[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Pity poor Jon Del Arroz! The sad far-right science fiction author first came to my attention a short while ago when he was complaining bitterly that the SJWs had taken over science fiction, using cherry-picked and misleading statistics. He’s got a persecution complex big enough to fill the San Francisco bay, where he lives.

Now he’s getting picked on again! He claims to have been blackballed from a local convention — he’s spoken there before, but he was not invited this year. After going on and on about reviews for a recent book, and praising himself mightily, he cuts to the chase.

The reason I was disinvited was because it is well known that I support the President of the United States, duly elected and all, and that I’m happy about the way the country is being run. You know, like most normal people are. That’s the only thing that’s changed between then and now. It’s the same dangerous rhetoric out there that many of these folk who run the convention post on such a consistent basis that has turned Facebook from a “fun catching up with friends” website to a hellhole of fear, anger and hate (which as Master Yoda taught us, leads to suffering!). It’s impossible to communicate anymore, and as such, there is a small but vocal power structure of people in the convention scene and publishing that can’t tolerate the concept of seeing my pretty face. I am a minority that’s been discriminated against, not because of my race, but because of my ideas. In Science Fiction, ideas are everything, and it’s frightening to think about those being shut down as a consequence. These people want my career to fail, and they believe they can accomplish that by silencing me and giving me the cold shoulder.

There’s one little problem with this woeful narrative. We have the letter the conference organizers personally wrote to him after he complained.

Dear Jon,

Thank you for your interest in BayCon 2017. We have made some changes to the programming which are discussed in detail here: http://baycon.org/bcwp/programming-2/

At this time we are not issuing you an invitation for this year’s convention. You are definitely on our guest list for 2018 and we hope very much to see you there.

Sincerely,

BayCon Programming

He wasn’t blackballed. He’s even on their list for next year. They just like to rotate their speakers a bit, and not bring in the very same people every year — which is a good policy. I like hearing from new people.

Jon Del Arroz thinks getting one invitation to speak means he is now invited to speak at every con every year in perpetuity. He’s an idiot. He’s such an entitled ass, I have to wonder about BayCon — why have they invited him back for next year? Have they no standards in invited speakers? That’s not a good sign.

By the way, I have a similar example: I was a speaker at Skepticon multiple times. One year they decided they needed new blood, so they invited some other people, instead of me. If I were like Jon Del Arroz, I would have made a big stink over the violation of tradition — they invited me once (actually, a couple of times), so now they must invite me every time. Every year. Over and over. Until attendees are sick of me, and even then they aren’t allowed to stop.

That isn’t the way this works. I approve of diversity in the line-up. I think it’s great that they have enough people with interesting things to say that they can have a different roster of speakers every year. I’m perfectly willing to step aside, especially since it means I can just attend and enjoy the event without having to give a talk.

But then, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Maybe it’s all those rabid Republican dude-bros who run Skepticon who have blackballed me.

[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

The University of Minnesota, Morris biology discipline has been approved to fill a tenure track line in biology. Here’s the description:

The University of Minnesota, Morris Division of Science and Mathematics seeks an individual committed to excellence in undergraduate education, to fill a tenure-track position in biology beginning August 20, 2018.

Required/Preferred Qualifications:

Required: Applicants must hold or expect to receive a Ph.D. in molecular biology or related field by August 20, 2018. Experience and evidence of excellence in teaching and mentoring undergraduate biology students is required (graduate TA experience is acceptable.)

Preferred: Preference will be given to applicants who are able to develop and teach upper-level elective courses in their area of expertise and which complement those offered by the current biology faculty. Applicants with expertise in quantitative approaches to molecular-scale data are strongly encouraged to apply.

About the Job

Duties/Responsibilities: Teaching undergraduate biology courses including introductory biology, molecular biology with lab, electives in the applicant’s areas of expertise, and other courses that support the biology program; advising undergraduates; conducting research that could involve undergraduates and potentially in collaboration with our data sciences faculty; and sharing in the governance and advancement of the biology program, the division, and the campus.

This tenure-track position carries all of the privileges and responsibilities of University of Minnesota faculty appointments. A sound retirement plan, excellent fringe benefits and a collegial atmosphere are among the benefits that accompany the position. Appointment will be at the Assistant Professor level for those having the Ph.D. in hand and at the Instructor level for those whose Ph.D. is pending. The standard teaching load is twenty credit hours per year.

As a small university, note the teaching requirements: we need someone to help teach molecular biology, so wet lab experience is important. Molecular biology is an awfully broad category, though, so also note the buried detail: “Applicants with expertise in quantitative approaches to molecular-scale data are strongly encouraged to apply.” The magic word there is “quantitative”. We’re looking for someone who applies quantitative analysis to their work. We’re wide open to a lot of different approaches. Are you a bioinformatics person who is analyzing the evolution of specific genes? Lovely. Are you a systematist studying plant taxa with quantitative techniques? Go for it. Looking at biomechanics? We don’t do that here, but it would be cool to have it. We just hired a big data guy in computer science and statistics, so being able to work with that field is a big plus. Help us add a deeper mathematical element to undergraduate education.

