Over here you can see someone criticizing what I had to say--and shows some evidence that public schools have a tendency to deal with molesting teachers in a similar way--and commonly enough that there is even an expression for it: "passing the trash." Admittedly, I don't expect much of public schools as an institution. I expect a bit higher standards from an institution that is headed by someone whose title is "Vicar of Christ."

Thursday, February 5, 2004

The Photon Instruments 127mm Refractor

I received some very helpful suggestions over in the sci.astro.amateur newsgroup--including some from Roland Christen, one of the world's most acclaimed telescope makers (he owns Astro-Physics), and in the Equipment Talk forum at astromart.

One suggestion was to adjust the tightness of the front retaining ring that holds the front lens of the objective. This seems to have made a real difference. Too loose, and it appears that the undercorrection problem gets worse; too tight, and it puts pressure on the glass, causing other interesting problems.

With a little fiddling, I at least have the telescope producing a so-so image. Saturn at 190x shows more detail than the Televue Ranger. I did not have ideal viewing conditions tonight, but I was able to see Cassini's Division pretty much all the way around the planet, and there was more detail visible in the planet's atmosphere. It was still slightly fuzzy, but that may be the chromatic aberration problem (no easy fix for that), or it might have been the moisture in the atmosphere.

I still don't have even close to equivalent diffraction rings inside and outside focus, but outside focus there is at least something that looks like it could turn into diffraction rings when it grows up.

Another suggestion, from Roland Christen, was to change the airspacing between the two elements of the objective. There is a 2mm spacer ring in there now; I need to find some 1mm and 1.5mm spacers to try instead, and see if this corrects the problem.

A third suggestion, and probably the easiest to try, is to mask the objective down to 100mm, and see if the quality improves. If so, the objective has a turned edge (not too dissimilar from the same problem with parabolic reflecting mirrors in telescopes).

My attempts at getting any assistance, advice, or even trying to purchase a better objective from Photon Instruments has yielded nothing. My email to them has not been answered. I can't imagine buying anything else from them.

UPDATE: I have been told that Photon Instruments may not have responded to my email because of the MyDoom virus--they apparently were so overwhelmed with garbage from this that they had to throw away vast quantities of email in their inbox. I am going to make another try at contacting them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Paul Craig Roberts & Economic Freedom

I used to have a very high opinion of Paul Craig Roberts. A few days back, Professor Volokh took Roberts to task for a fairly bizarre comparison of economic freedom in modern America, and the antebellum slave owning South. I have reserved any statement until now, but I am just astonished that Roberts would make some of the statements that he has made--they show a rather fundamental misunderstanding of the antebellum South and slavery. Feel free to see Roberts' response here, and then my criticisms.

1. In colonial and antebellum America, slaves could buy their freedom, but only with the acquiescence of their masters. All property held by a slave was legally owned by the master. At any time, a master could confiscate any money that a slave had saved up, and the slave had no legal recourse. No agreement that a master made with a slave was legally binding (although there were rare cases where this worked to the benefit of the slave). Slaves owned nothing except by the tolerance of the master.

2. Especially after 1822, most slave states prohibited masters from freeing their slaves without approval of the state legislature. The only way for a master to free a slave was to take him to another state, or sell him to another person (a subterfuge sometimes used to make a slave free without actually violating the law). The reasons were fear of masters dumping aged slaves onto the county poorhouse, and especially after Turner's Rebellion, the "bad example" that free blacks might provide to the slaves--that slavery was not a natural state for slaves. So much for economic liberty in the antebellum South! The state governments did not even believe in private property rights enough to allow a master to free his own property.

3. After 1740, many colonies prohibited teaching slaves to write; the slave states continued these laws, adding prohibitions on teaching slaves to read after Turner's Rebellion in 1831. These laws were clearly not always followed, but they are another reminder that the slave states did not believe in private property rights--they did not allow masters to educate their property.

4. Roberts made one of these statements that is very common in libertarian circles:
Economically, mistreatment of slaves makes no sense. Capitalists normally do not destroy their own investments or poison their workforce against them. It would require an empirical study to determine whether more people have suffered at the hands of the IRS or at the hands of 19th century slave owners.
Economically, Roberts is right--it would make no sense. No rational person would destroy a 2-3 year old used car today (th equivalent value of a prime field hand back then) out of anger or spite. But here's the difference: none of us spend much time worrying that our car is going to murder us during the night, or respond with violence when we abuse it one time too many.

