Thursday, April 29, 2004

An Unbelievable Story--Just Got A Bit More Believable

So some woman comes up with an unbelieveable story about Catholic priests using her in Satanic rituals, and not surprisingly, she isn't much believed--and then one of the accused priests is arrested for a murder decades ago that seems to fit her claims:
TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The Toledo Diocese is taking another look at a woman's previously dismissed claims of satanic sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests now that one of the clergymen has been charged with the ``ritualistic'' slaying of a nun 24 years ago.

The Rev. Gerald Robinson was arrested last week on charges of strangling and stabbing Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, 71, about 30 times during Easter weekend 1980. Her body, covered by an altar cloth and surrounded by burning candles, was found in a hospital chapel.

Pahl's body was posed to look as if she had been sexually assaulted, but investigators said they found no evidence of sexual activity.

Bishop Leonard Blair announced Tuesday that a seven-member diocesan review board will re-examine allegations made by a woman who told the panel in June that when she was a child she was physically and sexually abused by several priests, including Robinson.


The woman described satanic ceremonies in which clergy members placed her in a coffin filled with cockroaches, forced her to swallow what she believed to be a human eyeball and penetrated her with a snake ``to consecrate these orifices to Satan.''

The diocese had decided not to forward the woman's claims to authorities because it could not substantiate them.

However, the allegations were brought to the attention of prosecutors in a letter received in December, assistant prosecutor Gary Cook said Monday. He would not say who sent the letter.

Three other people have said they also were abused by priests in rituals, said Catherine Hoolahan, an attorney who represents about a dozen people with abuse lawsuits against the Toledo Diocese. They all mentioned similar occurrences, she said, but she would not provide details.


Hoolahan said the victims, both men and women, could not recall how many priests abused them.

``Remember, they were children,'' she said. ``They were scared to death, but they remember a bunch - a large number.''


Louis Schlesinger, a forensic psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, said people committing ritual crimes seek sexual gratification by posing their victims in certain ways or by making them say certain things or act in a certain way.

It is also common for a sexual offender to kill one of his victims but not the others, he said.
This should shock the Catholic Church to its very core--not only widespread sexual abuse, but now evidence of priests engaged in Satanism.

UPDATE: This seems to be the Catholic Church's day for bad press:
The U.S. Roman Catholic priest who has provided the most visible help to victims of clergy sex abuse (search) for the past 18 years has been fired by his archbishop and cannot celebrate public Masses.

It's the second career disruption for the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle. In 1986, the Vatican embassy in Washington ended his employment as staff canon lawyer after Doyle co-authored a detailed memo sent to the nation's bishops that warned of the molestation crisis.

Doyle became the most outspoken U.S. priest in criticizing the American hierarchy's handling of the scandal. He has provided victims pastoral counsel and expert legal advise in numerous suits against the church.

After Vatican service, Doyle enlisted as a U.S. Air Force chaplain. Last Sept. 17, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services withdrew his endorsement as a chaplain, meaning he cannot function as a priest on military bases or celebrate sacraments.

The stated reason was a disagreement over whether military chaplains must provide public Masses every day, but observers charged Thursday that Doyle's advocacy for victims is the underlying reason.
Maybe there is some other reason that Doyle just lost his job--but let's hope that a really good reason comes out, real soon.

You know, I actually agree with the Catholic Church's decision not to include pro-abortion politicians in Communion. Perhaps they could decide not to include child molesting priests as well. Of course, that might lead back to rearguing the Donatist controversy of the fourth century.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

The Power of Lightning

I promised some pictures of what lightning did to a tree just outside my job a few days ago. They are sobering reminders of the power of the natural world. This was perhaps 500 feet from where I sit.

