Thursday, December 28, 2006

Pentax Shoots For The Moon

These are all 1/90th of a second with the 8" f/7 reflector. It is cold, crisp, and clear--and if I can stay warm enough (more hot chocolate, Rhonda!), I'll try this with Big Bertha next. We're past first quarter, so contrast is a bit low, especially on the sections where the Sun is already high in the sky.

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Here's a more detailed image from within this. Obviously, I don't have the focus quite as crisp as I should yet.

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Improved Lighting

The sky cleared last night with a massive wind storm, and we have blue sky today. I have some more pictures that I took with the K10D and zoom lens and telescope. I've cut these down a bit on size, which is really something of an advantage with these sort of magnifications.

This is the zoom lens at 80mm (equivalent to 120mm for 35mm size):

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And at 205mm (equivalent to 307mm for 35mm size):

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Here are a couple of pictures of downtown Horseshoe Bend, about six miles away, using the 8" f/7 reflector:

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Pentax Camera Zoom

We've had less than optimal lighting conditions for several days because of cloud cover, but I've been able to take some pictures with the Pentax K10D and both an older, non-autofocus telephoto zoom lens, and using an adapter to mount it on my 8" f/7 reflector. (For those of you who think in camera, that's a 1414mm f/7.)

These pictures were taken with an 80-205mm zoom (equivalent to 120-307mm, because of the difference in sensor size relative to 35mm film size). As you can see, at the high end, the image quality degrades substantially.

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This picture is of downtown Horseshoe Bend, using the 8" f/7 reflector. I'm not sure how much of the lack of crispness was failure to get a proper focus (although the camera though it was as sharp as it could get), and how much was the limitations of distance and atmosphere. The target here is six miles away from me, and down.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006


I received the following holiday wishes, originally written by one David Ryan:

To all My Democrat Friends:

Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere , And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishes. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms.

For My Republican Friends:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Friday, December 22, 2006

Faking Hate Crimes

I mentioned a while back that a "hate crime" against a homosexual student at Boise State, upon more investigation, turned out to be a fraud. The student attacked himself, punching himself, and beating himself with a stick, so that he could claim that Idaho's passage of a "one man, one woman" constitutional amendment was promoting violence against homosexuals. Not surprisingly, Boise State had a grand mal seizure of guilt about how "homophobic" it and the rest of Idaho is--but precious few words when they realized that this "hate crime" didn't happen.

The student--whose name hasn't been published until now because he was a "victim"--is now identified:
Authorities announced today that Alex "A.J." McGillis, 20, of Boise must appear in court on charges of resisting and obstructing officers. The charge specifically relates to a false report McGillis made to police Nov. 9. in connection with what was initially reported to police as a battery on the greenbelt somewhere between Taylor Hall and Friendship Bridge. According to police reports, McGillis initially claimed a white male struck him from behind with an object while using anti-gay expletives and proceeded to hit him in the face several times, causing him to lose consciousness. McGillis later admitted to authorities he used a stick and his own fists to self-inflict his injuries. The falsified attack quickly prompted student and administrative organizations around Boise State to sponsor the "No Oppression Tolerated, Not On Our Campus," rally and a candlelight vigil in the Quad. Several student representatives and BSU administrators stressed tolerance and the need for civility on campus at the rallies and for several days after. Hundreds attended the rallies. The prosecutor's summons orders McGillis to appear in Magistrate Court no later than Jan. 10th on the charge. Filing a false police report is a misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of $1,000 fine and one year in jail.
Now, I'm sure that liberals everywhere will be full of excuses for what McGillis did, minimizing its importance, and saying that he has suffered enough.

Imagine how they would have responded, however, if this had happened?

1. A man reports being grabbed by a group of homosexuals, raped, and taunted, "You'll want to come back for of this, won't you?"

2. Social conservatives organize rallies demanding that "something be done" to make it safe for straight men, and decrying the tolerance of homosexual rape.

