Thursday, January 31, 2013

I’m either too busy to blog or just mesmerized by this video

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I’m busy with personal matters these days – who knew helping someone move in blizzardy mid-January Québec all day while clad in a stupidly thin excuse for a coat would be cause for a tough time? – so have this awesomely gorgeous video of the slowly rising Moon in real-time instead:

Meanwhile, Phil Plait just couldn’t resist spoiling (or heightening?) the mood with some complementary science.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Daily Blend: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

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Asset forfeiture: Uncle Sam “I Want Your money, jewelry, car, boat and house.” poster
[full size (584×764)]
  • Good: Federal judge stops DEA’s attempt to seize a rural Massachusetts motel after a few guests there committed crimes without the motel owner’s knowledge. [pictured]
    (via Uzza)

  • PZ Myers handily dismantles the tired anti-abortionist claim that science proves that personhood begins at conception.

  • Meanwhile, the anti-abortion fetal “heartbeat bill” makes it to Arkansas.

  • Creeping Creationism in Missouri.

  • Ray Comfort: Surgeons can’t reconstruct chimp attack victim’s face, ergo, Evolution is dummy-dumb-dumb.

  • I’m 96% humanist! Take that, 2009 Humanist of the Year PZ Myers and your paltry 90%!

  • And finally, here’s a bunch of Christians I could have a drink with (if I drank):
    (via Joe. My. God.)

    Wantagh, NY Memorial Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) sign: “LIVE SO FULLY THAT WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH WILL PICKET YOUR FUNERAL”
  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Study: Abortions more common (and dangerous) when outlawed

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    Abortion: My Mind, My Body, My Choice

    This is a year old, but still relevant as ever. A joint study by the Guttmacher Institute (Planned Parenthood’s research arm) and the World Health Organization reaffirms the obvious: Not only do anti-abortion regulations do nothing to reduce the number of women who terminate unwanted pregnancies anyway, but it actually results in more abortions taking place around the world when more women become pregnant due to a lack of access to birth control:

    Abortion rates are highest where the procedure is illegal, according to a new study. The study also found nearly half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe, with the vast majority of unsafe abortions occurring in developing countries.

    As for the overall global abortion rate, it remained virtually unchanged from 2003 to 2008, at about 28 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 4 - a total of about 43.8 million abortions - the study found. The rate had previously been dropping since 1995.

    The new global abortion study - that's published in the Jan. 19 issue of The Lancet - is from the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization. Researchers found a link between higher abortion rates and regions with more restrictive legislation, such as in Latin America and Africa. They also found that 95 to 97 percent of abortions in those regions were unsafe.

    Experts couldn't say whether more liberal laws led to fewer procedures, but said good access to birth control in those countries resulted in fewer unwanted pregnancies.

    Unsafe abortions are responsible for about 47,000 needless deaths every year, according to 2008 estimates. But of course, that’s not something the “pro-life” camp really worries about, given how its opposition to reproductive freedom is primarily (if not entirely) rooted in controlling and punishing women for possessing sexual agency.

    That’s why anti-abortion arguments inevitably fall apart under a minimum of scrutiny. If they actually cared about either women or their fetishized fetuses, their first priority would be to crack down on unwanted pregnancies – which is done by providing easier access to birth control. Y’know, since that’s kinda what contraception’s all about. The fact that they instead fight tooth and nail against birth control is just fundamentally revealing about where their true priorities lie.

    (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

    DEA wants to illegally snoop in private medical records

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    Government surveillance (U.S. flag with eye)

    Never content with its current laundry list of privacy violations in its zeal to prevent the next great (imaginary) drug craze, the DEA is now trying to get permission to snoop around in private patient medical records without a warrant. Cue the ACLU:

    The Drug Enforcement Administration is trying to access private prescription records of patients in Oregon without a warrant, despite a state law forbidding it from doing so. The ACLU and its Oregon affiliate are challenging this practice in a new case that raises the question of whether the Fourth Amendment allows federal law enforcement agents to obtain confidential prescription records without a judge’s prior approval. It should not.


    In 2009, the Oregon legislature created the Oregon Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), which tracks prescriptions for certain drugs dispensed by Oregon pharmacies […]. The program was intended to help physicians prevent drug overdoses by their patients and more easily recognize signs of drug abuse. Because the medical information revealed by these prescription records is highly sensitive, the legislature created robust privacy and security protections for the PDMP, including a requirement that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before requesting records for use in an investigation. But despite those protections, the DEA has been requesting prescription records from the PDMP using administrative subpoenas which, unlike warrants, do not involve demonstrating probable cause to a neutral judge.

    Probable cause? Constitutionally-mandated due process? Never heard of it.

    (via @radleybalko)

    Homophobes present the argument from shotgun weddings

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    Same-sex marriage

    Whenever you think same-sex marriage opponents can’t possibly make bigger fools of themselves:

    Marriage should be limited to unions of a man and a woman because they alone can "produce unplanned and unintended offspring," opponents of gay marriage have told the Supreme Court.

    By contrast, when same-sex couples decide to have children, "substantial advance planning is required," said Paul D. Clement, a lawyer for House Republicans.

    Lawyers defending California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act want the high court to decide it is reasonable for the law to recognize only marriages between opposite-sex couples.

    So in their world, the fact that gay couples put thought and effort into family planning is why they shouldn’t be allowed to marry, whereas accidents are a good excuse for being forced into matrimony.

    One can only hope the justices aren’t as completely ass-backwards as these people are.

