Sometimes I complain about the earthly weather, but mostly I like to post about astronomy and space events. Hope you enjoy the articles.
By: Susie77, 12:57 AM GMT on August 01, 2008
I suppose I've forgotten to mention how very very much I hate summer, heat, and humidity. My dream is to live in Alaska.... maybe in my next life!
Tomorrow is Aug. 1, which in my realm is called Lammas. It is a pagan celebration of the first harvest. In the olden days, it was a festival of feasting, thanksgiving for the harvest, and a time to celebrate the fullness of summer with partying, eating, friendly encounters with those who are also friendly. It is a day when we might pause for a bit and be grateful that we live on this bountiful and beautiful planet. It is a day when we might stop for a bit and ponder our journey around the star which gives us life. Me... I plan to go outside before I leave for work and touch my gardens and give a small internal thanks for for my life, and for theirs too.
Blessed Lammas to all of you.
By: Susie77, 12:37 AM GMT on July 24, 2008
You guys down Texas and Mexico way stay safe now, ya hear?
By: Susie77, 1:04 AM GMT on July 23, 2008
(just kidding -- but the Perseids ARE on their way!)
The 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower
July 22, 2008: Mark your calendar: The 2008 Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th and it should be a good show.
"The time to look is during the dark hours before dawn on Tuesday, August 12th," says Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center. "There should be plenty of meteors--perhaps one or two every minute."
The source of the shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is far away, currently located beyond the orbit of Uranus, a trail of debris from the comet stretches all the way back to Earth. Crossing the trail in August, Earth will be pelted by specks of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at 132,000 mph. At that speed, even a flimsy speck of dust makes a vivid streak of light when it disintegrates--a meteor! Because, Swift-Tuttle's meteors streak out of the constellation Perseus, they are called "Perseids."
(Note: In the narrative that follows, all times are local. For instance, 9:00 pm means 9:00 pm in your time zone, where you live. )
Serious meteor hunters will begin their watch early, on Monday evening, August 11th, around 9 pm when Perseus first rises in the northeast. This is the time to look for Perseid Earthgrazers--meteors that approach from the horizon and skim the atmosphere overhead like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond.
"Earthgrazers are long, slow and colorful; they are among the most beautiful of meteors," says Cooke. He cautions that an hour of watching may net only a few of these at most, but seeing even one can make the whole night worthwhile.
A warm summer night. Bright meteors skipping overhead. And the peak is yet to come. What could be better?
The answer lies halfway up the southern sky: Jupiter and the gibbous Moon converge on August 11th and 12th for a close encounter in the constellation Sagittarius: sky map. It's a grand sight visible even from light-polluted cities.
For a while the beautiful Moon will interfere with the Perseids, lunar glare wiping out all but the brightest meteors. Yin-yang. The situation reverses itself at 2 am on Tuesday morning, August 12th, when the Moon sets and leaves behind a dark sky for the Perseids. The shower will surge into the darkness, peppering the sky with dozens and perhaps hundreds of meteors until dawn.
Above: The eastern sky viewed during the hours before sunrise on Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2008.
For maximum effect, "get away from city lights," Cooke advises. The brightest Perseids can be seen from cities, he allows, but the greater flurry of faint, delicate meteors is visible only from the countryside. (Scouts, this is a good time to go camping.)
The Perseids are coming. Enjoy the show!
By: Susie77, 10:15 PM GMT on July 20, 2008
Thermo-meter outside in the shade on the deck sez it is 99 degrees. Despite the abundant rainfall we've received so far this year, even the well-nourished tree leaves are drooping in the heat. I did my garden chores at 8a, when it was already 82 in the shade. Harvested some herbs, dug some new potatoes for supper, gave everyone a good drink, including the birds.
So how do you all amuse yourselves on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in July? Please remember that this is a family-rated blog. ;-)
By: Susie77, 1:29 AM GMT on July 10, 2008
[Blog owner's comment: "Hey kids, did you know that thunder is caused by Thor throwing spears around Valhalla?"]
New legal threat to school science in the US
09 July 2008
BARBARA FORREST knew the odds were stacked against her. "They had 50 or 60 people in the room," she says. Her opponents included lobbyists, church leaders and a crowd of home-schooled children. "They were wearing stickers, clapping, cheering and standing in the aisles." Those on Forrest's side numbered less than a dozen, including two professors from Louisiana State University, representatives from the Louisiana Association of Educators and campaigners for the continued separation of church and state.
