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Posted by PZ Myers

There doesn’t seem to be any question that Andrew Escobedo, a professor of English at Ohio University, sexually assaulted several of his students, and then threatened them if they exposed him. The case looks like a done deal.

…the school’s civil rights office issued a graphic 78-page report that not only substantiated their claims but also those of two other women alleging sexual harassment by Escobedo dating back to 2003. Escobedo denied the accusations, but his bosses, from the dean and provost to the president, agreed he should be fired.

It also looks to me like Escobedo has basically confessed.

After the investigation finished, Escobedo wrote a letter to colleagues — outing the names of witnesses and alleged victims — in which he said they had multiple opportunities to move away from him, yet they didn’t. Adams and Hempstead told investigators they feared that if they more forcefully rejected Escobedo, he could retaliate when giving them their final grades.

That letter…yikes. While vehemently protesting that he didn’t do it, and the witnesses couldn’t have seen him do it, and that it was the students’ fault for not running away from his grabby hands, and he was really drunk anyway, he also proposes that appropriate punishments would be a year of unpaid leave (in the business, we call those “sabbaticals”) and a permanent ban on working with grad students. He’s bargaining about the degree of guilt! Ick.

But he’s not out yet. He has been suspended from teaching duties, but he’s still getting paid.

The administration may want Escobedo gone, and the school’s own report may have painted Escobedo as a predator who “has engaged in a pattern of exploiting females who are subordinate” to him, but because of tenure, university policies entitle him to an administrative process that has kept him on staff for months. The Athens News reports that Escobedo’s salary last year was $87,000. At any time, Escobedo could resign without facing formal punishment, something the graduate students want to prevent.

Now Adams and Hempstead are questioning whether tenure, a system they both believe in as it safeguards intellectual freedom, has actually hamstrung how universities like theirs deal with sexual harassment cases.

Wait a minute — this looks like a case where the system is working. Escobedo was reported in March of 2016, and he was removed from his teaching responsibilities fairly quickly. That 78 page report was completed in December of that year, so a thorough turnaround in 9 months is simply amazing to anyone who knows how slowly academic bureaucracies grind. The breakdown of the schedule of the investigation shows that while it was lengthy, it was also prolonged by protocol.

Ohio University said it strives to finish investigations within 60 days, but it can be tough booking witnesses for interviews. That’s why the probe of Escobedo’s behavior took nearly nine months. The president then took almost three months to weigh in on how to punish Escobedo. Escobedo then had 30 days to request a hearing before the faculty senate to challenge the firing recommendation, and another 60 days to prepare his defense. Escobedo’s hearing is scheduled for Sept. 1 — nearly 18 months after Adams and Hempstead formally complained about him.

That is not unreasonable. You don’t want tenure decisions to be lightly rescinded, since that would defeat the whole point of tenure.

Now, in light of all the evidence against him, if Escobedo is not fired after his hearing, then there are grounds to complain. Keep in mind that his colleagues are also eager for a certain resolution of this problem because they are currently paying for a faculty line that is doing nothing, so his teaching load has been distributed among others, which is not an acceptable solution. Everyone in a department has to work to keep students progressing smoothly.

The one flaw in the system, though, is that “At any time, Escobedo could resign without facing formal punishment”, and move on to apply for new positions elsewhere, without a big black flag on his record. The internet does provide an informal check (imagine future hiring committees googling “Andrew Escobedo Ohio University”) which probably means his academic career is dead, but still…being able to just put “Resigned” on his CV and invent a bullshit excuse that won’t be checked gives him an out. It also means that when prospective employers check on his work history, Ohio University can pretend the sordid mess did not occur and say something bland.

Having tenure does not mean that you no longer have to worry about the repercussions of your actions.

08/21/17 PHD comic: 'Eclipse'

Aug. 21st, 2017 04:10 am
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Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
Click on the title below to read the comic
title: "Eclipse" - originally published 8/21/2017

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We’re all doooomed

Aug. 20th, 2017 09:40 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

We’re having an eclipse tomorrow.