    (via The Words on What…)

    Saturday, January 26, 2013

    Fox News outraged when liberals use Nazi analogies (like Fox News)

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    You may remember how Jon Stewart took the leaping mickey out of Fox News two years ago when Megyn Kelly actually tried to pretend that the channel never compares its ideological opponents to Nazis & co. Well, it seems the sad clowns posing as journalists there are confused again, as CBS’s Bob Schieffer made a loose (but still inappropriate) analogy between the Third Reich and the gun lobby and they’re now busy denying they ever use such rhetoric at all and trying to climb up on their high horse:

    Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

    TITLE: Fox News Can't Decide If It's OK To Call Someone Hitler (January 2013)

    KIRSTEN POWERS: Speaking of Nazis, a lot of people – these gun rights people think that Obama’s like the next Hitler and they need to have their guns to protect themselves from this tyranny.

    MARINE CPL. JOSHUA BOSTON: It’s something we’ve seen happen time and time again in history, with Stalin, happened in Cambodia, and then, of course, the Third Reich. No-one saw that coming until it was too late.

    MAN #1: In Nazi Germany, they had a propaganda magazine called Der Stürmer. They had an article that they titled “The Jew Next Door”. The Journal News, their article was titled “The Gun Owner Next Door”.

    SEAN HANNITY: You mean that happens? Governments actually become tyrannical, historically?

    FOX ANCHOR #1: Of course, we’ve seen this: Germany, Italy, Japan. Yes, we’ve seen it.

    MAN #1: These are scary times.

    LARS LARSON: Everybody in America who owns one of the guns on the list will be required to go in and give up fingerprints, mug shot, and be entered into a database. It’s be “your papers, please” like Nazi Germany.

    STEVE KAUFMAN: I mean, you go back to the 1930s with Hitler, he did the same thing.

    HANNITY: Isn’t that what a lot – you don’t talk a lot about – what were the intentions of our founders and framers? We have Stalin, we have Hitler, we have countries, tyrannical, they talk a lot about that, and so people say, if you mention that in this day and age, that’s extreme.

    HANNITY: The mainstream media is doing their part to smear gun owners as they are now likening NRA members to Nazi.

    HANNITY: Our friend, Bob Schieffer – and by the way, I don’t mind that Bob has an opinion, but he can’t on the one end be a journalist and – it just gets complicated, but he’s now comparing the gun lobby to defeating the Nazis.

    CBS’S BOB SCHIEFFER: Surely, passing civil rights legislation, as Lyndon Johnson was able to do, and before that, surely defeating the Nazis, was a much more formidable task than taking on the gun lobby.

    RUSH LIMBAUGH: In other words, taking on the NRA is the equivalent of taking on Adolf Hitler.

    BRENT BOZELL: And there, in the same sentence as ‘Nazis’. This should be insulting.

    ERIC BOLLING: What is the liberal media doing instead of “fair and balanced” reporting? Guys like Bob Schieffer are running around comparing the NRA to Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler.

    MSNBC’S MARTIN BASHIR: If anyone deserves to be equated with Hitler on the issue of firearms, then it’s not the President, it’s the NRA.

    LIMBAUGH: Now, is there room for that in our discourse? Why is that not an example of just over-the-top defamation?

    HANNITY: By the way, conservatives use the word ‘Hitler’, and there’s a total liberal, Left meltdown like Alka-Seltzer in water. Left does it, it’s fine.

    FOX ANCHOR #2: Think of if conservatives used that language to describe liberals on the same policy, then there would be collective outrage on the front page of the papers and demands for people to resign and apologize.

    JIM PINKERTON: He’s given himself a little bit of wiggle room, Bob Schieffer, just a little bit of wiggle room. “Oh, I didn’t exactly compare the NRA to the Nazis; I sort of threw ’em in the same pot and let the people on[sic] the audience sort it out.”

    FOX GUEST #1: There’s clearly an inference that the NRA is the equivalent of the Nazis, and I do think it raised questions about whether or not he was just a little bit too opinionated.

    PINKERTON: George Orwell, back in 1946, in the famous essay, said, “The word ‘fascism’ should only be used for people who – Hitler, Mussolini, so on, and not just thrown around all the time.” That was 1946. Seventy years later, we’re still doing it as much as ever.

    FOX ANCHOR #2: We should take Hitler and Nazis off the table and our – if they really wanna have a dialogue, as Robert Redford said, then let’s just stop – can we just, like, take [?] off the table.

    FOX ANCHOR #3: Why bring that into the comparison? I mean, it was clearly –

    FOX GUEST #2: Well, first of all, never bring up Nazis. Like, that’s the big mistake. Never.

    Fox isn’t angry at liberals for using such rhetoric because it’s wrong, but because they’re worried about patent infringement.

    (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

    Doggycide round-up: 01/26/13

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    Dusty the chocolate labrador
  • Raleigh, NC (unknown): Cop shoots & injures Dusty the brown labrador [pictured] for allegedly approaching him while “barking and growling in an aggressive manner”. Owner denies dog would have behaved threateningly.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Freeport, Grand Bahama (01/15/13): Grace Megan the pitbull mix escapes her fenced yard, gets shot after allegedly attacking police, dies two days later.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Boston, MA (01/19/13): Police investigate call about man with gun, shoot & kill “unleashed pitbull” that “aggressively pursued them”, allegedly injuring two officers.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Philadelphia, PA (01/23/13): Cops arresting suspected murderer also shoot & kill family’s boxer after it allegedly charged them.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Statistics:
    Shootings: 4
    Victims: 4
    Deceased: 3 (75%)
    Survivors: 1 (25%)
    Pitbull index: 2 (50%)

    Thursday, January 24, 2013

    Chart: The MRA worldview revealed

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    What’s the one thing better than watching bigoted jackholes shoot themselves in the foot? Watching them do it without even realizing it – and bonus points if there’s a clear and revealing little graphic involved:

    Graphic: “Issues that affect a man's life in the 21st Century” (least to most important: Race, Marriage, Porn, Sports/Video Games, Avoiding a false-rape accusation, Intellectual Achievement, Custody of his children, Not being divorce raped, Making money (and keeping it), Getting Laid)

    David Futrelle dubs it a “terrible chart”. Here, I must honestly disagree; this is a terrific chart in how it plainly (and quite accurately) lays out just where these sickly little creatures’ priorities lie. I recommending sharing this far and wide, if only to further disillusion any remaining fence-sitters about the real, modern-day connotations of the so-called Men’s Rights Movement.