3. After police find inconsistencies in his story, and failures to match the physical evidence, the man admits that he faked the whole thing, and there was no homosexual rape.

Do you think that conservatives would be sitting around making analogous excuses such as, "Well, there are homosexuals who rape straight men--maybe it didn't happen in this case, but it could have!" Do you think liberals would be making excuses for why this inflammatory false crime report shouldn't be punished severely?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

House Project: Final Warranty Work? Interesting Unexpected Benefits

It has been several months since the last entry about the house. We are coming up on the one year closing next month, and we've been making sure that any existing warranty issues are taken care of now. For example, the kitchen sink faucet keeps working itself loose, because the window sill sticks out too far. The builder decided to do it right, and recut the window sill so it isn't running into the faucet.

The third bathroom sink (which doesn't get much use) started to leak--because the pipe coming out of the bottom of the sink is the wrong diameter for the rest of the fittings. It is 1 3/8" outside diameter--and the washer that is supposed to seal this is 1 1/2" inside diameter. The builder is nagging the plumber to get up here and fix this properly. How did he not notice this much looseness?

There are a couple of exterior trim pieces that have fallen off the house in our rather startlingly strong winds, so he is replacing these.

We've had a few tiles crack, probably because of settling in the floor joists. No great surprise on that.

One rather nice surprise today is something that I had not planned on, but it has worked out rather well. All of this concrete that was originally supposed to be Dusty Rose (or whatever color it is that my wife thought was so elegant) came out closer to molasses brown. One benefit of this was that even though it is very cold up here today--it has still not broken 20 degrees--the snow on the concrete facing south has just about cleared off the concrete, and almost as though I had swept it.

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There a few spots where snow melt from the columns has accumulated on the concrete, but overall, I could not have swept it this clear without enormous effort.

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It is not hard to figure out why. Once any particular area had enough snow melt away because of sunlight, the concrete underneath absorbed heat--and then transmitted it to the rest of the concrete, accelerating whatever melting was induced by the sunlight hitting the top of the snow. Out on the driveway, you can see this taking place a bit more slowly (probably because it doesn't have the radiant heat from the walls of the house).

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Over on the east face of the house, where the sunlight was only falling in the morning, you can see the difference.

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On the north face of the house, where there was no sunlight at all, it is still pretty unaltered.

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In spite of the temperature outside--it was ten degrees this morning when my wife woke up--the furnace isn't running all that much. The sunlight flooding in the south windows of the house is hitting the tiles, and turning into infared as it bounces. The insulation is doing its job.

I expect in summer, all that concrete around the house is going to get unpleasantly warm by the end of the day--and remain pleasant to bare feet into the early evening hours.

Last house project entry.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Community Activist": What a Nice Label!

That the guy is a liberal political activist isn't what's news; it is how light a sentence he got for this:
ASHEVILLE — A community activist and actor pleaded guilty to 16 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor after using the Internet to collect and share graphic child pornography.

A judge sentenced Andrew Douglas Reed, 53, to a minimum of 10 months and a maximum of 12 months in prison, District Attorney Ron Moore said Thursday.

Reed was arrested on June 10, 2005, during a statewide operation conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation.

According to a warrant authorizing a search of his Dogwood Road home, SBI agents determined Reed used an e-mail account to post 169 images and three movies containing child pornography on file-sharing networks from Jan. 13, 2004, to May 9. Most depicted children as young as 6 engaged in sex acts with adults or other children.

Reed was a regular community guest columnist for the Citizen-Times and involved in multiple community efforts including the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville-Buncombe County and the League of Women Voters.

In 2005, the Martin Luther King Jr. Association awarded him with their Community Humanitarian Award.

Association President Oralene Graves Simmons said Reed had resigned from the organization after his arrest.