Why should you apply here? We’re on the western prairies of Minnesota (no, we’re not located in Minneapolis/St Paul, so don’t think we’re a big city place) and kind of remote — if you like small town life, it’s a great place to be. Our university strongly emphasizes a quality education, personalized and supportive, so if teaching is your bag, we want to hear from you.

Shorter summary: we are looking for a biologist who likes math and teaching. Come join us!

[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

As a measure of the degeneration of our public discourse, all you have to do is turn on your TV, and you’ll find a whole sequence of corrupted discussion. It’s not just Fox News; the people who credulously watch Fox may also find themselves primed by the so-called “educational” stations, the ones people watch because they’re supposed to make learning interesting by explaining stuff that people are already curious about. Somewhere along the line, though, the television programmers realized that you can just drop the difficult “education” part and skip right from “curiosity” to “spectacularly batshit looney-tunes stories from grossly unqualified (that is, cheap) sources”. Take The History Channel, please.

I don’t know if you knew, but the Hebrews didn’t spend forty years in the Sinai after the Exodus because they’d incurred the wrath of God. And they didn’t leave that desert because the offending generation had died off. The chosen people were forced into the Promised Land because the algae-based-protein-bar machine that dispensed the “manna from heaven” they’d been eating finally broke down.

“Of course, [the machine] needed energy, for cultivating the algae, and this was produced, we postulate, by a small nuclear reactor,” says Rodney Dale, a wild-eyed madman.

This is the History Channel, circa 2009. “But,” asks the narrator, “If the Israelites’ survival depended upon the manna machine, where did they get it? Some believe they had stolen it from the Egyptians prior to their exodus. Other suspect extraterrestrials gave it to them as a humanitarian gesture to prevent their starvation in the desert.” The show is “Ancient Aliens,” and it’s everything that’s wrong in America.

I haven’t watched it in years, since it gave up on History and decided that people driving trucks or others buying crap at auctions was more interesting, i.e. profitable. It seems to be oscillating between the mundane, like pawn shops, and absurd bullshit, like aliens building portals in the Southwest desert. The only thing worse than an occasional television show with unbelievable claims is to actually attend a conference by these true believers — I’ve gone to the Paradigm Symposium twice now (and never again), and you discover very quickly that sensational, exaggerated claims without plausible evidence are deeply boring. That’s happened to the History Channel, too — it’s boring, and they try to reinvigorate it by making more and more ridiculous claims. It doesn’t work.

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

On the morning of Friday, September 22, 2017, the Earth will experience a close encounter with a spaceborne object. But never fear! We’re perfectly safe. That’s because the space traveler is the NASA probe OSIRIS-REx, and it will pass more than 17,000 km above the Earth’s surface.

The flyby is designed so that the spacecraft will steal a little bit of the Earth’s orbital energy, using it to fling itself up, changing its own orbital plane to match that of its target, the asteroid Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will pass closest over Earth’s south pole, and the Earth’s gravity will naturally bend the probe’s path up, up, and away.

This is the third event in the mission’s life in space, counting launch as the first. It launched a bit over a year ago and was placed into an orbit similar to that of Earth around the Sun. In January 2017 it performed a “deep space maneuver,” firing its engine enough to change its velocity by about 1600 kilometers per hour, putting it on the correct course for the flyby.

If you want the details of this flyby, then (as always) you should check in with my friend Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society, who has the info.

The spacecraft has already been spotted by Earthbound telescopes; the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona saw it on September 2:

Animation showing the movement of OSIRIS-REx on September 2, 2017, when it was still 12 million km away. Credit: Large Binocular Telescope Observatory

Animation showing the movement of OSIRIS-REx on September 2, 2017, when it was still 12 million km away. Credit: Large Binocular Telescope Observatory

I know, it doesn’t look like much, but c’mon: It was 12 million kilometers away and at a magnitude of 25. The faintest star you can see with your naked eye is 40 million times brighter! So this is actually pretty good.

If I’ve done the math right, it’ll be roughly magnitude 11 or so when it passes Earth on Friday. That’s still faint, though within reach of a good telescope. The mission web page has advice and links for trying to see it. Given how far south it’ll be, that means it’s easiest from southern locations; in Australia the Desert Fireball Network will use the flyby to test out their cameras. They’ll observe OSIRIS-REx from different locations and use that to get its 3D trajectory in space. They use the same technique to track material like meteors burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.

I mentioned three events in the mission’s space life so far, but the fourth event is the big one: arrival. Approach starts in August 2018, when OSIRIS-REx is about 2 million km from Bennu. It’ll begin a series of engine burns to slow its approach relative to the asteroid until it goes into orbit. Starting on October it’ll begin surveying Bennu, and will continue to do so for a year.

