A bad Xian movie that I missed?

Jun. 25th, 2017 03:33 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

Mike Huckabee has been sued for illegally robocalling to plug his movie. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s a venal little spammer, but I guess he was also an ineffective spammer, because this was the first I even heard of his movie. I had to look it up. It was called Last Ounce of Courage, and you’ll never guess what it’s about.

Well, maybe you can. Imagine the most hackneyed plot of every Christian movie ever (you got it: Christians are persecuted!), and then imagine the most trivial, non-existent slight to Christianity ever (I bet you already guessed the War on Christmas), and then put them together. You got it! It takes the last ounce of courage for these feeble Christians to say the words “Merry Christmas” in the face of all these ferocious atheists who deny them that right.

Apparently, it tanked hard. I guess I’ll have to watch it in order to make fun of it once it comes to Netflix (I ain’t paying for it, that’s for sure.)

Hangout with Dr Sarah

Jun. 25th, 2017 10:59 am
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Posted by PZ Myers

Another hangout today? Yes! I’ll finding out what Dr Sarah of the Geeky Humanist is up to at 4pm Central time. Sarah is…

a 45-year-old GP living in England with one husband and two children. I’m a skeptic, a humanist, a feminist, and an atheist, and I love debunking myths when I can find the time to do so. I also love reading, and I’m a big fan of fantasy: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (most of his non-Discworld books actually aren’t all that), Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, Diane Duane’s Young Wizard series, Mercedes Lackey’s 500 Kingdoms and most of her Valdemar books, and probably several others.

We might end up talking about fantasy novels. Leave questions here or on the youtube video if those subjects strike your interest. As usual, other freethoughtbloggers might drift in, too.

Hangout with Siggy

Jun. 25th, 2017 10:52 am
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Posted by PZ Myers

I’m going to be hanging out with Siggy of A Trivial Knot today at noon Central time. Here’s Siggy’s blurb:

Siggy is a physics grad student in the US. He writes about math, philosophy, social criticism, and origami. He is an ace activist best known for running The Asexual Agenda, and for analyzing ace community demographics.

If any of those topics interest you, show up at noon, leave questions here, or on the youtube chat board.

Also, I open up entry to the hangout to everyone on the FtB backchannel, so we might have a surprise guest or two. You never know.

It’s Title IX’s 45th Birthday!

Jun. 24th, 2017 06:25 pm
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Posted by Dana Bolger

The days of forcing girls to take home economics, while boys take shop, are long gone.

But, in 2017, sexism is alive and well in classrooms all across the country. Today in America, girls are kept from walking at graduation because they’re pregnant, punished for wearing tank-tops, harassed for using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, raped by classmates at alarmingly high rates, and subjected to physical violence by school resource officers for alleged “attitude” violations.

This continuing reality of gender inequality in schools in 2017 is what makes Title IX so important to all of us over here at Feministing. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities that receive federal funding. It’s the law that’s allowed lots of us to grow up playing sports. It’s kept others of us from dropping out of school after being raped or abused. And, in a country without a formal federal constitutional right to education, it’s about the closest thing we’ve got to a federal guarantee of educational access and equality.

This week, Title IX turns 45. We need it now more than ever.

Plenty of us know that Title IX requires parity in girls’ and boys’ athletics, but it does so much more. One of the single biggest barriers to fulfilling Title IX’s promise of equality in education is that girls and other students don’t realize it protects them. So today, in honor of Title IX’s big birthday, do the young people you love a solid and send them this post about their rights in school.

Who Title IX Protects

Title IX protects students at any educational level, from kindergarten to graduate school, who attend schools that receive federal funding. That means any public school, plus nearly every private college and university, as well as plenty of private K-12 schools that receive federal moneys through the federal lunch program and others like it. It protects girls, as well as students who don’t conform to traditional gender stereotypes. And it protects faculty and staff, too.

What Title IX Does

Title IX does a lot. Here are five examples.