    New Mexico Republican wants to criminalize rape abortions

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    Representative Cathrynn N. Brown (Republican, New Mexico)
    Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-NM)

    The only thing Republicans seem to love more than posturing about rape babies is using them as an excuse to strip away disenfranchised women’s right to bodily autonomy:

    A Republican lawmaker in New Mexico introduced a bill on Wednesday that would legally require victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term in order to use the fetus as evidence for a sexual assault trial.

    House Bill 206, introduced by state Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R), would charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy with a third-degree felony for "tampering with evidence."

    “Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime," the bill says.

    Third-degree felonies in New Mexico carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

    It’s also intended as yet another penalty against sex offenders:

    Brown said in a statement Thursday that she introduced the bill with the goal of punishing the person who commits incest or rape and then procures or facilitates an abortion to destroy the evidence of the crime.

    “New Mexico needs to strengthen its laws to deter sex offenders,” said Brown. “By adding this law in New Mexico, we can help to protect women across our state.”

    Imagine the repercussions if it were made law that a legislator must first present compelling evidence that a certain offense is actually taking place in the real world (as opposed to within the confines of their fevered authoritarian mind) before they were allowed to present harsher restrictions on the rights of the supposed victims under the guise of “protecting” them.

    Wouldn’t that be something?

    (via @BuzzFeedAndrew)

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

    Daily Blend: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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    D.A.D.T.: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
  • An important reminder that repealing DADT [pictured] doesn’t mean full equality until DOMA is also gone.
    (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

  • Catholic Church: Fetuses are people, except when it’s legally expedient that they aren’t.

  • Latest from Arizona wingnuts: High school students shouldn’t be allowed to graduate until they swear their loyalty to the U.S. Constitution.
    (via @radleybalko)

  • And finally, another victory for free speech: Federal appeals court nixes Indiana law banning sex offenders from Facebook.
    (via @BreakingNews)

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Leak: U.S. Military to remove remaining gender segregation

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    Leon Panetta (U.S. Secretary of Defense)
    SecDef Leon Panetta

    Just about a year since the Pentagon opened up more Military positions for female soldiers, a surprise announcement leaves yet another level of government segregation undone:

    Senior defense officials say Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is removing the military's ban on women serving in combat, opening hundreds of thousands of front-line positions and potentially elite commando jobs after more than a decade at war.

    The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

    A senior military official says the services will develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year. Assessments for others, such as special operations forces, including Navy SEALS and the Army's Delta Force, may take longer.


    Panetta's move expands the Pentagon's action nearly a year ago to open about 14,500 combat positions to women, nearly all of them in the Army. This decision could open more than 230,000 jobs, many in Army and Marine infantry units, to women.

    Almost as satisfying as watching one of the last remaining barriers collapse is hearing the wonderful apoplectic spluttering from the usual cranks. Oh, the fun of being on the right side of history.

    (via @BreakingNews)

    Film expert: Why Moon landing hoax would’ve been impossible

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    There’s nothing like a good debunking to start off your day (or evening, as it were). Here’s filmmaker S.G. Collins explaining exactly how and why it would’ve been impossible – or just ludicrously implausible, to be precise – for NASA to fake the 1969 Moon landing with the technology of the day:

    Transcript: (click the [+/-] to open/close →) []

    S.G. COLLINS: This is why the moon hoax would’ve been impossible. Take one.


    S.G. COLLINS: Did people go to the Moon in 1969? I’m not totally sure. I wasn’t on the Moon then.

    Did they fake going to the Moon? No, I’m pretty sure they didn’t, because they couldn’t.

    Some people say that in 1969, people were incapable of sending a man to the Moon, but that they were capable of staging the whole thing in a TV studio. In fact, the opposite is true. By the late 1960s, they did have the technical ability – not to mention the requisite madness – to send three guys to the Moon and back. But they did not have the technology to fake it on video.

    Now, please understand: I’m not saying this to defend the honor of the United States. The U.S. Government lies all the time about all kinds of things, and if they haven’t lied to you today, maybe they haven’t had coffee yet.

    So, it’s easy to believe the Apollo program was a lie, too, especially if you weren’t alive then and if you don’t know much about the technology profiles of the day. You see, the later you were born, the more “all-powerful” movie magic seems. Nowadays, it would be very easy to fake a Moon landing and we seem to have forgotten how to do it for real. Back then, it was the other way around. Really.

    CAPTION: The apparent omnipotence of special visual effects increases linearly with your date of birth.

    S.G. COLLINS: Ever since the 1920s, engineers were trying to improve liquid-fueled rockets and their guidance systems. They wanted to go to outer space; the people who were paying for it wanted better bombs. By 1943, Wernher von Braun’s people already had a fully functional rocket called the [?], later known as the V-2. After the war, the German rocket scientists went to work for two rival superpowers, who then went to insane lengths to outdo each other on the world stage. It was a global dick-wagging contest on a scale never before seen in human history. It’s fair to say that technology growth in the Cold War was mostly a competition in aerospace, rocketry and weapons science. That was the kind of engineering that people strove to excel in. And by the mid-’60s, limited space travel was a possibility, I think.