The orbit of Bennu (blue) is similar to Earth's. This shows their relative positions on the day of the OSIRIS-REx flyby. Credit: NASA / JPL

The orbit of Bennu (blue) is similar to Earth's. This shows their relative positions on the day of the OSIRIS-REx flyby. Credit: NASA / JPL

Bennu is a pretty interesting asteroid (if it weren’t, then duh, we wouldn’t be sending a spacecraft to it). It was discovered only in 1991, and is on an orbit similar to Earth’s, though slightly bigger, more elliptical, and tilted to ours by about 6°. That’s a substantial inclination, taking a lot of energy to match, which is why the spacecraft is using Earth to whip it around. Bennu only approaches Earth about once every six years (its orbital period is about 1.2 years, so it takes a while for it and the Earth to sync up).

Bennu itself is about 500 meters across, a decent-sized chunk of rock (though it will be the smallest object NASA will have ever had a spacecraft orbit, an interesting statistic). It’s what’s called a B-type asteroid, meaning it’s rich in carbon as well as what are called volatiles: materials with low boiling points. Even though it’s small, it may have water inside it, trapped in materials like clays.

It’s shaped roughly like a top or a walnut, slightly wider than it is high. It rotates once every 4 hours or so. Its overall shape was determined from both radar mapping as well as how it changes brightness with time (for example, a very long object can get much brighter when it’s broadside to you, and fainter when it’s end-on). Interestingly, its mass is low; given its size it’s barely denser than water! It’s likely to be a rubble pile, a collection of loosely bound rocks held together by gravity and other forces. That can happen as an asteroid suffers low-speed impacts over billions of years, shattering it in place. Lots of voids form between the rubble, accounting for the low density.

Other than that, it’s thought that Bennu hasn’t undergone much change since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It’s hoped to be a time capsule dating back to the formation of the solar system itself!

NASA made this spiffy short video explaining more about Bennu, OSIRIS-REx, and the mission itself:

Oh, one more thing for now: OSIRIS-REx is loaded with instruments to examine the asteroid, including cameras, LIDAR, and a spectrometer. But it also has another package: a sample return capsule (SRC). While at Bennu, it will collect a sample of surface material, squirrel it away inside the capsule, then send it back to Earth! This has been done by a mission before (the Stardust mission to a comet), so it’s tested tech.

Scientists want to collect at least 60 grams of material, though they might get more. The mechanism to collect the sample will puff nitrogen gas onto the asteroid surface and then collect the material that floats off. They have enough gas to try this three times, so it seems likely they’ll get what they need.

Then the SRC will be sent on its way back to our planet, arriving as a fireball in the sky and then falling to Earth in July 2020. It’ll be collected and the samples brought to labs where this pristine asteroid material can be studied in much greater detail than is possible with a spacecraft.

But that’s all still far in the future. First things first! Let’s get the flyby done, and then we can start looking ahead to seeing Bennu up close and personal next year.

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In bed with the enemy

Sep. 21st, 2017 06:55 pm
luzribeiro: (Default)
[personal profile] luzribeiro posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
Yeah, Trump again. Got fed up with these Trump posts, eh? Can't help it, sorry. :-)

He may've been a major douche, but for the last couple of weeks he has strained the nerves of his fellow party clergy to the brink. I'm talking about the debt ceiling deal, where he decided to side with the Dems and postpone the debates on the debt ceiling for another 3 months. Oh, and he also may've supported a motion to legalize the status of illegal immigrants (DACA), and even had a dinner with Pelosi and Schumer over the issue.

He heeded Pelosi's request and wrote some tweets that was meant to calm down the immigrants that they wouldn't be deported (let me note again that nobody from Trump's PR team has any control over what he tweets - well, turns out, Nancy Pelosi might have). Then he supported Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) who had some, let's call them difficulties before the election. And now he's hinting that the US might actually stay in the Paris Agreement. What the hell's happening?


Read more... )
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

It should also start with a “K”. You may have heard that James Damore is continuing to discredit himself further with some weird musings on Twitter.

Here are some internal title names for the Klan. Still cool?

Klabee
Kladd
Klaliff
Klarogo
Klazik
Kleagle
Klexter
Kligrapp
Klokan
Klokard
Klonsul
Kludd

You can call yourself whatever you want. But let’s not forget that the KKK is all about terror, bigotry, and murder, and all the cool names in the world won’t change that.

Damore also has an explanation for why people join the KKK. It’s not racism. It’s not even ‘economic insecurity’. It’s because they want to be called a Klokard.

Jebus. The question is no longer about why Damore was fired from Google, it’s how did he get the job there in the first place?

Also, is he aware that there are pages and pages and pages on the web that are all about how stupid some of the names and creatures in D&D are?

I still don’t have a good word for Damore, so I’m going to have to invent one. Klaggart. Or maybe Klook.

Let There Be Ignorance!

Sep. 21st, 2017 12:36 pm
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

After playing an unbelievably bad atheist philosophy professor in God’s Not Dead, Kevin Sorbo is going to stretch his range by playing an unbelievably bad atheist doctor of medicine in Let There Be Light. Watch the trailer and be in awe of Jerkules’ acting chops!