1. Forbids schools from discriminating against pregnant and parenting students. It’s illegal for schools that receive federal dollars to kick a student who becomes pregnant out of the honors society, or to force her into a “special” (read: less rigorous) high school. But it happens all. the. time. Learn more about pregnant and parenting students’ rights from the National Women’s Law Center.

2. Prohibits discriminatory dress codes. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about another school punishing a girl for shorts that fail to meet the “fingertips” test, outfits considered “distracting” to the boys, or a hairstyle that’s deemed “too messy.” Black and gender non-conforming girls often bear the brunt of these sexist — and racist — dress codes. And the sanctions that accompany them leave girls feeling humiliated and stigmatized, and forced to miss out on school. It’s all probably illegal — and on the cutting edge of Title IX (and Title VI) litigation today. Learn more from the ACLU here.

3. Requires schools to take action to stop anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. Under Title IX, schools must take action to protect students from harassment based on gender stereotyping. And, no matter what the Trump Administration says to the contrary, Title IX protects transgender and gender non-conforming students.

4. Protects student survivors of sexual violence and other forms of gender-based violence. Schools must take steps to prevent and respond to gender violence and harassment. Student survivors are entitled to the academic, housing, and other accommodations they need in order to stay in school and learn. Learn more from Know Your IX — and remember, Title IX protects K-12 sexual violence victims, too.

5. Requires parity in boys’ and girls’ athletics. Research shows that girls who play sports in high school are more likely than non-athletes to graduate and earn 7% higher wages as adults. Learn more from our friends at Legal Aid at Work.

What You Can Do

Spread the word! Students can’t stand up for their rights if they don’t know they have them to begin with. And if you think your school is violating girls’ rights, speak up. Write about it in your local newspaper. Organize your peers. Launch an activist campaign. Persist.

Header image via Know Your IX. I am not a lawyer and this post does not constitute legal advice. Contact the National Women’s Law Center if you seek legal assistance.

06/22/17 PHD comic: 'Technically'

Jun. 24th, 2017 08:34 am
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Piled Higher & Deeper by Jorge Cham
Click on the title below to read the comic
title: "Technically" - originally published 6/22/2017

For the latest news in PHD Comics, CLICK HERE!

Who should you fear?

Jun. 24th, 2017 03:23 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

Everyone talks about radical Islamists, and they definitely are terrible awful violent people (but remember, please: radical Islamist ≠ Muslim). But there are other ideologies to fear, like far right white nationalists and animal rights extremists. Acknowledging that they’re all bad, and that murdering people in the name of your cult belief is always wrong, which one is worse? David Neiwert has done the research.

  • From January 2008 to the end of 2016, we identified 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, meaning incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State. The vast majority of these (76 percent) were foiled plots, meaning no attack took place.
  • During the same period, we found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.
  • Right-wing extremist terrorism was more often deadly: Nearly a third of incidents involved fatalities, for a total of 79 deaths, while 13 percent of Islamist cases caused fatalities. (The total deaths associated with Islamist incidents were higher, however, reaching 90, largely due to the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.)
  • Incidents related to left-wing ideologies, including ecoterrorism and animal rights, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents causing seven fatalities – making the shooting attack on Republican members of Congress earlier this month somewhat of an anomaly.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of Islamist incidents in our database were sting operations, more than four times the rate for far-right (12 percent) or far-left (10.5 percent) incidents.

Lotta words and numbers there. Maybe a graph will help.

As I would have expected, the greater danger to the public is homegrown blue-eyed narrowly patriotic nativist assholes, of the kind who get normalized and treated relatively gently by the internet and media. You can kneel at the feet of alt-right idols and worship them, and everyone looks the other way; try to do that with the local imam, and you’ll find yourself in an FBI file and with tabloids breathing down your neck.

Take a look at who gets labeled as terrorists.

That’s striking. The bigger threat largely gets a pass from law enforcement, possibly because so many LEOs tend to be terroristic right wing ideologues themselves, if recent murders of citizens are any testimony. Maybe that will change, though, as it begins to sink in that far-right patriot movements are out to kill anyone who defends the government.