Here you can see the chunks of wood and bark thrown 80-100 feet by the steam explosion as the sap heated up:

This last picture shows how the tree itself was split most of the way to the ground:

Friday, April 23, 2004

Astronomy Stuff (With Good News For American Manufacturing)

I mentioned a few days ago that I had purchased an 85mm eyepiece from Russell Optics in Arizona--and yes, they make them in America, they aren't just an importer. I received the eyepiece yesterday, and the sky was clear enough last night to make use of it.

My first impression of the eyepiece was not favorable--the body is made of Delrin, not metal, and the label is a little on the cheap side.

However, the use of Delrin means that the eyepiece weighs about seven ounces--really very light for a 2" diameter eyepiece. There are some monsters made by Televue that weigh a lot more than this, leading to astronomers talking about "Al Nagler's Hand Grenade."

Being a very low power eyepiece, it revealed that my diagonal was dirty, so I had to clean it. When I finally put the eyepiece into use last night, however, wow! I should be seeing something close to three degrees of sky with my refractor, and it was apparent that this was the case. The image of the Moon was breathtaking--and there were stars visible around the Moon--showing reasonably good light baffling in both the telescope and the eyepiece.

One problem that a lot of widefield eyepieces have is inconsistency across the field; objects at the edge require a slightly different focus than objects in the middle; there are often distortions at the edge of the field. The Russell 85mm exhibited none of these behaviors; objects at the edge were just as sharp as they were in the center of the eyepiece. This will make a fabulous dark sky eyepiece--as soon as I get a dark sky in which to use it. (I had a long conversation with the Boise streetlight engineer yesterday--perhaps I will blog about that soon.)

Best of all, this monstrous eyepiece cost me $70 with shipping. (He was having a sale this week--ordinarily it is $75.)

I also had a chance to use my 8" f/7 reflector, now that I have rings to mount it on my Losmandy mount (also American-made). Yes, this is a giant leap up from the Cave mount--although it still wouldn't hurt to knock a bit more weight off this telescope. I had a chance to show Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, and the Moon to a passing pedestrian with the reflector--and as these objects usually do, they absolutely dazzled him. Cassini's Division was easily visible, and perhaps because of my care in remounting the mirror during the recent rebuild, I had no problem seeing cloud bands on Saturn itself.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

More On Hate Crime Hoaxes

Interesting article about the prevalence of hate crime hoaxes on college campuses:
More than 20 hate crime hoaxes have been suspected or confirmed at college campuses nationwide in the past seven years as students draw on the socially conscious atmosphere of a college campus to perpetrate their fraud.

"A person who is a victim of a hate crime can probably expect to get almost universal sympathy on a college campus. Out in the world at large, that's not necessarily true," said Mark Potok, who has researched hate crime for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"But on a college campus, you are very likely to get the support of the administration, the faculty and virtually all the students. It tends to put you in the limelight very quickly."


At least 20 cases of suspected or confirmed hoaxes have occurred since 1997 nationwide -- and many may go unnoticed, the Los Angeles Times reported.


At Miami University in Ohio, a display of racist and homophobic fliers six years ago -- a suspected hoax that was never solved -- still bothers President James C. Garland. People come away believing that "racial incidents and race relations are really not an issue, that it's all a trumped-up hoax or manufactured to make political points," he said.
Obviously, these aren't all manufactured for political reasons--some people just want a new roommate--but it does make people understandably skeptical.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Americans Are Still Making Telescope Stuff!

I've mentioned that I bought a Losmandy GM-8 mount a while back, used, and I am as pleased as I can be with it. It's a beautiful piece of equipment, well made, and made in California.

I mentioned that I needed some rings to mount my 8" reflector on the Losmandy mount. I ordered them from Ken's Rings and Things, and yes, Ken makes them in Louisiana. I ordered this set about a week ago, and they arrived on Saturday. Of course, the weather has been awful, so the reflector is sitting in the rings, on the Losmandy mount, tapping its fingernails on the table, waiting for good weather.