Can you spot the Christian tropes in the plot summary?

After suffering the traumatic loss of his youngest son to cancer, Dr. Sol Harkens (Kevin Sorbo) loses faith and heads down a path of darkness. Distancing himself from his ex-wife Katy (Sam Sorbo) and their two remaining sons, Sol turns to alcohol to numb his pain. Soon his bad habits catch up to him, and Sol is involved in a serious car accident that leaves him dead for four minutes before he is resuscitated. What Sol experiences during this time changes his outlook on life and brings him closer to his family and faith.

I see…

  • Atheists are angry at the gods because of some trauma.

  • Leaving the gods sends you down a path of darkness.

  • You’ll lose all your friends and family if you don’t follow the gods.

  • When you’re near death, boy will you regret not believing in the gods.

  • Dreams and the confabulations of the unconscious mind are objective evidence of the existence of the gods.

Poor Kevin seems to be making a career of playing a caricature of an atheist, poorly, who then undergoes a miraculous conversion, unconvincingly. The most persuasive part of the trailer for me is when Sorbo accepts Christ into his life after suffering a traumatic brain injury, and as a reward, Satan (played by Sean Hannity) shows up to offer him a chance to appear on Fox News. Nope, I’m convinced. No way will I ever drink the Christian Kool-Aid.

Blog entries posted from the hospital

Sep. 21st, 2017 08:01 am
neonvincent: For posts about geekery and general fandom (Shadow Play Girl)
[personal profile] neonvincent

While I was in the hospital, I had access to my wife's tablet. I was able to not only surf the internet and watch shows on Netflix and Hulu (I watched an episode of "The Good Place" when I had it for the Coffee Party Board Retreat a couple weeks earlier), I was able to compose and post short blog entries. Here are links to the three that I managed to write while sitting next to my hospital bed.

September 9 R.I.P. Jerry Pournelle

September 10 Vox on hurricanes, climate change, and storm surge

September 11 Dinosaurs dancing to 'Jurassic Park' theme and more science fiction music on a football field

That's as much as I wish to dwell on my morbidity and eventual mortality today, which happens to be my birthday.
conuly: (Default)
[personal profile] conuly
and then some!

*****************


German Shepherd Mom Tires Out Her Pups In The Most Adorable Way Possible (It is adorable! She alternates between bouts where they can't possibly catch up to her and bouts where they can, clever doggie!)

Scientists Invent a Pen That Can Detect Cancer in Seconds

For Centuries, People Celebrated a Little Boy’s First Pair of Trousers

“Do Sign Languages Have Accents?” (Video, or you can read the transcription)

Is there a single food that you can survive on forever?

The island people with a climate change escape plan

Here’s why you should pay attention to this weekend’s German election

There is meddling in Germany's election — not by Russia, but by U.S. right wing

What A Doctor Calls A Condition Can Affect How We Decide To Treat It

When the Idea of Home Was Key to American Identity

Parents Who Pay to Be Watched (OMG.)

Colombia partners with locals in order to stop cocaine production, US warns it may not be enough

Behind the scenes, Zimbabwe politicians plot post-Mugabe reforms

Iraqi Kurds set to vote on independence, panicking neighbors and Washington

What is behind clashes in Ethiopia's Oromia and Somali regions?

Facebook’s war on free will

Facebook Enabled Advertisers to Reach ‘Jew Haters’

The basic physics of climate change have been known for more than a century, but it is in recent decades that the fundamental science of global warming has solidified

The Minuscule Importance of Manufacturing in Far-Right Politics

Stop acting surprised, America: Donald Trump is a white supremacist

In Month After Charlottesville, Papers Spent as Much Time Condemning Anti-Nazis as Nazis

The Republicans Aren't Even Pretending This Is About Healthcare Anymore

Christians in U.S. Military ‘Serve Satan’ If They Tolerate Other Religions, Air Force Chaplain Says

Making war illegal changed the world. But it’s becoming too easy to break the law

Anatomy of terror: What makes normal people become extremists?

i need a d.va icon apparently

Sep. 20th, 2017 09:19 pm
solarbird: (tracer)
[personal profile] solarbird
Today was the most badass I have ever been as D.va.

Offence. Volskaya industries. Backfill, with about 2:30 to go; first point taken, first third of second point taken, but they've been flailing. I grab D.va, and they waste about 2:15 just raggedly charging in, ignoring my group-up requests - tho' I did get the enemy to blow a few of their ults. And once I announce that my nerf is up, my team finally groups, mostly because hey, about out of time.

I lead the charge in. I get one and a mech with my nerf. One of our team gets someone else, I don't know who. I get my mecha back, charge in, kill a third.

Their Reaper drops in with his ult and kills FIVE OF US. Quadruple kill. It is, in fact, play of the game.

But he does not get me. I am the only member of my team alive.

I kill every remaining member of the enemy team and take the point in overtime, while the entire rest of my team is dead.

I gold in objective kills, but I don't even card.

I cannot imagine what that looked like to everyone else.

