Voluntary Assisted Dying in South Australia

March 10, 2021
Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation is being discussed starting from March 17 in the South Australian parliament.

A little more than a year ago, my dad expressed a wish to die every day I was with him for the last week of his life. He was living in Tasmania. While there are amendments to be accepted, VAD legislation is now on the way to being passed there.

I recently took part in a discussion of VAD in South Australia at the Blackwood Uniting Church, a special meeting of the monthly philosophy group, supported by a well thought out presentation by a palliative care doctor. The consensus seemed to be support for VAD.

A cursory glance through my blog will show that I don’t believe in gods of any sort. One problem with religion in general is that it encourages people to pretend to know things they can’t possibly know, and potentially (and this is the crucial bit) base important life decisions on such belief. I’ve written elsewhere about what counts as good belief.

With respect to Christianity at least, the more liberal the denomination, the less salvation by faith thinking there is, and the more emphasis on living a good and caring life due to some notion of (a God of) love there usually is. Of course, you don’t need religion for that.

Especially given that there was a “Non-Christian but I wish to support the Group” option, I was encouraged to sign up on the Christians In Support of VAD website after the philosophy group discussion.

The more names on petitions and lists in favour of choosing a “good death”, the better.

Speaking of which, here’s one such (secular) petition. I signed that too.

Try to enjoy life now. There’s a very good chance that this is the only one you’ll get. And if your end of life scenario sucks, remember: it’s your life, not some imaginary sky fairy’s. You should get to choose, in consultation with those you care about.

Whatever you believe, the fact is that each of us was born into a life that none of us asked for.

You can choose to consider life as a gift, or to simply accept the fact of existence and embrace it. Or both, if you like.

We were not alive for 14 billion years (give or take), and we won’t be alive for even longer while the heat death of the universe plays out over trillions of years.

But we should, where possible, have some say in the manner, time, and place of our exit from life.

Anyway, let’s hope that VAD legislation is passed in SA.

On Food Choices: clandestine caged eggs

February 6, 2021

According to the current RSPCA frequently asked questions, there are 16 million layer hens in Australia, 9 million of which are still in battery cages.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

This means that 7 million hens are not in cages, but are free range (which has a broad definition), in barns, or pastured.

The numbers may be +/- 1 million or so different, depending upon which year you look.

These days consumers have a great deal of choice when purchasing a carton of eggs.

But if there are more hens in cages in Australia than in other systems, and we are seeing a decline in caged eggs on supermarket shelves, an obvious question arises: where are all the caged eggs going?

The answer? Into processed food products (e.g. baked goods) and into the hospitality industry (cafes, restaurants). Here’s what the RSPCA had to say in 2018:

An estimated eight in 10 eggs used in food service and manufacturing are cage eggs. But this is changing with many of Australia’s biggest and best-known brands responding to the expectations of their customers by ending the use or sale of cage eggs in their businesses, in favour of cage-free.

Why cage free will help end the battery cage (RSPCA)

Similar comments were made in a 2020 RSPCA podcast (see also below). So, although there is change, if you read the ingredients list on a packet and it says that it contains eggs, there’s a good chance this came from a caged hen. Likewise, if you eat out, and there is no information to the contrary, your smashed avo with egg on toast may also have come from a caged hen.

As an important aside, the RSPCA also says that in commercial systems, a hen lives for around 72 weeks before it is considered “spent” and euthanised on the farm by carbon dioxide gassing or sent to slaughter to be used for lower-quality products such as soups, stocks or pet food. Then there is the problem of male chicks that are considered a waste product to the industry and killed after hatching, since they are not of the right breed for the meat industry. Recent Australian gene technology may, if adopted by industry, be able to identify gender early, before hatching.

The ACT has already banned the caged egg system. An episode in season 2 of the RSPCA’s Humane Food podcast (the name of which is arguably a contradiction) mentioned that later this year the Australian parliament will consider a ban on caged hens. Let’s hope this comes into effect. Of course, that still leaves the rest of the industry in place, but as Christopher Hitchens might have said: it’s progress of a kind.

Baptism of Death

February 6, 2021

The BBC reported on the death of an infant (Feb 1 2021) after a dunking baptism in the Romanian Orthodox Church.

The baby had a cardiac arrest after he was immersed three times in holy water. He had a violent death and liquid was found in his lungs, an autopsy found. A manslaughter inquiry has been opened by prosecutors into the priest who carried out the baptism in the north-eastern city of Suceava.

BBC
source

The report goes on to say that: “If the baby’s death leads to reform in the way baptism rituals are carried out then it would cause a rift within Romania’s Orthodox Church.”

Really? Is that the main concern here? Sure, oh, good: a schism leading to yet another warring Christian faction disagreeing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin…

The bottom line is that baby died because of stupid archaic beliefs about the necessity of ceremonial particulars.

While some, such as the Archbishop of Arges, may be open to change, others are not so inclined:

Eminence Calinic, the Archbishop of Arges, is the most prominent voice so far who appears open to change. “In other icons, Jesus stands in the water up to his neck, and with his head bowed he receives baptism by pouring water over the top of his head,” he was quoted as saying.

The Archbishop of Tomis, however, took a more belligerent stance. “We will never change the ritual. The canons of this religion have been in place for over 1,000 years,” he said. “That is why we won’t change. We are not intimidated.”

Romania’s powerful Orthodox Church is not known for reform, but this baptism tragedy may lead to change.

BBC

Sometimes I really just don’t know what more to say…

My concern with religion is that it allows us by the millions to believe what only lunatics or idiots could believe on their own.

Sam Harris

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. The name is obscured to protect the innocent, so to speak, as usual.

Trust Him. Trust Him?

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

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, in which case He should consider a line of work other than Universe building.

Or did He plan to create a future in which there is suffering. If so, He is not all-good.

There are those Christians who will say that the suffering we see in the world is because of our rebellion against God. If God incarnate, in the person of Jesus Christ, died for the sins of all, and rebellion against God is a sin, then shouldn’t that be forgiven too, rather than God heaping more woes upon humanity?

Yes, I know… Jesus died for our sins and “all we have to do” is believe in Him to have eternal life.

What if we don’t want eternal life?

And forgiveness: don’t we get that whether we ask for it or not because of what Jesus did at Calvary?

Others will say that there is a Grand Cosmic Plan that we just don’t understand.

Either way, God gets all the kudos and we are still left with the puzzle. Adding “God” to a sentence does not contribute to an explanation.

I do 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.

But perhaps we should follow William of Ockham’s advice and not multiply entities needlessly. It all just seems too complex, too arbitrary. It has all the hallmarks of being man-made.

In any case, 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 though: 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