By now, the steady drumbeat of terror plots and attacks from the far right has begun to attract renewed attention, among them incidents involving the “sovereign citizens” movement, white supremacists, Patriot and militia movements, and anti-abortion fanatics, including some radical Christians. Their targets are police and military, Sikhs and Muslims, African Americans and Jews, power grids and transit hubs, abortion clinics and black churches and immigrant communities.

It’s a long read, but substantive and evidence-based. Read it and worry.

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Posted by PZ Myers

It’s just too scary, and radioactive materials are just too weird.

The metal rods in the top photo are plutonium. Rods can roll. These rods could roll closer to each other and perhaps produce the kind of runaway neutron reaction that killed Slotin and Daghlian. Putting a hand in to separate them could make the reaction worse because the water in a human body reflects the neutrons.
I had formal safety training, informal discussions with more experienced people, and made it a point to internalize rules of thumb. Keep pieces of plutonium separate. Abide by glovebox limitations; every glovebox has a sign with the limits of plutonium allowed in it. For solutions, keep them dilute and in flat containers. Flat/thin is safer; the closer a shape is to spherical, the less material is needed to go critical. IIRC, there were racks to put rods in if you were working with that shape of metal, so that they didn’t accidentally roll together.

Daghlian and Slotin? I made the mistake of looking them up and finding out about the Demon Core.

My version of safety rules is don’t eat sandwiches in the lab, don’t drink the mystery fluid in that test tube, wear latex gloves when playing with the nasties, the lab alcohol is not for parties, and wash your hands every once in a while. “Don’t let these two tubes touch each other, or invisible rays will instantly flash out and kill everyone in the room in slow grisly painful ways” isn’t part of the set of instructions I have to give students.

Special snowflakes on parade

Jun. 24th, 2017 11:25 am
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Posted by PZ Myers

Anita Sarkeesian was at a convention of youtubers this week, which sounds like a kind of hell. It’s not that I don’t think there is worthy content on youtube — this event was founded by Hank and John Green, who do good work — but that you just know it was also going to draw in the worst people on the internet. It’s an audience I would not want to hang with, and they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.

True to form, the worst people on the internet showed up to Sarkeesian’s panel, which was on the harassment women receive. They smugly took over the first couple of rows of seats, and even proudly posted videos of themselves filling the front row. Oh, boy, an opportunity for real-life harassment!

Sarkeesian fired back, and good for her.

If you google my name on YouTube you get shitheads like this dude who are making these dumbass videos that just say the same shit over and over again. And like I hate to give you attention because you’re a garbage human. Whatever dude.

But the fact that these dudes are making endless videos going after every feminist over and over and over again I think is a part of the issue. Why do we have these conversations? We don’t just get to be online. We don’t just get to participate like everyone else.

The dude she specifically pointed at in this criticism was Carl Benjamin, who goes by the pretentious pseudonym Sargon of Akkad, who actually is a garbage human, one of the army of the worst people on the internet who rants constantly against feminism, against the “regressive left”, and who thinks any of those women who complain about non-stop harassment are “professional victims”.

Which makes it particularly interesting now that if you follow Sarkeesian’s suggestion and google her name on YouTube you will find hundreds of videos proclaiming the martyrdom of Carl Benjamin. Why, he was just sitting there innocently to respectfully listen to Anita Sarkeesian, and she bullied and humiliated and harassed him, for no reason at all! He can’t be a garbage human, because he just popped into existence for that panel, and has no history of any kind, and no reason that Sarkeesian might have singled him out.

Now, suddenly, Benjamin has decided that he is a “victim of abuse”.

And that he was publicly humiliated and harassed by Anita Sarkeesian, and that he is “triggered”.

Yeah, right, and now all of his followers are realizing that harassment is a real problem, so they’ll stop doing it themselves. The level of hypocritical bullshit from the worst people on the internet has suddenly jinked skyward. Benjamin has actually had the oblivious gall to ask the conference organizers to block her from sitting on another panel today because she called him a name. Who would have thought the man who wrote a petition to get universities to stop teaching courses on social justice could be so censorious?

