The Pencil Today:

HotAirLogoFinal Sunday II

THE QUOTE

“Never follow the crowd.” — Bernard Baruch

Baruch

DIG THE NIGHT SKY IN 2013

This, from the Science Lama:

13 Must See Stargazing Events for 2013

[EP ED: Events and explanations reproduced verbatim unless otherwise noted.]

1) January 21 — Very Close Moon/Jupiter Conjunction

A waxing gibbous moon (78% illuminated) will pass within less than a degree to the south of Jupiter high in the evening sky. Your closed fist held out at arms length covers 10 degrees. These two won’t get that close again until 2026.

2) February 2-23 — Best Evening View of Mercury

The planet Mercury will be far enough away from the glare of the Sun to be visible in the Western sky after sunset. It will be at its brightest on the 16th and dim quickly afterwards. On the 8th it will skim by the much dimmer planet Mars by about 0.4 degrees.

3) March 10-24 — Comet PANSTARRS at its best

First discovered in 2011, this comet should be coming back around for about 2 weeks. It will be visible low in the northwest sky after sunset. Here are some sources predicting what the comets may look like in the sky.

Image through Faulkes Telescope South

Comet PANSTARRS, Observed August 9, 2012

4) April 25 — Partial Lunar Eclipse

[Not visible here in the Midwest, so forget it.]

5) May 9 — Annular Eclipse of the Sun (“Ring of Fire” Eclipse)

[See above.]

6) May 24-30 — Dance of the Planets

Mercury, Venus and Jupiter will seemingly dance between each other in the twilight sky just after sunset as they will change their positions from one evening to the next. Venus will be the brightest of all, six times brighter than Jupiter.

7) June 23 — Biggest Full Moon of 2013

It will be the biggest full moon because the moon will be the closest to the Earth at this time making it a ‘supermoon’ and the tides will be affected as well creating exceptionally high and low tides for the next few days.

"Supermoon," March 19, 2011

The Supermoon Will Eat The Earth!

8) August 12 — Perseid Meteor Shower

One of the best and most reliable meteor showers of the year producing upwards of 90 meteors per hour provided the sky is dark. This year the moon won’t be in the way as much as it will set during the evening leaving the rest of the night dark. Here is a useful dark-sky finder tool. – http://bit.ly/UdcDUY

9) October 18 — Penumbral Eclipse of the Moon

[See comments for items 4 & 5.]

10) November 3 — Hybrid Eclipse of the Sun

[See above.]

11) Mid-November through December — Comet ISON

The second comet this year, ISON, could potentially be visible in broad daylight as it reaches its closest point to the Sun. It will reach that point on November 28 and it is close enough to the Sun to be categorized as a ‘Sungrazer’. Afterwards it will travel towards Earth (passing by within 40 million miles) a month later.

12) All of December — Dazzling Venus

The brightest planet of them all will shine a few hours after sundown in the Southwestern sky and for about 1.5 hours approaching New Years Eve. Around December 5th, a crescent moon will pass above the planet and the next night Venus will be at its brightest and won’t be again until 2021.

Moon & Venus

The Crescent Moon & Venus

13) December 13-14 — Geminid Meteor Shower

This is another great (if not the best) annual meteor shower. This year put on a show at about 120 meteors per hour and in 2013 it won’t be much different so expect another fantastic show. However, the moon – as it is a few days before full phase – will be in the way for most of the night obscuring some of the fainter meteors. You might have to stay up in the early morning hours (4am) to catch the all the meteors it has to offer.

SCIENCE VS. FEAR

I’m gonna make enemies here again.

No, no, I don’t mean the right-wing-nuts whom I skewer on a regular basis. As far as I know, none of them visit this communications colossus anyway. (BTW: That doesn’t mean there are no Republicans among our loyal readership — there’s a world of diff between good, solid GOP-ers and the too numerous loons who have been trying to hijack the party in the last half century.)

Scene from "Hogan's Heroes"

“We Must Take Over The Party.”

I suppose I mean — Gulp! Dare I say it? — the left-wing-nuts.

Yes, I admit it, there are those among my brethren and sisteren who are just as paranoiac, just as reactionary, and just as full of crap as those on the dark side of the political spectrum.

Matt Taibbi has a great account of the lunacies on both sides of the aisle in his 2008 book, “The Great Derangement.” In it, he compares and contrasts the right-wing whack-jobs of the evangelical/charismatic Rev. John Hagee’s ovine congregation and the left-wing subculture of 9/11 “Truthers” who live on the interwebs and in their own delusional world.

One group staunchly believes, in the face of virtually all expert, scientific evidence, that someone — probably Dick Cheney in overalls and a disguise — somehow planted bombs within the various buildings that collapsed following the 9/11 attacks.

The other group — again, at odds with the scientific community — is certain that climate change is a worldwide hoax.

Taibbi concludes that there’s next to nothing to distinguish between the two, save for their haircuts, god-loyalties, and eating habits.

Now, I’ve harped on this before and here I am, at it again. But a certain phenomenon seems to be growing bigger by the day. The anti-GMO movement, especially here in Bloomington, one of the capitals of Foodfetishstan, is gaining currency and popularity.

