Questionable church signs #4

January 17, 2021

I took this quick photo of a church sign from a distance on the way to the train, after a nice afternoon on the beach with my wife.

Trust Him?

If 2020 is anything to go by, I think I’ll place my bets elsewhere. A pandemic, major bush fires, earth quakes, untold suffering…

The implication of this church sign is that God knows what’s coming. This makes Him all-seeing. Is He powerless to change the future? If so, He is not all-powerful.

Unless, this is the kind of future He wants. If so, He cannot be all-good, since either He planned to create a future in which there is suffering or He is incapable of stopping it, in which case He should consider a line of work other than Universe building.

There are those Christians who will say that the suffering we see in the world is because of our rebellion against God. Others will say that there is a plan that we just don’t understand. Either way, God gets all the kudos and we are still left with the same puzzle. But adding “God” to any sentence does not contribute to an explanation.

I understand the desire to believe that there’s a plan, that all the bad things that happen somehow make sense. Especially when we lose those we care about.

Still, I much prefer questions that do not yet (and may never) have answers over answers that cannot be questioned.

The sign is right about one thing: 2021? who knows? It should have stopped there.

Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Picture of mum at 2 years old and the world of 1930

January 3, 2021

Karen was looking through family history documents recently and came across this photo of my Mum at 2 years, 2 months old in 1930 with her parents Alma and Jim Melville.

My mother, Lorna Jean Benn (nee Melville) at 2 years, 2 months of age.

Other than being a beautiful photograph, what struck me was what a very different time it must have been.

The back of the postcard on which Mum’s picture appears.

I was initially planning to stop there. Being on holidays and in a contemplative mood, I began wondering what was going on in 1930, 2 years after the discovery of penicillin, 11 years after the end of the Spanish Flu, between two world wars, at the start of the decade which saw the rise of nationalism.

Thinking about the history of computing, this was the year of Christopher Morcom’s death, the young man who was so important to Alan Turing, and six years before Turing’s historic paper On Computable Numbers. In 1930, an analog computer capable of solving differential equations was created in the US by Vannevar Bush and a simple binary counter was built in the UK by C.E. Wynn-Williams. John Vincent Atanasoff completed his PhD before inventing the world’s first electronic digital computer in the late 30s. The influential Dutch computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra was also born in 1930.

Moving from computing to space and science history, American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Pete Conrad were all born in 1930, as was Frank Drake, American radio astronomer and SETI pioneer. The process by which ozone is replenished in the upper atmosphere was explained by Sydney Chapman in that year, Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, Neoprene was invented by DuPont corporation, the diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis vaccine was first used and the particle later identified as the electron neutrino was postulated by Wolfgang Pauli.

While 1930 was a very different time from 2021 in many ways, there were historical events unfolding when my mother was just a small child that have shaped our world in important ways, bringing her time and mine a little closer in a strangely comforting way.

Jupiter and Saturn on Dec 23

December 23, 2020
Canon 1100D with Meade LX-90 8″ scope, ISO 6400, 1/15 second at 21:51 ACDT (click image to enlarge)

The two planets are slowly separating, tonight to 13 minutes of arc, around one fifth of a degree, up from 6.5 minutes of arc on Monday night.

My main goal tonight was to share the view with Karen, who worked the previous two nights, before Jupiter and Saturn are no longer in the same low power field of view. She enjoyed it.

I didn’t have a lot of time for set up and imaging tonight, but wanted to take an image that emphasised the planets themselves rather than their moons. The focus is not great, and Jupiter is still overexposed, but I like the fact that Saturn’s ring and the planet are distinct here.

The good news is that I have my Meade LX90’s AutoStar back from repair now, and it works well! This will encourage me to start doing tracked, piggy-backed, wide-field photometry again. It’s been awhile.

Jupiter & Saturn in 8″ scope (untracked)

December 22, 2020
Jupiter and Galilean moons plus Saturn with Canon 1100D with LX-90, ISO 1600, 1/5 second at 21:37 ACDT (click image to enlarge)

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, my Meade LX-90 8″ telescope’s AutoStar is being repaired, but tonight I decided to attempt to image the conjunction anyway with manual pointing and no tracking. Fast shutter speed and high gain was important to reduce the effects of rapid movement while obtaining enough detail.

The separation between the two planets was still around one eighth of a degree tonight, well within a low power eyepiece (24.5mm super wide angle) and my Canon 1100D’s sensor frame.

Sky Safari Pro screenshot identifying the four Galilean moons

All four Galilean moons are visible along with Saturn’s rings and the ball of the planet. Io is visible as a “bump” on Jupiter at around 11 o’clock.

Note the reversed telescopic view due to the optics.