A white moose has been spotted in Sweden.

And the corpse flowers are blooming.

I swear, the first week of classes aren’t usually filled with this many dark omens.

I now understand why Valerian bombed

Aug. 20th, 2017 01:33 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

How could Valerian fail? Luc Besson, $200 million budget, the stills and clips I saw beforehand were visually spectacular. And then I watched it last night. I would have fallen asleep if the flashing colors hadn’t made my eyes hurt. Besson made a movie with fantastic visuals, but he forgot to include little details like a sensible plot and relatable characters and some motivation for wanting the characters to succeed; it’s like being given the job of making a cake, not bothering with substance, and building an elaborate confection out of nothing but marzipan and lots and lots of food coloring.

It starts out interestingly enough, with a series of scenes starting with a contemporary ship docking with a space station, and visitors and residents shaking hands. Then, over time, the station gets bigger, more ships come, more handshakes, and eventually aliens show up, and we see a succession of weird aliens. Well, not so weird. My first disappointment is that all of the aliens are still all two-eyed bipeds with hands that can be shaken — for all the enthusiasm for Besson’s imagination, it has flopped down and died in the first 10 minutes. One of the tedious things about the visual effects in this movie is that he’s just ramped up the garishness that we saw in The Fifth Element — there are many scenes that are just incoherent, full of loud flashing colors and random design elements. It’s a lot like a Michael Bay movie without the violence.

The second disappointment is simple innumeracy. The space station has grown so much it has to be moved out of Earth orbit…to the Magellanic clouds? That’s quite a move, all the way out of our galaxy. But then later we learn that it was moved 700 million miles, which is just a small fraction of a light year. Scale and scope are completely confusing in this movie.

Then we cut to a distant alien planet called Mül, although in my head it was actually the Planet of the Androgynous Supermodels on a Beach Shoot. We’re introduced to the McGuffin of the movie, a magical rat thing (it looks a bit like Skrat, from the Ice Age cartoons, with warts) that, when fed these blue marbles, poops out buckets full of duplicate blue marbles that are tremendous power sources with ten times the energy needed to power an interstellar starship, but which the supermodels use to wash their face with in the morning. Suddenly, the planet is destroyed. Supermodels look weepy and horrified.

Fast cut to our Heroes, Valerian and Laureline. Valerian is a cocky frat boy. Laureline is aloof. They’re in love, I guess. We need to be told that, because you sure aren’t going to see it in their chemistry. The whole movie is then about these two young people scurrying about to reunite the Supermodels with Magical Rat Thing and a Blue Marble, although they don’t have a clue what they’re doing themselves. Neither do we. There’s some irrelevant nonsense about a growing danger to the space station and bad robots and misunderstandings and nefarious conspiracies that don’t really matter, and then it ends with some treacle about the power of love.

That’s it. That’s the whole movie. Two hundred million dollars worth of marzipan and food coloring. Skip it. Watch the psychedelic wormhole sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey again, it’s about as flashy and will leave you no less confused.

Which makes me think…maybe Valerian would have been more entertaining if I’d been high on ‘shrooms while watching it.

[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

I’m not a fan of the big heads carved into a mountain farther west, but this one looks good.

That’s Dignity, a new monument that was unveiled in Chamberlain, South Dakota recently.

The Dignity sculpture is a stunning combination of art and history. Located on a bluff between exits 263 and 265 on Interstate 90 near Chamberlain, the stainless steel, 50-foot-tall statue was specifically designed by sculptor Dale Lamphere to honor the cultures of the Lakota and Dakota people. That’s why he used three Native American models ages 14, 29 and 55 to perfect the face of Dignity.

“Dignity represents the courage, perseverance and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota,” Lamphere said. “My hope is that the sculpture might serve as a symbol of respect and promise for the future.”