“The Andy Reed I knew was a person that was very active in the community and tried to help others wherever he could,” she said. “I pray for him and his safety.”
Reed had lots of friends, and World Net Daily makes a point of reminding you what sort of crowd he hung with--and suggesting that this had something to do with the light sentence:
However, instead of the 967 months in jail – nearly 81 years – for which he was liable, Judge Robert Lewis, another Democrat, gave him, in a plea bargain with the office of District Attorney Ron Moore, who was elected as a Democrat, a 10-12 month sentence.

And even that seemed regrettable, according to a number of letters of recommendation offered by other Democrat leaders of the community to the court on his behalf.

"It has been my pleasure to share Andy's commitment to ensuring that compassion and democracy are at work across our community," wrote Beth Lazer, a Democrat who shared Unitarian Universalist church theologies with Reed and serves as the head of the local public access television, URTV.

She said in her letter of reference she first worked with Reed "when we both served on the board of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters."

"What an invaluable board member he was," she said.

"I also worked with Andy on several projects at our church, most significantly our becoming a welcoming congregation," she said.

Steve Hagerman, the executive director of the Asheville Symphony, wrote on symphony letterhead that, "Reed has been a long-time supporter of the arts in Western North Carolina and has been involved in many worthwhile causes in our community."

And Oralene Graves-Simmons, a Democrat who leads the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association of Asheville, wrote a page and a half extolling Reed's virtues.

"When the decision was made in 2001 to incorporate the Association as an independent non-profit organization, Andy was instrumental in making it happen. He wrote the new organization's by-laws, revised and edited its incorporation papers, and, with me, determined the makeup of its founding board of directors," Graves-Simmons wrote.

"It was for his ten years of dedicated service that last January the MLK Association honored Andy with the 2005 Community Humanitarian Award," she wrote.

She noted he's also served on governing or advisory boards to the Montford Park Players, a theater company that operates each summer.

"Andy has spent all the years that I've known him bringing people together regardless of race, creed, color, or other differences, gladly working with anyone and everyone, and doing whatever needs to be done, to accomplish our mutual goals," she wrote.
Oh yeah, remember that the connection between homosexuality and pedophilia is just nasty stereotyping:
Reed, who also worked as a columnist for the Asheville Citizen Times, often wrote in support of the "gay" agenda in the region.
Thanks to Stop the ACLU for alerting me to this story.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

If Reality Is Inconvenient, Liberal Idaho Just Ignores It

I mentioned yesterday that the supposed gay-bashing of a Boise State student turned out to be...done by himself. ("This just shows you how oppressively homophobic our society is! Why, homosexuals so internalize the hatred that they even bash themselves!")

Liberal Idaho, of course, made a big deal about the initial report, as evidence of what happens when a state passes a marriage definition:
When the public passes laws deeming some citizens note [sic] as equal as other citizens this is bound to happen:
Unlike other Idaho liberals, such as Red State Rebel, who believed the initial report but reported the correction, Liberal Idaho just can't get around to reporting that his overheated rhetoric was based on a lie. Not a mistake; not an overzealous reading of intelligence reports; but by the admission of the victim, a lie. And yet Liberal Idaho is so intent on keeping his hate-filled rhetoric going, that he can't admit it.

One of the commenters over at Red State Rebel expresses amazement that anyone would fake something like this:
So many hate crimes, and someone feels the need to fabricate one?! That's insane....
So many hate crimes? Not against homosexuals. You know, the FBI gathers statistics on hate crimes based on sexual orientation. While I agree that not every hate crime gets reported, I think it is a good bet, because of the zealous concern that homosexual activists have for publicizing their victimization, that most hate crimes against homosexuals get reported to the police, who pass them to the FBI. As I mentioned here, the 2004 report showed a total of 1,406 offenses reported where the bias was based on sexual orientation--and some of those (about 2.5%) were hate crimes based on the victim being straight.

Remember: a lot of these aren't even violent crimes against a person--they include incidents such as one I saw reported on the local news over in tolerant, liberal Oregon when I was there about ten days ago, where someone has spray-painted "lesbos" on a lesbian couple's garage. Don't get me wrong when I point this out: I am not saying that this is okay, or nothing to be concerned about. These are a form of intimidation, just like burning a cross on a black person's lawn, because there is a clear implication that violence could follow. But in a nation of 300,000,000 people (and about nine million homosexuals or bisexuals), 1,406 incidents is actually surprisingly low.