Can someone explain this to me?

Sep. 21st, 2017 02:12 am
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Peter Boghossian blurted this out tonight.


There are no right angles in nature, yet no one says right angles are *social* constructs because they’re not morally motivated to do so.

There are right angles in nature. We also have social constructs built around ideas about right angles — look, Boghossian just made one, stating an idea about right angles and the nature of our interactions with them. I am baffled and have many questions.

  • Is he drunk-tweeting?

  • Does he have some point that he is trying to make, poorly and insipidly?

  • Is he so annoyed that humans are social animals who build mental models of how the world works,
    and that the map is not the terrain, that he is lashing out in defense of some kind of Platonic absolute?

  • Is he a very bad philosopher?

  • Is he not very bright?

A lot of the people I follow are currently rather flabbergasted at this flaming nonsense.

Wonderful news!

Sep. 24th, 2017 07:58 pm
conuly: (Default)
[personal profile] conuly
Today I was combing Callie in the bathroom, and Finn came in and didn't bark or growl or jump at her AT ALL - and this despite the fact that she hissed at him and then growled the whole time he was there! (And I don't blame her.)

He's gotten a lot better at being in the same room as the cats without freaking out, and even a little better at not barking and lunging at the familiar cats we see on our walks. (Not as good as with his own roommate cats, but you can't have everything.)

This is great because, with winter coming, Callie wants to go back to being an indoor-outdoor cat, emphasis on indoor - she doesn't like cold weather!

Trump, and the Paris accord

Sep. 20th, 2017 08:55 pm
airiefairie: (Default)
[personal profile] airiefairie posting in [community profile] talkpolitics
What On Earth Is Going On With Trump And The Paris Agreement?

Sigh. So many ignorant science denialists in the comments section.

1. The accord allowed each nation to select a target reduction of CO2. The US agreed to 25% below 2005 levels. 195 nations have reduction targets, not just the US.

2. The target date for industrialised nations is 2025; for developing nations it is 2030.

3. That doesn't mean any nation can wait until 2030 to start lowering CO2. If your target is to have $1 million in your retirement by age 65, you cannot wait until you are 65 to start.

4. China is reducing CO2 now. Today. They are moving more rapidly to solar than the rest of us are.

5. No one is being "penalised". The US simply agreed to that 25% reduction.

6, All industrialised nations are paying to help the developing nations, not just the US. All the major EU nations, Canada, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Norway, South Korea, etc. The money goes into a UN climate fund to help developing nations convert to green energy. They have to apply for grants for specific projects. Most people recognise these nations cannot do it by themselves, and the CO2 any nation emits affects our climate. All of us. The list of projects funded is public record.

7. The accord was signed under a treaty the US had already ratified earlier, the UN Framework on Climate Change.

Oh and by the way, a lot of American cities are sticking to the Paris agreement, it is just that poor excuse for a president that doesn't seem to care.

There is more )
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

It isn’t, of course, but if you’re curious about how someone could come to such a bizarre conclusion, let me lead you through it.

It starts with a Bible verse, Revelation 12.

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”[a] And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. 6 The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

See? War in heaven, Satan cast down to earth. But why 23 September 2017? The Bible doesn’t say that! We have to go to another source: astrology.

The Bible has a few things to say about astrology, but don’t let that interfere with your bibliolatry!

All the counsel you have received has only worn you out. Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you. Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the flame… Each of them goes on in his error; there is not one that can save you.

But you need astrology to explain all those strange references to a pregnant woman with stars on her head, a dragon, and signs in heaven. According to some, these are references to constellations (‘ware that link — it’s a manic YouTube video by a loon babbling a mile a minute). The woman is Virgo; the moon is at her feet on that date; the constellation Leo with 9 stars is above her head; Jupiter is passing through her belly, so she’s giving birth to Jupiter. The International Space Station is also passing by, which is supposedly significant, but I couldn’t bear to listen to the video any more to figure out why.

Then there’s numerology.

The September rapture date came from a Christian researcher named David Meade who calculated it would occur 33 days after last month’s eclipse, The Washington Post reported.

Jesus lived for 33 years. The name Elohim, which is the name of God to the Jews, was mentioned 33 times [in the Bible], Meade told the newspaper. It’s a very biblically significant, numerologically significant number. I’m talking astronomy. I’m talking the Bible … and merging the two.

Another factor is Nibiru. Nibiru is a wandering planet in our solar system that the aliens of Zeta Reticuli explained to a human alien contactee through the implant they put in her head. It’s also based on the ravings of ancient astronaut fanatic, Zacharia Sitchin. Anyway, they’re saying Nibiru is going to smack into the earth in a couple of days.

So now you know why people think the world will end on Saturday. The evidence is a series of stretched metaphors from the trippiest chapter of the Bible; astrological alignments; the ravings of a saucer kook; a story from an ancient aliens conspiracy theorist; and numerology. I think you are capable of evaluating the claim from the quality of the evidence, so I’ll leave you to decide whether you need to start preparing for doomsday.