Representing the rich Native American culture of South Dakota, the 50-foot Native woman gracefully wears a dress patterned after a two-hide Native dress of the 1850s. She holds outstretched a quilt featuring 128 stainless steel blue diamond shapes designed to flutter in the wind. During the day, her star quilt – a representation of respect, honor and admiration in Native American culture – glitters in the sun with color-changing pieces that move with the wind. At night, LED lights cause the diamond shapes to glow in the night sky, casting a peaceful presence easily visible from the Interstate.

Episode 1537: Nun of the Above

Aug. 20th, 2017 10:11 am
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Episode 1537: Nun of the Above

Keybounce writes:

Splitting the party is kind of old at this point. You would think by now that all of the players would know better. (Which episode had the CI's commenting "The party is never so split that you can't split it farther"? Wasn't that Episode III?) [Ed.: It was #832.]

So let's point out the obvious puns: nuns, and "habit". The narrator saying, "it's just convent-ional". God, these are bad.

So let's look at the film: we have these space nuns. In setting the scene, Lucasfilm went to the typical (for them) "let's have lots of colorful locals in the establishing shot to make it look like people actually live here, work here, etc." Which is a nice touch.

But they have lines of dialogue here. "If they're exporting sand, then we're farming moisture". They're not just throwaway NPCs; they're somebody that we will see again, in this scene in disguise. Not Jabba's agents. Investigating the star destroyer. Please tell me we don't have another Maul, private investigator.

So let's count sides. Side one is the city, and the star destroyer. Side two is the rebels, and Jabba. Side three is the disguised "nuns on the run".

I'd call for wild mass guessing, but it will all be in the spoiler thread and I'll never see it. But we're seeing something that's going to disrupt this entire campaign, or at the very least this first part on Tatooine.

— Keybounce

aurilee writes:

I guess the GM got those figurines on a whim... ple.

And how could he resist? There was a mass-ive sale.

If he had missed out, he would have been crabbey for a week.

I'm sorry. I'm done now. I'll get me to a punnery.

So... is sand exporting actually a thing they're doing? Does Kamino want to increase its tourism by adding some beaches?

The nice thing about Star Wars is that so much of it makes so little sense, you're basically willing to go along with whatever (unless it's obviously contradictory... cough midi-chlorians cough).

Contrast that with Star Trek, where it's accurate/plausible enough that you notice every little inconsistency and fans (including me) will spend hours discussing these things.

And, just to tie in the nuns with the Star Trek discussion, their outfits remind me a bit of Kai Opaka's outfit on Deep Space Nine. I guess pink-ish red habits with a box-like headpiece is standard fare for space-nuns.

— aurilee


False advertising

Aug. 19th, 2017 07:13 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

An organization called Mythicist Milwaukee is putting on a one day skeptic/atheist conference called Mythcon, a “mythinformation conference”. I think they’re living up to the name. They’ve posted this announcement:

Mythicist Milwaukee’s upcoming conference is a place to share ideas. Yet, white supremacy, racism and sexism are not among them.
We vehemently stand against bigotry of any kind. Instead, we are focused on promoting dialogue about culture, religion and freedom of thought at our upcomoming Mythinformation Conference.
Our speakers and attendees celebrate a wide diversity of opinion. However; those who engage in hate and violence under the guise of “free speech” or “protest” are not welcome.

Fine sentiments. One problem: three of their four speakers are Sargon of Akkad, Armoured Skeptic, and ShoeOnHead, people who have no reputation as skeptics, and are known only for their anti-feminist and anti-social-justice rants on YouTube. Nothing more. Any reputation they have is of the negative sort — they’re part of that cohort of gamergate/alt-right screechers that have monetized their presence on YouTube and Patreon and make money off strident bullshit against Anita Sarkeesian.