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Posted by PZ Myers

Not for sensitive stomachs, but if you’re interested in what your pet will do if you happen to up and die on ’em, here’s a survey of post mortem scavenging by pets.

I am not at all surprised about the cats.

Cats get a bad rap for being the most eager to eat their owners, and anecdotally, some emergency responders say it’s pretty common. When it happens, cats tend to go for the face, especially soft parts such as the nose and lips, says forensic anthropologist Carolyn Rando of University College London.

“It doesn’t surprise me, as a cat owner,” she says. “If you’re sleeping, they tend to swat your face to wake you up.”

See? No one is surprised about cats wanting to eat your face off. Which is why I’m going to replace our cat with a goldfish.

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Posted by PZ Myers

We’re making the planet a better place for cephalopods. It also helps that humans are busily destroying teleost populations.

David Wiltshire

P.S. There’s a video at the link titled “8 reasons octopuses rule the oceans”. Don’t bother with it. It is 8 incredibly idiotic reasons that have nothing to do with their success. I felt stupider after watching it.

Ataturk is spinning in his grave

Jun. 24th, 2017 12:02 am
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Posted by PZ Myers

Or he would be, if he weren’t an inanimate corpse that had ceased to be. Erdogan is continuing his corruption of Turkish culture, opposing both secularism and — the usual target — the teaching of evolution.

Evolution will no longer be taught in Turkish schools, a senior education official has said, in a move likely to raise the ire of the country’s secular opposition.

Alpaslan Durmuş, who chairs the board of education, said evolution was debatable, controversial and too complicated for students.

“We believe that these subjects are beyond their [students] comprehension,” said Durmuş in a video published on the education ministry’s website.

Well, gosh, if we remove everything that is complicated from education, you’ll just end up with simple adults. Simple adults who get everything wrong.

I’m just waiting now for our president to treat this as an inspiration.

Sociology is hard

Jun. 23rd, 2017 10:02 pm
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Posted by PZ Myers

I’m constantly spammed by the Weatherspoon Institute, one of those right-wing think tanks that is, as part of its mission, adamantly opposed to homosexuality, marriage equality, etc., and they’re notorious for having funded and guided the infamous Regnerus study that claimed that children raised by gay parents were at greater risk for all kinds of social ills.

It’s not my favorite organization. I didn’t personally subscribe to their newsletter, it’s just one of many that people who don’t like me sign me up for, thinking I’ll be horrified and offended by it, when actually I find it interestingly bad and sometimes browse to find weird stuff. Message to people who do that kind of thing: it doesn’t work. Would you believe that seeing the hate some people have for gay and lesbian people makes me sympathize with the homosexual population more?

Anyway, a recent newsletter highlighted this article, Why are so many lesbians getting pregnant?. I thought that was actually an interesting question. I’d like to know! It was also an interesting read because so much of it was discombobulating — that author would make some statement, I’d actually agree with it (or not), but then he’d make some mental leap in interpreting it that left me baffled. Like this claim at the very beginning:

One’s sexual orientation is supposed to be locked in and unchangeable, like sex, race, or ethnicity.

It is? Who says? Keep in mind this article is talking about teenagers and sex; I suspect sexual orientation has a fair bit of flexibility, at least if you’re not brought up in a family or peer group that imposes severe costs on deviation from expected behaviors. I can believe that there are distinct biases in individual preferences from an early age, but that they’re also shaped by experience. Witherspoonians seem to be trying to argue that their critics are complete gender absolutists, while they are open-minded about the fluidity of sexual response, probably because they’re the kind of people who want to promote a “gay cure”. I think. There are many hidden premises in this article that I don’t share.

Then the very next sentence confuses me.

But high pregnancy rates among lesbians confound that narrative.

Why does it confuse the narrative? Does the author think sexual orientation and pregnancy are in lockstep? That lesbians should be incapable of pregnancy? That pregnancy is always a matter of choice and preference? So many assumptions implied by that little sentence.