    Meanwhile, film technology had gotten wider and television was still busy trying to be in color.

    Now, here’s where the stories diverge. In one version, the Americans waste $20 billion to send three guys to the Moon, plant the plaque that says, “WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND,” and then go home to bomb Cambodia. In the more tantalizing version, NASA at some point realizes they just can’t. So, to avoid humiliation, they hire Stanley Kubrick to produce and direct a Moon landing telecast. You know, he did such a great job with 2001 (A Space Odyssey).

    Years later, once the Apollo astronauts are starting to collect Medicare, some people get a lot of attention by pointing out flaws in the photographic evidence for Apollo. When you listen to them, they seem not to know very much about photography, or video, or lighting, or even perspective, and I think they’re hoping you don’t, either.

    So, we should’ve seen stars in the sky? No, we shouldn’t. The camera was set to expose for broad daylight. If they were exposing for stars, then this picture would’ve looked more like this: [intensely overexposed Moon landing photo with visible stars in sky]

    Hmm. Flag’s waving in the breeze? No, it isn’t. It’s wriggling in the vacuum after they let it go.

    The shadows diverge unrealistically across the landscape? No, they don’t. Go outside sometime and see how shadows work.

    They obviously used multiple light sources in this picture, right? No, they obviously didn’t. I’ve been shooting in a studio for about 30 years now. I know what to look for. When you shine two lights at something, you get two shadows. So this [photo of astronaut on the Moon with one shadow] would’ve looked more like this: [same photo altered with faint second shadow] But it doesn’t, ’cause this stuff was shot with a single light source. And if that light was anywhere near the action, you would’ve seen a fall-off in brightness across the terrain. You don’t, because the light source was 150 million kilometers away, too far away for the inverse square law to make a difference. Get it?

    Etc., etc., blah blah blah.

    The thing is, all these discussions are ignoring one simple point: In 1969, it was not yet possible technically to fake what we saw on TV. Why are people missing this? I think maybe they forget how primitive video was in 1969. I mean, it was an amazing achievement in electronics, but there was a lot they couldn’t do. Let me try to explain that.


    S.G. COLLINS: The pivotal claim for the Apollo hoax theory, without which it all falls apart, is that what we saw on TV was slow-motion footage of astronauts running around in a film studio. ’Cause if it wasn’t slow motion, it couldn’t have happened on Earth, right?

    Let’s talk about how slow motion works in film and video. There are two ways to make motion slow. One is you shoot it at normal speed and play it back slow, and the other is you shoot it fast and play it back normal. The second way is called overcranking. It looks smoother and more realistic because we’re sampling natural motion at a higher framerate.

    But that means we would’ve had to shoot it on film using high-speed film cameras, right? Why? Because in 1969, there were no high-speed video cameras yet. The electronics just weren’t there.

    Some people did have magnetic disc recorders that could capture normal-speed video and play it back slow. [Caption: Ampex HS-100 magnetic disc recorder] They used it for sports replays and could record up to 30 seconds. Play back at 10 FPS and you got a whopping 90 seconds of slow-mo.

    I’m sticking with 10 frames per second because that was the video framerate for Apollo 11. They had a non-interlaced slow-scan TV camera specially made for them by Westinghouse. All the later missions were using regular NTSC cameras running at 29.97 FPS. That would be three times harder to fake. I’m trying to make this easy.

    Keep in mind that when people today watch documentaries about the Apollo missions, they’re looking at the highlights. They’re looking at short clips cut together. And short clips are much easier to fake. But in July 1969, 600 million people, including me, were all staring at a continuous lunar telecast that went on for a long time. It was actually pretty boring sometimes. At 16 minutes into the EVA, they turned on the video camera. Four minutes later, you get your “one small step” frame, then Aldrin climbs out and they move the camera onto a tripod and proceed to do all their Moon-walking, flag-planting, photo-snapping and rock-picking. Then, Armstrong climbs back up into the lander and it’s over, by which time the video camera has been running for 143 minutes.

    So, if we’re faking this with electronic slow-mo at 1/3 speed, we only need to record about 47 minutes of continuous live action video. Well, that’s a lot more than that Ampex disc recorder could hold. But NASA is special. Maybe they have a big disc recorder, right, in 1969. Okay, how much bigger? 95 times bigger? I don’t know, man. I mean, government agencies are powerful, but they’re not God.

    Then again, they are NASA. Maybe they did have some special way to overcrank video in 1969 for an hour and a half. Maybe they had some top-secret high-speed electronics that the rest of the world never knew about. [Caption: Are they omnipotent or aren't they?]

    Oh, wait a minute. No, you guys said that the navigation computers were too slow. I guess we can’t have it both ways. I mean, you can’t be fast and slow at the same time, right?

    Wouldn’t it be easier to shoot this on film? I mean, in 1969, we already knew how to overcrank film. For Apollo 11, we only need to shoot 30 FPS and play it back at 10. Okay, let’s try that. I’d recommend you shoot on 35 mm to minimize the film grain. That’s what Kubrick would’ve done. Now, let’s see. Normal 35 mm runs at 90 feet per minute, but since we’re shooting at 30 FPS, it’ll be 112,5 feet per minute. We need 47 minutes of original film, so that’s about 5,300 feet. And of course, there’s no such thing as a film magazine that big. (Volkswagen?) But, if you shoot thousand-foot loads (it’s about that big), then you can do it in five mags.

