"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Saturday Science: When Galaxies Collide

On top of everything else, been sick for the last week. Starting to feel human again, so here's some catch-up:

All good things must come to an end. Or, if you subscribe to the majority world-view, the wheel of time is bigger than we thought. Which is by way of saying that the days of the Milky Way galaxy are numbered. Granted, the number's quite large -- 4 billion years -- but still.

The Milky Way is one of the dominant galaxies of a cluster known as the Local Group. The other major player in the group is the Andromeda nebula (M31). And according to recent measurements by the Hubble Space Telescope, the two galaxies are traveling through space and dark matter headed directly toward each other.

“After nearly a century of speculation about the future destiny of Andromeda and our Milky Way, we at last have a clear picture of how events will unfold over the coming billions of years,” says Sangmo Tony Sohn of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. His colleague Roeland van der Marel confirms the research: “Our findings are statistically consistent with a head-on collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our Milky Way galaxy.”

Can't embed the video from NYT, but it's here. It's kind of a gloss, but you'll get the general idea.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Culture Break: Zoë Keating, "Lost"

A friend and former co-worker gave me an album by Zoë Keating, One Cello X16: Natoma, which I have only recently listened to. (I mean really listened -- with my new set-up, it's easier to actually hear what I'm playing.)

The music is fascinating -- I can't call it "new age" because it's not really, and it doesn't seem to fit into the "avant garde" mold, either. Call it "alt modern" and let it go at that. There are some passages in the album that remind me of Penguin Cafe Orchestra, if that's any help.

At any rate, here's Keating playing "Lost."

Monday, May 26, 2014

Marriage News Watch, May 26, 2014

And as of today, the one state that has an unchallenged ban is facing a lawsuit.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Culture Break: Kazaky: Magic Pie

Kazaky's latest -- no stiletto heels, a little more up-tempo, not nearly as nearly nude as, say, "Last Night," but it's interesting, you have to admit:

Monday, May 19, 2014

Marriage News Watch, May 19, 2014

Only two states with unchallenged marriage bans. Every other state that has one is being sued.

And Oregon!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Eurovision: Conchita Wins!

I've been following, sort of, the Eurovision contest in Copenhagen, and the final votes were announced last night. Austria's entry, gender-fuck artist Conchita Wurst, won hands down. Here's the broadcast of the final vote:

It's longish, but it's pretty exciting.

And here's the winning performance:

And, another salute to the right-wing nasties, Michael Sam has been drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Post with videos at Joe.My.God.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Saturday Science: The History of the Universe

From the description at YouTube:

Scientists at MIT have traced 13 billion years of galaxy evolution, from shortly after the Big Bang to the present day. Their simulation, named Illustris, captures both the massive scale of the Universe and the intriguing variety of galaxies -- something previous modelers have struggled to do. It produces a Universe that looks remarkably similar to what we see through our telescopes, giving us greater confidence in our understanding of the Universe, from the laws of physics to our theories about galaxy formation.

This is what it's describing:

It's fascinating, but the video moves a little too fast for me to follow very well. If you want more information, the research paper itself is here; it's behind a paywall, but you can read the Nature article about the project here. And via Towleroad, here's a rather more accessible discussion of the creation of the model at The Guardian.

It's like I've always said: The universe is a fascinating place.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Today in "Christian Love": Compare and Contrast

Some "Christian" wingnut named Jack Burkman (a lobbyist, no less), is organizing a boycott of any NFL team that drafts newly out defensive end Michael Sam. From Joe.My.God., quoting the Christian Post:

"We shall exercise our First Amendment rights and shall not stop until the drafting NFL franchise cannot sell a single ticket, jersey or autographed football," said Burkman. "In short, we shall be relentless." Burkman claims in the release that he is currently mobilizing "powerful grassroots organizations in 27 of the 50 states," as well as a "coalition of Evangelical Christian leaders from across the nation to take part in a protest if Sam is drafted. The NFL, like most of the rest of American business, is about to learn that when you trample the Christian community and Christian values there will be a terrible financial price to pay," said Burkman.

Count the buzzwords. My own comment at JMG was "How much clout does anyone thing all these "evangelical leaders" are going to have in Chicago?" Boycott the Bears? Good luck with that. Ask Disney how these boycotts work out. (Burkman is also apparently lobbying in support of a bill in Congress to make it illegal for the NFL to hire a gay player. Seriously.)

In the meantime:
Gay NFL hopeful Michael Sam has signed an endorsement deal, his first, with VISA, ABC News reports:

In his first spot, which is planned to exclusively run on digital platforms, Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year out of Missouri, is shown working out while a voiceover urges the viewer to judge him for his play on the field, not off of it.

"We felt that Michael's story was a perfect fit for our 'everywhere' campaign, which is meant to inspire people to reach their own personal goals and aspirations," Visa's chief marketing officer Kevin Burke told ESPN.com. "We wish Michael the best on and off the field as he embarks on the next chapter of his life."

Here's the ad:

So, Mr. Burkman -- going to boycott Visa for exercising its First Amendment rights?

Sunday, May 04, 2014

I'm in Favor

I would love to see more efforts like this on the part of non-Christian groups:

A satanic group unveiled designs Monday for a 7-foot-tall statue of Satan it wants to put at the Oklahoma state Capitol, where a Ten Commandments monument was placed in 2012.

The New York-based Satanic Temple formally submitted its application to a panel that oversees the Capitol grounds, including an artist’s rendering that depicts Satan as Baphomet, a goat-headed figure with horns, wings and a long beard that’s often used as a symbol of the occult. In the rendering, Satan is sitting in a pentagram-adorned throne with smiling children next to him.

“The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond,” temple spokesman Lucien Greaves said in a statement. “The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation.”