On the other hand, there's no shortage of frauds like the one mentioned here, and this one. There are many others that have happened over the last few years, as a shortage of real hate crimes against homosexuals has created so much demand that homosexual activists have to fake them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Humor (I Think)

My wife received this video explaining a school's policy requiring shirts to be tucked in as a public safety measure. If it makes you think of the scene where the police arrest the title character in The Mask ("I have a permit for that")--well, that's why I suspect this is a gag.

It's worksafe (unless you work for one of the gun control groups), but if you are a dialup, it's a bit more than 1 MB long.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Humor: Public Opinion Survey

A reader informs me:

The latest telephone poll taken by the Governors of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California yielded results on whether or not people who live in in these states think illegal immigration is a serious problem:

41% of respondents answered: "Yes, it is a serious problem."

59% of respondents answered: "No es un problema serio."

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Retubing Big Bertha

Big Bertha, my 17.5" reflector, has an unnecessarily heavy framework. I've been thinking of ways to put her on a diet, perhaps with the possibility of getting her onto an equatorial mount.

I think the biggest part of why Big Bertha is so heavy is that the people that built her put a far heavier wooden structure around the tube than was really needed. I don't see how the tube, mirror, secondary mirror, holder, focuser, and finder weigh more than 120 pounds--and yet I am pretty sure that with this massive wooden box around the tube, which carries the altitude bearings, it may be closer to 200 pounds.

One possibility is to replace the existing Sonotube (which is delaminating because of many years of less than perfectly dry storage, before I received it). Sonotube that diameter is not hideously expensive, and surprisingly light. The 20" diameter Sonotube (the right size for Big Bertha) is only four pounds/linear foot, and I think that I only need six feet of it. (The current tube is longer than it needs to be, I think.)

But it turns out that you can fiberglass the outside of Sonotube, and get a reasonably waterproof and probably more attractive finish than just painting the Sonotube directly. The instructions sound messy, and probably require warmer weather than we will see here until May. The fiberglass will also make the tube stiffer than Sonotube is alone--which is traditionally one of the problems with Sonotube--it tends to deform when you tighten down screws to it.

A stiffer tube might also allow use of lightening holes as well--knocking a few pounds off the total weight of the tube. There's probably a book that explains how many holes and of what size give you the greatest savings of weight without compromising stiffness.

The temptation is strong to ditch the existing base, and start from scratch on a Dobsonian mount (or perhaps something more exotic, such as a yoke mount). Still, a good starting point would be to reattach the existing altitude bearings to the new tube, perhaps attaching them to something that clamps to the tube, so that I don't have to drill any unsightly holes in the tube.

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.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Torture, Power Tools, And Machining

The faint of heart may want to skip this one--there's a picture of my finger, and an unpleasant quote from a history book about Japanese torture.

This is a weird posting--a mixture of political commentary and machining. I heard a news report about the increasing number of bodies that are being found around Baghdad that were not just kidnapped and murdered--they were tortured to death with power tools. For those who think that listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers is torture, or having a pretty woman touch you is torture, consider what torture really means. It means someone uses an electric drill. (And yes, I will concede that waterboarding is, to my mind, on the other side of the line that separates torture from aggressive interrogation techniques.)

This is a subject of concern to me because of a mishap a couple of weeks back with a power tool. The Sherline vertical mill and lathe that I have are very, very cute. Their motors are also so weak that as long as you don't do something really stupid, the chances of injuring yourself with either tool aren't enormous. I think I've managed to get one cut that bled from using these tools.

However, the floor drill press that I bought recently is another matter. It has enough power (one horsepower) that the same level of caution that works for the Sherline is insufficient for this bad boy. I was using an end mill in the drill press to produce a nicely finished edge on a piece of aluminum. The end mill had not come to a complete stop when I tried to knock some shavings off the edge of the aluminum. Ouch! It has been about two weeks now, and my finger has still not completely healed.