I am disappointed that Roberts seems unaware of Adam Smith's comments about slavery's inefficiency, because the only labor you get out of a slave, above and beyond his own subsistence, must be beaten out of him. There is no shortage of photographs showing the scars left by whipping slaves. Historians studying slavery have a for long time documented how inefficient slavery was; it would appear that masters held slaves at least as much for the sense of power and control as for the economic advantages.

5. Roberts makes another statement about slavery that is partly technically correct, but misleading and incomplete:
Southerners did not enslave blacks. The institution pre-existed and came from Africa itself.
This is as least an arguable point. Slavery was certainly common in Africa (as it was almost everywhere in the world), and blacks were brought to the New World as slaves--but at least in the first few years of Virginia, they were not considered slaves once they left the ship, but indentured servants. The institution of slavery developed gradually in the American colonies, not reaching its full form until fairly late in the 17th century.

Southerners certainly did enslave blacks--those children born to slave women--and in some cases, to white women who had children by black men, free or slave--were enslaved. Slave owners did not buy those children as slaves; they enslaved children born free.

Slaves were brought to the US South because there was fertile land and no labor force.
Also wrong. There was a labor force here. The Indians weren't terribly interested in working as farm laborers, and even when enslaved, tended to disappear back into the forest. There were also many white laborers doing similar work in the early days of Virginia and Maryland. One of several theories that attempts to explain the rise of slavery as a racial institution argues that the Great Fire of 1666 in London so dramatically raised labor rates in England--even long distances from London--that it made it difficult for planters to attract white laborers to do the hard and often deadly work of tobacco planting in the malarial lands around Chesapeake Bay.
Southerners were born into the institution just as were slaves. Slavery was an economic institution independent of racism. Its days were numbered, because it is not as efficient as free contracted labor and population growth was creating a labor market. I make no apology for slavery, not even for the kind the US has today.
It is true that many historians believe that slavery was dying when our Constitution was written--and was revived by the invention of the cotton gin in response to the patent system the new Constitution provided for--but historians are still debating whether slavery was dying or growing in the 1850s. The real money to be made from slavery was not from the employment of slaves, but from the sale of them. This, plus the often destructive agricultural practices associated with cotton growing, suggests that slavery would only die if it had nowhere to expand. Slave owners were unsurprisingly heavily involved in efforts to expand the United States, including fomenting the Mexican War, and proposals to annex Cuba.

Slavery in America could have been independent of racism. It wasn't. From the beginning of the 18th century onward, there was a presumption in the slave colonies that if you were black, you were a slave. The burden of proof was on the free black to prove that he was free. Loss of your manumission papers often meant being sold into slavery.

I will make Roberts a deal: let him sign over his rights in order to experience being a field hand on a Louisiana sugar plantation, or an Alabama cotton plantation, for a week. During that time, we will sell his wife and children to another plantation 300 miles away, or perhaps we'll do another fairly common practice: direct his wife to have sex with the chief breeding slave, the one that the master thinks will produce better products for sale. (After all, being smart isn't a premium when breeding livestock, and masters were often no more considerate concerning slaves.) When Roberts protests, we'll give him 30 lashes, until the blood is pouring down his back. If he is still giving the master lip, we'll punch a hole through his tongue (although this will make him very fashionable on campus).

Oh yes, let me mention, only one slave state made it a crime for a master to rape his slaves, and that was Mississippi. If the slave was under 12. And even that law didn't get passed until 1859.

Roberts can then decide which he would prefer: that or the slavery of being in one of the higher marginal tax brackets (an experience that I have had, and that I did not enjoy).

There might be some way for Roberts to make the point he is trying to make--that we are enslaved by the IRS. But perhaps having stumbled badly on this, he can compare our tax system to the Holocaust.

If you want to know more, read my book Black Demographic Data, 1790-1860: A Sourcebook (Greenwood Press, 1997).

UPDATE: A reader tells me that the 1859 Mississippi slave rape law only applied to blacks--that white masters were still free to rape their slaves. I am relying on an account in Deborah Gray White's Ar'n't I a Woman?. I have no reason to trust one account over the other. My goal here is to make sure that you are aware that there is some dispute about this--although neither version says anything good about the slave states:
The case is George (a Slave) v. State, 37 Miss. 316 (1859). There is a note at the end of the case that states the legislature, in 1860, had changed the law to make rape or sexual assault by a "negro or mulatto on a female negro or mulatto, under twelve years of age" punishable by death or whipping. There appears to have already been a law on the books making it illegal to rape or assault a child under ten but regular statutary laws would not have applied to a slave child, even in the case of protecting her. A case cited within George, Minor v State, is very informative on this. I think Adrienne Davis has discussed this case in some of her legal scholarship.