    Um … oh, wait, I can do this. You don’t want to see the splice marks where you put the reels together, ’cause then everybody would know it was a fake. And remember, we’re shooting for TV, so it’s 1:33 aspect ratio and not 1:85. So, that means you have to do A & B rolls. You have to cut the negative into A & B rolls and print them onto a 5,300-foot fine-grained interpositive, then cut an “answer print” in the film lab. And when you’re done, make sure everybody that works in the film lab dies mysteriously in a car crash.

    Now, you just need to find a custom-designed telecine that can transfer your 5,300-foot “answer print” to video at 10 frames per second, pin-registered, of course. How hard can that be?

    Of course, you need to be absolutely certain that in all that splicing and printing and transferring, none of the most common film artifacts have gotten onto your giant print: No base scratches, no emulsion flakes, no gate weave, no grain, and not one single fleck of dust, ’cause any one of those things will instantly betray that this is a hoax.

    Okay, so you do that, and then you do it again for five more lunar missions. Only, those later missions, you have to play back at 30 FPS, meaning you have to shoot at, like, 60 FPS. Twice the torque, twice as many splices to keep clean, twice as much of a chance that the film’s gonna break in the camera.

    You think maybe it would be easier to just go to the Moon?

    Hmm. I don’t really know if that’s possible. Like I said, I wasn’t on the Moon in 1969 and neither were you. I can tell you that in 1969, it was not possible technically to fake what we saw on TV. Sorry. Kubrick or no Kubrick.

    Why does any of this matter? Well, my concern is with the fate of knowing. Seeing the difference between what we can know and what you wish for. Because that’s what puts the sapiens in Homo sapiens. Without that, you’re just another Homo. [Note: Collins meant this strictly in the “non-sapient hominid” sense, and later apologized for any unintended offense caused in “some parts of the world” where people still think being gay is a bad thing. — JM]

    The urge to believe drives people to trade in part of their soul in exchange for the comfort of being a rebel. Okay … but that step from knowing that you’ve been lied to to believing that everything else is a lie is a big step. Once you’re forced to hypothesize whole new technologies to keep your conspiracy possible, then you’ve stepped over into the realm of magic. It demands a deep and abiding faith in things you can never know. It’s like you need to cling to your belief system with all your might against the overwhelming evidence of your own rational mind, and some people do.

    What’s dangerous about that is that it blinds you to the real conspiracies that authorities are perpetuating on you right now. As we speak. Things that are a lot more important than whether some guys went to the Moon. I’m not America, but if I were, I would much rather have you be questioning Apollo 11 and not questioning the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War, the financial industry bailouts, and the right to indefinite military detention without charge. Those things are real.

    Thank you for watching. Excellent, my cheque came from NASA …

    I would also refer viewers to the excellent MythBusters Moon landing special, which further confirms Collins’ arguments and also addresses claims about supposedly impossible luminosity and the shape of the astronauts’ footprints in lunar soil.

    And for those who question why it was possible to land on the Moon but not fake the video in 1969, consider that today, film technology has advanced to the point where we can present entire photo-realistic virtual worlds on the silver screen, yet our best answer to the common cold is to lay in bed and wait it out. Different scientific arenas simply don’t progress at the same rate, and it’s foolish to argue that our ability to accomplish one supposedly simple task but not another implies some hidden skullduggery. Then again, people who buy into such silly conspiracy theories generally aren’t the most rational sort to begin with.

    (via The Daily Grail)

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    Daily Blend: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

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    U.S. President Barack Obama (addressing the U.N.)
    Pres. Barack Obama

    The blogging vibe has forsaken me today, so here’s a quick link dump for y’all.

  • President Obama [pictured] enacts whistleblower protection law – then adds signing statement that he’ll ignore any protections that prevent him from targeting whistleblowers. You can’t make this shit up.

  • Creeping Creationism in Colorado.

  • Meanwhile, the ugly and pseudo-historical Creationist branch of racism contaminates Texas schools.

  • Oh, look, it’s a new report about the Catholic Church covering up clerical child abuse for Bill Donohue to splutter in denial about.
    (via Friendly Atheist)

  • Today’s argument against banning assault rifles*: There aren’t that many people being slaughtered by them, and besides, we already tried it once and it really didn’t work, so fuck it, amirite?
    (via The Agitator)

  • Proof that there is an Intelligent Designer, and that it’s totally wasted.
    (via @radleybalko)

  • And finally, random adorable photo time:
    (via @EmergencyPuppy)

    Puppy licking tiger cub’s face
  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    * Because the linguistic pedant in me refuses to use the term “assault weapons”.

    Sunday, January 20, 2013

    Daily Blend: Sunday, January 20, 2013

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    Phil “Bad Astronomer” Plait
    Phil Plait
  • Phil Plait [pictured] explains the many problems with education vouchers: They’re basically thinly veiled attempts at inflicting anti-science garbage upon impressionable young minds.

  • Isn’t it interesting how those who try to tarnish scientists’ credibility always end up destroying their own instead?
    (via @BadAstronomer)

  • Difference between Islamist extremists and anti-feminist cranks: The former throw acid in women’s faces, while the latter just joke about it. (To his quasi-credit, Conlon later apologized.)
    (via Pharyngula)

  • And finally, here’s why the Oxford comma isn’t all bad:
    (via @normative; RT: @radleybalko)

    “With the Oxford comma: we invited the strippers, jfk and stalin.” vs. “Without the Oxford comma: we invited the strippers, jfk and stalin.”
  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Penn. school officials nab 5-year-old bubble-blowing terrorizer

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    Pink bubble-gun
    Pictured: WMD

    Next thing you know, the Mount Carmel Area School District in Pennsylvania will be hiring its own counter-terrorism squad to crack down on threats like this:

    Talking with a friend about a pink toy bubble gun got a five-year-old kindergarten girl in the Mount Carmel Area School District labeled as a terrorist threat, according to an attorney.