That was on 21 May, when Forrest testified in the Louisiana state legislature on the dangers hidden in the state's proposed Science Education Act. She had spent weeks trying to muster opposition to the bill on the grounds that it would allow teachers and school boards across the state to present non-scientific alternatives to evolution, including ideas related to intelligent design (ID) - the proposition that life is too complicated to have arisen without the help of a supernatural agent.
The act is designed to slip ID in "through the back door", says Forrest, who is a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert in the history of creationism. She adds that the bill's language, which names evolution along with global warming, the origins of life and human cloning as worthy of "open and objective discussion", is an attempt to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial.
Forrest's testimony notwithstanding, the bill was passed by the state's legislature - by a majority of 94 to 3 in the House and by unanimous vote in the Senate. On 28 June, Louisiana's Republican governor, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, signed the bill into law. The development has national implications, not least because Jindal is rumoured to be on Senator John McCain's shortlist as a potential running mate in his bid for the presidency.
Born in 1971 to parents recently arrived from India, Jindal is a convert to Roman Catholicism and a Rhodes scholar - hardly the profile of a typical Bible-belt politician. Yet in a recent national television appearance he voiced approval for the teaching of ID alongside evolution. He also enjoys a close relationship with the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a lobbying group for the religious right whose mission statement includes "presenting biblical principles" in "centers of influence". It was the LFF which set the bill in motion earlier this year.
"We believe that to teach young people critical thinking skills you have to give them both sides of an issue," says Gene Mills, executive director of the LFF. When asked whether the new law fits with the organisation's religious agenda, Mills told New Scientist: "Certainly it's an extension of it."
The new legislation is the latest manoeuvre in a long-running war to challenge the validity of Darwinian evolution as an accepted scientific fact in American classrooms. Forrest played a pivotal role in the previous battle. It came to a head at a trial in 2005 when US district judge John E. Jones ruled against the Dover area school board in Pennsylvania, whose members had voted that students in high-school biology classes should be encouraged to explore alternatives to evolution and directed to textbooks on ID.
The Dover trial, during which Forrest presented evidence that ID was old-fashioned creationism by another name (New Scientist, 29 October 2005, p 6), revolved around the question of whether ID was science or religion. Jones determined it was the latter, and ruled in favour of the parents who challenged the Dover board on the basis of the provision for separation of church and state in the US constitution.
The strategy being employed in Louisiana by proponents of ID - including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute - is more subtle and potentially more difficult to challenge. Instead of trying to prove that ID is science, they have sought to bestow on teachers the right to introduce non-scientific alternatives to evolution under the banner of "academic freedom".
"Academic freedom is a great thing," says Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, California. "But if you look at the American Association of University Professors' definition of academic freedom, it refers to the ability to do research and publish." This, he points out, is different to the job high-school teachers are supposed to do. "In high school, you're teaching mainstream science so students can go on to college or medical school, where you need that freedom to explore cutting-edge ideas. To apply 'academic freedom' to high school is a misuse of the term."
"It's very slick," says Forrest. "The religious right has co-opted the terminology of the progressive left... They know that phrase appeals to people."
The new usage began to permeate public consciousness earlier this year with the release of the documentary film Expelled: No intelligence allowed. Starring actor, game-show host and former Nixon speech-writer Ben Stein, the film argues that academic freedom is under attack in the US from atheist "Darwinists". The film's promoters teamed up with the Discovery Institute to set up the Academic Freedom Petition. Their website provides a "model academic freedom statute on evolution" to serve as a template for sympathetic legislators.
So far, representatives from six states have taken up the idea. In Florida, Missouri, South Carolina and Alabama, bills were introduced but failed. An academic freedom bill now in committee in Michigan is expected to stall there.
Louisiana is another story. A hub of creationist activism since the early 1980s, it was Louisiana that enacted the Balanced Treatment Act, which required that creationism be taught alongside evolution in schools. In a landmark 1987 case known as Edwards vs Aguillard, the US Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, effectively closing the door on teaching "creation science" in public schools. ID was invented soon afterwards as a way of proffering creationist concepts without specific reference to God.