They’re free to do that. Mythicist Milwaukee is free to invite a cluster of neo-fascists to speak at a conference. However, what is appalling is that they’re advertising this as skepticism, and piously declaring that they oppose white supremacy, racism and sexism while hosting a trio of alt-right feminist-hating dorks to headline their event. I know if I attended a meeting that declared that they stand against bigotry of any kind, and first thing I saw was frikken’ Sargon of Akkad taking the stage, I’d walk out and leave because they’d lured me in under false pretenses.

It’s also chickenshit. You want to preach racism and misogyny, you get to do that; but why are you so cowardly that you hide your position with a dishonest disclaimer? Are you ashamed of your views? You should be.

If you want to know more about why these three are terrible choices for speakers, here’s a thorough rundown.

In the year of my birth…

Aug. 19th, 2017 03:58 pm
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has a feature that allows you to look up by year the time words were first published. One curious thing I noticed is that there are huge numbers of words introduced in the 40s on, most of them technical and scientific words, but in more recent years the number of novel words is drying up. Why? I don’t know.

I did look up what words were introduced in the year I was born, and there were lots of them. But this series caught my attention.

I think it means that emotionally I am far more childish than my advanced years would imply.

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

As I make my final preparations for my eclipse travels (rural western Wyoming, if you’re curious) I’m hearing stories that are making me very unhappy: Some school districts across the country are telling children to stay inside during the eclipse, out of fear they’ll damage their eyes.

Let me be clear: Schools, administrators, teachers, parents: Don’t do this. YOU CAN LET THE KIDS SEE THE ECLIPSE. You just have to be safe about it.

I understand the reasoning behind this fear. Looking at the Sun without protecting your eyes can in fact damage them (more on that in a sec), and there are some companies selling fake eclipse glasses, ones that say they are rated for safety but aren’t*.

Given that, worrying over the safety of the vision of schoolchildren is natural. However, forbidding them from seeing the eclipse is overkill, and completely unnecessary.

First, a great number of eclipse glasses are fine. The American Astronomical Society has a list of vendors known to be safe. If the ones you have are on that list you should be okay. If not, you can perform some easy tests to see if they work or not, and again the AAS has you covered (Update: I had originally written that you can ONLY see the Sun through real glasses, but it turns out very bright LEDs can be seen (somewhat faintly) through them. Don't throw out good glasses because of this! Still, check the list to make sure they're OK. Thank to Christopher Becke for the note.).

My friend Stephen Ramsden, who runs the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project (he travels all over the American southeast showing people the Sun through his incredible suite of telescopic equipment), has a page up on Facebook with descriptions and pictures of some glasses that aren’t up to snuff. I suggest following him there for updates. He has also personally given away thousands of glasses from Rainbow Symphony; I have some of these and I like them. If you got your glasses from Stephen, you’re good to go.

Second, and this is very important too, you only need to protect your eyes during the partial phase of the eclipse. That’s from when the Moon first starts to edge into the Sun’s face until it completely blocks the solar surface. Totality, when the Sun is completely blocked, is perfectly safe to look at, even with binoculars or other equipment. That lasts about two minutes; check your local listings.

When totality ends — the Moon slips off the face of the Sun — you need to have protection on again (it’s even more important at this point, because when the eclipse is total your pupils will open up to let in more light, so when totality ends that flash of light can do even more damage). To be safe, give yourself plenty of padding in time near the end of totality. Give it a good 20 seconds or so before the end to stop looking.

pinhole projection of an eclipse

My friend Anne Wheaton literally punched a pen nib through a paperboard ticket to project an eclipse from 2012 onto a friend's jacket. Credit: Anne Wheaton

Third, you don’t even have to look at the eclipse directly to enjoy it! You can very easily make a pinhole projector, which will magnify the image of the Sun and project it onto a piece of paper. This costs almost literally nothing (two sheets of paper and a thumbtack), protects your eyes, lets you enjoy the eclipse when it’s partial, and is also educational! It’s also fun: The kids can punch a bunch of holes to make patterns, spell their name, create a cartoon character, whatever. My friend Emily Lakdawalla has a fantastic worksheet online on how to do this (it’s even been translated into multiple languages).