But then he’s going to deploy logic. Too often this is a dangerous sign, as it proves to be in this case, that the author doesn’t understand logic, except to know it’s a good thing.

It makes for an illogical syllogism.

Premise A: Lesbians are sexually attracted to women only.

Premise B: Women cannot impregnate women.

Conclusion: Lesbians have higher pregnancy rates than non-lesbian women.

It’s contrary to all reason, but it’s true. Lesbians have significantly higher pregnancy rates than their heterosexual peers.

Hang on there, guy. You’ve somehow linked “sexual attraction” and “pregnancy rates” as if one is a logical consequence of the other. You know they obviously aren’t, right?

This smacks of the common argument that evolution implies that homosexuality cannot exist, because gay people would be unable to breed or spread their gay genes, except that it’s in reverse. It’s got the same logical flaw, though, the assumption that sexual orientation, a product of the brain, is inflexibly linked to biological reproduction, a product of the gonads.

The logic is also flawed by sloppy definitions all around. What is a “lesbian”? Is it any woman who prefers the company of other women? A woman who only ever has sex with other women? Does a lesbian who is raped immediately stop being a lesbian? And how about defining “woman”? He seems to think of women as a pair of functioning ovaries, but again with the disconnect between gonads and brains — what about women who have functioning testes?

(We will pause for a moment to give those, even those of a liberal bent, who seem to be incapable of dissociating minds from genitalia, time to wipe up the saliva they just spluttered all over their computers.)

Are you back now? OK. Another thing about that syllogism — we can rework it in lots of different ways. Another interpretation might be that teenage women who get pregnant develop an aversion to men that makes lesbianism a much more appealing label. Or that this should be a discussion about unwanted pregnancies, rather than sexual orientation, and it’s mangling causally unrelated issues to routinely associate desire with reproduction.

I’m trying to puzzle out what point the author is trying to make, though. There are interesting observations in here, but they seem to avoid testing alternative interpretations.

Multiple studies with samples drawn from various nations find that sexual-minority youth aged fourteen to nineteen have pregnancy rates two to seven times greater than their heterosexual peers. Their pregnancy rates continue to rise, even though the overall teen pregnancy rate is declining in the United States.

So I actually read the paper cited to support the “two to seven times” data. Seems kosher. But the important point is glossed over by our Witherspoonian.

Over half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended – that is, they are mistimed (occurring earlier than the woman wanted) or unwanted (not wanted at any time). In addition to derailing life plans, these pregnancies are commonly linked to a variety of negative health and well-being indicators for women and their children, including lower levels of prenatal care and breastfeeding; and higher levels of premature delivery, low birth weight, child abuse, intimate partner violence, and maternal depression and anxiety (accounting for background characteristics).

Over half of all pregnancies are unintended or unwanted — that is for all women of all ages. It’s almost certainly much higher for teen pregnancies. This sounds like the basis for arguing for a greater expansion of abortion rights and sex education than it is for some peculiar conservative reaction against homosexuality. It also makes a complete hash of those fallacious arguments that certain sexual behaviors are “natural” or “right” for human beings — a heck of a lot of heterosexual behaviors seem to be undesirable and unpleasant for at least one of the people involved.

But wait until you see his conclusion.

Lesbianism and gayness are more different than they are similar in very fundamental ways. The gay male is more likely to stay in one lane for life, even while his sexual desire is generally more aggressive and he seeks greater diversity in partners than do women. However, judging by the pregnancy-risk data, younger men who identify as homosexual appear to be much more fluid in their actions than has been previously assumed. Does this mean that male same-sex attraction is more developmental than it is fixed? We don’t know.

But it’s a question worth researching. This has important policy implications for today. When we establish certain rights and accessibilities based on one’s sexual orientation and identity—and thus the punishment and severe public shaming of those who violate them—we are operating on ground that is more subjective than many would like us to believe.

I say hold on to your horses for that first paragraph: it assumes considerable uniformity in how gays and lesbians behave, erases a lot of individual preferences, and ignores the contributions of a culture that generally condemns all homosexual behavior. Those aren’t necessarily human universals, but rather a consequence of complex interactions between society and psychology.