    The incident occurred Jan. 10 while the girl was waiting in line for a school bus, said Robin Ficker, the Maryland lawyer retained by the girl's family. He would not identify the girl or her parents, but gave this version of events:

    Talking with a friend, the girl said something to the effect “I’m going to shoot you and I will shoot myself” in reference to the device that shoots out bubbles. The girl did not have the bubble gun with her and has never shot a real gun in her life, Ficker said.

    Elementary school officials learned of the conversation and questioned the girls the next day, Fickler said. He said the girl did not have a parent present during the 30 minutes of questioning.

    The result, he said, was that the student was labeled a "terrorist threat" and suspended for 10 days, Ficker said. The school also required her to be evaluated by a psychologist, Ficker said.

    Can we at least say those responsible saw the light by the end?

    Ficker, who said he was contacted because the mother had read he handled a similar case in Maryland, suggested she ask the principal to expunge the record. That did not happen, but her suspension was reduced to two school days, and the reason for it changed to being labeled as a threat to harm another student.

    Well, they saw twilight, anyway.

    You’ve really got to keep an eye on them, I suppose, those rascally young’uns and their bubble-guns. Scourge of unprotected eyeballs everywhere, they are.

    (via @iowahawkblog; RT: @radleybalko)

    Saturday, January 19, 2013

    Doggycide Round-Up: 01/19/13

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    Sadie (6yo Brittany spaniel)
    Sadie (RIP)
  • Maplewood, Missouri (12/31/12): Emmy the German shepherd-mix escapes from accidentally unsecured fenced backyard, gets shot by patrolling officer for “bark[ing] aggressively” and “charg[ing him] at full sprint” despite reportedly never leaving her property. Owner stuck with $1,000 vet bill and several “vicious dog” charges.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Fostoria, OH (12/31/12): Officer shoots & kills “loose pitbull” that “aggressively went after him”. No apparent witness testimonials.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Topeka, KS (01/02/13): Cops investigating a drive-by shooting shoot & kill an unidentified loose dog that allegedly “charged” them with no apparent consideration of non-lethal means.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Hampstead, NH (01/06/13): Gun-happy former cop shoots & kills neighbors’ dog, Sadie the Brittany spaniel [pictured], with a rifle for allegedly scaring his caged pet rabbits in his backyard.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Asbury Park, NJ (01/07/13): Police shoot & kill Bundles the German shepherd/boxer mix after it allegedly “gnawed” and “wouldn’t let go” of a cop’s pantleg, trapped a woman and child inside their car, then “ran through the neighborhood attacking several officers”. No cops were harmed. Local SPCA chief says shooting was justified.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Houston, TX (01/08/13): Very sparse report states officer investigating a call was “forced to shoot” unidentified dog that “attacked”, prompting it to flee. Animal’s present status unknown.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Adams County, CO (01/14/13): Deputies go to wrong address, shoot & kill Zippy the blue heeler/border collie mix almost instantly. Best part: Deputy told stricken owners, “You can get a new dog.”
    (via @radleybalko)

  • Statistics:
    Shootings: 7
    Victims: 7
    Deceased: 5 (71%)
    Survivors: 1 (14%)
    Pitbull index: 1 (14%)

    Headline of the Day: Creepy Craigslist edition

    | | »

    The details only make it better:

    Headline: “Damn Norfolk, You Nasty: A Couple Used Craigslist To Fulfill Their Pat Robertson Sex Fantasy” [by Ashley Burns @ 01/18/13]

    You’re welcome.

    (via @radleybalko)

    Friday, January 18, 2013

    Worst lede ever?

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    Dr. George Doodnaught (accused)
    Dr. George Doodnaught (accused)

    Does Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno truly believe that this:

    She lost a womb but gained a penis.

    The former was being removed surgically — full hysterectomy — while the latter was forcibly shoved into her slack mouth.

    … is a good introduction for a story about a doctor who’s being sued for sexually assaulting several patients during surgery?

    No particular comment here, other than the mind just boggles.

    (via @BuzzFeedAndrew)

    Humans destroy yet another creature’s natural habitat

    | | »
    Pubic lice

    Bow your heads, hold hands and weep, for the age of personal hygiene and grooming has all but brought about the end for one of our most cherished fellow companions on this green Earth:

    Pubic lice, the crab-shaped insects that have dwelled in human groins since the beginning of history, are disappearing. Doctors say bikini waxing may be the reason.


    “Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab louse populations,” said Ian F. Burgess, a medical entomologist with Insect Research & Development Ltd. in Cambridge, England. “Add to that other aspects of body hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.”

    Of all the worst things that could happen …

    (via Joe. My. God.)

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    Daily Blend: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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    U.S. President Barack Obama (addressing the U.N.)
    Pres. Barack Obama

    Sorry for the repeated link dumps, only there’s this awesome story I just … must … finish …

  • President Obama [pictured] finally proposes some basic, obvious, commonsensical gun control regulations.
    (via Pharyngula)

  • … Which, of course, means he’s out to disarm Americans to make it easier for the government to kill them all! (Seriously, Vox, take a toke.)

  • California lawmakers present bill to fix ridiculous legal loophole used to exculpate rapists posing as someone’s partner.