[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Patrik Hermannson is a young Swedish man who went undercover to explore the American alt-right movement. He works with a group called Hope Not Hate, and they’re working on a movie, My Year in Kekistan.

It doesn’t sound like he had a good time. I also hope he’s now taking precautions — he was dealing with dangerous, horrible people, and they’re not going to be happy about being exposed. He’s got video of these people saying vile things and revealing their true plans. And now they’re getting written up in the New York Times.

Mr. Hermansson and Mr. Jorjani met at an Irish pub near the Empire State Building, where the baby-faced Mr. Jorjani imagined a near future in which, thanks to liberal complacency over the migration crisis, Europe re-embraces fascism: “We will have a Europe, in 2050, where the bank notes have Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great. And Hitler will be seen like that: like Napoleon, like Alexander, not like some weird monster who is unique in his own category — no, he is just going to be seen as a great European leader.”

More shockingly, Mr. Jorjani bragged about his contacts in the American government. “We had connections in the Trump administration — we were going to do things!” he said at one point. “I had contacts with the Trump administration,” he said at another.

His connections, fortunately, seem to have been indirect and tangential, but it does reveal the grandiose delusions of importance these people have. Another guy he met with was always wearing a Hitler Youth-style outfit. They are backwards-looking dipshits, but don’t underestimate them.

This Jorjani fellow, though…I’d recently run across that name in the Chronicle of Higher Ed as the subject of criticism.

We especially write in response to news reports that have identified Iranian-American Jason Reza Jorjani, who received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Stony Brook University, as one of the co-founders of the white nationalist website altright.com and a member of its board of directors. It is clear to us that Jorjani uses his training in higher education to promote a controversial cultural and historical platform that connects Iranianness with Aryanness. Unfortunately, Jorjani’s position has a long-standing grip in our communities. This belief is animated by claims made by 19th century philologists about linguistic affiliations between Persian and European languages, as well as the narratives of the Avesta and the Gathas, which describe Aryans as a group of ethnically distinct people settling in the Iranian plateau.

Speaking of delusional…I don’t think an Iranian is going to be very popular among American hate groups. He can protest all he wants about 19th century philosophers classifying his people, as well as the Indians of South Asia, as belonging to the fictitious category of the “Aryans”, but these haters aren’t sophisticated enough to make that distinction. Brown and foreign is all they’re going to see.

So how are they going to get Adolf’s picture on our currency? Simple. Undermine people’s trust in the system, and radicalize the youth. Promote people who lean their way. Shuffle the gullible off farther and farther to the right (yeah, if you’re on /pol or r/theDonald, are flaunting Pepe memes and think torch-lit marches with white nationalists are cool, you’re just a gullible fool, a sheep following a goat).

The extreme alt-right are benefiting immensely from the energy being produced by a more moderate — but still far-right — faction known as the “alt-light.”

The alt-light promotes a slightly softer set of messages. Its figures — such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson and Mike Cernovich — generally frame their work as part of an effort to defend “the West” or “Western culture” against supposed left-liberal dominance, rather than making explicitly racist appeals. Many of them, in fact, have renounced explicit racism and anti-Semitism, though they will creep up to the line of explicitly racist speech, especially when Islam and immigration are concerned.

This apparent moderation partly explains why they tend to have much bigger online audiences than even the most important alt-right figures — and why Hope Not Hate describes them as “less extreme, more dangerous.” Alt-light sites like Breitbart, formerly home to Mr. Yiannopoulos, as well as Prison Planet, where Mr. Watson is editor at large, draw millions of readers and are key nodes in a hyperkinetic network that is endlessly broadcasting viral-friendly far-right news, rumors and incitement.

Wait. Yiannopoulos and Watson and Cernovich are light messengers of fascism? They always sound insanely regressive and rotten to me. Intellectual light-weights, maybe, but they spread a terribly vile message. Shying away from using the N-word while still advocating for oppression, deportation, and exploitation isn’t much of a softening.

If we accept this hypothesis of media being used to gradually radicalize people (which I do), it’s unfortunate that there isn’t more mention of YouTube. There’s a bit, but in my experience, YouTube has been an important potentiator of alt-right lies and arrogance.

This goal of mainstreaming is an abiding fixation of the far right, whose members are well aware of the problems their movement has had with attracting young people in recent decades. At one point in Mr. Hermansson’s footage, Colin Robertson, a far-right YouTube personality who goes by the name Millennial Woes, explained to an older extremist the importance of putting forward a friendly, accessible face: “If we don’t appear like angry misfits, then we will end up making friendships with people who don’t agree with us,” he said.

There are people with the confidence to make videos openly endorsing anti-feminism and anti-immigration sentiments, but even more chilling, there are hordes of hateful losers who turn the comment sections of virtually every video into a churning mess of misogyny and racism. There’s the easy on-ramp to alt-right radicalism. It’s a slippery slope well-greased with pictures of Pepe the Frog and kekistani flags.

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

Oh wow, is it time for the end of the world again?