But then that last bit that I highlighted — I agree 100%! We should not restrict rights to individuals on the basis of sexual identity. Gay and lesbian couples should have all of the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples, without question.

But here is where I get hopelessly confused. The author of that commendable statement is Glenn Stanton, who works for…Focus on the Family Patriarchy. GLAAD has a page of quotes from Stanton. He opposes same sex marriage because it not only redefines marriage wholesale for everyone, but it actually deconstructs humanity itself. I don’t know how he reconciles that with his view above that using sexual orientation to establish rights is inherently subjective.

But even worse, he said “it was shameful, manipulative, and not good parenting for two dads to allow their daughter to make a video defending her family”. So non-traditional families don’t even have the right to defend their choices?

And of course he’s a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian.

All sexual sin is wrong because it fails to mirror the Trinitarian image, but homosexuality does more than fail. It’s a particularly evil lie of Satan because he knows that it overthrows the very image of the Trinitarian God in creation, revealed in the union of male and female.

I now have the feeling that I’m missing some secret coded message in that admirable final sentence from his article, because it doesn’t jibe at all with his ideological stance elsewhere, the position of his organization, or the typical sectarian views of his Christian cult.

I’m confused so much now, because I’m a biologist and this sociology/psychology stuff is so dang complicated and messy and hard. But at least one thing I got out of it was one useful datum I can bring up when people make that stupid “homosexuality can’t evolve” argument.

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Posted by bailoun

On Sunday, June 18, near the end of the holy month of Ramadan, Nabra Hassanen was brutally murdered. 

She was 17 years old, black, and wore a headscarf. She was bludgeoned with a baseball bat by 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres, who then kidnapped her in his car, killed her, and dumped her body in a pond.

According to the Fairfax County Police Department, Nabra and her large group of friends were walking back from a fast food restaurant to the mosque at about 3:40 A.M., prior to the start of the day’s fast. Torres “came upon the teens while he was driving,” and quarreled with a teenage boy on a bike. He then caught up with the group in a nearby parking lot, got out of his car with a baseball bat, and began to chase as the teens ran. Torres was able to catch Nabra, who fell behind.

Nabra was female, black, and visibly Muslim. She and the girls in her group were dressed in long abayas and headscarves. Yet the police department released a statement the day after, saying that they had not found any evidence to consider this a hate crime:

“There is nothing to indicate at this point this tragic case was a hate crime. No evidence has been uncovered that shows this murder was motivated by race or religion. It appears the suspect became so enraged over the traffic dispute it escalated into deadly violence…”

Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said police have “absolutely no evidence” that her killing was motivated by hate.

Responses on Twitter to the police department’s characterization of Nabra’s murder as a “road rage” incident were varied. Most of them were angry.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, told CNN, “[T]here are not always overt statements of bias made during the crime. But we firmly believe that many of these crimes would not have occurred at all if the victims were not perceived as being Muslim.”

*  *  *

In February 2015, three young Muslims were killed in North Carolina. Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha were newly married, and Yusor’s younger sister Razan often came over to stay with the couple at their home. The two women both observed hijab.

Craig Hicks, a neighbor, harassed them continuously in the weeks leading up to the killings. Yusor’s father later said she had told him, “Daddy, I think it is because of the way we look and the way we dress.”

On the day of the murders, Hicks sprayed Deah with bullets, shot the sisters execution-style in the head, and shot Deah once more before he left. The Chapel Hill Police Department stated that the crime was motivated by “an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking.”

*  *  *

I am a young Muslim woman, and I wear hijab. I live in New York City, among people from every conceivable walk of life; but I harbor no illusion that my identities do not make me more vulnerable to attack.

I pin my headscarf tightly, so that it can’t easily be ripped off.

I throw in a few words of English when I speak Arabic, so that I am not kicked off a plane.

I stand back from the yellow subway platform edge, so that I am not pushed onto the train tracks, or into an oncoming train.