As you might imagine, this is not being well received. But then, this is Oklahoma, the state that can't even execute people right.

For All You Non-Social Types

This sort of says it:

Thanks to John Cole at Balloon Juice for lightening my day.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Another Page

I needed a break from cleaning storage units, so I finished up the page on reviews of Graphic Lit. One left to go.

A note on these: in a departure from my usual practice, I didn't code the links to take you to a new tab, so if you want to keep these pages open, use the "open in a new tab/window" option on your browser. (Sorry, but that part has to be done manually, and there are a lot of links. Maybe someday. Maybe.)

I may also decide to make these pages a master index of all my online reviews. Don't look for instant results -- I've written well over a thousand in the past ten years, scattered over several sites, and some of the links I have are no longer working, so if I decide to do that, it's going to take a while. But now that I have a window to look out of while I'm working, it's a distinct possibility.

Saturday Science: Smarter Than We Thought

It seems Neanderthals weren't so dumb after all.

In the past, some researchers have tried to explain the demise of the Neanderthals by suggesting that the newcomers were superior to Neanderthals in key ways, including their ability to hunt, communicate, innovate and adapt to different environments.

But in an extensive review of recent Neanderthal research, CU-Boulder researcher Paola Villa and co-author Wil Roebroeks, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, make the case that the available evidence does not support the opinion that Neanderthals were less advanced than anatomically modern humans. Their paper was published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

"The evidence for cognitive inferiority is simply not there," said Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. "What we are saying is that the conventional view of Neanderthals is not true."

The article goes on to detail some of what we have learned about the Neanderthals' ability to hunt cooperatively, use the terrain to their advantage, and evidence of symbolic thought. This article doesn't mention, however, some of the strongest evidence for the latter. See this article on the burial site at Shanidar Cave for more info on that aspect.

Solecki’s pioneering studies of the Shanidar skeletons and their burials suggested complex socialization skills. From pollen found in one of the Shanidar graves, Solecki hypothesized that flowers had been buried with the Neanderthal dead—until then, such burials had been associated only with Cro-Magnons, the earliest known H. sapiens in Europe. “Someone in the last Ice Age,” Solecki wrote, “must have ranged the mountainside in the mournful task of collecting flowers for the dead.” Furthermore, Solecki continued, “It seems logical to us today that pretty things like flowers should be placed with the cherished dead, but to find flowers in a Neanderthal burial that took place about 60,000 years ago is another matter.” Skeletons showed evidence of injuries tended and healed—indications that the sick and wounded had been cared for. Solecki’s attitude toward them was encapsulated in the title of his 1971 book, Shanidar: The First Flower People.

Ongoing studies of Neanderthal skeletons unearthed in Iraq during the 1950s suggest the existence of a more complex social structure than previously thought.  (Karen Carr)

So next time you're tempted to call someone a Neanderthal, think twice -- they may be smarter than you.

Friday, May 02, 2014

If It's About Children

Maybe we should pay attention to what's happening with them. This, of course, stems from the time-honored battle cry of the anti-gay "Christian" right, "Save the Cheeeldren!!!" Well, aside from the travesty produced by Mark Regnerus on instructions from the Witherspoon Institute (and ultimately, it turns out, the Heritage Foundation), a number of sociologists and psychologists -- real ones -- have done studies about the effects on children of being raised in "non-traditional" families.

One of the first things I ran across this morning, which brought the whole issue to the fore, was this post at AmericaBlog, referencing a study from Britain (with, unfortunately, a broken link; if I find it, I'll link to it).

Whether the children lived with two biological parents, with a step-parent and biologic parent, or in a single parent family, made no difference: 64% said they were happy ‘sometimes or never’, and 36% said they were ‘happy all the time’.

Even when the researchers statistically removed the effects of other factors such as parental social class so that the effects of family type were isolated, the results showed no significant differences.

Jenny Chanfreau, Senior Researcher at NatCen, told the conference that, in contrast, relationships with parents and other children were strongly linked with how likely the seven-year-olds were to be happy. For instance, factors such as getting on well with siblings and not being bullied at school were associated with being happy all the time.

Ms Chanfreau said they found a similar result when analysing another set of survey data on 2,679 children aged 11 to 15 in the UK– this also showed no significant statistical difference in the level of wellbeing among children in the three types of family when the effects of family type were studied in isolation.

[She] told the conference: “We found that the family type had no significant effect on the happiness of the [two groups of children.]

“It’s the quality of the relationships in the home that matters–not the family composition.

Getting on well with siblings, having fun with the family at weekends, and having a parent who reported rarely or never shouting when the child was naughty, were all linked with a higher likelihood of being happy all the time among seven-year olds.

“Pupil relations at school are also important–being bullied at school . . . [was] strongly associated with lower happiness in the seven-year-olds, for instance.”

That called to mind a recent study from Australia that indicated that children of same-sex parents were happier and better adjusted than their peers from "traditional" families.

''Because of the situation that same-sex families find themselves in, they are generally more willing to communicate and approach the issues that any child may face at school, like teasing or bullying,'' Dr. Simon Crouch, the lead author of the Melbourne University study, said. ''This fosters openness and means children tend to be more resilient. That would be our hypothesis.''

It would seem that reality doesn't support Tony Perkins' often repeated assertion that "Social science has proven conclusively that children do best with their married biological parents." But then, we know Perkins will say whatever will bring in cash. (I actually remember seeing one study that stated that idea as part of the executive summary; it was a study comparing the children of married heterosexual couples with the children of unwed teenage mothers, and that statement wasn't even supported by the data. Draw your own conclusions.)

As to the kids and their reactions to their families -- well, someone decided to let them speak for themselves:

'Nuff said?