Apparently so. The latest in this incredibly long list of doomsday-prophecies-that-will-never-happen™ is that the Earth will somehow be destroyed on September 23.

This is terrible! Scheduling it on a Saturday keeps it out of the news cycle.

OK, snark aside — and I’ll admit that’s hard after you’ve debunked dozens of these kinds of claims — this particular cry of doomsday seems to be thriving where such things usually do: breathless YouTube videos and Facebook pages that carry a lot of dire warning but very little in the way of actual evidence.

I’m not sure where this one started, specifically; it may be from David Meade, someone who may best be described as a conspiracy theorist. He’s created a horrid combination of Biblical quotes and Nibiru claims (because, of course; more on that in a sec) and predicts the beginning calamity starting on September 23.

The key Bible passage is from Revelation 12:

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.

[Note: The exact phrasing of this changes depending on what version of the Bible you read; an interesting problem given that, in many cases on the web, the doomsday promulgators are also Bible literalists.]

Right off the bat, let me be clear: The language in many biblical passages, especially Revelations, is vague enough that interpretation is loose, and it’s not too hard to fit lots of different meanings to the words. If you look around hard enough, you’re bound to find something that kinda, sorta, sounds like it works.

In this case, the story goes, the woman in the passage is the constellation Virgo. “Clothed with the Sun” means the Sun is in the constellation, and “the moon under her feet” means the Moon is nearby, too. That part happens all the time; the Sun is in Virgo for about six weeks every year. The Moon is in Virgo for several days during that time, and even “under her feet” (as the constellation is classically depicted her feet are to the east and her head to the west) for a couple of days.

So, why September 23rd of 2017? The key part, as far as I can tell, is the position of Jupiter. The largest planet in the solar system, as seen from Earth, is also in Virgo, and is supposed to represent the child being born — it’s claimed Jupiter leaves Virgo on the 23rd.

Virgo

The constellation Virgo, the Sun, Moon, and various planets shown for September 23, 2017. The claim that she's giving birth to Jupiter myths the spot. Credit: Sky Safari 

 

There are several problems with this. The biggest is also the simplest: Jupiter doesn’t leave the constellation on the 23rd. If you want to be pedantic, the constellation boundaries are well defined officially, and Jupiter doesn’t cross into Libra (the next constellation down the line) until November. If you use the classical astrological boundaries for the zodiac constellations, Jupiter already left Virgo in early September. Either way, Jupiter leaving Virgo on the 23rd doesn’t make sense.

Now, you might say, “well, Jupiter represents a baby being born, so maybe the 23rd is when Jupiter comes out of the part of Virgo where, y’know, babies are born from.”

That would be a nice try, except Jupiter is nowhere near Virgo’s lady parts. It’s way off to the side, and having had some experience here, I can be pretty sure that’s not where babies come from.

So, Bible aside, what’s the deal with Nibiru?

Well, nothing. I mean, literally. Nibiru doesn’t exist.

artwork of astronaut on Moon watching Earth destroyed

Well, crap. Credit: Dean Reeves, used by permisison

 

According to various conspiracy theorists, though, Nibiru is the name given to a purported giant planet in the outer solar system that sweeps by the Earth every 3600 years causing, well, Biblical disasters (not to be confused with Planet Nine, an as-yet  theoretical planet that could be in the outer solar system). This idea has a long history; it has its roots with the wild claims of Immanuel Velikovsky in the mid 20th century; he figured that Biblical catastrophes described in the Bible were real events, and tried to find astronomical ways to cause them. In the end, his lack of historical scholarship was only outstripped by his lack of astronomical understanding, and he abused astronomy trying to explain imagined historical events (the history of his ideas and how they were treated is fascinating; I dedicated a chapter in my first book, Bad Astronomy to this).

Still, despite an utter lack of reality, his idea caught on and has been reshaped and reproposed over the years. Zechariah Sitchin used it to dream up a “12th planet” in the solar system, and wrote a series of badly researched books on the idea, and then it was picked up by Nancy Lieder,  who claimed in the 1990s that aliens from Zeta Reticuli were telepathically communicating with her to warn her of the impending destruction of Earth by Nibiru. She predicted very confidently it would come in May 2003.

Despite the lack of an Earth-shattering kaboom on that date, this myth lives on. People who cleave to this idea see evidence of this planet in every photo, every solar storm, everywhere. The fact that scientists (like me) debunk it is only more proof of the conspiracy to hide it from the public. This is what I call a cul-de-sac of logic; once you’re in it, you’ve cut yourself off from any sort of evidence against it. You’re lost.

So, the way Nibiru fits into this weekend’s notpocalypse is that, in the Bible passage, the dragon in the prophecy is Nibiru, itself, its immense gravity (which up until now has had precisely zero observable effects on any solar system objects) will drop meteors and comets on us (“Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth”), and so on.

The thing is, Nibiru is supposed to be a giant planet. Jupiter, the actual biggest planet in the solar system, is easily visible even though it’s hundreds of millions of kilometers away; it’s one of the brightest natural objects in the sky. A bigger planet even closer would be far, far brighter. Yet, when you go outside, nothing like that can be seen.