To hear some folks talk about it, one might think even looking at a food product containing a genetically modified organism is more dangerous than having a ton of Tarot cards fall on your head.

At first glance, their argument is seductive. Monsanto Company is the acknowledged worldwide leader in GMO research and development. Nobody’s ever mistaken Monsanto for for a corporate teddy bear. The company has attempted to corner patents on common livestock breeding techniques. It has persecuted farmers for seed-saving. It exploits the legal justice system to bully critics and competitors.

Pig

Monsanto Wants You To Know: It Invented The Pig

It is the bête noire of the agribusiness universe.

Ergo, if Monsanto does it, it is by definition vile.

Which sounds to me like the commonest logical fallacy employed by the right.

I’ve argued in these precincts in the past that the preponderance of expert, scientific opinion holds that there is little evidence that GMOs are dangerous. This is not to say we might discover some unintended consequences of the proliferation of the little mutants in years to come.

Hell, who in 1910 would have foreseen that the automobile would actually change the planet’s weather?

If we outlaw everything that just might be problematic at some time in the fuzzy future, the only legal option left would be for us to sit cross-legged in a field and hope nutrients enter our bodies through the pores in our skin.

Every invention poses risk. In the 1930s and ’40s, the technogeeks of the day saw television as the greatest tool for mass education ever conceived. Who knew TV would have given us the Kardashians? But even before TV became a fixture in every living room, people like George Orwell imagined it as a hammer in the fists of tyrants.

And, I suppose, some modern-day novelist might pen a bestseller entitled “Twenty Eighty Four” in which GMO monsters seize the White House.

That doesn’t mean it’ll actually happen.

That said, all we can go on is the consensus opinion of scientists. I mean, that’s the criterion we’re using to try to convince the ostriches of the right that Homo Sapiens sapiens has caused climate change, isn’t it?

That’s why a recent speech by one of Europe’s top anti-GMO activists, Mark Lynas, is big news.

As far back as the mid-1990s, Lynas was leading the charge against test-tube agriculture and Frankenfoods. Many European nations are in the vanguard of the GMO=disaster school of thought, some banning their use in food outright, thanks in large part to Lynas’ efforts.

Lynas spoke at the Oxford Farming Conference three days ago and made a starling admission.

“As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely,” he said.

He had been, he says, dead wrong about GMOs.

He explained to the conference how this metamorphosis took place. “…[T]he answer is very simple: I discovered science, and in the process I hope I became a better environmentalist.”

Lynas admitted to having sabotaged clinical trials of experimental GMO crops. He confessed, “… I had done no academic research on the topic, and had a pretty limited understanding. I don’t think I ever read a peer-reviewed paper on biotechnology or plant science….”

Now, Lynas says, the growth of the Earth’s population makes it imperative we utilize biotechnology to produce more food. He believes the current rage for “natural” agriculture and micro-farms, if unchecked, could lead to starvation for millions.

In other words, he had been a member of  a crowd that some two decades ago began to convince itself that GMOs are evil. And now he is quitting.

There’s a madness, Scottish journalist and author Charles Mackay once opined, in crowds.

One thought on “The Pencil Today:

  1. Hey there, Mike, your post raises a question that has been at the back of my mind for a while.

    I’m certainly no Perry Mason when it comes to questioning “the official story” — I’ve let several “official” statements slide unquestioned in my time writing local news, because I felt unqualified to pose an alternative viewpoint. That said, a book that gave me a new radar for “cui bono” is “Forbidden History,” by a guy named Michael Cremo. Cremo spent years going to Natural History museums all over the world and talking his way into their storerooms, where he documented — not speculated, not conjectured, but *documented* — the number of ancient artifacts that had never and would never be sanctioned for exhibit, because their very existence directly contradicts the “official story” of the history of Planet Earth and the human civilizations thereon. In fact, he found that there is far, far more such tangible evidence of a different past, than there is evidence for the “official story” we have all absorbed in high school and college and popular culture.

    So here’s my question. You and I, Mike, could sit at the dinner table and agree on some important points of history. 1) The Holocaust DID happen, 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and traitors to the Aryan race were exterminated in a massive organized government program that German citizens knew nothing about. 2) The US Government DID practice genocide on Native Americans, through military and legislative action, but also through shifty means such as passing out blankets infected with smallpox. 3) Organized crime DOES exist — “favors” and influence flow like cheap beer, goods and people just happen to disappear,Those In The Know can read the signs, who ordered what, and why. You yourself can and already have thrilled me with stories of how the Daley operation and the Outfit ran Chicago back in the day.

    So if together we can mutually wrap our minds around such large-scale corruption, profiteering, and abominable cruelty, carried out so as to be hidden in plain sight, *why* then, if I say, “9/11 inside job, structural engineering, laws of physics, no Pentagon jet, political family connections, Afghanistan oil pipeline Halliburton no-brainer,” why am I then to be considered clinically insane?

    I am no fan of the hysterics and polemics that get set off in arguments about 9/11. What I am interested in is what drives your *reasoning* that says 9/11 was no more than what CNN reported.

    I’m not asking in order to change your mind — I dig you too much to try that s**t. And you are not going to change mine, fundamentally. But I am really, seriously curious. What is it that you object to?

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