Muslims are increasingly likely to be targeted by hate crimes, with the latest FBI hate crime statistics showing an increase of 67% between 2014 and 2015. More recently, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported a sharp acceleration in Islamophobic incidents after Trump’s November election.

But Muslim women in particular – who can often be more easily identified by their clothing – are even more recognizable targets. Their very presence in public spaces, as both women and visibly Muslim people, places them at a doubly heightened risk of discrimination and violence. In Nabra’s case, she faced a risk that was triply heightened: she was also black.

On May 26, a man killed two people and injured a third on a train in Portland, after they confronted him for shouting racist and anti-Muslim slurs at two teenage girls. One of the girls was black. The other was Muslim, and wore a hijab.

*  *  *

In the early morning of June 21, a 24-year-old man reportedly set Nabra’s memorial on fire. He was arrested and charged with “attending or kindling bonfires.” Sergeant Anna Rose explained, “[T]he memorial did not appear to be specifically targeted.”

The police report did not list hate bias as a possible motivation.

[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

Chad Cowan is a storm chaser, and takes astonishing photographs and video of the magnificent weather systems we get here in the middle of the United States.

In late June of 2016, he took time-lapse footage of a supercell forming and growing over Nebraska. It's stunning. Watch:


Storm chaser Chad Cowan shot this time-lapse video of a supercell forming and merging with another huge storm system behind it.


So what's going on here? The details can be quite complicated — we're talking fluid hydrodynamics here, which is fiendishly complex— but conditions have to be just right for this sort of storm to form.

The video starts with cumulonimbus clouds, the big, puffy, cauliflower clouds that occur when warm, water-laden air rises (called convection). As it does the water condenses to form the visible cloud, and the various updrafts punch upward to form the numerous bumps and bulges.

Then an important event occurs: Underneath the cloud base, the wind shears. This is when a layer of air is moving faster or slower than a layer next to or beneath it. If a layer of air above another is moving faster, it can start a slow horizontal roll or cylinder of air, like a barrel rolling on the ground. But there are also strong updrafts, air moving upward. This can lift one end of the horizontal roll and make it vertical, generating a huge, rotating wall cloud. You can see that under the main part of the cloud.

That's called a mesocyclone, and the whole system is called a supercell. In this case, it's what's called a "low precipitation" or "dry" supercell, because there's not much rainfall from it. Sometimes these dissipate, but not this time: In Cowan's video it merged with another line of storms you can see behind it and to the left, and strengthened.

The intense aquamarine color is not uncommon in these storms, and the exact cause is still unknown. It's likely due to the presence of hail, with red light getting absorbed by the ice so that more green and blue lights gets to us. But it's not clear that's all that's going on.

I've seen a few big systems similar to this, though a very well-organized rotating mesocyclonic wall cloud is still on my "to see" list. They tend to form farther east of where I live; it helps to have wide plains so the wind shear can get picked up by those updrafts. In a sense I'm glad; while weather like this is mind-blowing to see, it's also extremely dangerous to be in.

I asked my friend Marshall Shepherd —who happens to be a meteorologist and in fact was president of the American Meteorological Society in 2013 — about the video, and his thoughts mirrored my own:

The beauty of this storm merger masks the inherent danger it also brings. One of our biggest challenges in meteorology is to developing an observational and modeling understanding of all the physical processes happening at this scale. Such understanding will move the needle further in possibly predicting tornadoes ...

It's sometimes easy to forget, while watching the spellbinding beauty of these systems, how dangerous they can be. This one was reported to spawn a tornado after the merger, but all by themselves the high winds, lightning and torrential rain are threatening enough. Understanding these storms is critical to life in the U.S. Midwest, and I'm glad scientists like Marshall dedicate their careers to doing so.

Tip o' the lens cap to Maksim Kakitsev. You can follow Chad's work on Vimeo, Facebook, and Twitter.


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Krugman looks at Trumpcare

Jun. 23rd, 2017 02:53 pm
[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Krugman calculates who should favor this bill.