Torture as a method of extracting information has a long and not very reliable history; people will say almost anything to stop torture. Even aggressive interrogation techniques need to be focused on obtaining operational intelligence--not something that will be used in a court of law. If operational intelligence can be verified (hopefully, by preventing a terrorist action), it can be justified because of the lives saved. If the use of these techniques doesn't produce any lifesaving information, it serves no legitimate purpose.

The Stalinist show trials demonstrated the uselessness of torture as a technique for obtaining material for use in a criminal court. Defendants confessed to crimes that they could not possibly have done. At least partly, the Soviet government's goal on this was not just to extract confessions to justify executing Stalin's political opponents, but also to remind everyone in the country that:

1. We can make you say anything--you won't be strong enough to fight it.

2. We don't care that what defendants are confessing to is ridiculous. It doesn't matter to us that the confessions are completely unbelievable, because we aren't particularly concerned with what anyone thinks of us.

I can imagine a few truly horrifying circumstances where the use of torture might be rationally justifiable, and nearly all of them read like scenarios that might be used in an episode of 24: the ticking nuclear weapon, hidden in a big city, and you have someone that you know beyond any reasonable doubt, was involved in placing it.

These situations are few and far between, and as I have pointed out in the past, these are so rare that we should not institutionalize such practices. If one of these doomsday scenarios comes about, I'm sure that the security forces will use whatever techniques they deem appropriate to get the information that they need--and they will throw themselves on the mercy of the President for a pardon. If the scenario is truly that extreme, and the evidence establishing that the suspected terrorist has this information is truly convincing, I have no question that such a pardon would be granted. The prospect of it not happening, and the consequent punishment that came from it, should act as a restraint on any decent law enforcement officer. (The others, I'm afraid, aren't likely to be restrained by anything.)

But torture isn't just for extracting information. Much of the torture being done in Iraq right now by these death squads involves people who could not possibly have any useful information. Unfortunately, there are people who just like to inflict suffering. David Bergamini's Japan's Imperial Conspiracy pp. 679-80, describes tortures performed simply as part of training others in interrogation techniques:
A young Manchurian accused of being a Communist was then brought into the interrogation chamber which served as classroom and beaten up with fists. He was burned with cigarettes on cheeks, lips, and eyelids. A mixture of water and red pepper was poured down his nostrils to give him a taste of burning to death and drowning at the same time. He was hung up and whipped. Attendants burned pits into his privates with their cigarettes. A Japanese doctor of evident education and contempt for the proceedings entered the room bowing and smiling and resuscitated the victim with an injection. The young leftist's fingernails were torn out, then his toenails. Strips of flesh were cut from his body with a knife. His teeth were knocked out. Finally Instructor Kato, "using his favorite tool, the cigarette, methodically burned out his eyes."

"Then, thank God," wrote Oleg, "he died."
That injury above was a fraction of second glancing blow from a 3/8" diameter end mill--and boy did it hurt! I have learned, to paraphrase the instructions at Disneyland, "Keep your hands in your pockets until the ride has come to a complete stop."

The prospect of someone intentionally using a power tool to inflict pain fills me with rage. If the cut and run crowd of the Democratic Party gets their way, we will be granting control of Iraq to people who consider this not just a necessary evil to obtain information, but people who do this for fun. That is not acceptable.

Monday, September 25, 2006

High Rates of AIDS Among Catholic Priests?

Professor Rasmusen points to several interesting articles that suggest that the high rates of AIDS among Catholic priests--almost eleven times the rate of the general population--are because Catholic priests are disproportionately homosexual. Depending on which survey or expert you believe, somewhere between 25% and 45% of priests are homosexual or bisexual in orientation--and the very high rates of AIDS among priests are because large numbers of them are not celibate.