The focus is not amazing, but under the circumstances, it turned out reasonably well. The planets were low in the sky as well.

Although I had images containing Saturn’s largest moon Titan, I wasn’t happy with the quality.

I also took a wide-field shot of the pair low on the western horizon, peeping through cloud, not long before the sky became cloud-filled. The exposure and gain make the sky appear abnormally bright.

Jupiter (top) and Saturn with Canon 1100D, 100mm focal length, f2.0, ISO 400, 1 second exposure at 21:53 ACDT

Jupiter-Saturn conjunction view

December 22, 2020

I had a nice view of the Great Conjunction of 2020 last night with Saturn, its largest moon Titan, Jupiter, three Galilean moons (there was a star near Europa that I initially mistook for a moon), all visible in a low power eyepiece.

My Meade LX-90’s AutoStar hand controller is in for repair so unfortunately I had to position the scope manually. With no fine controls or tracking, that was awkward but doable. Imaging, not so doable. There will be plenty from others though.

I expected the two planets to appear a little closer on the sky, but in hindsight, should not have.

I’ll be out again the next couple of nights for another look since, as per my last post, the two planets will still be quite close for the next few nights.

Jupiter & Saturn wide field, Dec 19 2020

December 19, 2020

Two days before the Great Conjunction of 2020 (on Dec 21) in which Jupiter and Saturn will appear at their closest in the sky in nearly four centuries, I took a wide field image of the pair low in the west on Dec 19 at around 9:50pm ACDT (click to enlarge).

Of the two brightest objects near the centre, Jupiter is at left and Saturn at right.

The planets are separated by around 16.5 minutes of arc or 0.275 degrees or a little more than half of the angular size of the full Moon. At the same time on Monday, Jupiter and Saturn will be separated by less than 6.5 minutes of arc or not much more than a tenth of a degree. On Dec 22 and 23 they will still be quite close, at almost 7.5 and 10 minutes of arc respectively.

Jupiter and Galilean moons plus Saturn with Canon 1100D, 100mm focal length, f2.0, ISO 800, 1 second exposure

The following screenshot from Sky Safari pro (iOS) helps with identification. Most of the moons, except for Europa, Ganymede and Callisto are not visible in the wide field image.

Sky Safari Pro screenshot

A cropped portion of the image (click to enlarge) shows the Galilean moons a little more clearly, including Io as a slight bump at lower left of Jupiter. Titan is barely visible at the lower left of Saturn. The resolution is not high enough to see Saturn’s rings or any detail on Jupiter.

Cropped portion of wide field image

I’m hoping that at least one or two nights early next week, the local weather will cooperate for more viewing of the conjunction.

Dad’s old Mac and DSLR photometry

September 29, 2020
Photo by Junior Teixeira on Pexels.com

After upgrading my MacBook to macOS Catalina, WINE stopped working, because 32-bit applications were no longer permitted to run. I had been using WINE to run the Windows IRIS program for image processing and DSLR photometry as part of my minimalist approach.

After my father died in January this year, his older MacBook was passed on to me. It still has Yosemite as the OS, so WINE & IRIS work fine on it!

Given all the times we spent talking about astronomy, the special time we shared watching the 2001 Leonids under a dark country sky, and the “help desk” support I tried to give him over the phone, I know that dad would approve of my use of his old computer in this way.

Certainly better than having it sit idle.

Thanks dad.

Photo by David Besh on Pexels.com

Vegan Vignette: B12 Though…

September 21, 2020

When I first went vegan, I was concerned that I may not be getting enough vitamin B12, the only nutrient that cannot be obtained from consuming plants. It was one of the topics I wrote about in But is it Healthy?

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

B12 can taken as a supplement (e.g. tablet, mouth spray) or by eating foods fortified with the vitamin, such as plant-based milks (e.g. some soy milks) or other foods (e.g. some brands of vegan meat substitutes).

I currently use B12 fortified soy milk daily as my regular source. I have recently switched to Oat Milk and none of the brands I have found are fortified with B12, therefore I am taking a daily sublingual 1000 mcg supplement.

Although only required in very small amounts, B12 deficiencies can lead to anaemia and nervous system damage.

I have annual blood tests that have shown my levels of this and other required nutrients to be well within the normal range.

There’s good information online about B12. You can read more in What every vegan should know about B12 or Zeuschner et al, (2013), Vitamin B12 and vegetarian diets, The Medical Journal of Australia.

See also Dr Michael Gregor’s nutritionfact.org videos on B12.

The Church and The Vaccine

September 19, 2020

We no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious. What believers will do now that their faith is optional and private … is a matter for them. We should not care. As long as they make no further attempt to inculcate religion by any form of coercion.

Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Spoiler alert: I am not sympathetic to religion as a source of ethics here.