  • Radley Balko has a great write-up about the inordinate and dangerous amount of power and immunity granted to U.S. prosecutors.

  • And finally, I don’t agree with everything in it, but Robert Brockway at Cracked has an interesting piece about the U.S.’s culture of glorified violence and the role of videogames as a symptom.

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    Daily Blend: Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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    Stephen Colbert
    Stephen Colbert

    I think we’ve officially reached the point where the NRA is doing to gun rights what PETA does to animal rights.

  • New York police get even creepier, now fighting war on prescription painkillers by hiding GPS trackers in fake pill bottles for unsuspecting pain patients druggies.
    (via Joe. My. God.)

  • California judge blocks overbroad law that would destroy sex offenders’ free speech rights to anonymity online.

  • Good gawd are MRAs/PUAs pathetic. How grimly amusing that these silly little boys presume to call themselves “men”.
    (via @jennifurret)

  • Oh, and Wonkette also has some fun with the sex-obsessed little toad.

  • And finally, following Jon Stewart’s lead, it’s Stephen Colbert’s [pictured] turn to shine on gun control [no time for a transcript, sorry]:

    Non-U.S. readers: Click here to learn how to enable Comedy Central videos (Firefox only)
  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    Daily Blend: Monday, January 14, 2013

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    Julie Burchill
    Julie Burchill
  • Carnival of insanity: Wyoming Republicans push blatantly illegal bill to hypothetically imprison federal agents who try to enforce gun control laws.
    (via Joe. My. God.)

  • Oldie but goody: Economist thoroughly debunks several myths about Canada’s socialized healthcare system. (No, doctors and Canadians don’t think the U.S. system is better.)

  • Professional asshat Julie Burchill [pictured] flames out spectacularly against “vociferous transexual lobby” – aka “bunch of dicks in chicks' clothing” – for criticizing her friend’s transphobic rhetoric. What is it with this pervasive hatred of MtF folk amongst some feminist ranks?
    (via @ggreenwald; original Observer article since retracted)

  • Another debunking of the brazen lie about there supposedly being no global warming for 16 years.

  • Meanwhile, Vox Day still loves flogging the necrotic equine of confirmation bias and blatant bullshit.

  • But then, what else to expect from a guy who actually thinks the Canadian government is “preemptively ban[ning] sexbots” – because of feminists’ “pursuit for gender equality”?

  • Canadian parents are apparently quite fond of quackery.

  • And finally, church signs are so useful for revealing exactly which attitudes are encouraged:
    (via Joe. My. God.)

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    An impossible question for torture apologists

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    Torture (sensory deprivation)

    One of the weights dragging back the discourse on accountability in torture and whether or not the U.S. actually engaged in it with Islamist suspects (hint: yes, it did) is the idea that because the CIA’s interrogators were given acrobatically-defined legal memos making exceptions for “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, therefore, the U.S. totally never tortured any of the “enemy combatants” in its extrajudicial prisons. Many on the Right (and a few on the Left) still hold to this brazenly illogical excuse, and Paul Waldman at The American Prospect would like these defenders of the would-be indefensible to explain their rationale for why these “techniques” don’t count as torture:

    Here's the question I've never heard someone like Rodriguez answer: Can you give a definition of torture that wouldn't include waterboarding, stress positions, and sleep deprivation? I have no idea what such a definition might be, and I have to imagine that if they had any idea they would have offered one. Because here's the definition of torture you'd think everyone could agree on: Torture is the infliction of extreme suffering for the purpose of extracting information or a confession. That's not too hard to understand. The point is to create such agony that the subject will do anything, including give you information he'd prefer not to give you, to make the suffering stop. That's the purpose of waterboarding, that's the purpose of sleep deprivation (which, by the way, has been described by those subjected to it in places like the Soviet gulag to be worse than any physical pain they had ever experienced), and that's the purpose of stress positions. The "enhanced" techniques that were used weren't meant to trick detainees or win them over, they were meant to make them suffer until they begged for mercy.

    So to repeat: If what the Bush administration did wasn't torture, how would its apologists define the term?

    Oh, I’m sure the answer is obvious: “Torture is the infliction of extreme suffering for the purpose of extracting information or a confession – except for pseudo-drowning or pushing captives to the brink of insanity, because Washington said those are okie-dokie, so there.” See? Simple.

    (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars)

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

    Church sign of the day: Poe’s Law in action

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    Your take: Unbelievably irony-blind or just trolling?

    Victory Tabernacle Holiness Church sign: “IF UR FAITH IS BIG ENOUGH FACTS DNT COUNT”

    (via Joe. My. God.)

    Saturday, January 12, 2013

    Doggycide Round-Up: 01/12/13

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    Dog chalk outline
  • Harrison County, MS (December 2012): Military training facility security guard allegedly shoots & kills two hunting dogs in cold blood after they strayed onto fenced federal property.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Las Vegas, NV (01/06/13): Officers investigating “report or gunshots or fireworks” trespass into private, fenced backyard, ignore “Beware of Dog” sign, then shoot & kill Bubba the pitbull for allegedly reacting defensively to the intruders.
    (via @radleybalko)

  • Birmingham, AL (01/04/13): Cops respond to 911 call about stubborn guest, instead shoot & kill Bella the chocolate labrador when she approached them peacefully. Shots went inside the home in close proximity to bystanders.
    (via Dogs Shot by Police | Facebook)

  • Lafayette, LA (01/07/12): Police respond to false alarm call, shoot & kill family dog for allegedly “approach[ing] them in an aggressive manner” – after they barged into the dog’s fenced backyard.
    (via 99.9 KTDY)

  • Statistics:
    Shootings: 4
    Victims: 5
    Deceased: 5 (100%)
    Survivors: 0 (0%)
    Pitbull index: 1 (20%)

    Friday, January 11, 2013

    Daily Blend: Friday, January 11, 2013

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    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
    NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  • The War on (certain people who use certain kinds of) Drugs gets even worse, thanks to NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s [pictured] nanny-statist bullshit. Only politicians have ego to think they can dictate medical policy better than actual doctors.