So I implore you, please, please, please don’t prevent your kids from seeing this eclipse! It’s a wonder of nature, a chance to learn science, a chance for them to have fun, and a chance for them to stretch their imaginations. These are all things we must encourage in them, and the Universe is giving us a gorgeous chance to do all of that at the same time.

* Let me be clear about that: Any person who knowingly sells fake eclipse glasses is a piece of human filth. They could be hurting tens or hundreds of thousands of people, including kids. There is no circle of Hell painful enough for these monsters.


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Posted by PZ Myers

Alex Jones visited downtown Seattle to record himself ranting on street corners about immigrants and evil antifa, and posted the video. Sadly, he later took it down because, I suspect, the response of the locals wasn’t very encouraging.

…former Seattle City Council candidate Michael Maddux approached Jones. Jones, in turn, asked him to talk. Maddux responded, “I don’t talk to racist fucks.”

Only a candidate? He needs to make this the centerpiece of his next campaign.

But my favorite part was this:

While ranting, Jones was confronted by BlöödHag singer Jake Stratton, who called out that Jones was “trash.” When Jones confronted him, Stratton threw coffee on him and taunted Jones before telling him he was going back to work, “where they have more coffee.”

We have reached peak Seattle: racists fucks getting doused with coffee by the lead singer of a two-umlaut band. I’ve got to get back and visit sometime.

The perfect symbol

Aug. 19th, 2017 12:37 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

Our 45th president will live on in graphic design.

Please, Mr President, put that on your hat.

Friday Cephalopod: Squink

Aug. 18th, 2017 08:11 pm
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

If you’ve ever wondered what squid ink is made of, here’s your answer:

Generally, cephalopod ink includes melanin, enzymes related to melanin production, catecholamines, peptidoglycans, free amino acids and metals.

But mostly melanin. And mucus.

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Posted by Meg Sri

The murder of activist Heather Heyer at the hands of domestic terrorist James Alex Fields, Jr. at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville has demonstrated the increasing emboldening of racism and fascism under the Trump administration.

The rally, the violence, and the shock of the deaths and injuries that followed came during a week in which — before and after the incident — the fervor to equate the alt-right (read: Neo-Nazis) with the “alt-left” (read: people who believe universal healthcare is a human right) is at a peak.

While the term entered national conversation after Donald Trump condemned the “alt-left” and laid equal blame on them for Charlottesville’s violence, it has actually been in use for quite some time — and not just by right wing fanatics, either. The most devastating use of Trump’s new term has been by mainstream liberals to smear the progressive leftists who dare criticize the corporate darlings of the Democratic center.

Consider the New York Times Op-Ed published earlier this week, which opens with the words “I see both the social justice warrior alt-left and the white supremacist alt-right as two sides of the same coin.” Or consider veteran and ex-diplomat Robert Caruso blaming Heyer’s murder on the leftists “yammering about Goldman Sachs.” Or an editor at the Daily Kos blaming the alt-left for the rise of violence under Trump. Or CAP editor and prominent Hillary supporter Neera Tanden tweeting — bizarrely — about the “alt-left who want to join the fascists,” a demographic that simply doesn’t exist. Or political commentator Mieke Eoyang chiding the so-called Bernie Bros for remaining inactive in the face of the racist violence of Charlottesville. Or prominent liberal Twitter accounts drawing direct comparisons between the mobs at Charlottesville and Bernie Sanders supporters.  Aside from Putin and white ‘hillbillies‘, it seems that the center’s favorite scapegoat in response to the white supremacy of Charlottesville is the myth of the so called “alt-left.”