Finally, I have been looking for a wide angle 2" eyepiece for my refractor--something that lets me get at least two degrees on sky, for the diffuse objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy. I found a very attractively priced 85mm eyepiece--one that should get me close to three degrees of sky, offered by Russell Optics. To my surprise, Russell Optics in Arizona is not an importer, but makes the eyepieces themselves. I expect to have it this week, and should be able to report on the results.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Teaching As Therapy

The experience of my wife and I attending Sonoma State University was that there seemed to be a number of professors for whom class was a form of therapy--a way for them to deal with their demons. Not surprisingly, these were among the more wasteful classes (at least for the students). I had an ethnic studies class where the professor insisted quite frequently that attitudes about race in America hadn't changed since the 1950s--and here he was, a black guy who was a tenured professor and an elected member of the school board in an overwhelmingly white city. He told us that in the 1950s, he and a white girl that he knew would respond to apartment rental ads just for the reaction of the landlord. (He told us that they stopped doing this when one landlord's response was to have a heart attack.)

My wife had a professor for a Women's Studies class whose notion of scholarship could be deduced from the fact that much of the reading for the class was 10-15 year old articles from Time and Newsweek. She handed out a fairly silly paper written by some overprivileged undergraduate about how white privilege and male privilege are very similar institutions, and then asked students to critically analyze the paper.

My wife's paper pointed out the many flaws in this analogy, not just the obvious one that females aren't disproportionately raised in impoverished homes. I sat outside the professor's office while this "professor" ranted and raved at my wife for writing such a negative paper; it was pretty obvious that my wife had made a serious mistake: she actually analyzed the paper's flaws, instead of gushing over it. From then on in class, whenever my wife would raise her hand, the professor would look around, look right at her, and say, "No questions? Okay, we'll move on."

You will notice that the examples that I have given are from two of the joke departments: American Multi-Cultural Studies and Women's Studies. I don't think that either of these has to be a joke--but in practice, ethnic studies departments at many schools came into existence as a way of getting the Administration Building back in one piece, and Women's Studies were started because, "Well, blacks have an ethnic studies department...."

A few weeks back, I mentioned the professor at Claremont-McKenna College whose car was vandalized in a "hate crime"--and then, it turned out, that witnesses reported that she had vandalized the car herself. Her own statement's inconsistencies soon demonstrated that she was lying. Now the Los Angeles Times reports that she has a previous criminal history--and one that reminds me of our experiences at Sonoma State, where the line between emotional problems and teaching was often invisible:
Police and court records show Dunn's other side.

On Sept. 24, 1999, she was arrested and charged with driving without a license and with fictitious license plates, said Officer Katherine Finnell, a Lincoln police spokeswoman. Dunn paid $75 in fines, said chief prosecutor John McQuinn.

On Dec. 31, 1999, Lincoln police arrested Dunn for shoplifting, Finnell said. On that day, she said, Dunn hid a $30 pink sweater in her purse while she was in the dressing room of a clothing store. A store employee called police, Finnell said.

The charges against Dunn were dismissed in exchange for her paying court costs, McQuinn said.

Less than a year later, on Sept. 29, 2000, a Dillard's department store employee saw Dunn putting a shoe box in a shopping bag, Finnell said. A police officer found Dunn's shopping bag contained a pair of red size 7 shoes and some Liz Claiborne jewelry: three bracelets, a necklace and a pair of earrings, Finnell said ? about $141 worth of merchandise from Dillard's.

On Tuesday, a Times reporter visited Dunn's house to ask about the shoplifting. She said she would not discuss it.

Gann, the president of Claremont McKenna, said that when college officials interviewed Dunn for her job as a visiting assistant professor, they checked references but that prospective faculty are not asked about a criminal record. Now they might be, she said.

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

What Does Jupiter Look Like Through the Photon Instruments 127mm Refractor?