Huh.

So, this end-of-the-world nonsense is just that: nonsense. It’s the usual stuff from this corner of the ‘net, and I can happily say, “ho hum”. Nibiru has been the cause of predicted doom and gloom over and over again, and all these predictions have one thing in common: They never happen (remember the Mayan doomsday in 2012?). They can’t happen. As I’ve written many times, if Nibiru were really out there, it would leave an obvious swath of destruction and chaos, altering the planets’ orbits, the asteroids, moons, and everything so profoundly that you could see the effects by simply going outside at night and looking up. Put simply, the solar system as we see it now couldn’t exist in its present form if Nibiru were real.

Therefore, Nibiru isn’t real.

And so, therefore, neither is this next doomsday.

And I’ll admit, this kind of stuff makes me angry. There are people out there who don’t have the experience or astronomical knowledge (or who have mental health issues like anxiety and cosmophobia) to understand just how full of fertilizer so many of these self-proclaimed doomsday prophets are. And these people can get really scared, worrying about a disaster that will never come.

When I look around, I see plenty of very real things to be concerned with. Let’s try to fix the actual world, please, and not worry about ones that are made up out of nothing.

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[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Truth in advertising and all that, you know.

Milo Yiannopoulos, desperate to gather together the tattered shreds of his relevance, announced this past summer that there would be a “four day extravaganza” on the Berkeley campus that he called “Free Speech Week”. There was a preliminary list of potential speakers, including Ann Coulter, Charles Murray, James Damore, Mike Cernovich, Stephen Bannon, etc., which indicated that they were planning a total shit-show of horrible people, which certainly would test the limits of free speech. It turned out, though, they hadn’t bothered to ask most of those people, and the prospective speakers were a bit surprised to learn of it. Milo claimed to have $12 million in backing.

But the funny thing is, it doesn’t seem to be happening. It’ll still fill the need to feed the conservative persecution complex if it all falls apart, but it looks like they weren’t even seriously trying.

From the get-go, however, there have been various problems and unanswered questions, starting with the student group that was actually supposed to host “Free Speech Week.” This group, called the Berkeley Patriot, didn’t exist at all before July. Its site has five blog posts, its Facebook page shows no signs of real community and its Twitter account has 16 followers and no tweets. Both the blog and the Facebook page were started on Aug. 25 — shortly after Yiannopoulos announced he was working with this group to stage a major event on the Berkeley campus.

Despite being a tiny organization with no visible history, Berkeley Patriot had a huge ask: It not only wanted to hold events in the usual rooms offered at no charge for student events, but also wanted to rent Zellerbach Hall and Wheeler Auditorium, two of the largest venues on campus. The former of those, for instance, seats around 2,000 people and is mostly used for concerts and major performing arts events. According to the university, Berkeley Patriot was given three deadlines — Aug. 18, Aug. 25 and, finally, Sept. 15 — to sign a contract and pay the $65,000 rental fee for the two auditoriums. The students failed to do that.

Huh. Imagine that.

There is a problem lurking here with the student groups. Students get a real deal on these events: students can book any room on campus, complete with audio-visual gear, seating appropriate for 20 students to 400 students (we’re a small college, so we don’t have those 2000 seat auditoriums) at no charge. What it means is that a conservative with lots of cash can astro-turf a “student group” into existence by finding one or a few compliant students and getting them to host what is essentially a non-student event that is nominally student driven. It’s possible because universities are diverse, and there will always be far right wing students in attendance to provide an entry point. The Morris North Star, the ghastly ultra-right student paper that was here at my university for a couple of years, was a case in point: there was no organic drive to support it, it was managed by just a few students, and it got external money thrown at it…and it fell apart as soon as a few students graduated and the money bags didn’t get delivered anymore.

Milo Yiannopoulos, by the way, is a college dropout who has no connection at all to Berkeley. He’s the very definition of an outside agitator taking advantage of loopholes in college administration.

But it turns out that they — Milo and the students — were either incompetent or had a sneakier plan in mind. They aren’t going to have an official room or rooms or building for this event, so instead, they’re inviting random mobs of the kind of people who want to hear Coulter or Cernovich to show up and march around the campus. He’s nurturing this narrative that they were unjustly denied official space by Berkeley to fuel resentment. His little gang of neo-Nazis will wander around, being nasty, and when Berkeley rightfully cracks down on them, he’ll howl about persecution.

The alt-right thrives on the idea that it is being oppressed by violent leftists, a narrative that was in danger of dying out after a white supremacist killed a peaceful counter-protester and injured many others with a terrorist-style attack in Charlottesville. With his Berkeley event, Yiannopoulos has created and nurtured an atmosphere of right-wing grievance and anger — and now his gathering will happen outside, on the streets, with maximum opportunity for violent clashes between right-wing racists and counter-protesters. You might almost think that was how he designed it.

As if disrupting the work of the university is something Nazis should be allowed to do.

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