The “alt-left”, to be clear, does not exist. There is no unified, politicized body of young people who exist only to demonize politicians of color and enact left-wing oppression, violence, and fascism. The term compares people who celebrate the oppression and murder of people of color to those who want to end poverty and provide free healthcare. And notably, those marching in Charlottesville were the very “Bernie Bros” whose tactics white liberals and centrist Democrats have smeared since the 2016 campaign. Heather Heyer herself was a Bernie Sanders supporter. She was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World who was marching alongside the Democratic Socialists of America. Of the others injured — some critically — in the clashes, there were International Socialist Organization members and members of the DSA as well.

White liberals and centrists however, are eager to erase young POC and dismiss substantive leftist critique so that they can shield themselves from their complicity in the problem. It is profoundly absurd to call this group “Bernie Bros” — a term that has now come to mean anyone who doesn’t support the Wall Street funded, prosecutor- and mass-incarceration-loving Democrat center, and it is incredibly misogynistic to the swaths of leftist women and leftist women of colorAmerican socialism has a long tradition of pushing back against racism and fascism and allying with civil rights movements to push back against the alliance of white supremacy and capitalism. Many intellectuals of color see their politics more closely aligned with those of politicians like Bernie Sanders. To erase the existence of these vast and prominent swaths of people, especially after their turnout at Charlottesville, and their continuous activism in the aftermath — in favour of Kamala Harris’s “K-Hive” or “YAS QUEEN” Hillary Clinton (two politicians that have literally made careers out of the mass incarceration of people of color) is abhorrent.

There’s historical precedent to this. White liberalism has always lived in its own fantasy, where somehow closing your eyes and ears to violence gives one a superior position. It lives in a fantasy where asking for universal health care and free education is as bad as  asking for the genocide of entire ethnic groups; where it is only milquetoast centrist politicians like Chelsea Clinton and Kamala Harris that can deliver us from evil; where the only morally righteous position is so firmly lodged in the center you may as well not be taking a position at all. Not only is this an absurd fever dream, but it is actively harmful when a huge number of people in the country with ostensibly pure motives are encouraged to stuff their fingers in their ears and pretend that to take any position at all is as bad as to take a position of hate, racism, murder and bigotry. The liberal fetishization of centrism and non-violence emboldens the alt-right.

While the United States is founded on racism and has always been racist, there are turning points in the country’s history that have come about as a result of peaks in racist violence, and we are living in one of them now. During the civil rights era — another time of violent openly racist displays — lives were lost as white liberals equivocated, declared both sides as bad as the other, tried to situate themselves in a center that wasn’t there, and were content to find moral superiority in not joining either racist violence or the fight to survive against racist violence. It’s no surprise leaders from MLK to Malcolm X despised white liberals for their equivocation.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s idiotic and hurtful comments, it’s easy to fool oneself to believe it’s only the right wing that can do something as horrific as equating those termed the “alt-left” and the fascists of the alt-right. But as Sarah Jones explains in the New Republic, the popularization of the idea that leftists and progressives can be as toxic as Nazis came mostly from liberal and centrist commentators. When looking back at the racist history of the United States, the passive, centrist, ‘take-no-side’ bystanders were just as morally culpable as the slave owning, lynching, incarcerating, angry racists.

It is too critical a juncture to pretend that both sides are as bad as the other, to mistake the privilege of not needing to take a side as the moral superiority of not choosing to take one. We have lost countless people of color, activists, and white allies this year to not roll our sleeves up and shed the cowardice of the center for the courage of taking a stand. Let Charlottesville and Heather Heyer be a wake-up call to stop kidding yourself, to ditch the false allies of the white suburbs, J.K. Rowling, big businesses and clueless and immoral politicians, and join hands with your local grassroots leftist movement who speak truth to power.

Header image via.

Are you “Lost in Light”?

Aug. 18th, 2017 01:08 am
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Posted by Phil Plait

Oh my, this has been quite a week. A lot of poisonous things are happening politically in my beloved country. I am quite politically active — if you follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or read any of my political posts, you know this — and the past few days have been no exception.