So, is this bill good for you? Yes, if you meet the following criteria:

1.Your income is more than $200,000 a year
2.You have a job that comes with good health insurance
3.You can’t imagine any circumstances under which you lose that job or income
4.You don’t have any family members or friends who don’t meet those criteria
5.You have zero empathy for anyone else

Let’s see. Do I qualify?

  1. Nope. Not even close.

  2. Yes! Except, of course, that I work in education, which the Trump administration wants to destroy.

  3. Nope. I’ll definitely lose this job inside a decade, when I retire. Or, to look on the bright side, when I die.

  4. Nope. Three kids who are just starting early adulthood.

  5. No, although I suppose I could work on it. I’ve already lost all empathy for Trump voters.

I guess I should be 80% against the bill by those criteria. It’s more like 800%, though.

But we do know the script the Republicans are following.

The set of people who can check all these boxes is not a winning political coalition. But Republican leaders believe that their voters are tribal enough, sufficiently walled off from information, that they’ll ignore the attack on their lives and keep voting R – indeed, that as they lose health care, get hit with crushing out-of-pocket bills, see their friends and neighbors face ruin, they’ll blame it on Democrats.

I wish I were sure that this belief was false.

[syndicated profile] improbable_research_feed

Posted by Marc Abrahams

To know whether a watermelons is ripe — before cutting into the melon — is a dream brought to exciting levels by generations of scientists, building on the wisdom and wishfulness of their ancestors. Here are three of the juicier studies published in recent times.

Acoustical Watermelon Study (1998)

Study on acoustic characteristics of the watermelon,” M.S. Kim, D. S. Choi, Y. H. Lee, and Y. K. Cho,  Journal of the Korean Society for Agriculture, 1998.

Acoustical Watermelon Study (2002)

Numerical analysis on acoustic impulse response for watermelon,” Yong Sul Kim, Dong Hoon Yang, Young Jae Choi, Tas Joo Bae, Chul Ho So, and Yun Ho Lee, Proceedings of the Korean Society for Nondestructive Testing Spring Meeting 2002. The authors report: “As we analyzed impact pulse signal and extracted featured parameters concerned with evaluation of its ripeness, we found the plausibility of progress on nondestructive evaluation of ripeness and adoption of numerical analysis on acoustic impulse response.”

Acoustical Watermelon Study (2015)

Nondestructive determination of watermelon flesh firmness by frequency response,” Rouzbeh Abbaszadeh, Ali Rajabipour, Yibin Ying, Mojtaba Delshad, Mohammad J. Mahjoob, and Hojjat Ahmadi, LWT-Food Science and Technology, vol. 60, no. 1, 2015, pp. 637-640. The authors, at Tehran University, report:

“The identification of watermelon ripeness from its appearance such as size or skin colour is very difficult. The common subjective method is usually based on the sound produced by a slap. This method is prone to human factor errors; it may be a good way only for people with much experience. This idea led researchers to study acoustic methods…. The main objective of the present work is to study the potential of laser Doppler vibrometery and vibration spectra for evaluation of watermelon firmness….

“Briefly, laser beam from the LDV device is directed to the upper surface of the sample and the vibrations are measured from the Doppler shift of the reflected beam frequency due to the motion of the surface. Amplitude and phase shift between the mentioned signals were extracted for the entire frequency range using fast Fourier transform applied to the response and the excitation signals…. [This nondestructive determination of watermelon flesh firmness by frequency response proved to be] accurate and fast.”

[syndicated profile] pharyngula_feed

Posted by PZ Myers

Suddenly, all these videos of the Philando Castile shooting are being released after the murder cop got acquitted. This latest one is heartbreaking: it’s video of Castile’s fiancé, handcuffed (WHY? What did she do wrong, besides sit next to an innocent man getting violently slaughtered by a cop?), while her daughter tries to deal with the situation.

Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.

In the earlier video, I noticed how both adults in the car reflexively used “sir” in just about every sentence to the asshole cop — I don’t think they wanted to get shooted either. Our police departments are relying on fear to cow the population, and it shows.


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