I'm sure that the problem of pedophilia (and heavily focused on boys, not girls) in the priesthood is just a coincidence.

UPDATE: One of my readers takes issue with this, pointing out that the DSM-IV definition of pedophilia is sex with prepubescent children, and most of the priestly molestation was of boys who had reached puberty:
-- An overwhelming majority of the victims, 81 percent, were males. The most vulnerable were boys aged 11 to 14, representing more than 40 percent of the victims. This goes against the trend in the general U.S. society where the main problem is men abusing girls.
-- A majority of the victims were post-pubescent adolescents with a small percentage of the priests accused of abusing children who had not reached puberty.
-- Most of the accused committed a variety of sex acts involving serious sexual offenses.

The law (as distinguished from the mental health profession) uses a less precise definition on this:
The focus of pedophilia is sexual activity with a child. Many courts interpret this reference to age to mean children under the age of 18. Most mental health professionals, however, confine the definition of pedophilia to sexual activity with prepubescent children, who are generally age 13 or younger. The term ephebophilia, derived from the Greek word for "youth," is sometimes used to describe sexual interest in young people in the first stages of puberty.
I have received more than a few emails from homosexuals condemning pedophilia--but drawing this same distinction about ephebophilia, and who refuse to see the pursuit of young teenagers as a problem. You can't wait for a child to reach 17 or 18 (depending on the state)?

My reader seems to think that calling these abusers pedophiles somehow distances them from homosexuality. No, I'm afraid it doesn't. Not every pedophile is a homosexual, and most homosexuals aren't pedophiles, but there is a sizeable overlap--hence NAMBLA's presence in gay pride parades without apparent opposition into the early 1990s.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Dark Star As Epistemology Teaching Aid

My wife and I are leading a Bible study right now concerning evolution, creation, Intelligent Design, and related issues. We are trying to give everyone enough of a grounding in these subjects to understand how evolutionary theory ended up in the driver's seat; the limitations of scientific theory; that there are a variety of different Christian perspectives (theistic evolutionists, such as Francis Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute), Old Earth Creationists (such as astrophysicist turned evangelist Dr. Hugh Ross), Young Earth Creationists, and biologists and biochemists who are Intelligent Design advocates.

We are also trying to get everyone to understand that when scientists reject supernatural explanations, it doesn't mean that they are denying the existence of God--they are arguing that you can't construct scientific theories (which are, after all, suppose to enable prediction of events) with an "M" for "miracle" in a formula.

The discussion will get more excited in the next few weeks, as we discuss the problems of translating yom, the Hebrew word that is usually rendered as "day" in translations of Genesis--but actually has quite a range of meanings, not just "twenty four hours."

Anyway, this evening, to get everyone thinking about epistemology--the study of how we know what we know--I showed the climatic sequence from Dark Star. If you've never seen this film--which was John Carpenter's directorial debut--you should. It was originally a 65 minute student film, and when you look at the special effects, it does show. But it is still screamingly funny--especially the sequence at the end, where one of the humans attempts to reason with a "smart bomb," raising doubts about how much we can trust our senses to arrive at truth. (Oh, and of course, it has the best country & western outer space song ever written. Okay, the only country & western outer space song ever written.)

Oh, and the smart bomb's eventual reaction leads me to Romans chapter 1:21-23:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Death Worshippers

A recurring difference between Islam and the West is that Islam worships death. If you think that I am painting with too broad a brush, consider this recent question of textbooks:
As if things weren't crazy enough already in the Middle East, here's the officially sanctioned message in sixth-grade Palestinian textbooks for 11- and 12-year-old kids: "The noble soul has two goals: death and the desire for it."

The goal isn't to build magnificent skyscrapers or write brilliant novels or to work on cures for the world's most lethal diseases. The noble goal for the noble soul is as simple as strapping on a dynamite belt and blowing oneself into a million pieces in an Israeli pizza shop.