And while I will not stop nor even rest for long, there are times when a short break is needed to detox the brain, what has become popularly known as “self-care.” So, as I sat in front of my computer, I thought to myself: “How about a beautiful time-lapse video, something with gorgeous imagery, uplifting music, interesting science, and a message that can be used to make the world better?”

So I searched my emails to see if anyone had sent me a note about such a video, and lo, I found just such a message. It was from photographer Sriram Murali, who, like me, is concerned that we’re losing the night sky. Light pollution — light from buildings, fixtures, and so on sent needlessly up instead of down, where we need it — is stealing the stars from us. To document this, he went to various locations with different levels of dark skies, and shot the same part of the sky from each to compare the view.

And to do so, he chose a celestial icon, something that almost anyone will recognize: Orion. The result is not only lovely, but (if you pardon the pun) eye-opening. So watch “Lost in Light II, and you know the drill: Make it full screen, high-res, and enjoy the music, too:


Ooph. As the video progresses, and the sky gets darker, so many treasures become visible. Now, of course the camera captures more than the eye does; digital detectors are more sensitive, and time exposures get deeper and show fainter objects. Still, the lesson is told. Orion has bright enough stars to see even in pretty light-polluted skies, but the real power of it ramps up as the sky background light ramps down (incidentally, Murali made a video he called "Lost in Light," the precursor to this one, which showed the Milky Way in various conditions, but found it wasn't resonating since it's not as familiar a sight, so he redid it with Orion).

There’s a lot to look at in the video. Did you see Barnard’s Loop, a sweeping reddish glowing arc of hydrogen gas curling around the lower left of Orion? Not before the sky got to level 4 at worst. How about the Orion Nebula, the middle “star” in Orion’s dagger? In the first parts of the video it does look like a star, but as the sky grows darker, its true nature as a premier star-forming gas cloud becomes more obvious.

I enjoyed seeing geosynchronous satellites, too: satellites orbiting so high off the equator that they orbit in the same period it takes the Earth to spin. As the stars move, the satellites appear to remain stationary, and they’re obvious if you let the stars flow past your eye in the latter parts of the video. Orion’s belt is on the celestial equator, so the satellites are easiest to see there.

And while some people are familiar with the bulge of the central part of the Milky Way in videos like this, it’s easy to forget that the galaxy stretches all the way around the sky, and the bright stars of Orion punctuate it off to the side. That is apparent again only in the latter parts of the video, when light pollution drops.

And those red waves that look like clouds you can see sweeping across the sky? That’s airglow, gas molecules high in the atmosphere gently releasing the energy from sunlight they accumulated all day. That takes fairly dark skies to see at all, and is something you’ll never see at all from even a moderately light-polluted location.

Now, remember: All of these beauties are there in the sky all the time. You just can’t see them due to wasted light.

So, what can you do to make sure your skies are pristine? It’s not easy, but it’s not all that hard either. The International Dark Sky Association has a list of resources that can help. It mostly boils down to using light fixtures that don’t point up. Seems simple, right? The hard part is getting governments to invest in them. These features tend to save money in the long run, but do cost money initially. Still, a lot of towns and cities are moving in this direction, and there are even dark sky sanctuaries being established.

I find that hopeful. There are lots of practical reasons to do this, but in the end, what motivates me to talk about it is the beauty. The art. The way the stars touch us, move us, inspire us. They show us that there are concerns outside of our petty lives, there are vast things, ancient things, things that dwarf our human existence and yet remind us that we are a part of them and owe our existence to them.

Certainly, we need to remember that this past week. But there is never a time, never a moment, in my life where that much larger reality isn’t affecting my own much smaller one. I think it makes my life better. I hope it does yours, too.


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The Evil Atheist Your Mother Warned You About

November 2013

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