Adelaide Bikeway Fail

March 28, 2021
source: ABC News

ABC News recently reported that the Adelaide City Council (ACC) voted against the installation of a separated bikeway across the CBD after years of deliberations.

The 8-3 vote taken on Tuesday night means the council will miss out on $3 million in State Government funding towards the $5.8 million project. The east-west bikeway would have gone along Franklin Street, Gawler Place and Wakefield Street, connecting with the Frome Street bikeway in the eastern side of the CBD. The State Government funding was contingent on the council approving plans for the project by the end of the month. The tight deadline led to a condensed consultation period last year that upset businesses and the Greek Orthodox community, which has a church and a bingo hall on Franklin Street. Both groups were worried about losing parking spaces.

Sigh.

Worried about losing parking spaces… How about taking a bus or a cab or dropping off a friend or elderly relative?

In an email to subscribers entitled “The Cars That Ate Adelaide”, Bike SA condemned the ACC vote.

To be fair, according to the ABC report, there is some support for a bikeway, but not in the proposed location. Then again, given the length of deliberations so far, how much longer are we likely to have to wait for agreement?

The ABC report goes on to say that ACC celebrated “driver’s month” in November to encourage shoppers back to the CBD post COVID restrictions. Then this:

The council decision came after lawyer Greg Griffin wrote to the council on behalf of businesses opposed to the bike lane.

“Everybody has had enough of this matter continually arising,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide on Tuesday.

“No-one wants this bike lane. It will have a catastrophic effect in terms of businesses on Flinders Street.”

Mr Griffin said the population of Adelaide was primarily suburban, meaning it was “very different” to European cities renowned for their bike paths such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

“Everybody has had enough”? Not me.

“No-one wants the bike lane”!? Obviously false.

“Catastrophic effect”!? Oh please! Seriously?

“Primarily suburban”? Why then do we need so many cars in the Adelaide CBD if we’re all so suburban?

This kind of talk is a kick in the guts for those of us who want to ride a bike to work and get there safely, while reducing emissions.

We need more traffic in the Adelaide CBD like each of us needs a hole in the head.

I ride an electric bike to work three or four times per week at the moment. I get two or three 22km round trips from a single charge. There’s no discernible impact on our (solar powered) electricity bill and bugger all emissions from this activity.

I tend to steer clear of the CBD when riding but the proposed bikeway would have improved safety and made me more inclined to choose such a route sometimes.

My current route is quite traffic-heavy and judging by the lack of riders in the bike lane with me, I’m one of the few people apparently stupid enough to make the regular commute on that particular route.

Adelaide’s bike infrastructure is woefully inadequate with bike lanes stopping and starting (spatially and temporally) with sickening frequency, making commuting cyclists second class citizens.

Maybe we should (one day when that’s possible again) move to a country that actually gives a shit about safe cycling and lowering emissions and something other than car culture.

A “Helpful Guide” to the Afterlife from a Church Pamphlet

March 20, 2021
Photo by Emre Can on Pexels.com

It may be that Jesus never lived and so, never died. But that’s a rabbit hole for another day. We do know at least from the Jewish historian Josephus, that would-be messiahs and crucifixions were common around the time Jesus is said to have lived.

But let’s just suppose there was a historical Jesus, as described in the gospels. Was his death temporary? Did he rise 3 days later? What implications does this have for mammals like us?

35 years ago, when I was a Christian, although I hoped for an afterlife, I focused more on the death of Jesus, the atonement for the sins of the world through his blood sacrifice. But of course the other key piece is the resurrection and the promise of eternal life. Together, these seem to be the core of the Christian message, at least if you are a salvation by faith rather than a salvation by works kind of Christian.

We recently received a little pamphlet in our letterbox from a local Adelaide Baptist church entitled The Empty Tomb.

We’re approaching Easter 2021 so that’s not too surprising.

In my “Questionable Church Signs” posts I obscure any reference to the church to which a sign belongs. The Empty Tomb pamphlet includes the URL for the website, but I won’t include it here.

The Empty Tomb tells the story of the early life of Jesus, his baptism, miracles, downfall, crucifixion and resurrection.

After describing the horror of the crucifixion, it declares:

Just before He died, Jesus shouted… “IT IS FINISHED”.

The penalty for the sins of all mankind had been paid in full.

Now anyone could be saved by putting their faith in Jesus Christ.

All fairly standard salvation by faith stuff.

On the next page after the resurrection, we have:

HE IS RISEN!

Jesus DEFEATED Satan, and conquered death and hell.

At this point I could be excused for expecting a land of unicorns, rainbows and butterflies

But, then the pamphlet confronts me with…

All who accept Christ will live with God forever in heaven.

and, inevitably, and with “lovely” pictures…

Those who reject Jesus will burn forever in a lake of fire.

…which I take to mean Hell. Finally, we have…

Someday you will bow before God.

Who will YOU serve?

Jesus ChristSatan

So, no other options then?

Just the two?

Hmm. Wait a sec…

Is atonement really for everyone? Have our sins been paid for in full? Or, is this conditional upon uttering some magic words like “I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour”?

Not completely clear from this particular user manual.

Were Satan and Hell actually defeated? Not really, if it’s possible to burn in Hell or to serve Satan (or bizarrely somehow, both at the same time). Was that always possible, and now only optional because of what Jesus did?

The logical contradictions and gaps in reasoning in The Empty Tomb abound.

But worse than that is the ease with which The Other is condemned. Those who do not believe as “we” do.

That is very dangerous thinking.

Hitch would have declared this an example of how religion poisons everything. It’s easy to see why.

What role do liberal-minded Christians have in countering this kind of thinking? Similarly, what role do liberal-minded Muslims have in countering Jihad and other Islamist (“must convert the infidel”) thinking?

I can’t speak for the faithful although I am always happy to converse with them or anyone, to try to find common ground, and to agree to disagree otherwise.

That’s really the only way forward, isn’t it?

However, I also see it as a kind of duty to expose and counter harmful nonsense, such as is promoted in The Empty Tomb pamphlet.

Life is short and we are not at the centre of things. And, our species is in desperate need of growing up.

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

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.