In 2006, the year following the Dover ruling, the Ouachita parish school board in northern Louisiana quietly initiated a new tactic, unanimously approving a science curriculum policy that stated: "Teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught." The idea that evolution has weaknesses, and is therefore not a solid scientific theory, is a recurring theme in ID-related literature. Not long afterwards, the assistant superintendent of the Ouachita parish school system, Frank Hoffman, was elected to the state House of Representatives and joined the House education committee. "I knew then that something was going to happen," says Forrest.
When Jindal was elected governor last year, the stage was set. The LFF approached Ben Nevers, a state senator, who agreed to introduce the Louisiana Academic Freedom Act on their behalf. "They believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory," Nevers told the Hammond Daily Star in April. The bill was later amended and renamed the Louisiana Science Education Act. Its final version includes a statement that the law should not be taken as promoting religion.
That way, those who wish to challenge Darwinian evolution have "plausible deniability" that this is intended to teach something unconstitutional, says Eric Rothschild of the Philadelphia-based law firm Pepper Hamilton, which represented the parents at the Dover trial. "They are better camouflaged now."
Supporters of the new law clearly hope that teachers and administrators who wish to raise alternatives to evolution in science classes will feel protected if they do so. The law expressly permits the use of "supplemental" classroom materials in addition to state-approved textbooks. The LFF is now promoting the use of online "add-ons" that put a creationist spin on the contents of various science texts in use across the state, and the Discovery Institute has recently produced Explore Evolution, a glossy text that offers the standard ID critiques of evolution (see "The evolution of creationist literature"). Unlike its predecessor Of Pandas and People, which fared badly during the Dover trial, it does not use the term "intelligent design".
Because the law allows individual boards and teachers to make additions to the science curriculum without clearance from a state authority, the responsibility will lie with parents to mount a legal challenge to anything that appears to be an infringement of the separation of church and state. "In Dover, there were parents and teachers willing to step forward and say, this is not OK," says Rosenau. "But here we're seeing that people are either fine with it or they don't want to say anything because they don't want to be ostracised in their community."
Even if a trial ensues, a victory by the plaintiffs will only mean that some specific supplementary material is ruled unconstitutional - not the law itself. Separate lawsuits will be needed to address each piece of suspicious supplementary material. "This encourages a lot of local brush fires that you have to deal with individually and that makes it very difficult," says Forrest. "This is done intentionally, to get this down to the local level. It's going to be very difficult to even know what's going on."
Ultimately, if a number of suits are successfully tried, a group like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) could take the law itself to court, citing various cases in which it was used to bring religious material into the classroom. Representatives from the ACLU and from Americans United for Separation of Church and State have already told Louisiana state officials that lawsuits will follow if the law is used for religious ends.
In the meantime, Forrest is working to inform teachers about the supplementary materials being made available. "The pressing need for the coming school year is to get the word out for what teachers need to be on alert for," she says.
As to a future Dover-style trial, this time on Forrest's home turf, "I'll be right there," she says, though it's not a prospect she relishes. "I'd like to think I won't have to do this for the rest of my life. Because believe me, I don't do it for fun. It's a duty."
By: Susie77, 1:48 AM GMT on July 04, 2008
Hi gang. I was able to snap a few photos on the way home tonight. Highway 79 reopened yesterday after being closed since Saturday 28 June, after our last levee failed. I posted them (not too many, and my camera is crappy so be forewarned!) in my photos section here on WU. I deliberately did not take pictures of folks' homes. What you see through my camera lens is the river up close and very personal. From the vantage point where I took them, the river is normally three miles away. If you look closely at the horizon, you will see the bluffs on the Illinois side.
This wasn't a dramatic CNN-type flood, although those news guys were on the scene before the last levee failed. Our little town is a pretty quiet and boring place along the Great River Road, which runs along the Mississipi River. We got the world's attention for our 15 minutes of fame, last week. We also got the help of the National Guard, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and a host of unnamed awesome folks who came up here to help us out.
Thank you, all of you. You left after the last levee broke so we never got to throw you a Fourth of July BBQ. We didn't get to hug you good-bye. We'll always remember the Great Flood of '08 though... because you came when we needed you. Thank you.