This photograph (taken with a Celestron CGE-1400 14" Schmidt-Cassegrain) approximates it pretty well.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Intelligent Design, Evolution, and Science

I have had a very interesting exchange with a reader about this subject. If the advocates of the intelligent design argument are correct (that certain basic components of life do not appear to be the result of random processes, but show "intelligent design"), is this science? My answer is a qualified no.

What is the purpose of science? To come up with a methodology for predicting the future. We study chemistry so that we can say, "If I put ten kilograms of sodium into a container with five kilograms of water, what will be the end product?" What makes science useful (and not simply an entertaining exercise) is this ability to predict the future. In that sense, it doesn't matter what is actually happening at the lowest levels. As one of my chemistry professors at USC observed, part-way through a lecture about shells, subshells, electron clouds, probabilities, etc., "We have no idea what is going on at the subatomic level. There could be angels dancing on the head of a pin for all we know. But this lets us predict what will happen, and that's all that science is."

Evolution, whether right or wrong, is a predictive tool. It lets us make some informed guesses about what will happen--although it seems unlikely that any major changes that it can predict will happen within the lifetime of our civilization. Intelligent design, even if it turned out to be true, is not a predictive tool. If living organisms are actually indicative of intelligent design, we can't predict what that intelligence is going to do, can we? In that sense, intelligent design isn't really science in the same sense that chemistry is.

However: intelligent design arguments, to the extent that they raise serious questions about the blind and random process claims of evolution, are a legitimate restraining force on the dogmatism that characterizes biology teaching in primary and secondary education (and to some extent, even at the college level). If there are biological structures that do not seem to fit the blind and random development model of evolution, this is important, and worth discussing.

Dogmatism is a dangerous tendency: in religion; in politics; and in science, because it shuts off serious questioning. Unlike many of the Creationist arguments, intelligent design presents some serious challenges to the more doctrinaire forms of evolution.

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Sorry I've Been So Quiet Today

Remember the "wax on, wax off" sequence out of The Karate Kid? I only did one car, not 38 (or however many it was)--my Corvette--but then again, I'm not a kid. The car looks great, but am I sore! (An aerobic exercise by the time I was done, covered in sweat.)

Then I started the rebuild of my reflector. I originally was just going to weigh all the major components, but by the time I was part way through removing the rotating tube ring assembly from the tube, I decided that I was going to reinstall it.

Just to explain: this is a really neat assembly of stainless steel and aluminum that provides a way to rotate the telescope tube in place--often useful because of how a German equatorial mount design sometimes moves the eyepiece into odd and inconvenient locations. Unfortunately, this neat assembly weighs ten pounds--turning the reflector into a 31 pound behemoth. That's just too heavy for the mount that it is on now, and a bit too heavy for the Losmandy GM-8 mount. Replacing the rotating tube assembly with something designed to attach to the Losmandy dovetail knocks it down to 25 pounds--light enough that the Losmandy should be very happy with it.

Removing the rotating ring assembly, however, turned out to be quite a process. The rings attach to the telescope tube with what seems like an excessive number of 3/8" hex head screws that go through the tube, and attach to nuts on the inside. Somehow, I managed to get all these nuts onto the screws 10 years ago--but either my arms have gotten a couple inches shorter, or the fiberglass has grown a couple of inches in the meantime. There were uses I was making of tools that would make your junior high shop teacher either shake his head, or start lecturing you. At one point, I was using a torque wrench to hold the nuts in place while trying to unscrew with the other hand. Most of these were just unpleasant and slow, because the screws and nuts were not stainless steel, and were well rusted. (Why anyone would include non-stainless fasteners for use on a telescope just makes me shake my head.)

Fortunately, one of the many friendly strangers walking by in front of the house while I was doing this offered to help, and had the magically longer arm to deal with the last three screws that were beyond my reach.

Tomorrow's mission after church: patch the holes with epoxy; repaint the interior of the tube in flat black; sand the exterior's many battle scars from car collisions; then repaint the patches in bright white; wash the mirror again; reassemble.