In mid-2020, concern was expressed by archbishops of Sydney Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches regarding the use of cell lines in vaccine development that originated with a human female embryo that was aborted in 1973.

Free speech is important, but given that vaccine development is hard and that many (perhaps 95%) vaccines fail in the late stages of human trials, it really matters whether this is a reasonable ethical concern.

Granted, the conversation has been more nuanced than media headlines have often suggested, as can be noted by listening to the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report podcast.

But to what extent does this nuance translate to “the flock”?

We would do well to recall that the flock has in the past been told that the use of condoms was a sin. The Catholic Church’s stance may have moderated a little on this matter, but just think of the calamity that this one, misguided teaching has unleashed, especially upon African adherents to the faith, when AIDS was still a death sentence, compounded by poverty and unchecked population growth.

For this alone, the Catholic Church should be universally reviled, once again having proven its irrelevance to modern life and at the same time, how dangerous it still can be.

We should also remember that a mere few hundred years ago, it was much much more dangerous, when we were collectively more dim-witted and willing to cede more power to it.

That must never again be allowed to happen.

Rejecting a perfectly good vaccine candidate is a kick in the guts for the work being done by the Oxford University team and others worldwide.

Suppose it is the most effective vaccine, or less likely but not impossible, the only one that works?

If it appears that I have unduly focussed on the Catholic Church, that’s only because it makes such an easy target. Other denominations do not have a squeaky clean history either.

It’s important to understand that all ways of knowing are not equal, especially in this context.

Science and reason, not faith, are required when thinking about the fitness of a vaccine and its development process.

None of this is to say that ethical concerns don’t matter here. Of course they do. But ethics must be based upon well-thought out principles and a focus upon consequences, not ill-conceived, brittle rules, and certainly never by thinking that tradition dictates truth.

A comment by Nobel laureate and immunologist Peter Doherty in this ABC News article sums it up for me:

If [Archbishop Fisher] finds that objectionable it’s his perfect right to say so and it’s our perfect right to take absolutely no notice of him.

source: ABC News

And, it’s not as if there are no other concerns…

For example, what about animal testing in vaccine development, including for COVID-19?

As someone who thinks that no-one, human or non-human, should be used as a means to an end, it would be an understatement to say that I am ambivalent about testing vaccine candidates on animals.

But, I’ve written about such dilemmas elsewhere; there is a spectrum of concern here…

I still wear boots with suede strips that I owned before going vegan. Suede is soft skin torn from the underside of some poor dead animal. I can’t help that animal now, but every time I wear those boots, I am reminded of my error…

…and, not wishing to add insult to injury, I choose not to discard them while they are still useful, perhaps somewhat akin to the way some of our ancestors are thought to have paid their respects to the animals they killed and consumed. Needless to say, my clothing purchasing decisions now incorporate vegan principles.

In a similar way, perhaps the religious objectors to the use of a decades-old cell line could chill out, just a little, and take a similar approach.

The cell line from the embryo that was aborted 47 years ago has led to great good (an unintentional means to an end), for which we should be thankful. It is unlikely to have suffered in any meaningful way.

If only the same could be said for the animals we routinely kill en masse, because we are collectively failing to tip the balance towards a plant-based diet.

Update on Victorian Bird Flu

August 29, 2020
Source: ABC News

Further to my last post, on Aug 29 this ABC report said that:

Tens of thousands of chickens and an untold number of emus will be euthanased as Victoria battles multiple bird flu outbreaks.

As of this week, infected birds – including emus, turkeys and chickens – have been found in six poultry farms. Agriculture Victoria says three different strains of the virus have been detected, meaning that the outbreaks are not all connected.

Source: ABC News

The report goes on to say that 300,000 layer hens had already been “destroyed” and that another 40,000 will be “culled” soon. The company in question will lose one third of its flock. The financial losses are expected to be around $18 to $23 million in the 2020/2021 financial year.

I find it distasteful that the talk is always of economics and poor-bugger-me from the companies as opposed to the tragic loss of animal life, so casually disregarded and disposed of.

I mentioned the two free range chicken farm outbreaks and another on a turkey farm in my last post. This latest ABC News report says around 4,000 of the turkeys were culled, and that due to another outbreak (a different strain) on a farm with 8,000 emus, part of that farm would have to be “depopulated“.

The euphemisms are flying thick and fast…

In my last post I worried about this: If these events continue or even increase in frequency, I can’t help but wonder whether there will be calls to dismantle free range.

Well, the ABC report ends with this:

Especially with more flocks in free range setups outdoors — it’s a recipe for disaster.

If we keep letting [the farmed animals] out during this high risk time, it’ll keep spreading.

The only way is to lock up every bird.

Source: ABC News

#EndSpeciesism