The "death-and-the-desire-for-it" line is from a poem by Abd al-Rahim Mahmoud. Along with other writings that glorify child martyrs, the quote is included in "Our Beautiful Language," a standard text for sixth-graders after the Palestinian Liberation Organization took control over education in the Palestinian territories.

As officially stated, the underlying ethos of the Palestinian curriculum is "built on the principle of breeding the individual on the basis of serving society as a whole." Translated, that means breeding kids who believe suicide and murder are noble, who believe it's noble to create a society where the individual reaches his highest stage of development by extinguishing his own individualism, his own existence.

It's Jonestown, writ large, a cult of suicide for the collective, for Palestine. Israel isn't on the maps in the Palestinian textbooks.

Abdullah Qura'an, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, carried a 13-pound bomb in his school bag into a checkpoint near Hablus. He didn't die, because a cell phone rigged to set off the bomb didn't work. The unwitting youngster was told he was carrying car parts.

Shortly thereafter, a 16-year-old suicide bomber, Amar al-Far, outfitted for self-destruction by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, killed three people in an open-air food market in Tel Aviv.

Said the boy's mother: "Why did they choose my son? He was just a child. It's immoral to send someone so young. They should have sent an adult who understands the meaning of his deeds."

The boy's father told of his last encounter with his son: "I was asleep when Amar woke me up. He kissed me and asked for two shekels, 45 cents. He left the house and I went back to sleep."

A recent article in Rolling Stone, "The Unending Torture of Omar Khadr," tells the story of a 15-year-old captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan after he killed an American Special Forces soldier with a grenade.

"Born into a fundamentalist Muslim family in Toronto," Omar Khadr "had been prepared for jihad since he was a small boy," reports Jeff Tietz. "His parents, who were Egyptian and Palestinian, had raised him to believe that religious martyrdom was the highest achievement he could aspire to. In the Khadr family, suicide bombers were spoken of with great respect."
Unfortunately, it isn't just the willingness to die that makes this so dangerous; it is the willingness to kill innocents as part of this death worship cult that threatens the rest of the world.

What is just astonishing to me is how the left, and many liberals, just don't get it. They see George Bush as a greater danger than this crowd that wants women banned from learning to read; that doesn't just refuse to let homosexuals get married--it refuses to allow them to live; that makes the most traditional and conservative Christian denominations look like the ACLU with respect to the establishment clause.

Sam Harris is a flaming liberal and opponent of all religious beliefs. This recent column in the Los Angeles Times makes a pretty good case that liberals are attempting to commit civilizational suicide:
TWO YEARS AGO I published a book highly critical of religion, "The End of Faith." In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students — from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.

This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.

This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism.

Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years — especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world — specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world — for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.


At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;" 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.

I don't know how many more engineers and architects need to blow themselves up, fly planes into buildings or saw the heads off of journalists before this fantasy will dissipate. The truth is that there is every reason to believe that a terrifying number of the world's Muslims now view all political and moral questions in terms of their affiliation with Islam. This leads them to rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how sociopathic their behavior. This benighted religious solidarity may be the greatest problem facing civilization and yet it is regularly misconstrued, ignored or obfuscated by liberals.

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration — especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq — liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration's use of the phrase "Islamic fascism" are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise — Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists — but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

We are entering an age of unchecked nuclear proliferation and, it seems likely, nuclear terrorism. There is, therefore, no future in which aspiring martyrs will make good neighbors for us. Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.
There's a lot in this column with which I disagree. He refers to "members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies." While I've met more than a few people over the years whose "end times" beliefs were used to justify all sorts of bizarre and ridiculous positions, this enthusiasm seems to have subsided--at least among Christians that I know. (Some of this was because Hal Lindsey's many books on "end times" turned out to be considerably less prophetic than he thought.)

It is a rather strange situation where leftists and many liberals, who should have the most to worry about from the increasing dominance of a fiercely homophobic, male chauvinist, anti-freedom of expression, and religiously intolerant worldview, are clearly more afraid of George Bush and Dick Cheney than they are of our common enemy.