  • The fact that he actually said something like, “[S]upposing it is really true so you didn’t get enough painkillers and you did have to suffer a little bit. The other side of the coin is people are dying and there’s nothing perfect,” really tells you all you need to know about the man.
    (via @radleybalko)

  • At least some Republicans still haven’t learned to STFU about rape.
    (via @BuzzFeedAndrew)

  • Salon’s Alex Seitz-Wald effectively destroys the Right’s myth that gun-toting commoners somehow prevent militarized takeovers.
    (via RT: @mmfa)

  • And finally, here’s today’s edition of “I want a dog, dammit”:
    (via @MelanieKV; RT: @ggreenwald)

  • If you have any story suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments or send them in.

    Extreme weather goes on a worldwide rampage

    | | »
    Global warming

    The world, she burns (and freezes, and drowns):

    Britons may remember 2012 as the year the weather spun off its rails in a chaotic concoction of drought, deluge and flooding, but the unpredictability of it all turns out to have been all too predictable: Around the world, extreme has become the new commonplace.

    Especially lately. China is enduring its coldest winter in nearly 30 years. Brazil is in the grip of a dreadful heat spell. Eastern Russia is so freezing — minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and counting — that the traffic lights recently stopped working in the city of Yakutsk.

    Bush fires are raging across Australia, fueled by a record-shattering heat wave. Pakistan was inundated by unexpected flooding in September. A vicious storm bringing rain, snow and floods just struck the Middle East. And in the United States, scientists confirmed this week what people could have figured out simply by going outside: last year was the hottest since records began.

    “Each year we have extreme weather, but it’s unusual to have so many extreme events around the world at once,” said Omar Baddour, chief of the data management applications division at the World Meteorological Organization, in Geneva. “The heat wave in Australia; the flooding in the U.K., and most recently the flooding and extensive snowstorm in the Middle East — it’s already a big year in terms of extreme weather calamity.”

    Such events are increasing in intensity as well as frequency, Mr. Baddour said, a sign that climate change is not just about rising temperatures, but also about intense, unpleasant, anomalous weather of all kinds.

    One of the most difficult myths about global warming to dispel is the idea that it only causes temperatures to rise, when the reality is that even slight increases in average global temperatures actually results in fluctuations across the spectrum, hot to cold and dry to wet. Meanwhile, around here, we’ve been seeing abnormally high temperatures; it’s currently above freezing for the nth time since temperatures were supposed to drop to the -10–20°C (14 to -4°F) one would expect for Québec in mid-January.

    If only I were a denialist; it must be fun to be able to enjoy such clement times without any thought or concern for the many grave ramifications they entail. Blissful (or willful) ignorance and all that.

    (via @BuzzFeedAndrew)

    EDIT: 01/12/13 2:08 AM ET – Added Fahrenheit equivalent for you Yanks.

    A petition for equality in the atheism/skepticism community

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    Scarlet ‘A+’ of Atheism Plus

    I don’t often plug petitions, given the general futility of these things (good intentions are no substitute for effectiveness), but there’s one floating around that I think absolutely merits signing and sharing as widely as possible in the hopes of focusing our push-back against all the sexist assholery that’s been dividing the once-concerted atheo-skeptic movement:

    We, the undersigned, are atheists, skeptics and nonbelievers who value free speech and rational thought and who seek to build a strong, thriving movement that can advocate effectively for these values. We've chosen to put our names to this petition because we want to respond to a video created by a blogger calling himself Thunderfoot. In this video, Thunderfoot attacks named individuals who've been active in promoting diversity and fighting sexism and harassment in our movement. He describes these people as "whiners" and "ultra-PC professional victims" who are "dripp[ing] poison" into the secular community, and urges conference organizers to shun and ignore them.

    We hold this and similar complaints from other individuals to be seriously misguided, false in their particulars and harmful to the atheist community as a whole, and we want to set the record straight. We wish to clarify that Thunderfoot and those like him don't speak for us or represent us, and to state our unequivocal support for the following goals:

    We support making the atheist movement more diverse and inclusive. […]

    We support strong, sensible anti-harassment policies at our gatherings. […]

    We support the people in our community who've been the target of bullying, harassment and threats. […]

    To put a stop to this bad behavior once and for all, we need to change the culture of the atheist movement so that sexism isn't condoned or defended, just as racism and homophobia aren't condoned or defended. We're grateful to the leaders of the movement who've spoken out against harassment, and we encourage all atheists and skeptics, regardless of their influence or prominence, to do likewise.

    See? This is how mature, reasonable adults carry a discussion about sensitive issues: No demands that opponents be banned or censored; no hatred or vitriol towards people with differing opinions; no blatant dishonesty and misrepresentations of anyone’s arguments or attempts to rewrite the record; and no thinly veiled threats against their livelihoods or persons. Just a community coming together in the spirit of reason, fairness and equality in order to accomplish what is obviously and undeniably the right thing to do.

    There’s already some impressive names in the list of signatories, and 308 people (and climbing fast) have added theirs as of this posting. I don’t think it’ll be difficult to bump that number up past the required 730 minimum before day’s end, do you? This is an international effort, so there’s really no reason not to add your mark right now.

    (via @jennifurret)